BRIEF HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF MKABAYI KAJAMA
By Norma Masuku
Princess Mkabayi of the Zulus is acknowledged to have been a callous woman. Being one of twins, she was destined to be killed in infancy according to tradition. Her compassionate father, King Jama, could not bring himself to kill his own offspring, so Mkabayi and her twin sister, Mmama, both survived, much to the displeasure and disapproval of the Zulu people.
They feared the wrath of the ancestors should both the twins be allowed to live. This fear became a reality when the queen died before bearing the dynasty an heir. Because Mkabayi had a stronger character than her twin sister, she bore the brunt of the Zulu people’s disapproval and hate. She was held responsible for all the misfortunes of the royal family and the populace at large. When Mkabayi realized that the Zulu people were still yearning for an heir, she wooed Mthaniya Sibiya for her rather indifferent father.
The king consequently married Mthaniya and this union produced the long-awaited heir, who was named Senzangakhona (Well-doer). This name reflected King Jama’s acknowledgement that Mkabayi had done well to court Mthaniya for him. This swayed the hearts of the nation towards her, especially since the erratic Jama had offended his subjects once again by marrying a pregnant Thonga woman who had given birth to Sojiyisa. The nation feared that this illegitimate boy would inherit the Zulu throne.
Mkabayi soon lost the love she had gained from the Zulu people when, on the death of Jama, she imposed herself on the nation as regent for her brother Senzangakhona. This was unheard of in Zulu history, but men succumbed to her guile and domineering character. Her unscrupulousness shocked the nation once again when she instructed her army to destroy the powerful Sojiyisa, who posed a threat to Senzangakhona’s reign. She was dubbed a blood-thirsty despot and one of the evil
women of antiquity, a woman whose primary aim was the continuance of the Zulu dynasty and its traditions.
When Senzangakhona came of age, Mkabayi stepped down in his favour, but unfortunately, Senzangakhona was not destined to live long. After a short reign, he was succeeded by his son, Shaka, one of the most able emperors the world has ever known. Shaka, on ascending the throne, ruled his people without recourse to anyone for advice. Yet, despite Shaka’s success, when he was accused of abusing his power, Mkabayi did not hesitate to plot the assassination of a man who was to become the first and most powerful of the Zulu kings. She, together with her nephews, Dingane and Mhlangana, planned the murder of Shaka. Desirous of putting Dingane on the throne, she later murdered Mhlangana.
Mkabayi remained unmarried, preferring to retain her independence, political influence and position as head of the Qulusi military kraal.
She played a major role in Zulu history, deposing various kings and helping them ascend to the throne; her power and influence were felt during this time which was of great historical importance to the Zulu nation. Many years later, when Captain Gardiner went to Dingane on missionary work, he found her old, but still very powerful (Fynn, 1950:12). She died a lonely woman during the reign of Mpande. For her part in the killing of Shaka, Mkabayi stands condemned to the present day.
IZIBONGA ZIKAMKABAYI / PRAISE POEM OF MKABAYI
Elidl’umuntu limyenga ngendaba;
Ladl’ uBheje ngasezanuseni.
Ngibone ngoNohela kaMlilo, umlil’ ovuth’intaba zonke,
Ngoba lumbambe wanyamalala.
Yakhal’ umlomo wayo wabhoboz’izulu,
Iye yezwiwa nguGwabalanda
Ezalwa nguNdaba wakwaKhumalo.
Intomb’ ethombe yom’umlomo.
Zaze zayihlab’imithanti zawonina.
Bayazibamba usezibuka ngamehlo.
Abanikazimuzi bangene ngezintuba.
UMhlathuz’ uzawugcwal’ emini.
Imbibakazan’ eyaqamb imigqa kwaMalandela,
Ithi yikhona bezoqananaza ngazo zonk’izindlela.
ENGLISH TRANSLATION PRINCESS MKABAYI’S PRAISES
‘Father of guile!
Cunning one of the Hoshoza people,
Who devours a person tempting him with a story;
She killed Bhedu amongst the medicine men,
And destroyed Mkhongoyiyana amongst the Ngadini,
And killed Bheje amongst the diviners.
Morass of Menzi,
That caught people and finished them off;
I saw by Nohela son of Mlilo, the fire-that-burns-on-every-hill,
For it caught him and he disappeared.
Beast that lows at Sangoyana,
It lowed and its voice pierced the sky,
It went and it was heard by Gwabalanda
Son of Ndaba of Khumalo clan.
Maid that matured and her mouth dried up,
And then they criticized her amongst old women.
Who shoots down birds for her people,
As they catch them she is simply watching on.
The opener of all main gates so that all people may enter,
The owners of the home enter by the narrow side-gates.
Sipper of others of the venom of the cobra,
The Mhlathuze river will flood at midday.
Little mouse that started the runs at Malandela’s,
And thought it was the people of Malandela
Who would thereby walk along all the paths.’
Extracts from the depiction of Mkabayi: A review of her praise poem byNorma Masuku