History Monday: The History of Zimbabwe – The First War of Independence (1896-1897) Part 2

Last History Monday, we ended with the settlers viewing the revolt as an irrational reaction based on superstitious beliefs.

With Mlimo and Mashaykuma leading uprisings in Matebeleland and the Zezuru Shona. Chief Mashayamombe in the Mhondoro area, worked with Sekuru Gumboreshumba, medium of Kaguvi, the local spirit medium based out of the Goromonzi area. Mashayamombe is creditted with the first killing of a settler in Norton during the revolt. Last to join the revolt were the Hwata dynasty in the Mazowe area. They were led by Mambo Zindoga Hwata with the Ambuya Charwe Nyakasikana, the medium of the Nehanda spirit, the spirit medium in that area.

In Matabeleland; the first killing was on March 20 when several Ndebele warriors shot and stabbed a native policeman. On the 24th, the uprising was in fullswing in the province. Many native policemen reblled and joined the Ndebele warriors. Within a week, 141 settlers had been killed with many settler homes, farms, ranches and mines burnt to the ground.

Over the following months, several troops made the long trek to Matabeleland to protect settlers and their property. The region became the scene of the fiercest fighting in the whole uprising. Mlimo was eventually assassinated in his temple in the Matobo Hills by Fredrick Burnham, (an American scout). Once Cecil Rhodes heard of the medium’s death, he walked unarmed into the impi to persuade them to lay down their arms. The Ndebele were defeated in 1896.

In Mashonaland, the war had broken out in June 1896 in Mazowe with an attack on the Alice Mine. Mbuya Nehanda captured and killed the Mazowe Native Commissioner Pollard. Chief Mashayamombe was the last chief to be defeated. With the end of the Matabeleland uprising, the company was able to concentrate its troops to the Mashonaland uprising. Soon overwhelmed, the natives retreated into granite kopjes. Without central command or communication, the uprising was doomed.

Chief Mashayamombee fought many brave battles forcing the BSAC to establish a fort at his kraal, called Fort Martins. As the last chief fighting, he met his death in battle and his forces soon succumbed after that. His body was never recovered and there have been tales told of how his body was decapitated and taken to Britain as a trophy of victory. These tales have never been substantiated however.

The Chimurenga ended in October 1897. Mashonaland and Matebeleland were unified under BSAC rule and the newly formed country was named Southern Rhodesia. (End of Part 2)

Next History Monday I shall end by giving a biography of each influential figure in the First Chimurenga War.

Till then.




  1. Dawson, 2011. “The First Chimurenga: 1896-1897 Uprising in Matabeleland and Mashonaland and Continued Conflicts in Academia.”
  2. Servicio Informativo Ecumenico Y Popular (SIEP), 15/12/2008. “The First Chimurenga (1896.1897).”
  3. Wikipedia. “Chimurenga.”


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