Our Story

A series collects and retells the story of the ancestors of all South Africans.

Ancestral Voices

A recently discovered collection of writing of South African culture and history.

Makhado: Defender of the Vhavenda


‘The warrior-King, Makhado Tshilwavhusiku Ramabulana’s expolits in defence of our land, our dignity and our well-being, will forever remain etched in our proud history of resistance to colonialism’. Former President Nelson Mandela, 1998. This book tells the story of King Makhado Ramabulana and his leadership of a people in resistance.



In a previous extract, we read something about Dimbanyika, the first Vhavenda King south of the Limpopo. Generations later, we encounter Makhado and learn of his struggles to defend the Venda people and keep them united. Under threat from the Portuguese and the Boers, he also faced division from within. After assuming the kingship, Makhado relocated the royal residence to Luatame on Mount Songozwi. From there, he set about consolidating his position as King of Venda.

After defeating Davhana, Makhado began a campaign to make his position safe and make sure he got the loyalty of all the chiefs. His intention was to ensure that all mahosi who had behaved like independent chiefs after Thohoyandou’s disappearance listened to him. On this very important mission, he was accompanied by twelve trustworthy men, amongst them Funyufunyu, Nndwayamiomva and Rasivhetshele.

Luatame, Makhado’s new royal residence, was perfect for a king

Although the Madzivhandila royal house of Tshakhuma had never behaved like an independent chiefdom, Makhado’s first stop was Tshakhuma, where RaluthagaMadzivhandila was the ruler. He camped at Mount Madzhoni overlooking Lwamondo, and called upon RaluthagaMadzivhandila to pay tribute. Raluthaga, as the Madzivhandila royal house had always been loyal to the Ramabulana kings, agreed with the request. He even, over and above the ordinary tribute, presented one of his daughters, Dombo, to Makhado as a future wife. Later Dombo became the mother of Makhado’s second son, Sinthumule.

Raluthaga presented his daughter, Dombo, to Makhado as a future wife.From Tshakhuma, Makhado proceeded to Lwamondo. KhosiMabohoNelwamondo submitted to Makhado’s authority. Thereafter Makhado proceeded to Mbilwi whereupon he called on KhosiRanwedziMphaphuli to submit. Mphaphuli agreed with Makhado’s demand and presented him with cattle. From Mbilwi, Makhado went to Ha-Tshivhasa and camped at Tshamanyatsha, above KhosiLigegise’s royal residence, Mukumbani. This is where Makhado called upon Tshivhase to submit. Like the other chiefs that had already been visited, Tshivhase submitted and showed loyalty by offering the travelling party cattle. As the Tshivhase royal house was second in royalty to Ramabulana, Ligegise’s willingness to submit to Makhado meant that Makhado was the unchallenged king of Vhavenda. The place where he camped at Tshamanyatsha is known as Tomboni la Makhado (Makhado’s resting place).

From Mukumbani, Makhado went to Dzimauli. KhosiVeleRambuda submitted to Makhado. But Vele’s eldest son, Bele, behaved in a manner that showed that he did not recognise Makhado. Makhado’s men also gathered information that Bele had stated that since Makhado was a boy he neither respected Makhado nor feared him. Makhado had just risen to the throne and was in his late twenties.

BeleRambuda’s behaviour counted heavily against him after Vele’s death and when Vele’s sons fought over the Dzimauli chieftainship, Makhado supported Bele’s younger brother, Tshikosi. Bele was eventually murdered by the Dzanani battalion. Makhado assisted Tshikosi in defeating Vele’s other sons, including Siphuma. This led to Tshikosi becoming the unchallenged khosi of Dzimauli.

Makhado also punished KhosiNenngwekhulu who had become a rebel and refused to pay tribute to him. He also dealt harshly with KhosiMagoro who had decided to pay tribute to Albasini after he was defeated by Albasini in 1863. Makhado sent his two brave sons, Mphephu and Sinthumule, on an expedition to teach Magoro a lesson. Thereafter Magoro didn’t support Albasini and paid tribute to Makhado once again.

He then mobilised his armies against the mahosi in the south-western parts of the kingdom

As already stated, the Venda kingdom comprised other ethnic groups whose language was not Tshivenda. These clans included North Sotho clans such as the Tlokwa, the Kone and Kwena. But the Kone and Kwena took advantage of the wars of succession between Ramavhoya and Ramabulana, and later between Davhana and Makhado, and started behaving like independent chiefs. Makhado could not allow this state of affairs to continue. He became concerned about the mahosi who had declared themselves independent. Getting back his authority over such rulers became his immediate priority. He then mobilised his armies against the mahosi in the south-western parts of the kingdom. Moletji became Makhado’s first target in 1887.

It is said that the attack on Moletji was based on trickery. Makhado had arranged with KhosiMoloto to stage a matangwa dance at the latter’s royal residence. For the occasion, Moloto invited his subjects and dancers to be entertained by Makhado’s dancers. Moloto’s subjects responded positively and gathered at his royal residence. Makhado’s dancers were dressed in costumes. The princes wore hyena skins, the mahosi wore porcupine quills, while commoners wore impala skins and headgear made of jackals’ skins.

The dances started howling like jackals… Many people were killed.

Dressed in this manner, indicating no signs of hostility or war, his team started dancing as if it was a happy and joyful event. As the dancing continued into the evening, those dancers wearing headgear made of jackals’ skins suddenly started howling like jackals. The Vhavenda immediately began attacking the people of Moletji. Many people were killed. Those who remained were defeated and forced to pay tribute to Makhado. The following day the disguised army departed and invaded Ga-Matlala whose inhabitants were caught unaware and chased without them offering any resistance. Their chief also paid tribute to Makhado.

The howling of jackals came from the dancers wearing headgear made of the skins of jackals.

The results of Makhado’s invasions and defeat of Moletji and Ga-Matlala, under the pretence of entertaining the inhabitants by playing matangwa, remain imprinted in the minds of Vhavenda and Batlokwa. The episode survives in the form of a praise stating the greatness and bravery of Makhado. This praise which is known throughout Venda and Botlokwa states that: “Matangwandimutshinyashango. PhunguhweyalilaMuledzhi, la ha Madala li a fhalala”. (Matangwa dance leads to disaster. When the jackal howls at Moletji, Ga-Matlala falls apart.)

Additional information

Dimensions215 × 234 mm