Gwanda and its amazing history

Gwanda district is located in Matabeleland South province of Zimbabwe along the Bulawayo-Beitbridge road. It is 123km south of Bulawayo and has boarders with Umzingwane district in the west, Insiza district in the east and Beitbridge in the south. Gwanda is the biggest town in the province. Its name is derived from a nearby hill known as Jahunda and stone age implements have been in the Gwalingemba Hills about 2 km south of Gwanda. The people living in the district are known as amaJahunda and the popular language is isiJahunda. The language has similarities with Shona, Kalanga and Venda languages largely popular in Switja, Gwaranyemba (Shibwenyema-a stone which looked like a soya bean), Mawana, Nsimbi, Dobhoda, Nkulungugwe, Makobana, Zhukwi, Bedza, Shabenyama and Paye.

The district falls within the arid regions of the country receiving minimal rainfall each year. The harvesting of Mopane worms (a caterpillar phase of the emperor moth) locally referred to as amacimbi in isiNdebele is common in the district and other southern rural communities of Zimbabwe. The name mopane worm comes from them (the worms) feeding on the leaves of the mopane tree. They are an important source of food and economic livelihood in the communities. The amacimbi are harvested through traditional means, wild harvesting, which was traditionally practiced by women and children, and involves hand picking the worms from the tree, degutting, boiling or roasting followed by sun drying them. 

The Gwanda district lies in the greenstone belt which is rich in gold deposits hence a proliferation of both formal and informal gold mining, hosting large mines such as Farvic, Freda Rebecca and Jessie mines. The district has both rural and urban wards, which are administrative areas within the district comprising of villages. In every ward there is a development committee comprising a councillor and kraal heads and committee representatives under the chief. At village level there are headmen. During the colonial period land was divided into tribal trusts lands. The Tribal Trust Lands were developed with the following objectives by the Government:

  1. To provide land for settlement to cope with the increasing demand for land by tribesmen and to provide a livelihood for a growing African population which cannot be absorbed in industry and elsewhere;
  2. To provide employment on the Tribal Trust Lands for those who are without land or who have to supplement their agricultural earnings in order to subsist in times of drought or crop failure;
  3. To assist by means of settlement, in the control and eradication of tsetse fly thereby opening up production and at the same time protecting areas which are being with proper panning.

The district was divided into 5 tribal trust lands namely: Matshetshe, Gwaranyemba, Wenloc, Dibilashaba and Gwanda tribal trust lands.

Matshetshe tribal trust land (Chief Mzimuni/Masuku)

Chief Mzimuni, isibongo Masuku, isitemo Nhlane was the chief of eMatshetsheni and was appointed in 1934. His ancestors were the Nguni warriors of the Matshetshe regiment. Their first chief was Sifo Masuku who was appointed by Mzilikazi when they were based near Bulawayo. Sifo was succeeded by Manyakavula and the tribe moved to Mzingwane area of Essexvale district. In 1910 the tribe moved to Matshetshe. In 1936 the Kalanga and Lozi joined the area as a result of movements from alienated farms. Chief Mzimuni was a very powerful figure in the district and this is evidenced by the institutions developed near his place. The area was much better in terms of developments compared to other neighboring communities. There were five headmen in the area. Headman under chief Ngundu were: Gwapela 1914-1921, Mazelo 1921, Mabate, Malungisa, Siswean, Vumane, Zijula.

History of the tribal trust says Hlomuza was born in Zululand and accompanied Mzilikazi to Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), he was a warrior in the Qazeni regiment, his son Sifo was promoted to chief and commander to the Matshetshe regiment near Sikoveni hill in the area between Mtshabezi and Mzingwane rivers. Manyakavula succeeded him and him succeeded by Ngundu. Kupu community was headed by the headman Kupu, isibongo Moyo, isitemo Sai, who was the eldest son of the great house, appointed in the year 1955. The tribe sprung from the Sidli headmanship which was originally in Essexvale district. When they moved to Gwanda Simcwada, Ndlovu was selected as the headman over the area and was later removed after being involved in theft. As a result, Mchiwa Moyo was selected and ruled until his death in 1953, leaving Kupu as headman. 

Below is the link of the chieftainship family tree:

The Mcatshwa community was headed by Mcatshwa, isibongo Ndlovu who was appointed in 1959 and died on the 16th of October 1966. He was the eldest son of the senior house of the previous headman Mazhelo Moyo, who resigned the headmanship and it was taken over by Guswane Ndlovu who was succeeded by Mcatshwa. Movement to this area from Essexvale district was around 1910 and the people of this headmanship were members of the Matshetsheni regiment. The Tebele community’s first known headman of this area was Kubi he was appointed because his elder brother was assumed too old for the responsibility, when he died Tshebe Luzwidzo, the son of Zhuge was offered the headmanship but he too was too old and the position was then passed to the eldest son of Tebele. They were headed by Tebele with isibongo Moyo, isitemo Sai between 1934-1935. This group is a traditional part of Matshetshe chieftainship, some members of the tribe moved to Wenlock tribal trust lands whilst others moved to Sidli community and the majority settled in Tebele community. In Sidli and tiwi community there were two headmen (Sidli and Tiwi) occupying this area situated in the southern half of the chief’s area. Initially, the Sidli occupied the area on their own and were later joined by headmen Tiwi and his followers coming from Essexvale district. Headman Sidli was appointed in 1950 and the line of succession had been Hlabano-Bozani-Sidli. The people are mainly of the Lozi and Kalanga tribes with one very large Nguni family of Khumalo’s, third generation descendants of Mzilikazi. Headman Tiwi was appointed in 1945, succeeding his father in Essexvale district and the majority of his people are Lozi.

