9 October 2019
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Nehanda Nyakasikana

BY DR MASIMBA MAVAZA| Latest revelations coming out of London show Zimbabwe is no longer serious about bringing back the bones of the First Chimurenga war hero, Nehanda Nyakasikana.

Nehanda, was a female powerful and respected ancestral spirit. As one of the spiritual leaders of the Shona in Mazowe, she was one of the leaders of a revolt, the first Chimurenga, against the British South Africa Company in 1889. She was a ChiHera of the Hwata Mufakose Dynasty. She and her ally Sekuru Kaguvi and two other fighters, were captured and hanged. Zimbabwe commemorated them through the building of statues in her name, street names, hospitals, songs, novels, and poems; were made to immortalise the name of great Chihera. The legacy of the medium continued to be linked to the theme of resistance, particularly the guerrilla war that began in 1963. Her name became of increasing importance to the nationalist movements in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe always commemorates Heroes’ Day as it remembers the suffering and sacrifices made by our heroes in the fight against the evil colonial system.

In the war against the colonisers, not even one person could begin to understand what our heroes went through and the suffering they endured in order to free this country. It is saddening that nothing has been done to honour Nehanda except naming a road.
Nehanda Charwe Nyakasikana also known as Mbuya Nehanda was born around 1840 and died in 1898. She was a svikiro, or spirit medium of the Zezuru Shona people.

It is sad to know of the gruesome murders of Nehanda, Kaguvi and the Mwari high priest by the former colonial masters.

The British colonised Zimbabwe in 1890, and they immediately instituted a regime of rough justice which oppressed the blacks who were the owners of the land. The Death sentence was declared on crimes which were very frivolous.

The local peoples’ land, mines and cattle were expropriated without compensation.

On top of that, the local people were forced to work for the English Pioneer settlers on their newly acquired farms, mines and factories under very harsh conditions and without payment. Laziness was rewarded with death.

In short, there was wide-spread misrule throughout the country. Blacks were stripped of their dignity.

Because of this oppression it took less than six years of British colonial rule, for the local people to rise up in arms and declared a bitter war on the colonial settlers.

That declaration of war on the settlers by the people took the British completely by surprise.
They did not understand a bigger reason for the people to rise up in arms – the revolutionary influence’ of the mhondoros or masvikiros – local spirit mediums which they referred to as ‘witchdoctors’. docile and cowardly suddenly declare war.

It was clear that the ‘mhondoros’ did not want whites in Zimbabwe hence spirit mediums were urging people to chase every British settler out.

This made the mediums to be targeted by the colonisers. The high priest of Mwari at Matopo hills in Matabeleland, was credited for the first chimurenga in his area. For that service he was the first spirit medium to be assassinated by the settlers. Russel Burnham who was an American was paid to take him out and that was done. So the Americans hand in destabilising Zimbabwe started long back.

The second spirit medium on the hit list was one Charwe Mbuya Nehanda who was the spirit medium of a famous guardian spirit called Nehanda.

Charwe Nehanda stayed in the Mazowe administrative district near Harare. Nehanda was falsely accused of murdering the native commissioner of her district, Henry Howlin Polland, who in fact had been killed in battle.

They then went on, in one of the shortest murder trials in history, to find her guilty and sentenced her to death.

The British High Commissioner based in South Africa at the time once got to know about the death sentence passed on Nehanda, he quickly dispatched a letter to the judge to have her executed immediately.

Below is part of the letter:

“The Queen against Nehanda in custody under sentence of death for murder.

I do hereby certify that a report of all the proceedings upon the trial of the said Nehanda for murder in and before the High Court held at Salisbury on March 1898, hath been transmitted to and laid before me as High Commissioner for South Africa by His Honourable the judge Watermeyer when sentence of death was there and then pronounced upon the said prisoner.

I hereby duly authorise and approve of the execution of the said sentence of death upon the said Nehanda.”

Once, judge Watermeyer had received the above authority, he immediately wrote an instruction to the sheriff authorising him to kill Nehanda.

Below is the instruction:

“To the sheriff of the territory of Rhodesia.

The Queen against Nehanda in custody.

His Excellency the High Commissioner has duly authorised and approved of the execution of the said sentence of death upon the said Nehanda on Wednesday April 27 one thousand eight hundred and ninety eight within the walls of the Gaol of Salisbury between hours of six and ten in the afternoon.

She shall be hanged by the neck until she be dead at such place of execution. This instruction is therefore to command you that cause execution of the said sentence to be had and done upon the said prisoner accordingly and that you keep and detain her in your custody until she shall have undergone the said sentence.”

And so Nehanda was taken to the gallows.

It is interesting to note that although judge Watermeyer instructed that Charwe Nehanada was to be ‘hanged by the neck until she be dead at such place of execution’, respectable written and oral accounts say Nehanda did not die by hanging.

For example, one Geoffrey Bond in his book Remember Mazoe which is based on eye-witness accounts of the First Chimurenga in the Mazowe area says categorically that: “Nyanda (Charwe Nehanda) and the condemned prisoners (such as Kaguvi) were blind-folded and shot dead by a squad of majonis (white officers).”

