Hosi Ngugunhane of the Tsonga

  • by African Times
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In this series of 10 volumes by Dr. Tlou Setumu entitled OUR HERITAGE: WARS OF RESISTANCE IN LIMPOPO, this week feature is Volume 1: HOSI NGUGUNHANE OF THE TSONGA

The rule of Hosi Ngungunyane (sometimes spelt, Ngugunhane) began in February 1885, few months after the Berlin Conference, where all the European colonial states agreed to divide Africa. The right of ownership was submitted to the occupation and administration of the African territories. The area of the present-day Mozambique was coveted by Great Britain and Germany. The English, particularly the all-powerful imperialist extraordinaire, Cecil Rhodes, the master of the British South Africa Company, viewed the Gaza region and Lorenço Marques harbour as strategically positioned for the drainage of the prime materials from the Transvaal.

In that fierce competition for colonies among Europeans, the Portuguese government acted rapidly. They instructed an important Portuguese trader, who pretended to be good friends with Hosi Ngungunyane, Casaleiro da Alegria, to convince Ngungunyane to send to Lisbon an embassy to sign an agreement of friendship and vassalage. To the Gaza king, the agreement was signed in October 1885 but he would never worry to ratify it. That agreement only served to ward off ambitions of the English and enhance those of the Portuguese.

However, trying to take advantage of the rivalry of the European nations and defend the independence of his Gaza Empire from the Portuguese, Hosi Ngungunyane tried the support of the British and Cecil John Rhodes. In 1889, he transferred the capital of the empire from Mossurize to Mandlakazi, more to the south, to alleviate the claims of the Portuguese on the mines of Manica and to consolidate Gaza’s sovereignty.

The Portuguese, English, South African white settlers and representatives of the concessionary companies tried in different ways to attract Hosi Ngungunyane to their interests. Lisbon installed a general administrator in the court with the post that was predicted on the treaty of October 1885. Cecil John Rhodes got from Hosi Ngungunyane, in exchange for a thousand riffles, ammunition and an annual subsidy in cash, the right of exploration of minerals and access to the sea.

On 11 January 1890 the British government decreed an ultimatum imposing the immediate retreat of the Portuguese forces from the Chire region and from the territories of the Mocolocos and Machonas, in the present-day Zimbabwe. In case of disobedience Lisbon was threatened with cannons. D. Carlos, king of Portugal, quickly communicated to London, in the same day of the ultimatum, that himself and the Portuguese government agreed to the demands of the secular allies.

Hosi Ngungunyane was surprised with the speed of the events. He had no answer to his plea for protection from Queen Victoria with which he was trying to cause conflict between London and Lisbon. The two European governments agreed to the demarcation of the African territories initiated in June 1891, and the Gaza Empire found itself in the middle of a Portuguese colony which was named Mozambique. Hosi Ngungunyane was summoned by the Portuguese authorities and he was intimidated to accept becoming a vassal of Portugal.

Hosi Ngungunyane refused to submit under the Portuguese. His refusal to be the Portuguese vassal inspired his subjects as well as the other Tsonga communities that were living next to the colonial settlers. Hosi Ngungunyane inspired his people who became determined to fight against the European colonisers and settlers. As a result, confrontation loomed large between the Gaza Empire and Portugal.

By August 1894, the Tsonga from Lorenço Marques region – Crown grounds, as the Portuguese called it – revolted after repeated abuses by the colonial authorities. They were inspired by Hosi Ngungunyane’s defiance of the Portuguese. The rulers of Mahazule, Nwamatibyane and Amgundjuana also joined the rebellion against the Portuguese. They gathered thousands of warriors, and then surrounded the Portuguese settlement of Lorenço Marques for two months preparing to attack.

Hosi Ngungunyane supported those attacks on the small Portuguese outpost of Lorenço Marques. The Portuguese official, Mozambique’s Governor General Magalhães e Menezes, arrived from the Mozambique Island, at the capital of the colony in order to save the besieged colonial settlement from the attackers. He then ordered the rising of trenches and arms cannons. He refused the offer from Cecil John Rhodes to act as the middle man. On 14 October 1894, he was able to hold the attack by the Tsonga forces that by that time had left more than hundred corpses on the ground.

The attack of Lorenço Marques alarmed Lisbon that sent to Mozambique the old minister of the navy, António Enes, as Royal Commissioner, having more powers than the Governor General. Enes promised Queen Amélia “to bring arrested to the feet of her Majesty the famous tyrant of South Africa”, referring to Hosi Ngungunyane who was involved in assaulting the Portuguese colonial settlers.

As he arrived at Lorenço Marques, Enes prepared the attack on the invading forces. He gave the commands of the expedition of 37 officials and 800 soldiers to the majors, Ribeiro Junior and Caldas Xavier. They marched into Marracuene, on the right bank of the Nkomati River. A fierce battle took place between the Tsonga forces and the Portuguese troops at the dawn of 2 February 1895. The Portuguese forces lined in square, used the power of the cannons and the machine guns to force the Tsonga forces to retreat. In the field more than 70 corpses lied in which of the 24 dead and 28 injured, were the casualties in the Portuguese side.

The Portuguese tried to divide their opponents by giving the impression that it was only certain polities, particularly, Nwamatibyane and Amgundjuauana, which attacked Lorenço Marques. They maintained that Mahazule did not fight in Marracuene in the same way that he had refused to participate in the attack in the Lorenço Marques. However, Hosi Ngungunyane protected all those who had rebelled against, and had attacked, the Portuguese, including, Nwamatibyane and Amgundjuauana.

