Recited in Ndebele by imbongi Mtshede Ndhovu to T.J. Hemens c.1970. Mtshede Ndhlovu was born when Mzilikazi was still on the throne, that is, before 1868, making him some 105 years old. His son, Bova Ndhlovu, acted as interpreter, assisting Hemans with the translation.

Lobengula succeeded his father Mzilikazi in 1868. By then, the Ndebele had been settled at Bulawayo for 28 years. They were no longer a wandering tribe, and the responsibilities of kingship had changed, from making war to ensuring the fertility of the land. In 1893, however, the Ndebele suffered catastrophic defeat at the hands of the British South Africa Company, invading Matabeleland. The praise-poem comments on all this.

It roared like a calf. (1)
He who has books is at the river crossing. (2)
The cumulus cloud which rains from overcast sky. (3)
The words of a mountain, King of Mgabi Ndwandwe. (4)
The bird that builds with its beak pointing to a pool of water,
some say catch it some say leave it that it the way it builds. (5)
The black lion of Mabindela.
Grass does not burn in the Kalahari, some burns and bends. (6)
He was furious and then the tribes and commissioners were angry. (7)
Spoor of the leopard that disappears in rivers. (8)
The bush buck that strikes with its hooves and damaged the stones. (9)
Watch him, the destroyer, because he destroyed the commoners. (10)
He who is food they feed from for many many years,
when he dies where will they feed from,
they will eat jackals and roots.
He whose majesty is like that of his father Matshobana.
Cattle have popularity, they are lowing and attract afar.
He whose path is winding like that of ants.
The small bird of the spear, so small it can sit on the spear.

We include the vernacular below.

Sikale njenge sitole.
Ungwalongwalo usemazibukweni.
Sigubudu silizulu ngokusibeleka.
Mazwentaba, nkosi kaMgabi uNdwandwe.
Inyoni yaka umlomo wayo yawukangelisa esizibeni,
abanye bati ibambeni abanye bati iyekeleni yikwaka kwayo.
Isilwana esimnyama sako Mabindela.
Utshani abutshi emaHalihali obunye butsha buyagoba.
Watukutela kwazonde abezizwe labezindhlwana.
Isondo lengwe libandama emilambo.
Imbabala eyahlaba ngenzipo konakala ematsheni.
Umtshenjelele umqotwani ngoba wavalela izindhlwana.
Ugodo belubanda iminyakanyaka luguga nje,
luguga bazabandani,
bazabanda izivoko lemqanswane.
Utshobatshoba lingangoyise uMatshobana.
Inkomo zilendumo zilenhlokoma zibiz okukatshana.
Undlela zimazombezombe njengezobunyonyo.
Litenga kamkonto kanganani lemkontweni angahlala.

Praises Given to the Kings of the Amandebele,
T.J. Hemans,
Nada X, 3 (n.p., 1971).


Footnotes

  1. This praise-poem was recorded c.1970, when a new war for Zimbabwe was in progress. Lobengula is contrasted with Mzilikazi for failing to protect the nation. He is a calf compared to a bull and his roaring is not impressive.
  2. Lobengula signed the Rudd Concession, granting mining rights to the British South African Company in 1888. He assumed the miners would accept his kingship, but it was soon evident that the BSA were coming as colonisers. He who has books is Charles Rudd, the treaty bearer, and the river crossing is the Limpopo, the southern border to Ndebele territory.
  3. A reference to Lobengula’s responsibility as rainmaker. Later in praise 12, he comes food they feed from.
  4. Unlike Mzililazi, Lobengula drew his legitimacy as chief from his ancestry. See also praises 6 and 13.
  5. Lobengula’s succession was controversial, and his performance as king was disputed.
  6. Mzilikazi was called the tall grass in the Kalahari desert that will burn with men’s leather loin cloths (praise 6). Lobengula is the grass that does not burn.
  7. The signing of the Rudd Concession led to anger on all sides, culminating the war of 1893.
  8. Lobengula’s policies were difficult to follow. See also praise 15, where his course is winding like that of ants.
  9. Again, this contrasts with Mzilikazi, the bush buck that steps carefully on the rocks, implying diplomatic skills such as wariness.
  10. Mzilikazi’s victories, starting with Shaka, were against enemies of stature. Lobengula is credited with no military virtues and his anger is directed at commoners.