The above version of how Nehanda was killed tallies well with the popular version given by oral historians throughout Mazowe district who say, “Mbuya Nehanda vakachekwa.”

Now where was she buried then?
One Keith Martin helps us here.
He says the British South Africa Company created a cemetery in Harare christened Pioneer Cemetery.
It is that cemetery west of Mupedzanhamo Flea Market, near the hostels and Rufaro stadium.

It was opened on January 2 1893.
The cemetery was divided according to race and religion as well as military background.

Blacks had their own section to the west called the native section.
It’s a big area where graves are not marked.

Martin says: “Two of the Africans buried in that unmarked section with their graves unrecorded are of Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi of the First Chimurenga.”

It is interesting to note that not only are Sekuru Kaguvi and Mbuya Nehanda buried in the old Pioneer Cemetery which is now closed, Judge Watermeyer who sentenced Mbuya Nehanda to death is also buried there.

Furthermore the gaoler of Nehanda, one Patrick Hayden, who should in fact have hung her by the neck is also buried there.

On top of this, in that cemetery, there is a mass grave of Rhodesian soldiers who were killed in the First Chimurenga.

When one looks at the trials of Mbuya Nehanda and Sekuru Kaguvi who were tried for being the spirits behind Chimurenga, one is left without doubt these so called trials were fake.

One is tried for murder and within a month, found guilty and killed. Was this justice? It is important tho to revisit the murder of Charwe Nehanda NyakSikana Vachihera. On April 27 1898, the brains and power of the First Chimurenga War, Mbuya Chahwe, the medium of the Nehanda spirit, and Sekuru Gumboreshumba, the medium of the Kaguvi spirit also known as Murenga, were hanged by the settler regime for daring to challenge colonial dispossession.Kaguvi was credited for being the spirit of the war. Tis was called the Murenga Spirit. It is from this spirit, that was alternatively known as Murenga, meaning “war spirit”, that the name Chimurenga was derived.

Mbuya Nehanda along with Zindoga, Hwata and Gutsa were arraigned before the courts charged of murder. It is worth mentioning that the murdered person was a brutal white native commissioner, one Henry Hawkins Pollard of the British South Africa Company who lived near Mazowe and terrorised people in that district. Rhodesian legal documents classified Mbuya Nehanda modestly as a Mashona woman residing at Chitawa’s Kraal in the Mazowe District; Zindoga as a native kitchen boy residing at Nehanda’s Kraal; and Hwata and Gutsa as native hunters residing at Hwata Kraal.
The four — along with Sekuru Kaguvi — were arraigned in the High Court of Matabeleland that sat in Salisbury on February 20 1898 and were subsequently convicted on March 2 1898 in a case entered as “The (British) Queen against Nehanda”. They were sentenced to death by hanging.The execution was authorised by the (British) High Commissioner for South Africa, one Alfred Milner, and endorsed by the (British) Imperial Secretary on March 28 1898. The presiding judge was Judge Watermayer, with Herbert Hayton Castens Esquire, as “the acting Public Prosecutor Sovereign within the British South Africa Company territories, who prosecutes for and on behalf of her majesty”.
The warrant for Mbuya Nehanda’s death commanded that she be executed within the wall of the gaol of Salisbury between the hours of 6 and 10 in the afternoon.

A Roman Catholic priest, one Fr Richertz, was assigned to convert Mbuya Nehanda, Sekuru Kaguvi, Hwata and Zindoga. It is said the hapless Catholic priest failed to make headway with Mbuya Nehanda but managed to convert Sekuru Gumboreshumba, whom he baptised as Dismas, the ‘‘good’’ thief.Gutsa, Hwata and Zindoga were also converted and similarly showed that Mbuya Nehanda refused to compromise on he belief. It is her resolve which made her the pillar of future and present rebellion.
According to Fr Richertz’s account, Mbuya Nehanda “ . . . called for her people and wanted to go back to her own country Mazoe and die there . She was not afraid of death.

Sekuru Kaguvi and all other men were baptised. Nehanda was taken to the scaffold. Her cries and resistance, when she was taken up the ladder, the screaming and yelling were that she wanted to be taken and be buried among her people. Nehanda had always wanted her bones to be buried in her land which is now called Mazowe. The other words which Mbuya Chahwe uttered were “Mapfupa angu achamuka (my bones will surely rise)”. This phrase became the back bone, the slogan the igniting force in Chimurengas. Those who picked up arms would take comfort that they sere the prophetic bones of Mbuya Nehanda.

The settlers then decapitated Nehanda’s head and transported it to the United Kingdom as a trophy. The displayed her head as they would do the head of a slaughtered animal. They walked tall as if they had made a serious achievement.

Finally Nehanda’s head was displayed at a museum in the UK. She hangs in a British museum as a defeated vagabond. The woman who was such an influence in the Chimurenga war now stays displayed as a tool.

Shame on all war vets- they moved in the bushes hiding behind the powers of mbuya nehanda but today they have forgotten about her bones.
Nehanda’s blood cries from a museum she is saying take my bones home.

Please Zimbabwe may the bones of Nehanda be repatriated back to Zimbabwe. For how long shall Nehanda grace the museums of those who murdered her? What sign do we need to bring Nehanda back home. Shame on us as a nation. One day her bones will be home.

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