OPINION: Samora Machel, abeyini amaBhunu?


In the past weeks there was an announcement that history will become a compulsory subject at school. While this is commendable and also a step in a right direction, one has to be quite concerned by the fact that as Africans we do not write our own history.

It is one thing to teach a people about their origins, but the perspective has to be accurate. If the historical account about what happened, say in the past 700 years, will be from the outlook of Europeans, and also those who subscribe to the Eurocentric thought – there is a great danger of misinformation.

In this regard, one has to ask what this history will cover? South Africa as a state only came into existence in 1910 and was established Europeans in the same way as other so-called African states. The territory of what is called South Africa today is part of a bigger political space, stretching beyond the Limpopo and Orange Rivers.

Thus, a new take on the history has to take into account that new identities developed after the arrival of Europeans can be seriously misleading. We need to bear in mind that history is always written in a language of victors. So, adhering to the lens of Europeans and their perspective on the history of the region can cause more harm than good.

Many South Africans, especially in the eastern parts, see Mozambicans, Malawians, Zambians, Swati’s, and even Tanzanians as completely different from them. Thanks to European narratives which promoted the notion of ‘divide and rule’.

The European nobility decided to completely divorce Nguni in South Africa from their close cousins in the region. One reason for this was to perpetuate a stereotype that ‘South Africa’ was empty. Hence, they found vacant lands. The population that now occupies the land ‘arrived from the north’ after them.

Regional history before the 15th century remains beyond the knowledge of Africans themselves. The reason for this is that knowledge is directed from the Eurocentric engine. Every story has to show Africans as savages and inquisitive Europeans as discoverers. How can one discover what has been in existence for thousands of years? Unfortunately, Victoria Falls and Livingstone retain their names to date, in recognition of people who discovered them.

This convoluted account of history is also advanced through the fields of anthropology and linguistics. For example, Nguni is today Zulu, Xhosa, Ndebele and Swati. But the truth is this group also encompasses most of southern Mozambique (Shangane) and parts of Zimbabwe (Ndau) as well as Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia (Ngoni).

There are other groups that are mis-classified to be a subset of say the Zulu or Xhosa – e.g. Hlubi, Tonga, Thembu, etc. Moreover, the separation in terms of linguistics may also lead to a misconception that the Nguni are not related to the Sotho, Venda and Tsonga.

These observations have to be something which must pre-occupy minds of new historians and modern-day social scientists.

Zwangendaba kaZiguda Jele Gumbi (c. 1785 – 1848) left his native lands (today northern KwaZulu-Natal) and settled in Tanganyika (now Tanzania). Nobody links his descendants to South Africa, in culture and language. This in contrast to groups like Germans or Jews, even the remotest connection overly emphasized.

Another movement was led by Soshangane kaZikode, born Soshangane Nxumalo who established the mighty Gaza Empire in what is today called Mozambique. But today, the Shangaan group is said to be separated from their cousins down south.

One of Soshangane’s descendants is Mozam­bique’s first pres­i­dent Samora Moises Machel. Machel was in fact a Nx­u­malo and had strong re­la­tions to eSwatini’s late for­mer cab­i­net min­is­ter and one-time deputy PM (1993 to 1998), Sishayi Nx­u­malo. Machel’s monument is installed at Mbuzini in South Africa, the site of the air crash that killed him to­gether with 30 other mem­bers of his del­e­ga­tion on Oc­to­ber 19, 1986.

Samora was pop­u­larly known as by Machel (his Portuguese bastardization of Shangaan name Maxele, or Mashele (Nguni or Sotho). Literature shows that Machel’s grass­roots were at Magude the Shangaan ver­sion of Magudu, the royal en­clave of the Nxumalo’s (also Ndwedwe’s, Nguni’s or Mthethwa’s) at Zwide’s homestead out­side Pongola.

Magude was a reg­u­lar place of visit by Machel who was said to be fond of in­ter­act­ing with his look alike ‘half-brother’ (Sishayi Nx­u­malo).

Machel came from a pow­er­ful fam­ily in the Lim­popo val­ley. His grand­fa­ther, Malenganii (Ma­give­lani) was a close friend of Magig­wani Khoza. Malen­gani was in the same bat­tal­ion as Magig­wani, he was in­volved in the war against Bing­wani. Af­ter Bing­wani’s de­feat at Bahule, Malen­gani was made an induna by Ngungunyane, in a land south of Lim­popo just op­po­site Chayim­iti.

It is interesting that af­ter independence, with Samora as pres­i­dent, all tra­di­tional rule was abol­ished in Mozambique. Machel observed: “For the nation to live, a tribe must die.” (Maybe this is where Kgalema Motlanthe gets his ideas of ‘rural tin-pot dictatorships’).

But even more eye raising is that in 1985, in a na­tion­al­ist drive, Machel went to Lisbon to de­mand the re­mains of traditional ruler Ngungunyane, who died in exile in Portugal. Ngungunyane’s re­mains were given to Samora and are now ly­ing in the Heroes’ Acre in Ma­puto.

The Nxumalo legacy therefore runs through the DNA of Mozambique, but for European historians they are said to be linguistically and culturally different from the broader Nxumalo clan in southern Africa. Nonetheless, Soshangane’s re­mains in Ma­puto Heroes’ Square, and a statue in Giyani, the latter draws unending arguments because of the usually heated debate on the Shangaan versus Tsonga identity. Be that as it may, Ngungunyane remains a hero in both South Africa and Mozambique.

The story of Machel (or Nxumalos) is just an illustration of how complex our history is, which cannot be simplified through the Nguni-Tsonga divide, or even the Wesphalen ideas of nationality. The history of southern Africa transcends boundaries and tribal lines. As seen with the Mzilikazi Khumalo move to the western interior, the Nguni-Tswana alleged differences are blurred.

Again, as indicated above with the decision to make history a compulsory subject at schools – care should be exercised in crafting materials that will be taught to our children. The aim should also be clear such as to deepen cultural and hereditary links between all peoples of southern Africa. In fact, the project should also involve other states in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as well as beyond.

The re-writing of our history can be aptly simplified through this popular slogan: Samora Machel, abeyini amaBhunu?

Siyabonga Hadebe