Mzilikazi – King of the Matabele

Mzilikazi (Moselekatse), King of the Matabele

Mzilikazi was born in 1790, near Mkuze, Zululand [now in South Africa] died on Sept. 9th, 1868 at Ingama in Matabeleland [near Bulawayo, now in Zimbabwe]

Mzilikazi and Lobengula

Also spelled UMSILIGASI, OR MOZELEKATSE, South African king who founded the powerful Ndebele (Matabele) kingdom in what is now Zimbabwe. The greatest Bantu warrior after Shaka, king of the Zulus, Mzilikazi took his Kumalo people more than 500 miles (800 km) from what is now South Africa to the region now known as Zimbabwe, creating en route an immense and ethnically diverse nation. Mzilikazi was a statesman of considerable stature, able to weld the many conquered tribes into a strong, centralized kingdom.

Originally a lieutenant of Shaka, he revolted against the Zulu king in 1823 and withdrew his people northward to safety from their home on the southeast coast of Africa. He traveled to Mozambique and then west into the Transvaal, settling there by 1826. Continued attacks by coalitions of his enemies caused him to move west again to what is now Botswana and, in 1837, northward to present-day Zambia. Unable to conquer the Kololo nation there, Mzilikazi moved his followers, now numbering 15,000 to 20,000, eastward into what is now southwestern Zimbabwe, where he settled Matabeleland (c. 1840). He organized the country in a militaristic system of regimental towns strong enough to repel Boer attacks (1847-51) and to force the Boer government in the Transvaal to conclude a peace with him in 1852.

Mzilikazi was generally friendly to European travelers, but the discovery of gold in Matabeleland in 1867 brought a flood of Europeans that he was unable to control and that eventually led to the downfall of the kingdom.

Mzilikazi, watercolour sketch by William Cornwallis Harris

Mzilikazi, watercolour sketch by William Cornwallis Harris, October 1836

The famous image above was painted by William Cornwallis Harris in October 1836. It was redrawn and engraved to serve as the frontispiece to Harris’s well-known narrative of his proto-safari in southern Africa, first published in 1838, and in that form is considered to be the only portrait of the king (frequently reproduced from that context). For more details on the picture and on Mzilikazi >> Click here

  • Gene Drex Gene

    I enjoy this story much.


  • Michael

    There are several additional portraits of Mzilikazi by Charles Davidson Bell from the expedition into central Africa (northern South Africa) led by Andrew Smith. These paintings are reproduced in Andrew Smith’s Journal edited by William F Lye published by A. A. Balkema 1975