History Monday: The History of Zimbabwe – The First War of Independence (1896-1897) Part 3

The uprising had failed completely and did not result in any major policy changes in the BSAC. The hut tax was still implemented. Matebeleland and Mashonaland became Southern Rhodesia; with its people subjects to Rhodes’ administration. The uprising leaders however, were to inspire future generations. Figures such as Kaguvi, Nehanda, ,Mapondera, Mashayamombe and Mlimo. They were brave but their bows and poisoned arrows, spears and shield were no match to the settler guns and dynamite.

As promised, to end our foray into the First Chimurenga, below are biographies of these pivotal figures:

Mlimo (M’limo/Umlimo), Ndebele spiritual leader:

In March 1986, the Ndebele revolted against the BSAC. This was formulated and has since been credited to Mlimo. Mlimo promised through his priests that if the Ndebele went to war against the settlers, their bullets would change to water and their canon shells into eggs. He planned to attack and killsettlers in Bulawayo first but not to destroy the town itself, as it would serve again as the royal kraal for the newly reincarnated King Lobengula.

He decreed that the settlers be attacked and driven from the region through the Mangwe Pass on the Western edge of the Matobo Hills. The Ndebele fought bravely for several months but Mlimo’s death would be a deciding factor.

The turning point came when a Zulu informant gave away the whereabouts of Mlimo. Scount Burnham and native commissioner Bonnar Armstrong were dispatched to find the sacred cave used as a shrine and kill/capture Mlimo. They stealthily crept past a camp of over 100 warriors and hid in the cave awaiting Mlimo. Mlimo entered and danced his dance of immunity but Burnham sho him just below his heart.

As the shot rang out, the warriors picked up arms to pursue the fleeing assassinators but Burnham set fire to the village as a distraction. It worked and he and his companion escaped.

Chief Mashayamombe:

In 1865, Chief Mashayamombe showed prospector Henry Hartley a rich reef of gold on the Mupfure River and Hartley broke the news to Thomas Baines and German explorer Carl Mauch. Years after this in 1890, Cecil Rhodes dispatched the Pioneer Column with each member promised 16 gold mining claims. However, they encountered resistance and failed to subdue Chief Mashayamombe. The Chief had strategically created a garrison on the banks of the Mupfure River.

His people are credited with killing the first white settler during a military clash. The local people later killed 2 white men and this signalled the start of the First Chimurenga (accounts differ here). Several battles were fought and won by the Chief forcing the BSAC to establish a fort at his kraaal called Fort Martins.

It is said the Chief met his death on the battlefield, with his forces soon succumbing afterwards. They were the last natives to lay down arms. His body was never found.

It is rumoured his body was decaptitated and his head taken back to Britain as a trophy of victory.

{Edit : 13/08/2015 – Skulls of fallen First Chimurenga heroes are displayed at British Museums. Skulls of Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi, Chief Mashayamombe among others}

Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi:

Mbuya Charwe Nyakasikana (Nehanda) was captured and dragged to Her Majesty’s court in March 1898; beside Chief Zindoga Hwata and Chief Gutsa, for the murder of Hawkins Pollard the native commissioner who lived in the Mazowe area, terrorising the locals. With Sekuru Gumboreshumba (Kaguvi), they were arraigned in the High Court of Matabeleland in Salisbury on 20/02/1898.

They were convicted on 02/03/1898. They were sentenced to death by hanging. Their execution was authorised by Alfred Milner the British High Commissioner for South Africa. Their hanging was endorsed on 28/03/1898. The presiding judge was Judge Watermeyer with Herbert Castens as the public Prosecutor Sovereign who prosecuted on behalf of the Majesty Queen of England.

Chief Kadungure Mapondera:

Perhaps the most spoken of and recognised military leaders of this Chimurenga.He was the last surviving fighter of the First Chimurenga.

Chief Mapondera was born at Nyota, a mountain stronghold of the Negomo dynasty, in Mazowe area. Mapondera’s mother, Mwera, was a mhondwa, a slave wife, but there is no agreement as to who his father was. Some accounts favour Chief Gorejena Negomo as his father with other accounts favouring VaBiri, paramount wife of the Chief as his father. 

His birth was difficult with Mbuya Charwe called upon to assist and make offerings to the ancestors. It is lored that the spirit of Chaminuka reincarnated as a ghost to scare away the aides of Charwe. Charwe remained alone inthe hils and received a prophecy to say the birth would be a boy who would be a famed warrior.

Mapondera grew to be great soldier leading successful rebellions against the settlers from 1894-1901. He was arrested and put on trial in Salisbury in 1901. His charges was his attempt to wipe out the white community in Mazowe. He was sentenced to 7 years in prison.

He died in 1907 and it is said in the arms of his wife after embarking on a hunger strike. There is no record of where he was buried.

This marks the end of the First Chimurenga series. I hope you found it as informative as I did.

Next History Monday, we will continue  The History of Zimbabwe Chronology.

Till then.



  1. SIEP, 15/12/2008. “The First Chimurenga (1896.1897).”
  2. The Chronicle, 18/12/2011. “Heroes who contributed Zimbabwe’s liberation.”
  3. The Patriot, 15/07/2011. “Mashayamombe: The legendary fighter.”
  4. Beach, 1988. “From Heroism to History: Mapondera and the Northern Zimbabwean Plateau, 1840-1904.”
  5. The Chronicle, 13/08/2015. “Outrage over human trophies displayed in British Museums.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s