PRINCESS MKABAYI KAJAMA – A HERO AND AFRICA’S GREATEST WOMAN

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
USoqili!
Iqili lakwaHoshoza
Elidl’umuntu limyenga ngendaba;
Lidl’uBhedu ngasezinyangeni,
Ladl’uMkhongoyiyana ngasemaNgadini,
Ladl’ uBheje ngasezanuseni.
UBhuku lukaMenzi,
Olubamb’abantu lwabenela;
Ngibone ngoNohela kaMlilo, umlil’ ovuth’intaba zonke,
Ngoba lumbambe wanyamalala.
Inkom’ekhal’ eSangoyana,
Yakhal’ umlomo wayo wabhoboz’izulu,
Iye yezwiwa nguGwabalanda
Ezalwa nguNdaba wakwaKhumalo.
Intomb’ ethombe yom’umlomo.
Zaze zayihlab’imithanti zawonina.
UMthobela-bantu izinyoni,
Bayazibamba usezibuka ngamehlo.
UVula-bangene-ngawo-onk’amasango,
Abanikazimuzi bangene ngezintuba.
UMcindela kaNobiya,
UMhlathuz’ uzawugcwal’ emini.
Imbibakazan’ eyaqamb imigqa kwaMalandela,
Yathi ngabakwaMalandela,
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

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QUEEN NANDI: A REMARKABLE WOMAN

Because South Africa celebrates Women`s Month in August, I took a moment to reflect on certain captivating stories of some of the greatest women that the Zulu nation has been very fortunate to have – women of courage, who made their decisions and stuck to them. I wished earnestly to explore their struggles, heroic acts, and the roles they’ve played in shaping the Zulu Kingdom. The early sacrifices of women require retelling and there’s no moment more opportune than now to revisit those stories.

I wanted to write about the story of Ingcugce, a regiment of young females in 1876, that, when troops were ordered by King Cetshwayo to intermarry with the Indlondlo regiment (a regiment comprising much older men), defied the king’s order, coining the Zulu phrase “Ucu alulingani entanyeni”, loosely translated, “the love necklace does not fit around neck”. The women managed to escape, only for many of them to be captured and brutally killed.
Here was a story for me about the bravery of young women who refused to be used as a reward to the older male regiment in their post-military service, sacrificing their lives in the process.

There was also a story of Queen Christina Sibiya, first wife of Zulu King Solomon, who, in 1931, when subjected to abuse, experiencing discontent in the royal household, had the courage to leave, at a time when divorce was alien to the Zulu nation. Christina’s moving narrative was beautifully captured by Rebecca Hourwich Reyherin, in her book: Zulu Woman.

To my mind, these courageous acts dispel the notion that Zulu women are overly submissive, refusing to challenge the status quo.

The thought occurred to me that I should explore the story of Queen Nandi, mother of the Great King Shaka. Nandi (the sweet one) was the daughter of an Inkosi of eLangeni – Bhebhe, also known as Mdingi of the Mhlongo clan. She was born around 1760, with 1766 being most quoted as her year of birth.

The aspect I wished to refer to, a side often not told, is that she was one of the greatest single parents who ever lived. When confronted by animosity, rejection, insults, and humiliation, she nevertheless raised her son (Shaka) the best way she could — never to give up on life —to have strength of will, and to believe in his destiny. She raised him to believe in the power of unity, and in the concept of “We are the same”. Nandi devoted her life to her son and his siblings, protecting them the best she knew how, seeking refuge, and later finding him the best mentors in Inkosi Dingiswayo of the Mthethwa clan, and Ngomane, his Prime Minister, amongst others.

Background
In 1787 Shaka was born, after Nandi and Senzangakhona had earlier engaged in an act of ukuhlobonga/ukusoma or sex without penetration, allowed to unmarried couples at the time, also known as “the fun of the roads” (amahlaya endlela). Needless to say, Nandi and Senzakhona went beyond ukuhlobonga, resulting in Nandi’s pregnancy.
When the eLangeni people announced to Senzangakhona and the Zulu tribe that Nandi was expecting a child, the Zulu replied through a senior relative and Prime Minister of Senzangakhona, Mudli kaNkwelo Zulu, that “the girl” was not pregnant, but suffering from a stomach ailment caused by the iShaka beetle, an intestinal beetle on which menstrual irregularities were usually blamed.
A few months later the Zulu prince was born; Nandi sarcastically named him Shaka to spite Senzangakhona, who reminded her that she had said earlier that she was not pregnant, but suffering from ishaka. Nandi would intimately refer to Shaka as her umlilwana – little blazing fire.

From that very moment Nandi suffered great humiliation, rejection, and disparagement. Women of the eLangeni, and praise-poets/singers also didn’t waste time in denigrating her, such as in this line taken from her praise-poem:
“USontanti, Omathanga kahlangani, ahlangani ngokubona umyeni” – The Floater, whose thighs are never pressed together, except at sight of a man”. This was made with reference to her failing to practise “Ukuhlobonga”, resulting in the birth of an illegitimate son. Wrong as the slurs might have been, they were hurtful and insulting.

Nandi never lost hope in life; she was resilient; she never succumbed to pressure, and she knew her worth. She instilled these values into her son, shaping him into one of the greatest leaders we have had. Nandi always reminded her son that, despite his circumstances, he would one day be greatest king. She did her best, despite all the adversities she encountered along the way’
There were times when Nandi was unable to put food on the table for Shaka and his sister, Nomcoba, especially during the 1802 great food shortage, referred to as “Madlathule – Eat and be quiet”, a period in which people were not prepared to share food because of its scarcity. She travelled long distances on foot to seek help in other areas, enabling her to provide for her children.
Nandi was to also exercise a great deal of influence over affairs of the kingdom during King Shaka’s reign. She, with other women surrounding Shaka, was put in charge of military kraals and given power to govern while Shaka was on campaign. It is said that Nandi was a force for moderation in Shaka’s life, suggesting various political compromises to him rather than encouraging violent action. Through Nandi’s standing beside Shaka, the kingdom grew by leaps and bounds over a short period of 12 years, despite a proclamation by the wives of Nomgabhi and many others who had said that Shaka would never rule —he’d never be the king.
It is therefore understandable that King Shaka held women in high esteem, because he understood their power and resilience. He had a deep respect for his mother, Nandi, and his aunts, princesses Mkabayi, Mmama, and Nomawa. This can be witnessed by the period known as, “Isililo SikaNandi” or “mourning of death of Queen Nandi”) the declaration of the longest mourning period (where those who showed insufficient grief were executed), however cruel the event.
Because women are about more than merely giving birth and raising children, Nandi is not only important because she gave birth to the great leader, Shaka, but because of her strong will, resilience, and her setting an example to millions of women not to settle for less.

By Soka Mthembu

Sources:
• The royal women of the Zulu monarchy through the keyhole of oral history:
Queens Nandi (c. 1764 – c.1827) and Monase (c. 1797 – 1880) by Maxwell Z. Shamase
• Shaka Social, Political and Military Ideas by Jordan K. Ngubane
• Shaka’s Children: A History of the Zulu people, published in 1994 by Stephen Taylor