Mphande kaSenzangakhona, Zulu king (1840–72), was half-brother to both Shaka (1816–28) and Dingane (1828–40). When Dingane assassinated Shaka in 1828, and seized the throne, Mphande survived the general massacre of Senzangakona’s descendants, a sign of Dingane’s contempt. But after Dingane’s catastrophic defeat by the Boers in 1838 at the Battle of Blood River, Mphande refused to join his half-brother in an attack on the Swazi, instead leading thousands of Zulus into the neighbouring Boer republic of Natalia. The Boers then moved again against Dingane, defeating him at the battle of Maqongqo in 1840, and effectively installing Mphande as king. Dingane was murdered shortly afterwards.
It would be wrong to read too much into this. This was long before the days of apartheid, and the Boers then were little different from the other marauding groups — Zulu, Ndebele, Swazi, Gaza — raiding each other for cattle, land and people. Historians, including Zulu historians, are divided as to whether Mphande was a reluctant king, hating the responsibilities of power, or whether he was a smart operator, successfully manipulating the forces against him in a dangerous world. This izibongo credits him with destroying many Sotho and Swazi enemies, but capable of being smart, as in the incident with the Boers’ cattle. The following poem was recorded and translated by James Stewart, a magistrate in colonial Zululand from 1888. He spoke fluent Zulu and assembled a vast archive of oral recordings, indispensable to modern researchers. The imbongi’s name is unknown.
Mdayi make reply to the land across: (1)
Who is he that can dare to summon Mdayi?
Mdayi runs away from the venom of the Ntuli people (2)
And of the Ntombela people. (3)
They are killing the family of Ndaba (4)
Saying they have been handed it
They have been handed it by Phunga and Mageba. (5)
The driver back and crusher
Like unto the thunder which pounds at stones and rumbles
While it is becoming fair weather up among the clouds
Enraged flash of the eye which lays bare like lightning
Which lays bare while up above.
Ndaba stander alone
Like unto the sun which stands alone in heaven.
The nice one of Ndaba
Come let me kiss your mouth.
I have a mouth.
How big is he who is as big as the sun of Ndaba?
Msimude who appeared showing a crest between the English and Boers. (6)
Storm which thundered between the two Amaqongqo hills (7)
And seized the shields of the Dlambhedhlu and Imikhulutyane regiments. (8)
He felled Nezishada born to Maqhobeza (9)
He felled Poyiye son of Mahlanyana,
He felled the Bateleur eagle born by Phiko,
He felled Mtshikila among the Basutus of the Ndabandaba section,
He felled the bull which was farmed out at Mtyewula’s krall;
They who became so enraged that you crossed the Crocodile River in a shower of tears.
You went to the fortress at SikWata’s among the Basutus,
And you again crossed the Crocodile river.
You felled Phahlauhahla at Umsuta.
We seized the cattle which we had not found at SikWata’s
And we crossed the Crocodile river with them,
We met the Boers who declared that their cattle they were searching for,
Saying that theirs were among these that were at SikWata’s,
Saying that theirs would be recognised by a brand,
Saying others had brands on their legs:
We did not reply, we simply kept quiet.
We drove them along, all of them.
They went back and came across some others of our people
And they deprived them of children we had taken captive from the Basutus of SikWata; (10)
After that he waged war on the Mswazi of Odidini: (11)
He felled Tekwane, son of Sobhuza,
He felled Mqamelo, the sleeper on one aide of the house of Sobhuza,
He felled Mbakulana, son of Sobhuza.
As for Malambula he took and returned with him to Zululand
And afterwards sent him across to Nkata;
And killed him at the house of Sobhuza,
And the mourning powders returned to Odidini
To the mother of Mswazi.
There followed the torrent of Ndaba
Which was for bringing up our mothers, whom we had placed at the Sinkwazi
The elephant which when it went away
They made a clamour over
It turned its head around
And devoured men.
Swallow that strayed towards heaven,
Swallow white mark is on its gullet
While other swallows have their white mark on the stomach and wings.
The sound of many waters which is the return tide of the Tukela river. (12)
Here is the original Zulu version:
Umdayi sabela kweliphetsheya
Ubani yena ongabiza uMdayi?
