About Nandi Ndlovukazi kaBhebe eLangeni, Queen Mother of the Zulus
The history of Nandi and that of her son, Shaka,the great Zulu king and founder of the Zulu nation has mostly been gleaned from oral sources and some written references from the diary of the African trader, Henry Francis Fynn. Fynn spent a great deal of time with Shaka and was also present at the death of Nandi. There are however many inconsistincies regarding the subject. Some of the most crucial events leading up to the establishment of the Shakan empire took place within a few kilometres of Melmoth situated between modern day Eshowe and the Zulu Capital, Ulundi.
The Early Years and the Birth of Shaka
Ndlorukazi Nandi kaBebe eLangeni,(the sweet one) was the daughter of a minor Langeni chief, Bhebhe (also referred to as Bheki) Mhlongo and his wife Mfunda,and was born in 1766 at the eBonzini umuzi on what later became the Bull's Run estate on the banks of the Mhlatuze river. (In close proximity to the present day Phobane Lake). Little is known about her early childhood but one can presume she grew up according to Zulu customs and fulfilled the various chores a young girl would in the household.
On her way with friends to visit relatives near the Babanango hills, she passed close to Senzagakhona's ikhanda esiKlebe which was situated very near the area where the Babanango road turns off from the R34 Melmoth/Vryheid road. Taking the location of Siklebeni and the various watercourses in the vicinity into consideration there can be little doubt that a meeting took place between Nandi's party and a group of young men that included Senzagakhona kaJama. This meeting took place south of the White Umfolozi river in the wooded bed of the Mkumbane river (probably upstream from the bridge where the present Melmoth/Vryheid road crosses it.) It seems as though they met again on their return journey and this time the flirting between Nandi and Senzagakhona could not have been so innocent as she fell pregnant by him.
It is claimed that Shaka was born at Senzangakhona's household and although Nandi was betrothed to Senzagakhona, they were not yet married according to traditional custom. This however seems unlikely as the relationship was illicit and it is more than likely that Shaka was born 'esihlahleni' – (literally meaning, in the bushes or outside the normal social setting for a birth), in 1787 in the Langeni territory at the Nguga homestead of Nandi's uncle. According to Zulu custom in that time pregnant women who were not married were sent away with the child, to live in obscurity and their children were never recognised as being of Royal blood.
When Nandi first reported her pregnancy to Senzangakhona the tribal elders claimed that she was not pregnant but suffering from a stomach ailment caused by the iShaka beetle- an intestinal beetle on which menstrual irregularities were usually blamed – as Nandi was said to be suffering from this because of her out-of-wedlock pregnancy. When the child was eventually born, the child and Nandi were taken to the Zulu capital with much shame and no welcoming festivities as there were no ceremonial celebration for a woman already with child. Nandi took the child to Senzangakhona and presented him with his son and named him 'Shaka'.
Despite Senzangakona's attempts to deny paternity, he eventually married Nandi and she was relegated to the lowly position of his third wife. According to E.A Ritter's book (E.A Ritter – Shaka Zulu), Nandi was not only a mother but also in a interclan marriage which was forbidden. This came about because Nandi's mother Mfunda, was the daughter of Kondlo, a Qwabe chief, with whom clan intermarriage with the Zulu was unacceptable.
Shaka and Nandi spent his early years at Senzagakona's esiKlebeni homestead near the present day Babanango. Nandi appeared to have a fiery temperament but was devoted to her son. Although it seems the relationship between Nandi and Senzagakhona was never happy for long she did bear him a second child, a girl named Nomcuba. It seems Nandi was not very popular and found herself unwelcome and neglected. Fortunately Mkabi (the wife of Jama) to whom Nandi as Um-Lobokazi (young wife), was entrusted, was a close relation to Nandi's mother, Mfunda, and took her under her care displaying some sympathy towards her.
The version given by Henry Francis Fynn differs from the above and although he also wasn't present the oral representation in time frame is much closer and he may also have gleaned information from Shaka. According to Fynn, Senzangakona, was uncircumsized at the time of his encounter with Nandi. Although a chief may have set aside a group of women, the women were not allowed to conceive before his circumcision was completed. According to Fynn, Nandi was included in this group and within six months became pregnant with Senzangakona's illigitimate child. The other women in the group publicly charged Nandi with having illicit intercourse. Senzangakona, to avoid disgrace in the estimation of his people, told the other women that she suffered from itshaka, a looseness of the bowels, and that was the cause of the swelling. In time of course, Shaka was born. Henry Francis Fynn also gives more insight as to the temperment of Nandi. He describes her as being of a 'violent, passionate disposition and during her residence with Senzagakhona she frequently got into fits of outrageous violence'. (In the book, Natal and the Zulu Country by T.V Bulpin he states that 'Nandi was a masculine, savage woman with a tongue like a rasp.') Fynn also states that Nandi and Shaka's expulsion from Senzangakhona's presence came as a result of Nandi striking one of his leading men over the head with a knobstick. In consequence of this she was on the point of being killed, but Senzangakhona ordered her from his presence and told her to never return.
