Coming of the Swazi

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Information provided by Hans Bornman from his unpublished book, Lowveld Tour Guide:

During the middle of the eighteenth century the Swazi occupied the present Swaziland. This group came from Embu (Embo), a mountain range some 110 km north-east of Nairobi and 42 km south of Mount Kenia in the central part of Kenya. Known as the Bembo-Nguni, they moved south under Dlamini, whose name means ‘he who eats in the middle of the day’, and settled near the Maputo River in Mozambique.

The Dlamini group (emaLangeni) and their neighbours, the Ndwandwe, started moving to the south of the Phongolo River. The Ndwandwe, under their leader Langa, crossed the Phongolo River and settled at the Magudu Moun­tains. Here Langa died and was succeeded by his son Zwide. The Dlamini group moved into present day Swaziland during the middle of the eighteenth century and named themselves bakaNgwane (the people of Ngwane) and where they settled (now Swaziland), they called KaNgwane (the place or country of Ngwane). The name KaNgwane has remained and is the one by which the Swazi people usually call themselves.

The same time as Ngwane moved into Swaziland, Sotho speaking clans, living in the area Ngwane occupied, moved to the north of present Swaziland and combined under a fighting chief named Simkulu. The tribe so formed became known as the BakaNgomane whose earlier chiefs recognised no overlord and may be called kings, as were the earlier chiefs of the Zulu and the Swazi.

During the reign of Sobhuza I (1815-1836), who laid the foundations of the Swazi nation, the people, of what is now known as Swaziland, were known by the Bapedi (Sotho) as ‘baka­Sobhuza’, meaning: ‘the people of Sobhuza’, or as the ‘Zulas’, and his country as Baraputsaland. But it was Mswati II (1845-1865) who succeeded in uniting the various clans into one nation and under one ruler. His people, there­fore, began to be known as ‘bakaMswati’, meaning: ‘the people of Mswati’, while among the Whites, who had by then moved into the Province, were known as the Swazis, and their land as Swaziland.

After succeeding his father in 1845, Mswati II commenced a career of large-scale raids and adventure. He selected, as his hunting ground, the prosperous tribal lands of the various groups to the north of Swaziland. He became rich and his crack regiments, such as the Nyatsi and the Malalane, brought terror to African homes as far afield as the Northern Province and Mozambique. Mswati was known for his cruelty and lust for murder and this made his subjects and people near and far trembles.

Mswati moved his administrative capital and military posts to Hhohho, on the northern bank of the Mlumati River and continued his attacks on the various tribes, which include the Bapedi, the Baphalaborwa, the Lobedu near Duiwelskloof, the Venda of Zoutpansberg and the plains of Mozambique.

In 1864 Mswati’s armies attacked the maPulana living next to the Blyde River. The maPulana retreated to the top of the mountain (Mariepskop), some 1 944 metres above sea level, which towers over the magnificent Blyde River canyon, nearly 1,5 km deep and at least as wide. The maPulana piled up rocks along the top edge of the mountain in readiness of an attack by the enemy. The mountain could only be reached by a single footpath of about 2 km in length. The Swazi were aware that they could not attack the maPulana without any danger on top of the mountain and biv­ouacked on the mountain north of the Blyde River and waited for misty weather.

It was summer and in cloudy weather Mariepskop is usually covered by thick mist. The Swazi did not wait long. One evening the clouds started rolling in from the south and covered Mariepskop with mist. The Swazi left their camping site and started moving, approaching the mountain from the south. The mist was very dense and they had to move with their hands virtually on the shoulder of the person in front to remain close together. Zimase, the younger brother of Mswati II, was amongst the first group to ascend the mountain.

The maPulana were ready and when the first Swazis reached the top the maPulana rolled the stacked rocks down onto their enemy. While the Swazi were in turmoil, the maPulana swarmed down the hill and started attacking those down at the river on the southern side of the hill. To this day the bones of those who were killed by the rocks may still be seen in the inaccessible rock crevices of the mountain (Dube:1993).

The maPulana named the mountain Mhuluhulu (Mogologolo), which means ‘the mountain of the wind’, because the Swazi only heard the wind of the rocks before they were killed. The river, where the final attack took place and where the Swazi was annihilated, they named ‘Motlasedi’, which means ‘where the big battle took place’. Today the river is known, from Mariepskop to the Klaserie Dam in the river, as the Motlasedi and then as the Klaserie, which is an Afrikaans distortion of the word Motlasedi. The mountain where the Swazi camped was named Swatini, which means ‘the place of the Swazis’. The resort at the foot of this hill is incorrectly named Swadini.

As a result of this defeat, and the death of the King’s brother, the remaining Swazis refused to return to Swaziland for fear of death. Most sought asylum in Sekhukhuneland. Others found refuge between the mountains in the southern part of the present Kruger National Park, which was free of Tsetse fly, and named the area Khandzalive, which means ‘they found a settlement’. Another group found a new place to live which they named Mjindini, 10 km south-west of Barberton, meaning ‘so far and no further’ as they were also afraid that Mswati would kill them if they returned to Swaziland.

Mswati died at his royal residence at Hhohho in July 1865, aged about forty-three. He was buried at the royal burial hill at Mbilaneni, next to his father and great-grandfather. The death of Mswati II ended the era of Swazi conquest, territorial expansion and unification of various peoples into one nation. (Matsebula 1976:44).

Mswati’s successor was the eleven year old Ludvonga. He died in 1874 without issue and Mbandze­ni became the new King in June 1875. He was known as Dlamini IV (1875-1889). When Mbandzeni died, he left as his heir a lad of about fourteen called Bhunu. He became Ngwane V (1890-1899). He died during the night of 10 December 1899 and left a four month old son Nkhotfotjeni, who was declared heir to the throne. He became Sobhuza II (1921-1982), the longest reigning Swazi monarch. He died in 1982 and was succeeded by his son Makhosetive, which means: king of nations, and given the official title of Mswati III at his coronation in April 1986.