Umdayi ubalekela unya lwakwaNtuli
Babulala umuzi ka Ndaba
Bawunikwe uPhunga noBageba
Onjengezulu lona iiwakhanda iindindize
La lisa emafwini
Umhlope ophandhlayo onjengezulu
Lona laphandhla iiphezulu.
Unjengelanga lona lima lodwa ezulwini
Usomnandi ka Ndaba
Woza ngang ‘umlomo
Umsimude ovela ngesiluba phakathi kwaMangisi naMaqadasi
Izulu elidume phakathi kwaMaqongqo omabili
Lazithat ‘izihlangu zoDhlambhedhlu noMikhulutyane
Wamudhla uNozishada ezalwa uMaqhoboza
Wamudhla uPoyiye ka Mahlanyana
Wayidhla ingqungqulu izalwa nguPhiko
Wamudhla uMtshikila kuBesuthu bakwaNdamandaba
Wayidhla inkunzi ebiyosiswa koMtyewula;
Othukuthela wawela uBhalule ngemvula yezinyembezi
Way ‘enqabeni kwaSikwata kuBeautu,
Wabuye wahlasela kwaPhahlaphahla kuBesutu
Waphinda waluwela uBhalule.
Wamudhla uPhahlaphahla woMsutu
Sadhl izinkomo ebesingazitholanga kwaSikwata
Sawel ‘uBhalule nazo
Sahlangana naMabunu ethi afuna ezawo
Ethi ezawo ziphakathi kwalezo zakwaSikwata
Ethi ezawo zobonakata ngophau
Ethi ezinye zinencwadi emilenzeni;
Aphindel ’emuva ahlangana nabanye bakithi
Asethatha izingane esasiziphange khona kuBesuthu bakwaSikwata
Ngemva kwalokho wahlasela kwaMswazi Odidini
Wadhla uTekwane kaSobhuza
Wamudhla uMqameloubanganhlanye endhlini kaSobhuza
Wamudhla uMbhakulana kaSobuza
Kwathi uMalambula wamthatha weza naye kwaZulu
Wabuye wamwexela kwaNkatha
Wambulala kwabo kwaSobhuza
Amakhubalo abuyela khona Odidini
Kulandel ‘isikhukula sikaNdaba
8okukhulisa omama esasibabeke
Indhlovu ethi imuka
Inkonjane ebuwaba busegilweni
Ezinye zibuwaba busesiswini nasemaphikweni
Usihozane zingamabuya olwandhle noTukela.
Recorded and translated by James Stewart, late 19C Zululand,
held in the James Stewart Archive at the Killie Campbell Africana Library, Durban.
The imbongi’s name is unknown.
- Mdayi was one of Mphande’s praise names. This line refers to Mphande’s refusal to accept Dingane’s summons to join him in fighting the Swazi.
- Dingane’s prime minister Ndhlela belonged to the Ntuli people.
- Nzobo, one of Dingane’s indunas, belonged to the Ntombela people. It was he killed Piet Retief and 67 Voortrekkers, precipitating the Battle of Blood River. His son Mgamule became one of Mphande’s most trusted supporters.
- The Zulu (see the izibongo of Ndaba)
- Phunga and Mageba: Other famous Zulu warrirors.
- Msimude: Another of Mphande’s praise names. The reference is to two treaties made by Mphande in 1843, the first with the British defining the borders of Natal and Zululand, the second with the Boers concerning territory beside the Klip River. When the British complained the second treaty violated the first, Mphande occupied the disputed land himself and avoided further trouble.
- The two Amaqongqo hills: Where Dingane was killed.
- Dlambhedhlu and Imikhulutyane regiments: Two of Dingane’s regiments.
- None of the enemies mentioned in the following lines can be identified. The “Basutos” are, of course, the Sotho people, then ruled by Moshoeshoe. The Bateleur eagle is a small colourful eagle, common in South Africa. The Crocodile River is a tributary of the Limpopo.
- Giving up on their cattle, the Boers settle instead for some captives Mphande’s people have already taken from the Sotho. In the currency of the time, these were less valuable. Sikwata was chief of the baPedi.
- The Swazi, ruled by Sobhuza I, whose land Mphande tried to invade. Odidini is today a town in Kwazulu.
- Tukela river: Better known as the Tugela River, the largest river in Kwazulu.