Nkosi Bhambatha ka Mancinza Zondi (1866 - 1906)
The Order of Mendi for Bravery in
Profile of Nkosi Bhambatha ka Mancinza Zondi
Nkosi Bhambatha ka Mancinza Zondi lived near Greytown in the Mvoti district on the Natal side of the uThukela.
The troubles between him and the colonial rulers of the time started in 1905, when the colonial government introduced a one pound poll tax among the indigenous people, forcing Africans to seek monetary employment with white people.
Many of the AmaZulu people refused to pay the tax as this was an externally imposed burden that ran counter to their settled agricultural way of life.
Bhambatha, the son of Mancinza, the chief of the Zondi clan, was to take none of the colonial prescriptions. Principled, courageous and resilient, Chief Zondi was to emerge as leader of the resistance movement.
In February 1906, two armed policemen came to collect post in Richmond as was routine in the area at the time. The atmosphere was already charged and tempers in the local communities had been rising at the prospect of colonial imposition on the communities.
Potentially, the ground was fertile for resistance against the unfairness of colonialist tax that was deliberately intended to disrupt people's lives. Nkosi Bhambatha consciously mobilised the people against this misrule.
Policemen were seen as representative of colonial oppression and it was less surprising when fighting broke out between the two policemen and the local community, resulting in the policemen's death.
Another incendiary incident took place when a column of police was dispatched to collect three settler women and a child at Mpanza and Keates Drift and bring them to safety. On their journey on 4 April 1906, four policemen were killed at Ambush Rock, on the Dundee road outside Greytown.
Under the leadership of Nkosi Bhambatha, local men were mobilised into military resistance and prepared for the unavoidable confrontation with the colonial forces.
The colonialist regime declared a state of emergency, and all those who were arrested and tried, were put to death by a firing squad.
A full-scale war broke out. The colonial police force and their militia were fully mobilised with a directive to find and arrest Nkosi Bhambatha. In pursuit of their objectives, the British troops went on a rampage whose only outcome was the destruction of the livelihoods of the indigenous people. They torched their homesteads, dispossessed the people of their land, destroyed their crops, took away their cattle and flogged the Africans indiscriminately.
The AmaZulu nation's fighters used the Nkandla forest as their base from where they rallied. Known as Abashokobezi, they identified themselves by a piece of cowhide or cow tail worn upright in the headdress. Nkosi Bhambatha was all along providing strategic leadership and giving directives to his combatants.
On 10 June 1906, a battle ensued at Mome Gorge. The warriors met with the full wrath of a better armed British force. The armies of Nkosi Bhambatha, who were by now joined by the armies of another chief, Sigananda, were defeated.
Nkosi Bhambatha, who was in his mid-40s, was trapped, captured and subsequently executed. His 'collaborator' Sigananda, who was in his 90s, was also captured but died in custody while awaiting execution.
The death of Nkosi Bhambatha, the symbol of resistance and an inspiration to the legions of his fighters, demoralised the rebels and dampened their spirit, resulting in the end of the rebellion, which had led to the death of about 3 500 people. Nkosi Bhambatha's legendary military exploits against the formidable British army elevated his name to the realm of an icon among the multitude of oppressed South Africans. They saw in him the first sparks of the possibility for the overthrow of colonialism.
Nkosi Bhambatha's enduring legacy pervaded the length and breadth of South Africa, goading more young South Africans into a higher resistance mode.
Nkosi Bambatha Ka Mancinza Zondi's defiance of the heavy odds, resisting and then militarily taking on one of the mightiest armies in the world, reflected his imperishable yearning for freedom, for which he personally took the lead.