Other sources (Footprints in Time-Natal, I.L.Perrett) describe the events differently. When Shaka was six years old he allowed a dog to kill one of Senzagakhona's pet sheep. A quarrel ensued between an arrogant Nandi and Senzagakhona when he treatened Shaka with a beating. As a result Nandi, Shaka and Nomcuba, Shaka's younger sister, were ordered to return to Nandi's own people, the Langeni.
Senzangakhona married several other wives and appointed Bibi, the daughter of Sompisi, chief of the Ntuli tribe, as his queen. She bore him a son named, Sigujana who was to become king after Senzangakhona. Other sons, notably Mhlangane, Dingane and Mpande were born to the other wives.
Nandi, Shaka and Noncuba sought sanctuary in the Mtlatuze Valley with the eLangeni people where it seems they were not welcomed. Shaka became a herd-boy at his mother's I-Ngugo kraal in the Elangeni area about 48 kilometres away from his father's kraal. It was apparently not a happy time for Shaka or Nandi as she felt herself disgraced through the dismissal of Senzangakhona. Shaka himself was subjected to humiliation and bullying by the older boys who referred to him as 'the fatherless one'. He became anti-social and unpopular. Few people liked the arrogant Nandi or her son. This unhappiness may explain Shaka's subsequent lust for power and his hatred against the eLangeni. In Zulu cronicles Nandi is said to have soothed Shaka by saying: 'Never mind , my Um-lilwane (Little Fire), you have the got the isibindi ( liver, meaning courage) of a lion and one day you will be the greatest chief in the land.' (Quote from E.A Ritter – Shaka Zulu)
A few adult women defended him and were kind to him. Among these his grandmother, Mntaniya, Mkabi the chief wife of Senzangakhona and Mkhabayi Senzangakhona's sister (Mkhabayi later played a pivotal role in the death of Shaka).
It seems throughout his childhood, Mkabi (Senzangakhona's step mother) and Mkabayi, his older sister, visited Nandi and Shaka. Shaka never forgot this and when he came into power he placed them in the highest positions in the land- they became reigning queens of his military kraals and he maintained them there to his death. Shaka idolised Nandi and he had great resentment for the way Nandi had been treated by Senzangakhona and the people of the eLangeni tribe who referred to his illigitimate birth. On the one hand he exalted those who treated his mother well but revenged all those who had slighted Nandi and ridiculed him.
According to the Diary of Henry Fynn, Nandi had married a 'commoner of the Langeni tribe named, Gendeyana (Ngendeyana) and bore him a son called Ngwadi'. In about 1802 the eLangeni were affected by a great famine and Nandi, unable to provide food for her children, moved the family to the Mpahla flats, east of Eshowe near the Amatikulu river. In the book Shaka Zulu by E.A Ritter, Nandi at this time went to join Gendeyana, by whom she already had a child and who lived among the Ama-Mbedweni people, a sub-clan of the Qwabes. She was well received but Shaka (15) felt no rightful place and was sent by Nandi to live with Macingwane of the Cunu clan. Shortly after,Nandi again sent Shaka to live with her father's sister in Mtetwaland north of the present day Kwambonambi. Shaka Zulu and Nandi found refuge with her aunt at the mDletsheni clan which dwelt directly under the powerful Mthethwa and their aging king Jobe. Jobe was succeeded by his son Dingiswayo – Godongwane. E.A Ritter states, Nandi, Shaka and his siblings all went to live in the area presided by Ngomane, son of Mqombolo of the Dletsheni clan and a chieftain under the rule of King Jobe.
It was 1803 and for the first time in many years Nandi and Shaka were treated with kindness and sympathy at the Mthetwa home of her aunt. Shaka became a herdboy for Ngomane and lived with Mbiya, who became a foster-father to him. In 1809, Jobe died and his son, Dingiswayo returned home and became chief.
Shaka was about twenty-three years old when Dingiswayo called up the emDlatsheni Intanga(age group) of which he was part, and incorporated it in the iziCwe regiment. All the young men of Shaka's age group were called up and Shaka became a soldier living the Ema-Ngweni kraal under the leadership of Buza. Shaka served as a Mthethwa warrior for six years, and distinguished himself with his courage, rising to a general.
