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 Roving Conquerer (Book 2 of 4)


The first part of Mzilikazi’s story ended with his departure from KwaZulu-Natal. This second book sees the roving conqueror moving yet further away from the influence of Shaka Zulu and sowing chaos among the Sotho clans to the north. After many conquests, he finally settles in his great kraal at the Crocodile River near present-day Tshwane.


Mzilikazi – The Roving Conqueror (Book 2 of 4)

In this second book of four in the story of Mzilikazi, we find out that the great leader of the Matabele built three large military kraals where Pretoria North is now. In this extract you can read more about this great feat, and where he got the labour that he needed to do the hard work.

During the next year the three military kraals were built. Each one was a large, sprawling settlement built in very much the same way as Shaka Zulu’s Gibixhengu, where a large cattle kraal was surrounded by great semi-circular huts. The entire settlement was surrounded by a high wall made from heavy branches. On the tops of these fences sharp thorns were woven into the wall to give extra protection against invaders, whether it was a hungry lion or an enemy. Inside these massive structures Mzilikazi would train his Matabele troops in the art of war, and at a moment’s notice they would be ready to defend their chief.

Mzilikazi decided to build three great military kraals where Pretoria North is today.

The three kraals were built along the Crocodile and Aapies Rivers. The first was called enKungwini – the Place of Mist – and was built on the bank of the Aapies River where Pretoria North is now. If you travelled just a little way down the river you would then meet up with the second mighty kraal, known as enDinaneni. The third kraal was the biggest one of the three, and was built to be the capital of the Matabele nation. It was known as emHlahlandlela – Cutting a Path – and it lay furthest north of all the kraals along the Crocodile River, a little way from where it met the Limpopo River. The kraals were built with architects, craftsmen, thatchers and builders working every day to finish them quickly. Mzilikazi was impatient for the work to be finished, and would continually order the builders to hurry up.

They were forced to run away from Zululand in much the same way as Mzilikazi

While the kraals were being built, Mzilikazi had some visitors in his temporary kraal. They were Ndwandwe warriors, the remainder of the army that had been led by Chief Zwide, Mzilikazi’s very own grandfather, who had been defeated by Shaka Zulu many years ago. Since they lost the battle with the Zulu chief, they were forced to run away from Zululand in much the same way as Mzilikazi, and had to roam the country as nomads, always looking for food and water. Now they fled from the east of present-day Gauteng to plead with the Khumalo chief to be part of the Matabele nation.

The Ndwandwe had heard that the Matabele were now a powerful nation, and so they asked if they could join Mzilikazi’s ranks as members of that nation. Now, even though Mzilikazi had fought against the Ndwandwe and Chief Zwide had cut off the head of his father a long time ago, the Matabele Chief was glad to welcome his fellow Nguni speakers into his kraal. After the invasion of the Bakwena, there were many people of Sotho origin who had joined Mzilikazi’s ranks, so when the Ndwandwe asked to join the Matabele, Mzilikazi realized it would be a way to strengthen his own family ties. In this way, the Ndwandwe joined the Matabele as a kind of royalty, where all the Nguni speakers enjoyed a higher rank than the Sotho members who had joined because their clans had been defeated.

Mzilikazi brought thatchers, builders and craftsmen to help build the military kraals.

As the weeks continued, the building of the greatest Matabele military kraal, emHlahlandlela, or the Place of the Cutting, was still not finished, even with Mzilikazi urging all the builders to work faster with fearsome threats only he could make. The kraal was going to be impressive, though, and it would be large enough to hold an entire Matabele army. The work to finish it, however, was going very slowly. While Mzilikazi was trying to finish his kraal, there were a few events in the south and to the west of where he lived that would help the Matabele nation.

Mzilikazi welcomed the Hlubi because they spoke the same language as the Matabele

The first news was of the battles raging to the west of the country. Matiwane and Mpangazita were pushing all the Sotho clans to the west in the search for food. The two great clans were always at war, and after battling each other over the Drakensberg to the south, they met again south of the Matabele. It was here Matiwane attacked Mpangazita and his Hlubi yet again, and the emaNgweni chief defeated and killed Chief Mpangazita. Immediately after this, most of the Hlubi clan swore allegiance to Chief Matiwane, but the second-eldest son of the slain chief, known as Mahlomaholo, escaped with a small army and travelled north. After a while he met up with Chief Mzilikazi, and like the Ndwandwe he asked to join the Matabele army. Mzilikazi welcomed the Hlubi because they spoke the same language as the Matabele, and in this way a small nucleus of Nguni speakers took root in what had been Sotho territory. So the actions of Shaka Zulu still had an effect on the northernmost part of South Africa, and even Chief Mzilikazi of the Matabele felt the consequences of the lifaqane.

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.

The first project he set his sights on was to send a small troop further north in order to scout along the area where the Mashona lived. The Mashona were a community of cattle breeders who lived over the Limpopo River, in Zimbabwe. Although the Matabele Chief told his army that the expedition was just to see if the Mashona had enough cattle to raid, Mzilikazi had future plans for the area, ones that would take the land of the Matabele far beyond what is today the border of South Africa.

Mzilikazi heard that the Bapedi had started to boast

Another project Mzilikazi pursued was one that had been bothering him for some time. It was about a clan who lived near the Steelpoort River, just before it merged with the Upper Olifants River. The Bapedi lived there under the rule of Chief Sekwati. The Bapedi were the “rock rabbits” that had managed to escape the Matabele attack when Mzilikazi’s troops were searching for the Sotho Chiefs Sibindi and Mokotoko. The Matabele had managed to attack everyone who stood in their path, except for Chief Sekwati’s army. The reason for this was that the Bapedi would scurry up two steep mountains, known as Matamoga and Morema, and in doing so would escape the wrath of the Matabele. Mzilikazi heard that the Bapedi had started to boast far and wide they were the only people to have beaten the mighty Matabele, and they started to sing songs about Mzilikazi that called the great chief a mighty brute. Now, any self-respecting chief could not allow this, and so Mzilikazi commanded his troops to attack the Bapedi on their return from Mashonaland.

The Matabele warriors promised to defeat the Bapedi.

When the troops returned they kept their promise, and they attacked Matamoga and Morema, the two mountain strongholds of the Bapedi. They wanted to get rid of the “rock rabbits” that lived there. This time the Bapedi were unlucky, and weren’t able to send the Matabele away in defeat. The attack was harsh, but not many of the Bapedi were killed. In fact, they were taken prisoner and sent back to emHlahlandlela, to help the Matabele finish building the mighty kraal. When they returned to emHlahlandlela, Mzilikazi kept them prisoner in an unusual way. He built them forty-four huts in the middle of emHlahlandlela, complete with high walls to keep them locked inside. Mzilikazi then made them work in the nearby forests, cutting down trees to be used at the military kraal. The Bapedi were worked to the bone for mocking the great Matabele chief, until it was said that they became so weak they could not work any more. Eventually, the Bapedi were so weak that Mzilikazi sent them back to their mountain homes in order to recuperate.

The Bapedi, as well as all the other prisoners, were the biggest work force that built emHlahlandlela. They were the ones who built the high walls and the huts, the fences for the cattle kraals, and even the buildings where they would be kept as prisoners. They were made to work without rest, under the command of the Nguni-speaking Matabele who held the positions of supervisors and designers.

The story of Mzilikazi begins with the first book in the series, Mzilikazi – A Khumalo Prince. Also read Mzilikazi 3 – The Great Bull Elephant and Mzilikazi 4 – A Mountain Falls.

Additional information

Dimensions215 × 234 mm