Every year in September and October the people of Matabeleland commemorate the life of King Mzilikazi who founded and ruled the Ndebele Kingdom.
These commemorations have intensified in recent years despite the fact that King Mzilikazi died more than a hundred years ago.
Ululation, song and traditional dance are the common trademarks of King Mzilikazi celebrations. Though Mzilikazi died in 1868, his legacy is still overwhelmingly cherished by the descendants of his kingdom.
Born in 1790 in Mkuze in the province of Kwazulu Natal in South Africa, Mzilikazi grew to be a bold and feared warrior under King Shaka of the Zulu nation. However, Mzilikazi harboured ambitions to be a king, and to achieve this, he plotted to free himself and his people from Shaka. When Shaka sent him to attack a nearby Sotho chief in 1822, Mzilikazi conquered that tribe and captured their cattle and other belongings but refused to hand these over to Shaka.
Knowing he faced ritual execution because of his rebellion against King Shaka, Mzilikazi fled to the north conquering and abducting other tribes on the way. He finally settled in the southern part of what is today known as Zimbabwe, where he established his Mthwakazi Kingdom and became the king of the Ndebele people until his death.
In 2000, one of Mzilikazi’s direct descendants Peter Zwide Khumalo, initiated the King Mzilikazi celebrations. Today, the Ndebele people gather in September and October in different parts of the world to remember their king and celebrate his life. They say his leadership was unique and without him the Ndebele nation would have never existed.
Peter Zwide Khumalo says the Ndebele people realise that a nation is shaped and distinguished by its culture.
Khumalo says,” “King Mzilikazi is ever relevant because you cannot define a Ndebele without mentioning the king’s name. He was a great leader and he remains so and it is part of our definition and identity. Any nation that does not observe their culture is backward. And therefore, it is very important to celebrate out identity, celebrate our culture and know who we are.”
Khumalo stresses that it’s high time the Ndebele nation comes together to revive their kingdom.
“Our constitution does not stop us from having a king. It never says anything and therefore we are our own enemies by not having a king. If it were according to me we would have a king tomorrow and my family is ready to identify one of us to lead the nation and the nations needs traditional leadership,” he says.
He emphasizes that although the Ndebele kingdom is led by the Khumalo clan, it is composed of different tribes and languages.
Prudence Moyo, the spokesperson for the Matabeleland Entertainment News, is one of the people involved in spearheading the Mzilikazi commemorations in South Africa.
Moyo says, “By reviving these commemorations, we are seeing a nation being rebuilt, we are seeing a people coming up, wanting a voice.”
For Carnicious Nkala, a descendent of Amahlubi tribe under the Ndebele Kingdom, if the current leaders in Zimbabwe study closely Mzilikazi’s legacy, the country would be a great nation envied by other nations with such leaders.
“In order to be who we are and in order to be where we are as a Ndebele nation, it is because we had a leader. There are so many people who lead in many ways and places but they leave no mark. This man left a mark and a strong nation,” says Nkala.
He says their ultimate wish, is to see the Ndebele kingdom being restored, a new king installed, and the Ndebele people proudly practising their culture without being apologetic about it.