The Robbery of Mzilikazi’s Grave

The italicised text below is from Mzilikazi’s Grave | Zimbabwe Field Guide (
Soon after the first Indaba (1896) Rhodes was camped in the Matopos with Jack Grimmer his secretary, Hans Sauer, Johan Colenbrander as guide and interpreter and James McDonald who wrote an account of the robbery in his book ‘Rhodes : A Life’. A party of soldiers detailed to guard Rhodes had been sent away.
A few days later Colenbrander was called by two amaNdebele headmen who told him that troopers under General Frederick Carrington’s command had broken into Mzilikazi’s grave, dug up the ground and removed objects as well as breaking into the nearby cave in which were stored the King’s personal belongings and taken many objects away.

The two headman were very afraid that the spirit of Mzilikazi had been disturbed and that the amaNdebele would believe the sacrilege had been deliberately carried out by Carrington’s Matabeleland Relief Force. They added that a party of ten were coming to discuss the matter with Rhodes the next day.
Rhodes and Colenbrander were extremely perturbed and immediately saddled their horses and rode over to Plumer’s camp. An inquiry was begun; a party of troopers had been given permission to go shooting and admitted to robbing Mzilikazi’s grave. Steps were immediately taken to deal with the offenders, McDonald does not say what they were and Rhodes and Colenbrander returned to their camp.
The two headmen were sent to the chiefs to tell them that everything possible would be done to repair the damage and Rhodes himself would go with the Chiefs to Entumbane (the grave site).
The chiefs arrived in the morning very angry and after eating food with Rhodes set off for Entumbane about ten kilometres away over difficult ground as there was no footpath. Herbert Taylor, the newly appointed Native Commissioner arrived at the camp and joined the group. Many amaNdebele had congregated at Entumbane, some were armed and agitated.
Rhodes asked everyone to move into an open spot where he could address them through Colenbrander. He asked the crowd for calm and said he would accompany the chiefs to view the damage himself and that everything possible would be done to put things right and if they waited an hour he would return and address them again.
The party including McDonald at once set off for the gravesite. He saw seven or eight great granite boulders standing upright; inside which Mzilikazi was sitting upright in a stone chair. The three entrances had been filled with broken granite stones, but two had been pulled down. A circular granite wall around the tomb had also been knocked about with holes dug in the ground … presumably the thieves had hunted for treasure.
Fortunately Mzilikazi’s body had not been much disturbed and Rhodes asked the chiefs how things could be put right again. Before they replied they said they should all visit the large cave on the south west of the hill where the King’s personal possessions had been stored. The walled entrance had been broken down and the contents inside the cave had been strewn about. There were broken wagons, carriages, furniture, crockery, and glassware given to Mzilikazi over many years scattered about with many items smashed.
Rhodes was extremely angry at the destruction and discussed the situation with Colenbrander and Taylor. The chiefs walked back to the waiting crowd and spoke to them before Rhodes’ party was asked to join them. They told Rhodes that they were satisfied that he had no hand in the destruction; that it was a shameful action carried out by a few rogues and that if the proper sacrifices were made, all might be well with the spirit of Mzilikazi.
The amaNdebele themselves would rebuild the grave and cave walling; Rhodes should provide food for the men engaged in the work and after the purification ceremony at the gravesite, ten black oxen should be sacrificed to the spirits of Mzilikazi. Colenbrander and Taylor made short speeches expressing their regret at what had happened.

Three weeks later the work was complete, the walls rebuilt and the gravesite sealed, Rhodes and McDonald revisited the site and another ten oxen were given by Rhodes for a feast when all the ceremonies had been completed.

Reference: JG McDonald, Rhodes : A Life, 1929, Philip Allan & Co.
From this it is evident that Rhodes was not honouring the late Mzilikazi so much as desperately trying to resolve a catastrophic blunder by his white troops. He succeeded, and war was averted. It was a close call