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.

Mzilikazi: A Mountain Falls (Book 4 of 4)


In this fourth and last book of the Mzilikazi series, we follow the Great Bull Elephant from the central plains of South Africa to his final resting place in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. After securing his newlyfounded amaNdebele nation in the present-day North West Province, Mzilikazi and his people expanded their territory towards the Batswana lands on the fringes of the Kalahari Desert, and to the east and south along the Vaal River. The last years of the Khumalo Chief’s life was marked by significant changes that helped create the borders and communities we know today.


Mzilikazi – A Mountain Falls (Book 4 of 4)

The fourth and final book in the series on Mzilikazi takes us on the final leg of the Great Road. Mzilikazi and his Matabele still had a long way to go and many battles to fight. In this extract read how Mzilikazi continues the long march of his people, struggles to keep the colonial forces at bay, and is compared to Napolean Bonaparte by a French missionary.

Mzilikazi’s attack of the Bangwaketsi set a pattern for future attacks on other tribes. The Matabele struck in the dead of night with flaming torches, driving out the Bangwaketsi villagers and murdering them as they fled. Not all of them were slaughtered, however, as the young men and women were captured. They would become warriors and mothers for the Matabele community. During the day the Matabele then sent out their best warriors to continue the fight.

The Matabele would attack at night with flaming torches.

They fled as far west to the Kalahari Desert, where thirst caused more suffering.

The javelins, battle axes and clubs of the Bangwaketsi would not hold up against the sturdy ox-hide shields and assegais of the Matabele. So they fled as far west to the Kalahari Desert, where thirst caused more suffering. Eventually, the thirst even affected the Matabele who chased them. They turned back, collecting the scattered cattle along the way. The exiled Chief Sebitoane would later die in the dry desert of the Kalahari as the Matabele took control of the land. Mzilikazi’s path of destruction would continue as he travelled west to defeat first the Bakgatla – the Baboon People — and then the Bakwena – the Crocodile People.

In five years, the Matabele had marched as far as the Kalahari. By then Mzilikazi’s territory had grown very large. The only Bechuana community left in the area was the Bahurutsi. Mzilikazi made it clear he wanted to defeat them by the autumn, but was interrupted by the arrival of three white men from across the seas. In March 1832, three Frenchmen arrived at the village of Mosega on behalf of the Paris Evangelical Mission Society. These men were Prosper Lemue, Samuel Rolland and Jean Pierre Pellissier and they hoped to open up a missionary in the Bahurutsi territory. When they saw the wars that had ravaged the countryside, they decided to visit Mzilikazi’s friend, Robert Moffat, instead. They would wait with him in Kuruman until peace returned to the land.

During the next three months, they received letters from Paris demanding they set up the missionary station as soon as possible. When they learned from Chief Mokgatla there were no further invasions from Mzilikazi, they decided to leave Kuruman. Mzilikazi had, however, heard of the French missionaries and invited them to his royal kraal to find out what they wanted. Pellissiere thought this would be a good time to discuss starting a missionary station in the area and so he travelled to Mzilikazi’s kraal.

In the letters he sent to Paris, he described the Great Bull Elephant as charming…

After a long journey, Pellissier arrived at enKungwini to visit Mzilikazi. In the letters he sent to Paris, he described the Great Bull Elephant as charming, but very strict, and told how the entire Matabele population listened to him. He compared the Matabele chief to another powerful ruler, Napoleon Bonaparte, who had waged war in faraway France. He said Mzilikazi seemed more stern and thirsty for territory than the French ruler.

Pellissier was put to work cleaning a stack of firearms.

Mzilikazi welcomed Pellissier and even spoke about letting him work amongst the Matabele. Pellissier soon realised that Mzilikazi was more eager to learn how to use firearms than to build a church. After some time, Pellissier tried to return to Mosega and he glimpsed something of the powerful ruler’s authority when Mzilikazi said he alone would decide when the missionary would leave. Mzilikazi put Pellissier to work cleaning a stack of firearms that the Matabele had taken from the Griqua at the Battle of Moordkop. Pellissier was eventually allowed to leave, returning to Mosega as quickly as his wagon would go.

At Mosega, the tension between the Matabele and the Baharutsi continued to grow. An incident happened a few months after Pellissier’s return, when the Bahurutsi found a troop of six Matabele warriors they thought were sent to spy on Mosega. They were taken to Chief Mokgatla and executed before the French missionaries could intervene. Pellissier knew the response from Mzilikazi would be quick and ruthless, and he was proved right. In June of that year a convoy arrived at Mosega to demand the missionaries return to enKungwini to see Mzilikazi. The missionaries guessed their journey would end badly, and decided to pack up their belongings and leave the Baharutsi, and the nearby Kuruman. Moffat even offered to send a guide with them to enKungwini, but they still refused.

With Mzilikazi’s troops growing stronger by the day…

With Mzilikazi’s troops growing stronger by the day, the Matabele chief started to look for his next conquest. While he was growing impatient with the slow progress of emHlahlandlela, Mzilikazi started to look to other things to occupy his mind. He found two such things, and with the commitment typical of a great ruler started to take on other projects.

Moffatt sent a messenger to Mzilikazi, but after the messenger’s disappearance and four months silence, the message became clear: Mzilikazi had no intention of allowing the French missionaries to settle in Matabele country. Before Mzilikazi could march on the Bahurutsi in retaliation, he was attacked from the south by Dingane and his Zulu warriors. The clash ended in a stalemate, but both the Zulu and the Matabele held a victory dance after the battle. This was in spite of the retreat of the Zulu, on the one hand, and the severe losses suffered by the Matabele, on the other.

After the battle, Mzilikazi was eager to continue with his plan of expanding into Bahurutsi territory. He was cautious, but after a few months gave his warriors orders to attack. At the same time, Mzilikazi decided to move his royal kraal further west into the Marico District. As they marched the Matabele were surprized to find that the Buhurutsi territory was largely abandoned and so they met with little resistance. After securing the land from the fleeing Bahurutsi, Mzilikzai moved his royal kraal to Mosega. The women carried pots, sleeping mats and baskets, while the men drove herds of cattle to their new home. It was in this new place Mzilikazi would encounter the battle which changed his life.

Read more about Mzilikazi in books 1, 2 and 3: Mzilikazi – A Khumalo Prince (Book 1)Mzilikazi – The Roving Conqueror (Book 2); and Mzilikazi – The Great Bull Elephant (Book 3).

Additional information

Dimensions215 × 234 mm