Gwaranyemba tribal trust land (Chief Nhlamba)

In 1960 Chief of Gwaranyemba was Ben Mubi isibongo Ndlovu and isangelo Edulula Makonta. The traditional name of the chieftaincy is Nhlamba. The name of the area /ilizwe is Gwaranyemba, named after a hill in the north. The old ilizwe was known as Jahunda near present Gwanda town, comprising of the present day ilizwe and much of the surrounding European owned farmland to the north and east which became alienated, which is now Gwanda town. The language that is popular in the area is isiJahunda, although it is not taught in schools. The language came with Lewanika Cenondo son of the Jahunda from Mozambique and was at some point spoken by thousands native Jahunda speaking people before the white settlers arrived in the 1880s. School going children learn isiNdebele at school, the population of Jahunda speaking people is large covering wards 13, 15, 18 and few more though diluted with isiNdebele. However, these indigenous languages should be preserved and taught in schools so that they are not forgotten as language is a carrier of a people’s culture and culture is a carrier of people’s values.     

The family tree of Chief Nhlamba is as follows:

The tribe is predominantly Kalanga and the chief himself was a Sena. Nkani is said to have been the first chief Cenendo, who is today known as chief Nhlamba. He was an elephant hunter of the Sena tribe who was given permission to hunt by Mambo upon payment of tusks, he then married one of Mambo’s daughters and was appointed chief. It is not clear if he or his son first settled in Jahunda area. The latter settled near Singugwe, that is where he died as did his successor and son Buswana. Buswana was succeeded upon his death by Nhlamba who passed it to Mubi Ben. No tree is necessary as primogeniture had taken place. In the recent past there was Chief Denis Ndlovu Nhlamba who was installed on July 16 2010 and died on 30 June 2022 at the age of 75 after a long illness. The current chief is Jeffrey Ndlovu, the brother to the late Chief Denis Ndlovu, he was appointed as interim chief until a substantive chief is appointed. The area had three headmen namely: Taweni, appointed in 1951 and was influential and popular; Mlahlwa, whose area was in a close proximity to the chief and was sometimes overridden the authority of the headman and lastly, Jonathan who was appointed in 1964 and was popular during his time.

Wenloc tribal trust (Chief Mathema)

Chief Mathema was first appointed in 1950 his Isitemo is Jama Sotekeli and he is of the Nguni tribe. The population in the area consisted of Nguni, Suthu and Kalanga tribes who are now considerably mixed. They were descendants of the Nqama regiment under Chief Dliso Mathema. Previous headmen were: Damu-he was convicted of perjury and served prison sentence; Magumpo-a senior headman and has acted as chief on occasion. He succeeded his father Mandlela on his death. He became seriously ill and was succeeded by Magomazi Albina in 1968 until he died in 1980; Masole- he was previously headman under chief Ngundu of the Matshetshe chieftaincy and was removed for stirring trouble and later accepted the Sigombe group as headmen with a small following; Mayembe – he was headman who was originally Mhlamhlandlela section came under chief Mathema in 1968.  The history of the chieftaincy includes Usumhlolo’s great wife Lomahou who was barren and Mzilikazi gave his Niece Nala to have children on behalf of Lomahou. Nalas’ children Macebu and after Usumhlolos death to Sigombe, fathered by a cousin (Simizela) of Usumhlolo who was deputed to raise seed for Usumhlolo. After chief Sigombe was deposed in 1964, chief Zachariah was appointed in 1967 and died in 1975, leaving headman Magomazi acting until 1977 when chief Smart Mathema was appointed. The current Chief Khulumani Mathema is advocate for unity and traditional leadership. Below is an extract of the chieftainship family tree:

Dibilashaba tribal trust (Chief Marupi)

Chief Marupi was known as Marapela, with Isibongo Nare and his Isangelo Makure and is referred to as chief Marupi and this was the name of his predecessor. The chieftainship is Makure, name derived from the earliest chiefs in the tribe it is important to note that chief Mate and ex-chiefs Rantas and Magaya are descendants of this man. The name of the area means pool of red water from a well-known pool which was a land mark on the old pioneer road. Marapela acted as chief since 1943 after his predecessor died and was appointed as chief in 1957. Below is an extract of the chief Marupi family:

The tribe moved across Shashi (Shayashe) River consisting of Babirwa. Main language spoken was isiNdebele and siSuthu. It is believed that the original Babirwa come from Tswapone in Botswana, they settled in the Dibilashaba area and were accepted by the Mambo. The Marupi chieftainship dates back to Daueatswala of the Babirwa tribe, he was succeeded by Makure whose eldest son Makale succeded him and the tribe moved to Gubadu area near Shashani and Shashe rivers in Botswana. Under the rule of Silike son of Makale the tribe crossed the Shashi and settled in Neha ka makure (Dibilashaba). Silike was murdered by the Ndebele warriors and this was condemned by Lobengula and Mbulutsi was summoned to Bulawayo and was personally installed by the Ndebele monarch and the tribe at this time had been incorporated into the Nqama regiment under Nduna Somholo Mathema. When Mbulutsi died he was succeeded by Marupi. When Marupi died in 1943 his sons were too young and Mlandu (headman Manyunyu’s eldest son acted as chief for a year before he died too. Marapela Nyathi the younger brother of Marupi took over until he died in 1974, leaving headman Maphala acting chief until 1976 when Mtateho was appointed chief Marupi.

The headmen in the area were: Magaya-The majority of Magaya’s people were the Madida Apostolic Sect who’s leader was Madida Moyo a Kalanga who came from chief Nhlambas area. These people refused to accept any form of medical treatment and also didn’t smoke nor drink alcohol.  The sect was a unifying sector. The hierarchy of the Magaya headmanship first had chief Magaya Tsulwana Mrimeri appointed by Lobengula from 1897 and died in 1934 and was succeeded by Muluko Nyathi from 1935-1951 when the chieftainship was downgraded to headman status and he died in 1973. Libangi was the next headman from 1974; Manyunyu-the group was incorporated into the tribe. The older brother of the headmen Manyunyu once acted as chief before he died. The hierarchy of the Manyunyu headmanship had Guluza, Mbulawa, Mlandu Manyunyu, Lucas Dube(1951), Isaka (1970), Frank Dube (1974) and Jabulani Dube (1983); Pepishe- the headmanship was created upon demotion of the the Rantasa headmanship in 1951. Rantasa refused to accept this deflation of status under Chief Murupi and chose to move with his followers to Shashi under Chief Mate. Pepishe remained and became headman. In 2008 chief Marupi Lawrence Nare died and Oaheng his son succeeded him as a minor and was to officially take over in 2014 when he turned 18 and was surrounded by four substantive chiefs in Gwanda district to assist. His uncle Molisa Samuel Nare was acting chief. 

Gwanda tribal trust land (Chief Mathe)

The traditional name of the chieftaincy is Mathe. The name of the first known chief was Mbulutsi appointed in 1939 and his area named Gwanda tribal trust lands. It is interesting that chief Marupi, ex chief’s Magaya and Rantas and Hwadalala with their former headmen claim common ancestry in Makure. These Babirwa settlers absorbed the amaKalanga and amaNdebele people who were in their tribal area both before their arrival or who arrived later in the area. Hwadalala community under Chief Mate had Moyigwatayi as their subsidized chief in 1989. Chief Hwatalala also known as Mulaukhosi was reduced to headman status under chief Mathe from 1951 until death in 1974 when Habulunkwani was appointed as acting headman Hwadalala. The next headman Hwadalala was Udirille Clarkson until 1983 when he died. Headman Rantasa is a common ancestor of chiefs Marupi and Mike who moved into the area in the 19th century. Rantasa Nyathi was chief and when he went away he left headman Tabanana in charge from 1925-1929. Rantasa was reinstated in 1930 and was demoted to headman status and moved to Shahi under Chief Mathe who was responsible for the followers of ex Chief Mike Sinanguwe from 1951. There was also headman Mhorosi, Dengu, Mlupi and Mnyaliwa under Chief Mate. In the current system there is the Mathe chieftainship with headman Mogorosi having authority over Bolamba area whose inhabitants are mostly the Babirwa.

Below is an extract of the chieftainship family tree:

Author: Ashley Maganzo is a Cultural Heritage Specialist and a freelance Research Historian for She is a strong consulting professional passionate about safeguarding intangible heritage and the history of Zimbabwe. She possesses exceptional communication skills and experience working with people of different cultural backgrounds and age groups.

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Dube-Matatu (2022) IsiJahunda: Death of a language, people. The Chronicle.

NAZ, ORAL Matabeleland South Province, Gwanda District, Freddy Dubane interviewed in 2021

NAZ, ORAL Matabeleland South Province, Gwanda District, Joseph Chomurenga interviewed in 2021

NAZ S2929/6/2 Matabeleland South Province, Gwanda District 1963-1964

Wrathall, J. J. (1968). Developing The Tribal Trust Lands. RJE, 54-65.

One Reply to “Gwanda and its amazing history”

  1. I am K…., one of the consultant team doing Gwanda and Mangwe RDCs Master Plans. I wish to locate A…. for her valuable cultural input in the preparation of these two RDC Master Plans.

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