Shaka becomes King
'He is Shaka the unshakeable,
Thunderer-while-sitting, son of Menzi
He is the bird that preys on other birds,
The battle-axe that excels over other battle-axes in sharpness,
He is the long-strided pursuer, son of Ndaba,
Who pursued the sun and the moon.
He is the great hubbub like the rocks of Nkandla
Where elephants take shelter
When the heavens frown…'
Traditional Zulu praise song, English translation by Ezekiel Mphahlele wikipedia.org/wiki/KwaDukuza,_KwaZulu-Natal
In 1815 King Senzangakhona, Shaka's father, became ill and despite the fact that Shaka had made a impression on him and was a protégé of Dingiswayo, Senzangakhona nominated one of his younger sons, Sigujana, to succeed him. When Sigujana was killed by Ngwadi, Shaka's half-brother the way was open for Shaka to return to the eMakhosini and with the support and approval of Dingiswayo and the Mthethwa he was installed at eSiklebeni,his father's capital. He immediately selected a new site for his kraal as it was not customary to occupy the kraal of a deceased king. He chose a site on a ridge on the east bank of the Mhode stream near the present farmhouse of Koningskroon just below the Mthonjaneni Ridge. He had returned to a site very near the original settlement of his ancestor,Zulu.
Shaka immediately organised his army calling up all the Zulu males between 20 and 40 years and formed regiments. He also built military settlements between his capital and the White Umfolozi river.His first military attack was one of revenge against his mother's people, the eLangeni tribe. Shaka established a new royal residence, kwaBulawayo I and a number of similar royal homesteads known as amakhanda (of royal authority) were built around his kingdom. These served as centres of administration and regimental barracks.
Much of what we know of Shaka comes from accounts of the first white adventurers who established a settlement at Port Natal- modern day Durban – in 1824. Mostly British, they thrived under the protection of Shaka while hunting for ivory and trading with the Zulu Kingdom. In return, in their written accounts, they created a image of Shaka as a bloodthirsty psychopath and despot. This seems contradictory when he was openly affectionate towards his female relatives and the fact that he supported his father's sons despite the fact that they posed a political threat.
It is clear though that he was a ruthless leader who knew the value of terror in creating a kingdom.It is also in 1824 that Henry Francis Fynn and Francis Farewell first paid Shaka a visit. He was curious about their technological advancements and anxious to learn more about warfare and especially interested in their culture. Mostly though, he was aware of the advantages that their trade might bring to him. On arriving within a mile of the king’s residence [KwaBulawayo], we were directed to wait under a large tree . . . The kraal was nearly two miles in circumference. At the time of our entering the gates, the kraal was surrounded by about 12 000 men in their war attire . . . After exhibiting their cattle for two hours, they drew together in a circle, and sang and danced to the war-whoop . . The women now entered the kraal, each having a long thin stick in the right hand, and moving it in time to the song. They had not been dancing many minutes when they had to make way for the ladies of the seraglio . . These danced in parties of eight, each party wearing different coloured beads, which were crossed from the shoulders to the knees. Each wore a headdress of black feathers, and four brass collars fitting close to the neck . . . On the following morning we found him [Shaka] sitting under a tree, in the act of decorating himself. He was surrounded by about 200 people, a servant standing at his side, and holding a shield over him to keep the glare of the sun from him. Round his forehead he wore a turban of otter-skin, with a feather of a crane erect in front, full two feet long . . From shoulder to shoulder he wore bunches, three inches in length, of skins of monkeys and genets hanging half down the body. Round the ring of the head . . . were a dozen bunches of the red feathers of the loerie, tastefully tied to thorns which were stuck into the hair. Round his arms were white ox-tails, cut down to the middle so as to allow the hairs to hang about the arm. Round the waist a petticoat, resembling the highland plaid, made of skins of monkeys and genets reaching to the knees, below which were ox-tails to fit round the legs, so as to hang to the ankles. He had a white shield with a single black spot, and an assegaai. From The Diary of Henry Francis Fynn. http://www.visitzululand.co.za/nkwalini.html
In 1826, in order to be closer to the settlers at Port Natal he moved his capital to kwaDukuza (the maze/place where one gets lost) near Stanger. It was 80 km further south of kwaBulawayo. This kraal consisted of about 2000 beehive-shaped huts and was used as a halfway trading station between Zululand and Natal. The Zulu Kingdom grew extraodinarily rich on cattle captured during this period of almost constant military action.By 1827, Shaka held central Zululand – between the Black Mfolozi in the north and the Thukela river in the south- firmly under his control. During his rule there were no conflicts between the whites and the Zulus, as Shaka did not want to precipitate clashes with the military forces of the Cape colonial government.
