Soshangane and Zwangendaba were Zwide’s generals who fought alongside Zwide in the 1819 war against Tshaka.
Soshangane emerged as the most powerful leader amongst the Nguni groups expelled from Zululand.
After escaping from Tshaka, Soshangane and his people settled in the area South of modern day Mozambique and south eastern of what is now Zimbabwe. The area is otherwise known as the lower Limpopo region.
They settled down and intermarried with the Shona speaking people of the area.
They had migrated from Zululand in the 1820s as a small group of men,women and children.
On their way north they absorbed the Swazi and other Nguni related groups.
Between 1825 and 1845 they established control over most of southern Mozambique and south eastern Zimbabwe.
They first settled east of the Save River in the old Mandaba kingdom.
The Ndau and other Shona speaking people were ruled by Soshangane and paid tribute to him.
He defeated the Portoguese traders in the area and forced them to pay taxes in order to continue trading.
The first capital of Gaza state was Moyamuhle (“cool breeze).
Soshangane was the son of Ndwandwe who was a descendant of Gaza thus the state was named after him. The state was thus called Gaza after Soshangane’s grandfather.
In honour of their founder the people caled themselves the Shangaane.
Expansion of the Gaza State
The soldiers were organised into disciplined Nguni regiments known as Amabutho.
They were strong enough to send forces or impis to luanch military expeditions in all directions.
In 1834 they conquered a Portuguese trading station at Inhambane.
By 1836 they had wiped ou the Portuguese garrisons in the area as far north as Sofala.
After raiding Tete and Sena they succeeded in overpowering the Portuguese political and economic bases along the Zambezi river.
This resulted in the disruption of the trading systems of the Portuguese between the interior and their coastal settlements.
The Gaza took over ivory trade in the areas of Sofala, Inhambane and Maputo controlling the movement of goods from the interior in the process.
The wealth and power of the Portuguese and the sub chiefs established over time declined.
Soshangane expanded into the old kingdom of Uteve and Manyika.
Most of the area south of the Zambezi paid tribute to the Gaza which was allocated to the soldiers each year.
The soldiers also crossed the Save River to raid the Mutoko area.
This area brought in a lot of taxes and those who resisted were often killed, for example, Chief Munyarari and Chief Sweswe.
However most chiefs were treated as vassal sub chiefs and their young men integrated into the Gaza military system.
The king’s court was the political centre of the state.
The Royal family and the advisers including several hundred wives of the king lived at the royal court.
The king made the laws with the assistance of the advisers.
The king was the judicial, religious and military commander of the state.
The state was divided into districts each headed by a resident Induna.
The Induna and his regiment collected taxs each year from his district as a way of ensuring control and loyalty of the people.
The king had kinship ties with his Indunas and marriage ties with the sub chiefs as a way of communication and exerting control of the state.
Daughters of sub chiefs visited the Kng’s court each year.
Prisoners of war were brought to the king along with cattle and goods taken during the raids.
People appealed against the Induna’s and chief’s decisions at the King’s court.
The army was the main instrument of control as all young men were conscripted into the age regiments.
They used traditional spears and shields but were later on armed with guns.
The political system of the Gaza was integrative as it allowed people to retain their land as to be able to pay taxes.
They grew traditional crops such as sorghum, rapoko, millet, pumpkins, beans and other vegetables.
The king was responsible for distributing the land through the sub chiefs and Indunas.
Cattle heading was practiced and cattle were a symbol of wealth in the society.
Cattle were important for paying bride price and were also slaughtered in important ceremonies.
The king received tribute from his people and also taxes from the Portuguese traders.
Trade was a central part of the economy controlled by the king through his Indunas.
The Gaza state traded with the Portuguese in ivory, cloth, gold and other metals as well as animal skins.
Hunting also contributed to the economy and welfare of the state.
The Gaza state was thriving because different ethnic groups were allowed to continue carrying out their economic activities undisturbed as long as they were loyal to the central state.
The social system
The social system of the Gaza was divided into three classes.
The first class or the aristocracy consisted of the original Nguni speaking people and their relatives.
They called themselves Gaza, Ngumi or baNgoni.
The second class consisted of the absorbed groups who were recruited into the Gaza ranks called the baTshangane (the Shangane).
These were divided into regiments with the Ngoni officers.
However they were treated as less important people and were used in the front line in battle.
Most senior government officials came from the fist class though assimilated subjects were allowed to rise to positions of political power, for example, Magigwana of the Ndau origin who fought the 1895 and 1898 wars against the Portuguese.
Those who adopted the Nguni culture enjoyed a status next to the Nguni aristocracy.
These people identified themselves by wearing was head rings and pierced ears.
These people also wore skin aprons and were fluent in the Nguni language.
Assimilated people were also allowed to intermarry and they were assisted with cattle used to buy wives for them as reward for service.
Their children were considered true Nguni as they increased the Nguni population.
The people who did not adopted the Nguni culture and language such as the Tsonga and Chopi formed the lowest class.
They were not allowed to join the regular army but sometimes served as pathfinders or guides for the elite regiments in the lower LimpopoValley.
The Tsonga did not wear head rings and were dressed in loin cloth instead.
They also filled their teeth and decorated their bodies tattooing themselves.
These were slaves and were often more oppressed than the assimilated people.
The decline of the Gaza state
The loyalty and identity of a person were defined in terms of culture.
As a result Soshangane did not successfully assimilate the subject peoples and cultural tension persisted within the state.
As Soshangane became old he believed he had been bewitched by the Tsonga for which he put many of them to death while others fled and migrated to the south.
Succession disputes emerged among the ruling Ngoni upon Soshangane’s death.
Mawewe with the assistance of the Swazi took over power ahead of his competitor Mzila.
Mawewe was unsuccessful and he later died in exile in Swaziland.
Mzila took over the empire with the assistance of the Portuguese.
This allowed the Portuguese to return to the Gaza state thus weakening it further.
Mzila’s successor Ngungunyana faced both the threat of revolts by his subjects’ peoples and the threat from European settlers.
Ngungunyana sought British assistance in a vain effort to ward off the Portuguese.
He then resolved to organise the movement of his people from the middle Save to Delagoa Bay on the coast.
By 1895 the Gaza state was weakened by internal revolts and Ngungunyana’s soldiers were defeated by the Portuguese.
The king was taken captive and sent to the Canary islands off the coast of West Africa were he died in exile.
Part of the Nguni language remains in the region as a reminder of this period in history, for example piqua meaning to trick and panhla meaning clothes.
A Nguni traditional dance called Muchongoyo still exists in which people wear fur of long haired goats around the writs and ankles.
A traditional meal called rubende which is a mixture of cooked blood and intestines is still eaten and reflects a Nguni heritage.
The main reasons for the decline of the Gaza state
Their language did not survive as a separate language as the Ndebele had done.
This was because the Gaza did not successfully assimilate their subjects although they established their authority over them.
They did not absorb the subject peoples in their culture and language but left most to join willingly or pursue their own language and cultures.
They also did not have a comprehensive succession plan resulting in revolts and succession disputes upon the deaths of Soshangane and Mzila.
The main cause for the fall of the state was external interference of the Portuguese who finally defeated the remaining Gaza people to colonize the area.