Manthatisi and Sekonyela – Queen of the Batlokwa
During a time of great turmoil in South Africa, Manthatisi stepped into leadership of her tribe on behalf of her son, Sekonyela. In this extract from the first of two books about Manthatisi and Sekonyela, we read how events beyond the borders of the territory of the Batlokwa begin to unfold. Times were difficult, but the Batlokwa had no idea of the danger that was building up over the mighty Drakensberg mountains. Tribe fought against tribe, clan against clan, and the lives thousands of ordinary people were altered forever.
Let us go back, for a while, over the mountains, with the Ngwanes, Ndwandwe, Hlubi and Mtetwa. Take note of Matiwane, chief of the Ngwanes. Matiwane, a short man with a stoop, usually wore a cloak of black-and-white calf-skin. He had eyes and ears amongst the Mtetwa, so he knew Dingiswayo’s plans to invade his territory, assisted by Shaka and his forces. He was very shrewd and prepared for battle by finding a safe place to hide his herds of cattle. The perfect hiding place was over the mountains, around present-day Utrecht, deep in the territory of the neighbouring Hlubi. The response from Mthimkhulu, the chief of the Hlubi, was that of course Matiwane’s cattle could find cover and would be safe in his mountains. ain his Matabele troops in the art of war, and at a moment’s notice they would be ready to defend their chief.
From Dingiswayo’s point of view, the campaign against Matiwane appeared to be successful. Shaka’s Zulus helped him to attain a speedy surrender from Matiwane. Dingiswayo was then able to incorporate that territory into his own territory. Subsequent events would have unfolded very differently if Shaka had had his way and was allowed to turn the campaign into one of total war. As it happened, no sooner had Dingiswayo’s invading forces left, than Matiwane sent word to t he Hlubi that he would like his cattle back. Imagine his rage when Mthimkhulu objected to this, and refused to return the cattle. Mthimkhulu was acting from a position of strength, since not only were the Hlubi powerful, but they enjoyed special favour with Dingiswayo. Fuming, Matiwane resolved to use magic to gain advantage over Mthimkhulu. He obtained some hair, cut from the head of the Hlubi chief, with which he hoped to weave some dark enchantment. But before he could put the magic into practice, and test whether it worked or not, an unexpected attack put an end to his plans.
…his forces drove Matiwane and his people from their homes, killing all who remained in their path.
Zwide, the warlike Ndwande king, saw himself as the Great Chief of the surrounding people. Perhaps because his ambition was continually frustrated by Dingiswayo, he swept into the land of the Ngwane. He did not appear to have any provocation for this, and his attack was completely unexpected. Unlike Dingiswayo, however, Zwide was ruthless. He and his forces drove Matiwane and his people from their homes, killing all who remained in their path. He did not spare women and children, but killed them along with the men, and burned their kraals. The Ngwane fled in panic, leaving their homes and country behind them. Matiwane, with nothing left to lose, gathered his army and had to look for another place where his people could stay.
Matiwane moved with his entire army, followed by the remaining women and children of the tribe. He showed how fierce he was when he attacked the Hlubi capital. Matiwane took Mthimkhulu by surprise and completely destroyed the village, killing everyone in his path, including the chief. Matiwane and his warriors struck with such speed that the Hlubi had no time to organise a defence. Matiwane burned everything in his way, butchered those who crossed his path, and drove their cattle before him. He had recovered his own cattle as well, and set off in the direction of the country around the present-day Klip River.
Many of the Hlubi had managed to escape, however, and gathered in two groups. One group fled south in search of a new home. The rest of the escaping refugees gathered under Mpangazitha, the brother of the slain Mthimkhulu. As he was now the leader, Mpangazitha took charge of this section of the tribe and fled westwards towards the mighty Khatlamba Mountains. Mpangazitha and his people made their way through the difficult mountainous territory and headed towards the wide valley of the Wilge River. He knew that people with many cattle and fields of grain lived in that area. They were also people with whom he had a score to settle. This may be what he had in mind as he took the pass, now known as Van Reenen’s, over the mountains.
The Batlokwa were skilled in working with iron, and traded in implements made of iron.
As the winter of 1822 approached, the Batlokwa of Manthatisi seemed comfortable enough, with only minor squabbles interfering with their daily lives. The villagers, who were settled on the slopes of the Kathlamba Mountains, near the sources of the Wilge and the Mooi Rivers, near present-day Harrismith, went about their daily tasks. Perhaps they had heard of the trouble over the mountain, for they had contact with people from the lowlands in Shaka’s territory. The Batlokwa were skilled in working with iron, and traded in implements made of iron. They were also known for their skill in dressing the skins of animals, so had various items that they could offer in trade. By this time, Dingiswayo was dead, captured under somewhat mysterious circumstances (some whispered) and slain by Zwide. But this event, and the troubles that had beset the Hlubi and the Ngwane, must have seemed far away – even if the news had reached the busy village of Manthatisi. They may not have known that, over the mountains, both Mpangazitha and Matiwane were on the move, looking for food and shelter for their people.
So it was that, as the cold slid down the slopes of the Kathlamba, the herd boys settled the cattle in the stone kraal for the night. The cattle kraal was large enough for many thousands of cattle, with the back wall the natural steep side of a hill. Once they were content that the cattle would be safe and sheltered here, and that their day’s work was done, the boys would (no doubt) have run home to warm fires and food. The houses, like three of the walls of the cattle kraal, were round and built of stone. The Batlokwa were skilled in fashioning walls from the ironstone boulders – of which there was an ample supply in the area – all without the use of mortar. Manthatisi’s royal kraal was called ‘Nkwe’, as it got its name from the large wildcat, or leopard. The kraal, which was situated high on a ridge with steep and rocky sides, had grown in the over one-hundred-and-fifty years that this branch of the Batlokwa had lived there.
Looking east, the peaks of the western Kathlamba were often capped with snow. On the night that I speak of, the white tips of mountains may have caught red as fire with the setting sun. The girls would have made their way back from the little spring on the south of the village. Perhaps some gathered around the fire for a story, just as you have, and laughed with each other before settling into their huts. Slowly, the noises subsided, the comforting talk of Manthatisi’s people going about their chores, damping the fires, settling into their karosses. Slowly, slowly, the low voices of men and women and children died down. The sounds of the mountain and the bush took over, the call of a jackal in the distance, an owl hooting as it swooped low, the gentle shuffling and lowing of cattle as they rested.
Then, without warning, as the soft and soothing sounds of the early – yet bitterly cold – winter’s night gave way to the waking day, Mpangazitha’s warriors fell upon the village of the still-sleeping Batlokwa. Even though they were unprepared, Manthatisi’s brave warriors rallied amidst the screaming of their fallen brothers and family. There was chaos and blood everywhere, blood red as the rising sun that was fast covered by the smoke of burning huts. ‘Run, flee, this way and that’, the people shouted as they fled their village. Protected by the warriors fighting at the rear, those of the Batlokwa who managed to escape made their way with their Queen to her people, the Basia.