Reconstruction of the Kalanga history welcome but beware of distortions!

Updated: September 9, 2012

by Mloyiswayizizwe Sokhela — reprinted from Bulawayo 24 (9 May 2012)

I read with great fascination Ndzimu–Unami Moyo’s rendition of Kalanga history in his Chapter 1 installation in a Bulawayo24News edition. His consultation of sources was quite extensive (albeit not interpretively accurate) while his narration and arguments are fairly informative and intellectually provocative. Let me start by affirming his right to a cultural identity and express my solidarity with his desire to fight for the recognition, promotion and preservation of the Kalanga identity for it is the responsibility of every generation to ensure that it does not become the terminal point for the posterity of its species. The Kalanga have undoubtedly a rich heritage and legacy in Southern Africa as evidenced by the various ‘luswingo’ sites scattered throughout the region. In South Africa, although associated with the Venda (a point which Moyo clarifies), the  Mapungubwe ‘luswingo’ is so highly esteemed that in terms of the country’s national merit criteria, “The Order of Mapungubwe” is the utmost national honour that the country can ever bestow on an individual. I look forward to his further installations.

However, in spite of all the positive aspects that I have pointed out in Moyo’s historical account, there is a worryingly great deal of tribal prejudice, anger and bitterness most of which are reserved for the Ndebele people whom he invariably describes in hostile terms. Moyo also generously distributes Kalanga identity to everybody:  a section of Zulu people in South Africa are Kalanga and they are identifiable by their animal totems! a section of Tswana people including the aristocratic Ngwato clan as well as the Tswapong and Tauwana are Kalanga!  a section of the Tsonga people (baka BaLoyi) are Kalanga, a section of Sothos (Pedis) including the aristocratic Bakwenas are Kalanga and some sections of Venda people are Kalanga including the Lemba and Lobedu clans. While I fully sympathise with Moyo for his nostalgia (for indeed the Kalanga have a legendary foot print in the sub-region) I find his claims quite ridiculous in their attempt to construct a ubiquitous image of Kalanga identity which is being injected into the veins of every Southern African Bantu!

In all possibilities, the flip side of the coin could be true: that these groups to whom Moyo ascribes Kalanga identity have, through migrations and assimilation processes, made their own ethnic contributions to the Kalanga heritage. This is particularly likely when you consider that most of the Ncube and Ndlovu traditional custodians of Njelele lay claim to Venda origins. This claim is shared by a significant number of the Kalanga-speaking people including the Malabas most of whom still practise Venda rites such as facial mutilation as a means to prevent eye infections. What is interesting is that it is the BaKalanga people who trace their ancestry to these various ethinic groups not vice versa. For instance the Khupes trace their origins to the Pedi (Peri) and some Kalanga-speaking Ndlovus trace their origins to the Tswapong (Tswapone) while most Ngwenyas trace their origins to the Bakwenas, all of which are Sotho-Tswana groups. These communities themselves as presently constituted in their respective habitats know nothing about their alleged Kalanga origins.

Turning to the allegation of some Zulus in South Africa being Kalanga on the basis of their animal totems, I think Moyo committed a serious act of amateurish propaganda. His speculation that the Kalangas who left the ‘Mapungubwe city-state’ migrated to Natal is a desperate attempt to ‘deploy’ Kalanga ethnicity to other people without concrete historical facts. This is not only preposterous but also embarassing.

Reading Reggie Khumalo’s historical account: ‘UPhoko’ which catalogues Zulu clan origins, there is no mention of any Kalanga origins by a single clan in Zululand. Yet some of them were able to trace their ancestry to the Great Lakes Region. Contrary to Moyo’s claims that the Dube and Mthembu are variations of the same ‘Kalanga’ totem, in South Africa, Dubes are abaQadi and are not ‘clanically’ related to abaThembu even in their praise names. Mthembus are found both in Natal and Eastern Cape and Nelson Mandela is a member of this clan. Izibongo classified under Mthembu (Mvelase) include  Dlomo and Hadebe who are not, by any stretch of imagination, Kalanga. Moyo’s theory about all animal totems being Kalanga is not only an anthropological fallacy but also smacks of chauvinistic and hegemonic aspirations. We know for instance that Tongas use Njobvu for Ndlovu and Munkombwe for Nyathi and that does not make them Kalanga. We also know that there are several Kalanga totems that do not use animal totems. These include Moyo (heart), Mlalazi (whetstone), Gumbo (foot), and many others. Just as there are totems formed from body parts such Gumbo and Moyo among the Kalanga/Lozwi, the Nguni also have their own in such names as Thebe (heaps), Moya (spirit), Ngalonde (arm), Nhliziyo (heart), Sibindi (liver), etc.

