It was the new dawn as the day opened in its truest form in KwaBulawayo, King Shaka’s Great Umuzi. The roosters uttered their last raucous crow, jumping from the trees to get on with the business of the day, whatever that might be. Attempting to set the sky on fire, the sun was scorching hot that morning, seeming to say, “I told you I would rise again.” Birds were chirping, but the Zulu maidens were not to be outdone. They sang beautifully that very morning, on their way to fetch water from the river. Mbuzikazi led the singing, as expected, for her voice was silky and clear, as though she had umtshingo (flute) between her teeth.
Standing adjacent to the cattle kraal with Mbopha, Shaka remarked, “Lihle izwe lobabamkhulu, Mbopha kaSithayi!” (Oh! how stunning is the land of our ancestors, Mbopha ̶ son of Sithayi.)
(Mbompha was Shaka’s Chief Advisor.)
“Bayede! Are you talking about the cattle, valleys, the mountains, and the rivers?” Mbopha enquired, rather curiously.
“Cha Mbopha, ngisho lendoni yamanzi kaCele, mfoka KaSithayi” (No, I’m only talking about Cele’s entrancing daughter … she is as beautifully dark-skinned as the water berries.)
Mbuzikazi was stunningly beautiful; the kind of beauty that would have easily launched her modelling career had times been different. Her skin was flawless. Her matchless smile was as wide as dreams. Her lustrous lips were beautifully shaped, as though about to break into a song. Her teeth were milk white as the snow on the Drakensberg and equally alluring. Mbuzikazi had a stomach as flat as a soccer field, a ‘killer’ body that young men could only look at and admire, for marriage and sexual engagement were privileges reserved for much older men. On the whole, Mbuzikazi was captivating beyond any style or combination of beadwork.
The day went by, and, as the Zulu saying goes, “Ayilali ikhonjiwe” (No beast shall see the sun rise, once destined for slaughter.”) Little did Mbopha know that the King was to pursue Mbuzikazi that very evening.
“Abayilethe impi abafokazane sibahlasele,” (Let the commoners bring war to us so we can finish them off) said Shaka.
“Bayede, besaba wena Lembe eleqa amanye amalembe ngokukhalipha,” (They are afraid of you, Great One) Mbopha replied.
Shaka continued, “Uma kunjalo ke MfokaSithayi kuzomele sichithe isizungu ngokweq’iziko.” (In that case, we shall find something to pass the time…like indulging in sexual pleasures.)
He had barely uttered those words when Mbopha smiled, as if to say, ‘I didn’t know you were into such delicacies, Your Highness!’
“What could possibly stop Your Highness when you have such beautiful ‘flowers’ waiting to pleasure your desires?” enquired Mbopha.
This time Shaka had his eyes fixed upon Mbuzikazi, who was playing umagenda – a stone-throwing game ̶ with other Buthelezi maidens outside his Great Hut.
“Buka isinqe sakhe ngathi amabedlane izintaba zasoNdini, mfokaSithayi” (Take a look at her buttocks, son of Sithayi; they are as beautifully shaped as the Mabedlane twin-mountains of Ulundi.”)
Lost for words, Mbopha did not bother to nod, for it had never occurred to him that there were similarities between buttocks and mountains.
“If she ends up being married, it would be a great pity to cover such beauty,” joked Shaka. They giggled as they indulged in a pot of umqombothi (sorghum beer) and barbequed liver.
Mbopha saw where this was going and decided to take a ‘pee-break’ in order to tip off Mbuzikazi that the King wished to discuss something with her by sunset.
“Be sure to look like the shiny water-berries that you are,” said Mbopha to Mbuzikazi.
“Who am I for him to know my name, let alone call for me? I’m petrified ̶ absolutely petrified to be summoned by Ndabezitha, the Great One,” Mbuzikazi cried, in a state of panic which Mbopha would not indulge.
