The Stories We Don't Tell Ourselves. Britain and her Empire.
The stories we tell ourselves matter. They form narratives that shape our identities and our understanding of the past. Our relationship with public spaces, including academic institutions. They influence how we engage with contemporary discourses and, in this instance, decolonising education.
It's been over 2 years since Britain was rocked by the wave of discontent youth demanding change in the national curriculum. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement in the States, Brits had their own bone to pick with their government. The insidious nature of Britain's snapshot history is evident in past pupils' self-education. The rise in visibility of organisations like The Black Curriculum and the historical presence of Black Saturday Schools.
To challenge MP Kemi Badenoch's statement on Black history. The call to decolonise education is not focused on race or raising activists, let alone victimising the Black community. Instead, the public petitioned for a fuller picture of Britain's expeditions during her imperial rule. When we learn about the likes of Cecil Rhodes, we should also learn about the Southern African Kingdoms that reigned amid British invasions.
Lobengula Khumalo, King of Matabeleland, which now exists as a province of Zimbabwe, was the last King of the Northern Ndebele people. During the British South Africa Company's (BSAC) invasion of Zimbabwe. His history includes the different identities under the Matabele Kingdom and other Southern African Kingdoms that occupied space in Zimbabwe, such as the Mutapa Kingdom.
Immerse yourself in this song that echoes his reign. It was taught to a primary school student in Matabeleland.
Lobengula was the successor of the notable military leader, Mzilikazi, chief of the Khumalo. He was popularly known for his rivalry with Shaka Zulu and his departure from the Zulu Kingdom in the 1820s. He grew a diverse following in his expeditions and conquests, raiding other tribes such as the Pedi. He eventually formed the Matabele Kingdom, a nation of different identities, such as the Nguni people, Sotho, and Tswana, in Zimbabwe in 1840.
Lobengula means the one who was sick; he suffered from an illness during his childhood hence his name. Ndebele academics to date contend with the nature of his condition. He was the son of Mzilikazi and Princess of the Swazi House of Sobhuza I, believed to be the lesser of Mzilikazi's wives. Lobengula was part of the Khumalo dynasty, a royal family whose lineage is still present to date in Zimbabwe.
His seat on the throne wasn't an easy feat. According to Ndebele academic Pathisa Nyathi, 'some people favoured Mzilikazi's firstborn son who was sent to Zululand while others favoured the son, Lobengula.' He eventually succeeded to the throne in 1870 despite opposition from izinduna (chiefs) in the Kingdom. However, that was the tip of the iceberg in the adversities that would soon cloud his Kingdom.
The root of the scramble of Africa was covetousness; the reports of missionaries, explorers and traders echoed the riches of raw materials in the continent. In the words of Pathisa Nyathi, ' People thought Mashonaland was an El Dorado where they could find gold, but they were disappointed. So, they thought Matabeleland was probably the El Dorado where King Solomon's mines were. They wanted war, and now they were looking for a pretext to attack Matabeleland.'
King Lobengula had agreed to a few mining concessions in the early 1880s. Still, he grew suspicious after gold was found in the Witwatersrand in 1886. European countries came in numbers to Matabeleland's capital, Bulawayo, seeking concessions to search for gold. They were met with great disappointment; having waited for an audience, bringing gifts to the King, they still left empty-handed. On the other hand, Britain had a strategy to annex the Matabele Kingdom.
"Did you ever see a chameleon catch a fly? The chameleon gets behind the fly and remains motionless for some time. He advances very slowly and gently, first putting forward one leg and then the other. At last, when well within reach, he darts his tongue, and the fly disappears. England is the chameleon, and I am that fly." – King Lobengula.
Cecil John Rhodes desperately wanted to gain a mining concession from King Lobengula. The ironic 'treaty of friendship' in February 1888 was the catalyst to two Matabele wars and the blaze that consumed Bulawayo at the hands of her King.
Like a trojan horse John Moffatt, son of missionary Robert Moffatt had strong ties to the Khumalo family. His father had befriended Lobengula's father, King Mzilikazi. His task was to persuade Lobengula to sign a treaty declaring his Kingdom a British protectorate. A state that would be controlled and "protected" by Britain.
In October 1888, Lobengula signed yet another treaty called the Rudd Concession that granted the British South Africa Company (BSAC) mining concession to King Lobengula's entire Kingdom. He had been deceived by Rhodes and his party of businessmen; Lobengula believed he had signed a limited mining concession. The King had even tried to consult Queen Victoria amid these negotiations and failed to reach her on time.
Once the BSAC discovered no El Dorado in Mashonaland, they came for Matabeleland next. The chameleon never caught the fly; the first Matabele war in 1893 saw thousands of Ndebele warriors die at the hands of British guns. Bulawayo was burnt down under the instructions of King Lobengula, the last King of Matabeleland was never to be seen again. To date, historians and journalists contend the true nature of his death.
Education plays an influential role in keeping public memories of the past. The absence of histories and stories reflecting the likes of King Lobengula can create false memories. Alluding to the very ideologies that contribute to racial tensions within British society. For instance, the notion of 'civilisation' being the motivator of Britain's colonial rule distorts our lens of Africa and the community's heritage. It not only births prejudice and unconscious bias but also robs students of the opportunity to critically engage with the past.
The stories we tell ourselves matter. The call to decolonise education is a petition to get a fuller picture of Britain's expeditions during her imperial rule. It is not focused on race, raising activists, or victimising the Black community.
In the following article, we will explore the story of the spiritual leader Mlimo. He formed a resistance against the BSAC, resulting in the second Matabele war in 1896.
Harlow, B. and Carter, M. Archives of empire: The Scramble for Africa. (Durham and London: Duke University Press 2003)
Lindgren, B. “Power, education, and identity in post-colonial Zimbabwe: The fate of king Lobengula of matabeleland,” African Sociological Review / Revue Africaine de Sociologie, 6.1 (2002), pp. 49–67. https://doi.org/10.4314/asr.v6i1.23202.
Lobengula. ([n.d.]) Encyclopædia Britannica, inc.https://www.britannica.com/biography/Lobengula (Accessed: November 2, 2022).
Nyathi, P. Zimbabwe's Cultural Heritage. (Bulawayo: 'amaBooks.2005)
Oral tradition and Indigenous Knowledge. ([n.d.]) South African History Online. https://www.sahistory.org.za/article/oral-tradition-and-indigenous-knowledge (Accessed: November 2, 2022).
Were Lobengula and the amaNdebele tricked by the Rudd concession? ([n.d.])Zimbabwe Field Guide. https://zimfieldguide.com/bulawayo/were-lobengula-and-amandebele-tricked-rudd-concession (Accessed: November 2, 2022).