Moyo’s real colours emerge when he attempts to deconstruct the Ndebele identity and strips it of its structural building blocks. He claims that Ndebeles are only those of Nguni origin and lists about 65 Nguni izibongo that he lifted from Mtope Khumalo’s book written in collaboration with Rev. Jones (uMhlakazanhlansi) of Hope Fountain Mission. Moyo makes the following erroneous assertion about who the Ndebele are:

‘I am referring to the Nguni group that left Zululand under the leadership of uMzilikazi. These are the people that are called Ndebele no matter how vehemently some among us deny the fact’

Quite strangely Moyo censors and suppresses another long list of other Ndebele izibongo which fall under the ‘abenhla,’ the group which gave Mzilikazi’s nucleus nation its name and who also outnumbered the original Zansi group by more than five times by the time they arrived in Zimbabawe in about 1836. These are Mahlangu, Mabhena, Masilela, Sikhosana, Mthombeni, Mhodi, Mgutshini, Jiyane, Mkandla, Mdlongwa, Mpunzi, Sibindi, Halimana, Siziba, Ngwenya, Ndlovu, Lusinga, etc. This is a mixtutre ex-Sothos and Ngunis from the Manala and Nzunza groups (Transvaal Ndebele). If these are denied their Ndebele identity one wonders who the Ndebele would be.

He then attempts to rebut Professor Sabelo Gatsheni’s argument that it is too simplistic to explain off Ndebele national identity through izibongo. Prof Gatsheni legitimately argues that it is futile to ‘deploy’ ethnicity based on this criterion because some izibongo cut across all the three categories of Zansi, Enhla and Lozwi social groupings including the so-called animal totems. He gave the name Ndlovu as an example. This is an impregnable argument by Prof Gatsheni. My own analysis revealed that whilst some Ndlovus may indeed be of Kalanga/Lozwi origin, a substantial number of them are infact Nguni or Sotho. For instance the following well-known Zansi and Enhla izibongo are infact  also totemically ‘Ndlovus’ and their origins have nothing to do with Kalangas: Malinga, Halimana, Mthombeni, Magutshwa, Luphahla, Mphoko, Gegana, Gatsheni, etc. By the same token the following izibongo share the same monkey totem but are not Kalanga: Mkandla/Khabo (Sotho), Zikhali (Nguni) and Phiri (Nyanja) are all variations of Ncubes across Africa.

Whilst it is welcome to reconstruct Kalanga history, Moyo must be careful not to play into the hands of anti-Ndebele forces that are looking for an excuse to use to destroy the nation to which the Bakalanga are an integral part.

Based on the citation of his sources it appears the terms ‘Kalanga’ and ‘Nyayi’ as used in the references that Moyo heavily relied on do not mean the Kalanga as we ‘narrowly’ know them today. It is evident that ‘Kalanga’ is a generic name for all present-day Shona-speaking tribes as the name’ Shona’ is a recent nomenclature traceable to the arrival of the Ndebele in Zimbabwe in the last 200 years or so. In some sources the old European authorities even describe Chief Mutasa as a “Kalanga Chief”. Even up to this day, some tribes such as Venda and Shangaan refer to the Shona as ‘Makalaga’ and to the ‘real’ Kalanga as ‘Mapuramu’ (obviously from the name Plumtree). The late Kalanga historian Tate Masola in ‘Nhau dzaBakalanga’ makes this point quite clear when he asserts that the Kalanga are not descendants of the Shona but the Shona are the descendants of Kalanga.

Moyo appears to be drawing much of his ‘revolutionary energy’ from his hatred for the Ndebele nation, a nation whose existence he desperately tries to deny as he appropriates most of its nationals to his imagined ‘Great Bukalanga Nation’. He even tried recently to substitute ‘Matebeleland’ with ‘Bukalanga’ as the provincial name for South Western Zimbabwe and even took his case to the anti-Mthwakazi government of Zimbabwe to arbitrate. Given the fact that ‘Kalanga’ and ‘Nyayi’ are the old names for ‘Shona’ I suggest that he submits a request to the Government of Zimbabwe to have ‘Mashonaland’ renamed ‘Bukalanga’.

However we need to be careful not to bundle all Kalanga people with this divisive mentality. The Kalanga are a great people. They have made a huge contribution to the liberation of Zimbabwe and have provided leadership to the Mthwakazi cause more than any other constituent Mthwakazi ethnic group in recent times. The smart amongst them have taken advantage of their broad Mthwakazi appeal to represent the entire region of Matebeleland in Zimbabwe’s body politic rather than seek to antagonise others in narrow tribal agendas. For many years now they have refused to be accessories in genocidal anti-Mthwakazi conspiracies and we hope Moyo has not unwittingly provided that weak link. It is one thing to seek recognition for Kalanga people but it’s another to seek to be a vehicle for Mthwakazi national balkanisation. The Ndebele as a component of the Mthwakazi nation (the other constituent bodies being Kalanga, Venda, Sotho, Nambya, Tonga and others) is here to stay. It can never be wished away by those engaged in conspiratorial projects with anti-Mthwakazi forces. Even if Moyo purges all his hated Nguni elements among the Ndebele he will still have to contend with the Moyos, Gumbos, Sibandas, Nyonis, Tshumas, etc, the REAL Ndebele who today give the Mthwakazi people their deserved respect as a legendary nation famous for surviving adversities.


Mloyiswayizizwe Sokhela  can be contacted at: [email protected]


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