Nonetheless, the hapless maiden bathed rather hurriedly, rubbing animal fat on her body. Gleaming brightly as the water berries, and glowing like a flower in spring, Mbuzikazi walked to the Great Hut, swaying from side to side, seemingly putting on a show for the King, however, this was no show. Mbuzikazi knelt down and crawled, chanting Ndabezitha! Ndabezitha! (Your Highness! Your Highness!) as she approached the Great Hut.
Shaka’s face lit up when he saw the radiant Mbuzikazi. His right hand stretched out in welcome as he extolled her virtues that evening. Compliments flowed from him like mountain streams… after all, he was credited with composing over 19000 Zulu words, augmenting the Zulu vocabulary without a single borrowing. The King was charming; he was different; and this terrified the trembling maiden.
Why was he being so nice? Thoughts lingered in her mind. Finding no trace of anger in his face when their eyes accidentally met, she smiled, perhaps out politeness, or perhaps worse, out of fear.
“Do you have a boyfriend?” came the peremptory enquiry.
“No, Your Highness!”
Needless to say, this was the answer the King was expecting, for Mbuzikazi, along with the other Buthelezi maidens, were under the careful eye of Nandi, and all maidens would go through regular virginity testing.
King Shaka told Mbuzikazi that she was the most beautiful woman in the kingdom, besides his mother, Nandi, of course. This time he was holding the young girl close, caressing and kissing her. Out of fear she totally surrendered herself. One thing led to another ̶ Mbuzikazi found herself falling for her King, as he for her. A very awkward moment for both of them, I might add. Days went by, with Mbuzikazi finding herself sneaking in to the Great Hut time and time again. There was no doubt that she was in love, however, there remained guilt and the fear of not knowing what might come next!
It took only three months for Mbuzikazi to feel something moving inside her belly. Terrified by this development she confided in one of the maidens.
“Ngizwa sengathi ngizithwele.” (I think I’m pregnant.)
‘’Hayibo, by whom? Beyede the warrior King himself? I knew you were sneaking in and out to him but I did not suspect that it had gone this far,” said Nomagugu.
Awe mah! Are you carrying the restless one’s child? If he fights like that, imagine how he does ‘other things’?” joked Nomalizwe. Louder and louder they laughed, except for Mbuzikazi. This was terrifying, more than anything. Little did they know that Mbopha’s wife was eavesdropping, and had overheard the entire conversation.
Afraid of being direct, Mbopha’s wife went to the hut, pulled out her Umakhweyana bow, and started playing and singing the same song repeatedly.
“Ingane inyakaza esinyeni, ingane.” (The child moves in its mother’s belly.)
“Ingane inyakaza esinyeni, ingane.” (The child moves in its mother’s belly.)
Mbopha, anxious and puzzled by her persistence in singing this song, was becoming curious, for he knew her child-bearing age had long passed.
“It’s rather who made whom pregnant that I find fascinating, my husband,”
Mbopha’s eyes grew ever wider.
“Mbuzikazi, the daughter of Cele, is carrying the child of whom-I’m-afraid-to-even-say-his-name. I heard the girls talking.”
Knowing what the King might do to him had he found out that he also knew, Mbopha kaSithayi wasted no time. He went straight to Shaka to give him the news, in an effort to prove his loyalty.
Racing up and down the Great Hut, Shaka’s face became as dark as the rafters of the beer-brewing hut. He was sweating. His heart hardened, and certainly he was overcome with anger.
“Mbopha, you know what I do to liars? Is this rumour true, son of Sithayi?”
“Have I ever been false to you, Great One? I bring you news. Yingakho bengibiza umazulazayithole.” (That is why they call me the wanderer who only rests upon getting to the bottom of things.) The King’s childhood, as an heir of Senzangakhona had been bitter ̶ there was no way that the King wanted an heir. The King was angry. He wanted no similar life for his heir-in-waiting.
“Mbopha, son of Sithayi, I don’t give life – I take lives: that is my duty, which is my mission on this earth. The girl must die. Bring her here tomorrow morning. Mbopha kaSithayi.’’
