Mzilikazi Khumalo is often called the father and first King of the amaNdebele.
Within a few years of Mzilikazi’s death an out of control bushfire during Lobengula’s reign burnt the wagons that had been placed in a cave near to Mzilikazi’s burial cave for which its guardians paid dearly.
His grave site at Entumbane was robbed at some early date and then walled and protected by a metal fence probably in the 1960’s; but too late to protect the important artefacts and relics that it had contained, as the reference to the brass arm ring donated to the V&A museum in 1896 illustrates.
From Bulawayo take the Matopos road and then take the Old Gwanda Road. Distances are from the Matopos / Old Gwanda road intersection. At 14.5 KM pass the Mzilikazi Memorial on your right, at 21 KM pass some granite outcrops. At 21.8 KM a small National Monuments sign on the right (photo below) indicates the Mzilikazi gravesite. Go through the gate on the left, remembering to shut the gate after you, and follow the farm track, after 500 metres bear left at the entrance to some kraals and follow the track north. After another 400 metres bear left and park in the next 50 metres. You will see some conifers and abandoned huts where the custodian used to stay a few metres to the north.
Follow the footpath which goes east for 300 metres before descending down steps into a shallow valley. Walk another 50 metres and see the gravesite on your left in the cleft of the granite behind some conifer trees. The grave itself is not accessible and is protected by a metal fence. Visitors should remove hats and behave in a respectful manner in the vicinity of the gravesite which is of great amaNdebele cultural importance.
GPS reference: 20°22'40.6"S 28°35'24.4"E
For a summarised account of Mzilikazi’s life see the article on the Mzilikazi Memorial under Matabeleland South on the website www.zimfieldguide.com
Below is a time line of the sequence of events, particularly in relation to the sites of the king’s kraal over the years and is a recap of the article KoBulawayo, or Old Bulawayo (1870 – 1881) and the Indaba Tree under Bulawayo on the website www.zimfieldguide.com
The Ndebele are defeated at battles of Mosega and Dwarsberg by the Griquas and the Zulu under General Ndlela. The Ndebele nation leaves present-day South Africa divides into two groups: one led by Induna Gundwane Ndiweni made up of women and children and some of the amaNdebele regiments move into Zimbabwe in 1838 and the other, led by Mzilikazi with the fighting men go northwest into Botswana and then North to the Zambezi.
Gundwane Ndiweni sets up the first of the four capitals around modern-day Bulawayo. The first capital Gibxhegu is at Esigodinin, near present-day Falcon College. Believing Mzilikazi is dead, they appoint Nkulumane as King.
Mzilikazi returns and purges the leaders at Ntaba YeZinduna, including the killing of Faluta, Lobengula's mother and destroys the kraal at Gibxhegu, but Lobengula survives. Mzilikazi marries Nyamazana which unites the Swazis with the Ndebele. A second capital is established at Mahlokohloko, north of modern Bulawayo and later, a third capital is established at Inyathi.
Mzilikazi establishes a fourth capital at Mhlahlandleia, on the edge of the Matobo Hills, possibly because he wishes to distance himself from the mission Station at Inyati.
Mzilikazi dies and there being no heir apparent, a Regent Mncumbatha Khumalo is appointed. Some Ndebele, including the Zwangendaba Regiment under Mbiko Masuku hope Nkulumane is still alive in South Africa and oppose Lobengula. A bloody fight ensues, from which Lobengula's forces emerge victorious.
Mzilikazi died on 5th September 1868 following a long period of ill health, but his death was kept a secret by his chief councillors and some of his queens who were with him at Emanxiweni. A cart was brought at nightfall and the King's body was placed in it and taken to Mhlahlandlela where on the 9th September his death was revealed to the amaNdebele nation.
For two months the King's body lay in the royal dwelling guarded by twelve queens and after prolonged ritual ceremonies, the burial process started on 2nd November. Black oxen were sacrificed to the spirits of the dead king and his ancestors. The King's body and his personal belongings were placed on two wagons and taken to a hill named Entumbane on the north eastern edge of the Matobo Hills and a few kilometres east of the Old Gwanda road. On 4th November the body was placed inside a granite-walled cave which was sealed with stones. The wagons were taken to pieces and laid in another cave nearby with his possessions including clothes, utensils, sleeping mats, beads, ornaments, such as the arm ring referred to below; furniture and muskets were placed in another cave.
Armed warriors stood on guard at the entrance to the cave as the mourners moved away and returned to the amaNdebele capital at Mhlahlandleia. The guards and their families built a small kraal close to the grave and settled there as custodians of the sacred spot. It was their duty to see that the grave was not disturbed. But when they burnt the high grass to prepare the ground for their sowing, a wind arose that sent the uncontrolled fire up to the kopje and the flames licked at the King's grave and burnt his dismantled wagons. When the new King Lobengula heard of this mishap, he ordered the instant destruction of all in the kraal at Entumbane; even the dogs and chickens were slain.
The bronze arm ring in the photo below came into the Victoria and Albert Museum’s possession in 1898.
The letter below from the V and A’s accession register reveals how it made its way into the collection:
“69 Eaton Terrace / Jan. 18 1898 / Dear Mr Clarke, I am sending by the bearer who brings this a small parcel, containing a bangle, the history of which is that it was taken off the skeleton of Moselekatze (I think that is how the name is spelt) when his grave was opened. Some buttons which were recently exhibited in the Museum of Bulawayo were found at the same time. The bangle contains a certain percentage of gold and I was told resembled the metal used for ornaments by the Phoenicians; of this you will be a better judge than I am. I can vouch for the authenticity of the bangle as it was given me when I was at Bulawayo in 96 by the man who opened the grave. I shall be very glad to give it to the Museum, if you consider it worthy. / yours truly, F.A. Fortescue.”
Colonel Francis Alexander Fortescue had a very distinguished military career (see the website http://www.thepeerage.com/p29684.htm#i296836) and fought in the Boer War from 1899 – 1900 and was mentioned twice in despatches and was promoted to Colonel when on the General Staff in South Africa. It appears he made the purchase on a short visit to Rhodesia.
Presumably Mzilikazi’s grave was entered and robbed in the confusion of 1895-6 when the amaNdebele guardians were in the Matobo Hills by freebooter’s intent on loot, who did not consider a bronze arm ring to be particularly valuable, and it eventually was purchased by Col. Fortescue in Bulawayo.
On 9th June 2016, the Chronicle reported that a gold coated spear belonging to King Lobengula, a black fly whisk and a small brown clay pot were stolen from the National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) exhibition site near Old Bulawayo, so the theft of artefacts does not appear to be just an historical problem.
In addition there have been calls from Peter Zwidekalanga Khumalo that the grave of their ancestor, Mzilikazi Khumalo, has been neglected by NMMZ and is in a state of disrepair. Indeed, on my August 2016 visit, the signage was poor and I did not encounter a single person in visiting the Entumbane grave site. His accusations that the present Government has a policy of downplaying the significance in the national identity of Mzilikazi’s legacy in the history and culture of modern day Zimbabwe has a distinct ring of legitimacy about it.
The response from NMMZ that the grave is maintained according to the Khumalo traditions and in fact, “belongs to the Khumalo’s” appears to verge on the disingenuous, and lacks honesty and sincerity as the site is National Monument No. 41 of Zimbabwe and not a Khumalo family possession.