Hosi Ngungunyane refused to surrender the rulers who had sought refuge to his capital to the Portuguese army as the royal commissioner demanded. Lisbon then gave clear instructions, reminding António Enes that “anything that was not a total destruction of Ngungunyane would not correspond to the heavy sacrifices that the country had made”.

After Hosi Ngungunyane refused the Portuguese demands and the ultimatum of the royal commissioner given to him by José de Almeida, the secretary of the Mozambique Company, the Portuguese demanded total submission of the Gaza Empire. They further demanded that the entire Gaza Empire must supply labour, taxes, freedom of movement and the building of military posts by the Portuguese settlers.

The fighting power of the Portuguese army and the divisions that existed within the Gaza Empire were reflected during the Gaza council meeting. The disposition of majority accepted the ultimatum. Hosi Ngungunyane declared that he was only ready to give in to the demands on condition that the Portuguese moved to the other side of the border of his empire. Enes refused Hosi Ngungunyane’s conditions and he ordered his troops to go forward and attack, after more reinforcements of men were sent from Portugal.

Because of that deadlock, attacks from both sides continued. On 8 September 1895 Ngungunyane’s forces of about six thousand men attacked the Portuguese armed forces which were under the command of Captains Freire de Andrade and Paiva Couceiro that left Lorenço Marques moving to Mandlakazi. The Portuguese soldiers, 275 in number, again used the square tactic, defending themselves with barbed wire.

As always, Hosi Ngungunyane warriors went in a half moon formation against the machine guns and cannons. Too many lives were lost in that battle, especially on the side of Gaza. After that loss of lives, Hosi Ngungunyane tried to negotiate with the royal commissioner and sent more emissaries to Durban and Cape Town, hoping to get help from Britain.

One of the advantageous strategies which the Portuguese used was the old, tried and tested approach of “divide-and-rule”. The Europeans had been specialists in applying a strategy in which they would divide the African indigenous communities before conquering them. They would recruit mercenaries made up of disgruntled African communities into their fold. At the end, the European forces would be swelled with indigenous recruits who would be decisive in defeating the main targets.

António Enes, who wanted to keep his promise to Queen Amélia of bringing Ngungunyane to Portugal, sent Colonel Eduardo Galhardo in front of 600 officers and Portuguese soldiers. In keeping in line with the “divide-and-rule” approach, as well as the employ of indigenous mercenaries, the Portuguese acquired the services of over five hundred African assistants who became crucial in their march to the Gaza capital. The whole convoy was equipped with 38 vehicles of combat and six cannons.

Hosi Ngungunyane had about 13 000 men. His power had been greatly weakened by constant attacks by his enemies. Some of the king’s lieutenants, including three of Ngungunyane’s uncles, didn’t show up for the battle. Magigwane, the commander of the Gaza warriors, travelled to Bileni to look for reinforcements that never arrived. Another Gaza-Portuguese confrontation happened in Coolela, on 7 November 1895.

The situation repeated itself: the square, the barbed wire, the machine guns and the cannons. The new riffles, the Kroptaschesk, that substituted the Mannlicher, crushed the regiments of Hosi Ngungunyane. Before he started the exit from Mandlakazi, Hosi Ngungunyane met with the councillors and accused his uncles and cousins of treason because they did not come to the front of combat. On 11 November 1895, the colonial official, Galhardo, defeated Mandlakazi capital without problems. His helpers robbed the town and he gave them instructions to set fire on everything.

Hosi Ngungunyane took refuge in Chaimite, the sacred village where there was Soshangana’s grave, the founder of the Gaza Empire. He offered human sacrifices to his grandfather and other ancestors in exchange for divine protection. António Enes eagerly wanted the capture of Hosi Ngungunyane. He then gave full power to Cavalry Major Mouzinho de Albuquerque, by appointing him, on 10 December 1895, as Gaza’s governor, which became a new military district.

On Christmas day (25 December) 1895, Mouzinho set off and decided to capture Hosi Ngungunyane with only two lieutenants, a doctor and 49 soldiers. In the three days of forced walk, some Africans offered to go with him to catch the Gaza monarch. On two occasions Hosi Ngungunyane sent messages to Mouzinho for them not to proceed. He sent them 560 gold pounds and some elephant’s tusks. One messenger was his own son, Godide, who took another 510 gold pounds and 63 buffalos. In the dawn of 28 December 1895, Mouzinho caught sight of the capital Chaimite’s fort. Surprised, the 300 loyal men, armed with rifles, the last line of defence for Hosi Ngungunyane, did not react and they fled, and the king was captured.

After Hosi Ngungunyane’s capture his brothers, sons and uncles were executed, arrested or forced into exile in the Transvaal. Hosi Ngungunyane’s son, Thulilamahanxi (Thulamahashe), then a minor, and the regent, Mpisane, and their followers fled into the Transvaal republic. They settled north of the Sabie River along the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountain range, in the present district of Mhala.

Hosi Ngungunyane’s resistance suffered a rude blow on 21 July 1897. It was the death in combat of Magigwane Khoza, the Commander-in-Chief of the army of the “Lion of Gaza” armies.

On 13 March 1896 Hosi Ngungunyane and seven of his wives, his son Godide and the whole entourage arrived and disembarked in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. That would be the start of exile years after “The Lion of Gaza” was defeated by the Portuguese, after years of fierce resistance and fighting against the colonisers’ capture of his land.

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