Mkabayi KaJama (Shaka’s aunt) heard about this development in the Kingdom and tipped off Nandi to help the pregnant Mbuzikazi escape.
Nandi had always wanted a grandchild, and she was excited upon hearing the news. Before Shaka could carry out his plan, Nandi was one step ahead. She single-handedly masterminded Mbuzikazi’s escape to live with Nomcoba ̶ Shaka’s sister, who was now presiding over Nandi’s old Emkhindini Homestead. A wet-nurse, Nomagwebu, was chosen to look after the child.
When Shaka found out about the escape he was livid; he could not even look his mother in the face. He felt betrayed by his own blood. Eventually, he let his mother decide what to do with the child once born, but there was one condition…he never wanted to see either the child or its mother ever again. A baby boy was born at Emkhindini Kraal who brought much joy to Nandi. The news was spreading like wildfire, so much so that Nandi decided to move both Mbuzikazi, Nomagwebu, and little Shaka to safety; this time to Thembuland, or what is today known as Swaziland. She feared that Shaka’s brother, Dingane, would kill the child, or worse, Shaka himself.
To this day it remains a mystery as to what happened to Mbuzikazi and little Shaka.
By: Soka Mthembu
Photo Credit: Shaka Zulu, the movie
NB: Fiction blended with non-fiction, and a bit of fun:-)
When I think of proverbs and idioms, and how they serve as a mirror to the events of yesteryear there’s terrible event which comes to mind—the Bambatha rebellion, known to the Zulus as “impi kaBhambatha or impi yamakhanda.”
Background: The story of Bhambatha and his rebellion began in 1905 when colonial rulers in Natal decided to impose a poll tax of £1 on all adult men in order to boost coffers emptied by the recently-ended Anglo-Boer War. In reality, the tax was meant to keep poor black labourers in white-owned farms and mines, because they needed the work to pay the tax. This tax led to a great deal of opposition by black people, and Inkosi Bambatha kaMancinza was the biggest challenger of such tax. Bambatha along with many Zulus couldn’t comprehend why they suddenly had to pay tax. Subsequently, a new proverb was born.
1. Insumansumane imali yamakhanda. (It (this matter) is incomprehensible like the poll-tax.
With that lets move on to some more Zulu proverbs…
2. Kayihlabi Ngakumisa – It (bull) does not fight according to the shape of its horns.
A bull that looks like a champion fighter may be defeated by an unimpressive looking one.
3. Usenga nezimithiyo – He milks even those in calf.
He is a liar.
4. Elisina muva liyabukwa – It (regiment) which dances last is admired.
This saying cautions one not to rush in doing something, for even later, he may do it with great success.
5. Ohlab’ eyakhe akaphikiswa.
He who slaughters his own beast is not stopped.
6. Lithath’ osemsamo limbeke emnyango. It (lightning) takes the one at the back of the hut and throws him at the door.
This saying is an expression that one needs not make fun of other people’s shortcomings as he may also find himself in the same predicament in the future.
7. Ukhasela eziko. He crawls to the fire.
When a child has reached a crawling stage he/she will inevitably crawl everywhere, even to a dangerous place like the fire-place
In short: Someone who acts in a blind and dangerous way which may bring danger upon him
8. Zawadl’ ebhekile. They (birds) ate corn in the watchman’s presence
Expression used to describe someone who is easily fooled
9. Injobo enhle ithungelwa ebandla. A good loin-skin is sewn in the company of others
Two heads are better than one, or some tasks may be accomplished more easily by two (or more) people working together than by one working alone.
10. Ulind’ amathons’ abanzi (He is waiting for the larger rain drops)
When rain begins to fall, the first few drops are generally small, but they increase in size as the rain becomes heavier. Therefore one is advised to take shelter while only the light small drops fall and not wait for larger ones.
Get out of trouble while you still can.
For further reading: Zulu Proverbs by CLS Nyembezi
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
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.
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
• 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