History Monday: An Opinion Piece on the Butua Kingdom

An opinion piece from the Patriot news site by M Pekeshe


‘KAMOTO kamberevere kakapisa matanda mberi’, counsels a Shona adage.
‘A stitch in time saves nine’, the wise of the English say.
Events of the last few weeks, namely; Mthwakazi Republic party mischief, circus surrounding coronation of the Ndebele king and the launch of Khulumani FM station are all confirming what we have been saying over decades.
Africa sits on a colonially created ethnic, linguistic and cultural booby trap bent on swallowing up its rebirth.
What is Mthwakazi?
The Kingdom of Butwa (also pronounced Butua) was a Karanga/Kalanga offshoot of the Mutapa state at Great Zimbabwe.
It was established around 1450 at Khami and coincides with the decline of Great Zimbabwe and the flourishing of the Mutapa state in the north east. Butwa traded in gold with both the Arabs and later with the Portuguese.
The Torwa Dynasty ruled Butwa for two centuries until they were overthrown by the Changamire/Rozvi rulers. Butwa later became the epicentre of the Rozvi Empire under the Mambo rulers.
The population of Butwa were the same Karanga/Kalanga people found at Great Zimbabwe in the south-east and in the Mutapa state in the north-east.
When Mzilikazi arrived in the Kingdom of Butwa in the 19th Century, complex negotiations ensued with Mambo which resulted in a broad political, cultural and religious settlement giving birth to Butwa and Mzilikazi union as Mthwakazi.
Besides, the Karanga/Kalanga and the Ndebele other groups under this confederacy included the Tonga, Sotho, Venda and Nambya.
With time, Mthwakazi became synonymous with the Mzilikazi/Ndebele Kingdom but in reality, it was more complex than this.
So in short Mthwakazi is the 19th Century Great Zimbabwe in the south-west, much like the Mutapa in the north-east and is one of several kingdoms found on the pre colonial Zimbabwe plateau.
Today, the Zimbabwean plateau is now a republic with successor rights to the political and economic jurisdiction over what were Mutapa, Rozvi, Mthwakazi and other former polities. One need not have passed through law school to therefore see treasonous mischief behind the Mthwakazi republic calls.
What Mthwakazi Culture?
The culture of Mthwakazi is a melting pot of Zimbabwe’s major historic-cultural groupings, namely; chiKaranga/TshiKalanga, Ndebele, Venda, Nambiya, Tonga and Sotho.
Today we also have flavourings of Xhosa, Chewa and European influences. Khami Ruins, State House, Old Bulawayo, Inyathi mission and Matonjeni shrines in the Matopos attest to the diverse and deep cultural layering.
Religion is perhaps the most important cultural element that bound Mthwakazi together.
Mzilikazi, in his settlement with Mambo, agreed to respect all Matonjeni shrines like Khami and Njelele.
So, throughout the subsistence of the Mthwakazi Kingdom, Karangas from as far afield as Chishawasha, Seke, Chikomba, Mberengwa and Gutu continued to undertake their annual pilgrimages to Matonjeni without any trouble.
What language is spoken in
A people’s culture is carried through language and usually in a way that reflects social power dynamics.
In the Mthwakazi, Ndebele was the language of royalty and commerce. Royalty encompassed political and military structures. However, in the domestic space, most mothers, who were mainly Karanga/Kalanga, conversed with their offspring in their mother tongues.
The Mthwakazi religious languages were chiKaranga, Venda and chiRozvi, the Matonjeni tongues.
Given above linguistic background of Mthwakazi, you can appreciate why I was taken aback with newly launched Khulumani FM languages. The new station broadcasts in seven languages, namely Kalanga, Tonga, Xhosa, English, Venda, Sotho and Ndebele in a radius that was the epicentre of the Mthwakazi Kingdom.
The seven are part of the 16 national languages in terms of our Constitution. Kalanga has gone through nearly 150 years of divorce from Karanga and matching Ndebele acculturation over the same period. Karanga has morphed into a recent language called Shona, which is now spoken by majority of Zimbabweans.
