FURIOUS LOVE: The mysterious romantic life of Shaka kaSenzangakhona and Mbuzikazi Cele

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.
Who’s pregnant?”

“It’s rather who made whom pregnant that I find fascinating, my husband,”
she responded.
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:-)

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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