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Lobengula
(c. 1833-1894)

The chameleon gets behind the fly, remains motionless for some time, then he advances very slowly and gently, first putting forward one leg and then another. At last, when well within reach, he darts his tongue and the fly disappears. England is the chameleon and I am that fly.
—Lobengula


The British happens to be the best people in the world, with the highest ideals of decency and justice and liberty and peace, and the more of the world we inhabit, the better it is for humanity.
—Cecil Rhodes

In 1821, Mzilikhazi quarreled with Shaka and fled north where his Kumalo clan became known as Ama-ndebele, which means "people of the long shields," and settled in the area of present-day Zimbabwe.

The death of Mzilikhazi sparked a succession crisis resulting, amidst dissent, in his son Lobengula being chosen king. The succession crisis sharpened Lobengula's political skill which, while it consolidated the nation, led to an inevitable clash with the Europeans.

Caught between dissident factions within his military and Europeans searching for gold, Lobengula thwarted the internal dissent by signing a number of treaties with the Europeans without jeopardizing his sovereignty. He limited the number of whites in his country and the length of their stay.

In the 1880s the scramble for southern Africa was in full swing as the Boers, British, Germans, and Portugese were ferociously competing for the riches of the interior. The Ndebele state was directly in the path of the only viable route to the interior and Lobengula had no illusions that he could hold back the Europeans indefinitely.

On February 11, 1888 the beginning of the end came when Lobengula signed the Moffat treaty, believing it to be the renewal of a limited treaty signed by Mzilikhazi. This placed Matabeleland directly in the sphere of British influence with a concomitant influx of Europeans.

On October 30, 1888 the death knell was sounded when Lobengula signed the duplicitous Rudd Concession which, through the machinations of Cecil Rhodes and his cohorts, was subsequently used to obtain a royal charter making the British South Africa Company (BSAC), controlled by Rhodes, the sole British concessionaire.

The Rudd Concession was unique in that it was not a treaty between sovereign states but a concession granted to a commercial company. It consisted of two separate yet connected sections, the oral and the written, which were distinctly advantageous to both parties. The sticking point was that verbal conditions, stipulated by Lobengula and agreed upon by BSAC, were not written down in the final agreement and therefore not valid by European law. Realizing that he was duped, Lobengula appealed to Queen Victoria, but to no avail.

In July 1893, an Ndebele raiding party was shot by Europeans near Fort Victoria (present-day Masvingo). Lobengula, his diplomacy and patience exhausted, his honor and dignity affronted, realized that he had to retaliate.

Like Cetshwayo, Lobengula tried to prevent the war, but the European designs on his land was not to be denied. The Anglo-Ndebele war, the similarity of the machinations leading to the Anglo-Zulu war not being purely coincidental, began. The Ndebele never got within range. The assegai (spear) was no match for the Maxim gun.

In October 1893, Lobengula, in a final act of desperation, fled northwards where he died in January 1894.

The Ndebele nation lay in ruins, as the chameleon caught the fly. By 1895, the country was known as Rhodesia.

In 1896 the Ndebele, allied with their traditional enemies, the Shona, launched the First Chimurenga (war of liberation) to drive out the British but again superior firepower prevailed.

In 1966, the Second Chimurenga began and nationalist forces allied to form the Patriotic Front, paving the way for independence on April 16, 1980.

The country was renamed Zimbabwe.
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Books

General History of Africa, Vol. VII: Africa Under Colonial Domination, 1880-1935. UNESCO, 1985.
Buy it in hardcover: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca
Buy it in paperback: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

Southern Africa: Monomotapa, Zulu, Basuto, Kenny Mann. Dillon Press, 1996.
Buy it in hardcover: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca
Buy it in paperback: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

The Last Empire: De Beers, Diamonds, and the World, Stefan Kanfer. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1993.
Buy it in hardcover: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca
Buy it in paperback: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca

The Zulus and the Matabele: Warrior Nations, Glen Lyndon Dodds. Arms & Armour, 1998.
Buy it in hardcover: Amazon.com | Amazon.ca
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