The Mthethwa

The expulsion of the Ngwane-Dlamini from the Phongolo valley left Zwide of the Ndwandwe and Dingiswayo of the Mthethwa to confront each other in the northern Nguni country. Zwide himself had become king of the Ndwandwe around 1790. He appears to have been responsible for building a powerful Ndwandwe state based on the collection of tribute from subject polities, the use of an army based on age-regiments, the myth of a sacred kingship organized around the annual incwala first-fruits ceremonies and the control of trade routes with Delagoa Bay.

The Mthethwa kingdom had become famous under Dingiswayo, son of Jobe and grandson of Kayi (who may generally be regarded as founder of the Mthethwa kingdom). Like the Ndwandwe, Ngwane, and later the Zulu states, the power of the Mthethwa was also built on tribute collecting, cattle-raiding and an army based on age-regiments. The Mthethwa also traded extensively with Delagoa Bay.

As has already been pointed out, the age-regiments were being deployed generally throughout the major Nguni states of the region and most of the Nguni states appear to have been influenced by Pedi and other Sotho groups in the vicinity. But Dingiswayo seems to have brought his usual thoroughness and imagination to the reorganization of what was a fairly general practice in the area. H e terminated the circumcision rite that used to accompany the formation of age-grades in order to do away with the period of seclusion necessitated by such rites. He adopted the chest-and horns formation for his army. Dingiswayo also formed an alliance with the Maputo kingdom at Delagoa Bay. In subsequently conquering and incorporating the Qwabe state, Dingiswayo is said to have been assisted by soldiers armed with guns from his allied kingdom of Maputo, and not, as Fynn stated, a company of soldiers sent by the Portuguese. Dingiswayo’s Mthethwa kingdom collected tribute from more than thirty chiefdoms in the region, including a small chiefdom under Senzangakhona, namely the Zulu state. Subsequently Shaka, a son of Senzangakhona, became a general in Dingiswayo’s army.

D . Ngcongco (Botswana): specialist in Southern African history; has published various studies on Botswana in pre-colonial times; formerly Director, National Institute of Development, Research and Documentation; Professor and Head, Department of History, University of Botswana.

Source: General History of Africa Vol.VI. [Editor: J.F.Ade Ajai] Africa in the Nineteenth Century until the 1880s. Chapter 5. The Mfecane and the rise of new African states.

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