A cruel tyrant, he had men executed at the nod of his head and the loyalties of his people were severely strained as his cruelties increased steadily. The climax came at the death of Nandi, in October 1827. Vast numbers of people were put to death during mourning ceremonies if they showed insufficient grief, and armies were sent out to force the surrounding chiefdoms to grieve.
By 1828, however there were signs that Shaka was beginning to lose his grip on his kingdom. He had survived one assassination attempt and on 24 September 1828, he fell victim to a coup orchestrated by his brothers Dingane and Mhlangana and was stabbed to death. On 24 September 1828 Shaka was sitting on a rock (The rock was later moved across the road and now stands behind his memorial.) looking at some of his cattle in a small cattle kraal known as the Nyakamubi, when his two half-brothers and Mbopa, Shaka's trusted body-servant, approached him and began stabbing him. (Early on Nandi expressed her dislike and mistrust of Mbopa, telling Shaka Mbopa's clan name was 'blood' and that she saw his, Shaka's, blood. Shaka refused to kill him.) Badly wounded and near death he addressed his murderers and it is said prophesied: 'Do you think that you will rule the land?..Not you, but the white people will rule the land.'
According to custom his body was draped in the skin of a black ox and the following day he was buried with all his possessions in a newly dug grain-pit and covered with rocks. (In 1932 the Zulu people erected a white memorial over the grave. In 1946 the rock (see above)was rolled across the road to its present site. Each year on 24 September, the Zulu king, his royal household, dignitaries and thousands of warriors gather in traditional dress at this grave to honor the man who is acclaimed to have been the founder of the Zulu nation.)
Nandi's Life as The Queen Mother
'Shaka had a deep respect for his mother, Nandi, and his aunts, princesses Mkabayi, Mmama and Nomawa. (Stephen Taylor , Shaka’s Children a History of the Zulu people, published in 1994.)
In 1816, Nandi had returned to live with Shaka as the Queen Mother. She held a reputedly cruel sway over her household and exercised a great deal of influence over affairs of the kingdom. Nandi, with other women surrounding Shaka, was put in charge of military kraals and given power to govern while he was on campaign. It is said that Nandi was a force for moderation in Shaka’s life, suggesting various political compromises to him rather than violent action.
Each settlement had a selection of royal women usually headed by one of Shaka's aunts. According to evidence later given by Cetshwayo, (A Zulu King Speaks – Statements made by Cetshwayo ka Mpande – C.de B Webb & J.B Wright 12) the woman’s work in a kraal consisted of cultivating and reaping crops, getting wood and water, cooking, making matting for covering huts, making sleeping mats, making izilulu (a grass receptacle for corn), and cleaning house.
As Shaka swept through Zululand incorporating various clans into the Zulu all the unmarried Buthelezi women – about 100 – aged from eighteen to twenty, became Shaka's crown property. They were divided into three groups of even number and he appointed one group each to his military kraals the Belebele, (ruled by his aunt Mkabayi) and the Esi-Klebeni (ruled by his father Senzangakhona's first wife, Makabi and forth wife, Langazana. The third group formed the nucleus of the Um-Dlunkulu (those of the great house) and were kept under the watchful eye of Nandi. At Bulawayo Nandi was responsible for their good conduct and careful monthly inspections to ensure that they were not pregnant.
John Laband, in his book, 'Rope of Sand', in referring to Nandi, writes,'His mother was clearly of a most difficult, aggressive temperament however, and Nandi's praises refer to her physical unattractiveness and sexual frigidity, as well as to her violent temper: She whose thighs do not meet, They only meet on seeing her husband.
After Shaka's great victory at the Umthatuze river he gave Nandi a herd of thousands of cattle and started the building of her own Royal kraal at Emkindini not far from the Mfule river and halfway between present day Melmoth and Umhlatuze river.
At around 1821, six years before Nandi's Death, Shaka built a new capital on the southern slopes of the Umthlatuze valley to the right of the present day Eshowe-Empangeni road, and like the first, also named it Bulawayo (place of the killing).As soon as this was completed, Shaka built Nandi a similar kraal but of lesser dimentions, that was situated on the broad flat summit of a hill five km south-west of the new Bulawayo. It was called the Emkindini (girdle) after the name of her earlier one situated near Melmoth and was almost encircled by the Emateku and Embuzane streams with the Empongo hill to the east. Nomcuba, Shaka's sister, now presided over the old Emkindini kraal.'
Shaka's Son – Fact or Fiction?
