Wednesday, 14 March 2012

The Shangani Fight.

(By D. G. L.)

This account of the battle is from the Matabele.

(As told to me by the late Chief Somvubu, son of Mtjana, General of the Mbizo regiment.)

After the kraal at Bulawayo had been burnt by the orders of Lobengula ; Lobengula left with his bodyguard in charge of Sivalo and Sihuluhulu in the direction of the Shangani River and as rear guard followed Chiefs Gambo (1), Mtjana and Lutuli in charge of these impis.

With Lobengula was also Magwegwe o wa ka Fuyana, who was Lobengula's prime minister (2).

This party crossed the Shangani River. Mtjana, Gambo and Lutuli camped with their impis at the Gwampa River and whilst there the white men pursuing Lobengula came in sight unnoticed by majority of the natives, but their arrival was reported to Gambo and Mtjana (3), who decided to let the white men through to capture Lobengula and so close the hostilities, but some of the amajaha the next morning noticed the spoor of the horses and, thirsting for a fight, forced Mtjana and Gambo to give chase.

By this time the white men had reached the Shangani River and had camped some distance off the road so as not to be seen by the natives of whom they had seen many on their way and whom they knew would follow.

A patrol then went forward from their main camp to Lobengula's wagons but saw no sign of the king there so returned to the main body. Lobengula had seen them and sent Sihuluhulu and Sivalo with money to the white men as a sign that he wished to cease fighting.

Later a second patrol came to the wagons and Lobengula was angry and disappointed and in a loud voice said: "Ba yi tateleni imali yami nxa be sa funa ugulwa." (Why did they take my money if they still want to fight?) By this time Mtjana and Gambo had arrived at the wagons and opened fire on the white men who sent two of their number across the Shangani River to the main body to, I imagine, order the isigwagwagwa (machine guns) forward. One of these two rode a white horse and the other a red horse with a white star on its forehead.

That night Mtjana lined the road with his impis, cutting off the retreat of the white men and sent back to the Shangani River the Isiziba and Hlati regiments to keep the machine guns back.

The next day the white men were surrounded and almost immediately Johwane (Colenbrander) (4) and another left, charged through us, and on their horses swam the River, which was now inflood.

The first man to kill a white man that day was Mdilizelwa, and the second Bayana, who was himself killed later.

The fight continued at the Pupu Spruit until midday, the white men falling by their slain horses. We were surprised to hear the white man singing whilst he was fighting.

Some of the Chiefs remained at the Pupu (Mtjana, Sivalo and Sihuluhulu) and the others went back to the Matopos.

Magwegwe went north with Lobengula, and when the princes and the queens returned to Mtjana we heard that Lobengula and Magwegwe were dead, not by illness but by given orders for their burial alive in a cave. The queens and princes would not have returned if he had not been dead. Magwegwe insisted on dying with Lobengula.

Later Johwane came to tell my father, Mtjana, that he, the queens and princes were wanted in Bulawayo, so accompanied by Sivalo and Sihuluhulu, we obeyed this order. Among the princes were Nyamande, Tjakalisa and Njube, the father of Albert and Rhodes."

Sivalo and Sihuluhulu could not identify the two white men to whom they had given the money.

Notes by the Editor: —
(1) It is very doubtful whether Gambo was actually of the party. He was at the time at least nominally in charge of the Southern Border, where Gambo's command was at about this time defeated and scattered by Goold-Adams and his B.B. Police at Mangwe Pass.

(2) Prime minister is a too extravagant interpretation of Induna ya kwo' Bulawayo, which was Magwcgwe's official title. Perhaps the English word Mayor suggests most accurately the functions of Magwegwe's office.

(3) It has been suggested to me that Somvubu may have been mistaken or he may have failed to make himself clear on this point. Loyalty was Mtjana's saving virtue and it seems incredible that Somvubu should have attributed to Mtjana such disloyalty.

(4) Johwane was almost certainly not present though, doubtless, the Matabele family believed that he was.


Extracted and recompiled by Eddy Norris from the NADA (Native Affairs Department Annual) of 1934. Material made available by Canon Bill Girard. Thanks Bill.

Does anyone know who the author (D.G.L.) was?

Also please remember that comments are always very welcome. Send them to

Recommended Reading


Major Wilson's Last Stand on Shangani River -1896.


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