In practice, English is now Zimbabwe’s business language with Shona and Ndebele as the domestic tongues and the rest as our minority indigenous tongues. I therefore cannot understand why a radio station in Mthwakazi catchment would leave out Shona.
Not long ago, I cautioned against use of language to divide citizens. I wrote:
“According to the Constitution, Zimbabwe has sixteen official languages namely; Chewa, chiBarwe, English, Kalanga, Khoisan, Nambya, Ndau, Shangani, Shona, sign language, Sotho, Tonga, Tswana, Venda and Xhosa. Imagine a Shangani-Nambya conversation or a Chewa-Ndebele dialogue; would that not be the perfect cementing of the Unity Accord? Can we not come together as one, celebrating richness of our linguistic diversity?
Unfortunately, through omissions and commissions we have created monsters out of our linguistic diversity hence my initial discomfort in conversing in Shona in Lower Gweru. Instead we have inadvertently made language the bedrock upon which tribal conflicts have been built.
For those who have ignored counsel to celebrate our linguistic diversity, cases abound of ‘linguism’ becoming the basis for destructive neo-nationalism. We need to guard against this creeping vice, already knocking loudly and incessantly on our body politic.
Shona should be part of the pride and national identity of a villager in Lupane in the same way Chewa should flourish in Zhombe and Ndebele in Buhera. I want to experience Nyanja culture in Ndebele in Sizinda, in Nambya in Hwange, in Shona in Zhombe and in Chewa in Rugare.
Much the same way as Nollywood has brought Yoruba culture into our homes in English.
For, is that not the culture-carrier role of language?
We need a language policy that so extends and integrates national identity. 2017 Unity Day, like many before it, will probably pass quietly. Yet the legacy crying loud for urgent restoration is national pride and identity nourished in rich language diversity.
That is what Section 6 of the Constitution is compelling all of us to do.
Nyerere built a strong nation; perhaps one of Africa’s most stable, on Swahili. With 16 languages de-tribalised, we can achieve 16 times more.”
Can the Mthwakazi Kingdom be
King Mzilikazi was succeeded by his son Lobengula.
King Lobengula was known to the Shona people as Chingururu, meaning ‘the terror’ because of his policy of raids for cattle, brides and young men among Karanga (Shona) groups that resisted incorporation into Mthwakazi Kingdom.
It was King Lobengula who was at the forefront of resisting BSA Company colonisation.
When his army was defeated near Mbembesi, he fled his Bulawayo capital, where we now have State House, and perished in the north, with majority accounts indicating he died in Chief Pashu’s country in Matabeleland North whilst a few accounts say he died among the Tonga across the Zambezi.
When I first lived in Bulawayo, the official account was that Lobengula wanyamalala, which is disappeared without trace. I enjoyed my stay in Bulawayo.
The place was bustling with culture, had historical patina everywhere and was proudly the City of Kings (and Queens!). And when I enquired as to why the kingdom could not be revived, I was told the kingdom disappeared with Lobengula.
On further probing it was explained that you do not install a king (inkosi) before funeral rites of the predecessor are carried out. Who was I to argue?
But I did feel that Mthwakazi was letting go a big cultural opportunity with their ‘wanyamalala’ argument.
So, in a way, I have welcomed the current circus surrounding the succession and revival of the Ndebele monarchy.
I saw on television the other day, my good friend, a Lobengula look-alike, Peter Zwide Kalanga Khumalo proclaiming himself King Nyamande Lobengula II and not long after, the aborted coronation of recently found ‘heir’ Bulelani Colin Lobengula Khumalo.
Peter or Colin is not the issue, properly handled, revival of Mthwakazi Kingdom, as a cultural symbol within our republic, would go a long way in celebrating our diversity.



1.  Pekeshe, M (2018) From Butua to Mthwakazi: Celebrating history, culture. Available from: https://www.thepatriot.co.zw/old_posts/from-butwa-to-mthwakazi-celebrating-history-culture/

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