Nandi's kraal, the New Emkindini, was about five km from Bulawayo and two from Em-Tandeni (Em-Tandeni(place of love) was a kraal near Bulawayo that was Shaka's relaxation and pleasure kraal where he kept his specially chosen women) and Shaka frequently visited Nandi.
Apparently Nandi often raised the question of marriage and grandchildren but Shaka brushed this aside and wanted no legitimate heir as he thought his children would be potential rivals. He did have a large harem, but these were mostly girls he used as trade and gifts for other chiefs. He never married and women found pregnant by him were put to death. (It seems in actual fact that such women were sent away and their children never recognized as being of royal blood). His households therefore were not dominated by wives but by stern older women of the royal family. In his absence the administrative authority was carried jointly by the female elder of the settlement and by the induna.
Despite all Shaka's great precautions a Cele girl by the name of Mbuzikazi became pregnant by Shaka and after the third month she and the royal matron in charge of the Em-Tandeni kraal made a secret report to Nandi. Not prepared to take any chances, Nandi sent the girl to live with her daughter, Nomcoba at the old Emkindini kraal about 12 km from Melmoth. When the boy was born a wet nurse named Nomagwebu was installed to look after the child and Mbuzikazi was sent back to Em-Tandeni to prevent Shaka from becoming suspicious. Between Mbuzikazi, Nandi and Nomcuba the child grew up with love and attention at the old Emkindini kraal and to all intent and purposes the child belonged to Nomagwebu.
When Shaka moved his royal residence to Dukuza it seems Nandi seized the oppurtunity to bring the child to her own kraal, the new Emkindini, where she could raise him. In time it seems Shaka became aware of the child and confronted Nandi. In Fynn's book he writes that Shaka decided not to kill the boy as the child gave such pleasure to Nandi. Nandi decided to send the child Mbuzikazi and Nomagwebu to Tembeland (Swaziland) to ensure the childs safety – not only from Shaka but also from Shaka's half-brothers. There is no verification as to the truth whether Shaka had a son, if his life was spared or even if the boy spent the rest of his life in obscurity in Tembeland. (Swaziland)
The death of Nandi is filled with contradictory statements and there are various views on how she actually died. It is difficult to seperate fact from fiction as most information is by oral representation or from the diary of Henry Francis Fynn which for the most part is a memoir.
In the spring of the 11th year of Shaka's rule in October 1827, while hunting 130km away from Nandi's Emkindini kraal, Shaka received news that Nandi the Ndlovukazi (The Female Elephant) was gravely ill. He walked to her kraal between the late afternoon and noon the next day. Henry Francis Fynn, who accompanied Shaka on the hunt was asked to attend to Nandi. Fynn descibed Nandi's hut being filled with mourning women and smoke and he had to ventilate the hut to be able to breathe. Nandi was already in a coma and Fynn reported to Shaka that he did not expect her to live through the day. Soon Shaka was given news that Nandi was dead.
Fynn attributed her death to 'dysentary' but persistant Zulu tradition has it that Shaka killed her. There is also the possiblilty however that Mkabayi, Shaka's aunt spread the rumor of Shaka killing Nandi in order to turn people against him and that she had been the one to order his assassination. According to Zulu belief, Shaka was said to have put to death women within his isigodlo(harem) who he had made pregnant, in order to prevent the birth of rivals to his throne. Shaka upon finding out that his mother had not told him that she had permitted a Cele woman (Mbuzikazi) to leave the isigodlo with her son, was enraged and stabbed Nandi, 'with the sharp shank of a spear through her leather skirt and up her anus, as she stooped to feed the fire' ( The Rope of Sand – The Rise and Fall of the Zulu Kingdom – John Laband)
Whether this is true or not, Shaka was overcome with remorse at the death of Nandi and in a public show of unrestrained grief people tried to outdo each other in their show of mourning as proof of their innocence of any complicity in Nandi
s death. Two days after her death, Nandi was buried. Various personal attendents, were killed and buried with her as according to custom a person of her rank could not die alone, but must have servants to cook and serve her below. Nandi was to be shown all the funeral honors of a Nguni chief. In the book 'A Zulu King Speaks- Statements made by Cetshwayo', he states that beyond what he had been told he did not know what happened at Nandi's death but that the same ceremony was observed at the burying of a great person as observed in burying a common person. The only difference is that the grave of a great person was made into a nicer shape, a wooden fence erected around the grave and that every year when the grass is burnt, there are men to see that the grass on or near the grave was not burnt.
After Nandi's death Shaka and his people where thrown into general hysteria. Thousands of people and cattle were killed and there was a enforced one year of mourning.