Matopos the burial place of Mzilikazi Khumalo Chief of the Ndebel

Matopos the burial place of Mzilikazi Khumalo Chief of the Ndebele: Image by Vantage Magazine

Origins of the State

  • Mzilikazi was the leader of the Khumalo who were originally part of Zwide’s Ndwandwe state but had joined the Zulu state.
  • Mzilikazi broke away from the Zulu in 1822 after a conflict he had with Tshaka.
  • Mzilikazi was one of Tshaka’s trusted Generals and had been tasked to raid a certain group.
  • Mzilikazi, however, did not surrender the loot from this raid which angered Tshaka who demanded an explanation.
  • Tshaka sent out a regiment to punish Mzilikazi but the regiment was defeated and Mzilikazi managed to escape accross the Drakensburg mountains.
  • He led a group of about 300 young warriors, men, women and children across the Drakensburg and first settled at Ekupumuleni (Ndebele for Place of rest)

At Ekupumuleni

  • This settlement was too close to Zululand and the Zulu’s attacked it on a fairly regular basis and so did the surrounding ethnic groups like the Pedi.
  • Groups such as the Sotho, Dhlodos, Pondo and Swazi joined the Ndebele so as to be protected from the Zulu attacks. Mzilikazi also absorbed the Ndzundza into his group.
  • The Sotho were good farmers while the Ndebele were good herders which formed the basis of a strong state.
  • Mzilikazi had good leadership skills which helped unite people of different origins and cultures into a single nation.
  • Women who were captured during the raids, which the Ndebele still took part in after fleeing Zululand, were send to Ndebele homesteads to live with the Ndebele families.
  • He encouraged intermarriages to ensure the growth of the state and the offspring of these marriages were groomed into the leadership ranks of the Ndebele society.
  • Mzilikazi promoted people on merit so they could become Indunas and chiefs.
  • Mzlikazi also persuaded other ethnic groups to join the state as he allowed them to retain their possessions and privileges in society.
  • Cattle rearing and settled agriculture were difficult because of the constant attacks from he Zulu, Pedi and Griqua.
  • His tribe was also greatly affected by the drought of 1823 which destroyed grazing lands.
  • Mzilikazi raided other groups to obtain food, cattle and captives to strengthen his state.
  • Other supplies came from tribute from the surrounding loyal tribes.
  • Due to insecurity Mzilikazi decided to wait for the harvest and raided other groups of their crops before leaving Ekupumuleni.
  • Despite the hardships and people leaving his state grew in size.


  • This was Mzilikazi’s second settlement, but it was still close to Zululand and faced many attacks from Dingane who was now King of the Zulu
  • He established other military towns such as Endinaneni and Enkungqini and raided as far as Botswana, Lesotho and Zimbabwe.
  • The state lost a lot of man and cattle leaving it depleted.
  • Mzilikazi met with Robert Moffat of the London Missionary Society in 1829 and the two became friends.
  • There were hostile groups of the Kora, Khoisan who would team up with the Kwena people and attack the settlement.
  • The state was almost destroyed by the gun carrying Griqua and Rolong warriors (part of the Tswana) who captured a lot of the Ndebele cattle and almost destroyed the Ndebele state.
  • Many people became disgruntled and deserted though a lot of people stayed behind.
  • Realizing agriculture was impossible and cattle pastures scarce, Mzilikazi decided to move on.
  • His state had been further ravaged by disease which attacked the cattle thus spurring him to move.
  • People were also attacked by diseases such as malaria


  • The Ndebele moved further west closer to Moffat’s mission in Mosega
  • The land was good for cattle and at this point around Marico he drove out the Hurutshe
  • He also became friends with Dr Andrew Smith of the Central African Expedition in 1835
  • His friendship with the whites did deter or stop the Griqua and Kora from attacking.
  • In 1831 a combined Tswana-Griqua (the Rolong warriors) force had attached while his army was away on a raiding mission in Lesotho resulting in many casualties.
  • This was followed in 1834 by another attack by the Griqua and Kora
  • Attacks continued as hunting expeditions from these groups crossed the Vaal
  • At Mosega he faced the real threat of the Boers under the leadership of Potgieter who were keen to expand eastwards after they had been driven away from the south by the British.
  • In 1837 the Ndebele were defeated by the Boers who had allied with the Griqua, Tlokwa and Rolong warriors.
  • During this time Dingane sent another expedition to attack the Ndebele. The expedition was defeated by the Ndebele incurred heavy losses.
  • This encouraged the local Hurutshe and Griqua to raid the Ndebele for cattle.
  • The mounting problems finally compelled the Ndebele to migrate further north into Botswana absorbing the Tswana and proceeding across the Limpopo