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: The Great Bull Elephant (Book 3 of 4)


In this third book of four, we continue the story of Chief Mzilikazi, founder of the Matabele nation. Having travelled from the place of his birth after a bitter battle with Shaka, the Zulu Chief, this book tracks Mzilikazi through the vast plains of northern South Africa. Here the Great Bull Elephant clashes with the Sotho clans of Manthatisi, the Bapedi, the Baralong and the Baharutsi. He also meets the expanding forces of the Bergenaars and encounters British and Afrikaans pioneers.


Mzilikazi – The Great Bull Elephant

The third book of four about Mzilikazi tells how the Great Bull Elephant settles into his new Great Kraal where Pretoria North is today. He was not going to be able to rest there for too long, for other groups of people began to move across the land. In this extract read about the visit of two men, Robert Schoon and William McLuckie, who hoped to make their fortunes over the Orange River.

As the traders came near to Mzilikazi’s royal kraal they out spanned their oxen to rest for the night in a nearby Matabele village. The villagers were happy to see the two foreigners, and gave them a cow as a gift. To return the favour, Schoon did something that left the entire village speechless: he used his musket to shoot the cow and told the villagers to prepare a feast for the evening!

Mzilikazi sent the induna, uMncumbuta, with four oxen as a gift for Schoon and McLuckie.

The crack of the gun, followed by the smoke pouring from the muzzle and the almost instantaneous death of the cow surprised the crowd so much that they ran! Word flew straight to enKungwini, and Mzilikazi knew that his guests were arriving. Nevertheless, as the wagon laboured over the hills that surrounded the royal kraal, Schoon and McLuckie were instructed to wait until the Great Bull Elephant gave permission for them to enter his home. This was the tradition of the Matabele, as well as many other communities in South Africa.

Mzilikazi was eager to meet the strange travellers from the south, and as soon as the waiting time had been acceptably long enough for a chief to wait, he sent his official dignitary to summon the traders to his royal kraal. Leaving their ox wagon behind under the strict guard of the Matabele army, the two travellers walked solemnly through the main gates of enKungwini. After hearing all the tales about the Roving Conqueror, the chief who ruled over the vast lands to the west, the two were wary about meeting Mzilikazi! They were expecting a cold, arrogant tyrant, who would threaten them without warning, but as soon as they formally greeted the Matabele chief their fears were put to rest. In front of them stood an intelligent, observant man with a ready smile and shining eyes. Although Mzilikazi was a strong man, he was quick-witted and seemed genuinely interested in what the traders had to say.

First greeting the visitors, Mzilikazi would later join the first row of the dancing Matabele warriors.

After the initial greetings, Mzilikazi called in his regiments to perform a welcoming dance for his guests. The army started to stamp their feet and sing out in unison, and the sound echoed powerfully throughout the valley. Schoon and McLuckie watched in amazement as the regiments caused the earth to shake under their mighty feet, and it wasn’t long before the Bull Elephant, Mzilikazi himself, joined in the front lines to raise the dust in the royal kraal. The smell of meat soon wafted throughout the village, and a feast was prepared, for this was a joyous occasion! Not only had the two traders come to visit Mzilikazi, but the Matabele warriors had returned victorious, and while the meat was being passed around soldiers who had performed outstanding deeds of bravery were brought before Mzilikazi, who congratulated them individually.

Schoon and McLuckie witnessed many performances, and noticed how much power the Matabele chief held. They saw that the Bull Elephant was incredibly wealthy, surrounded by homes, cattle and grain. It wasn’t long before Schoon approached Mzilikazi to trade, as they were interested in purchasing ivory, but Mzilikazi told them to go to where the elephants roamed to collect the tusks themselves. After a brief journey the two traders returned to trade the rest of their beads and valuables for a good amount of fine furs and other treasures from the Matabele kraal.

Before long it was time for the traders to leave, but before they did they were summoned before Mzilikazi one more time. This time, instead of another feast, they were shown the muskets that the Matabele had taken from the Bergenaars. Mzilikazi then asked them to demonstrate the workings of the weapon, and Schoon agreed. He first loaded the weapon with pewter and lead, and aimed at a nearby rock. The billowing smoke and explosion of the rock caused much excitement, but when Mzilikazi examined the damage he said that the force was not strong enough to kill a mighty Matabele warrior! Then, a bullock was brought out, and Schoon once again loaded his musket. This time, the roar was deafening, and the bullock fell to the ground almost immediately, leaving Mzilikazi speechless!

With a deafening roar from the musket, the bullock fell to the ground.

As the two traders left enKungwini, Mzilikazi knew that if he were to remain powerful, he would have to ally with these musket holders, instead of fighting with them. He sent two of his most respected indunas to escort the traders, one of them none other than uMncumbata. These indunas were to meet with missionary settlers to foster good relations between them and the Matabele.

Read more about Mzilikazi in books 1, 2 and 4: Mzilikazi – A Khumalo Prince (Book 1)Mzilikazi–The Roving Conqueror (Book 2); and Mzilikazi– A Mountain Falls (Book 4).

Additional information

Dimensions215 × 234 mm