26 November 2020
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By Martin Chihoka and Garai Donald Barahanga | This article focuses on Paramount Chief Mbari of the Shumba Gurundoro clan, the ruler of Harare and part of Mazowe before colonialism – the man whom Harare, Mbare, Dzivarasekwa and a number of iconic geographical features in the region are named after.
This time we focus on the gallant fight put up by Mbari’s people in the First Chimurenga/Umvukela and the resultant genocide suffered by the clan. We want to introduce a few of Mbari’s heroic people who were edited out of the First Chimurenga history for reasons that shall be highlighted in the coming series.
Chief Mbari’s area was the hotbed of the First Chimurenga, the nucleus of resistance from which the war spiralled to other regions in Mashonaland. Most of the key players in the uprising: Mkwati, Nehanda, Kaguvi, Makombe (not to be confused with the Makombe of the Humba people) Nyamadzawo and Mapondera operated in Mbari’s area. During the time of the upheaval it was Makombe (Mbari’s brother) who was the ruler. The following are some of Mbari’s people who played a pivotal role in the uprising.

Most readers are familiar with the powerful spirit, Mkwati, but not his medium, Mudavanhu – much as Nehanda is more popular than her medium of the war-period – Charwe. Mudavanhu was Mbari’s son. Mkwati was the brains behind the uprising. He co-ordinated the uprising in Matabeleland and Mashonaland, giving spiritual guidance to the chiefs who fought gallantly in the revolt which caused shock-waves not only in the region but in Empire capitals such as London. After consulting with the Voice at Matonjeni, Mkwati gave the signal for the revolt to start. Mudavanhu (Mkwati) moved from place to place galvanising hesitant groups into action. Mudavanhu was never caught. Befittingly, one of the tallest buildings in Harare – Mkwati Building – is named after the mastermind of the uprising.

When Mbari died in 1872 due to old age, the chieftaincy passed on to his younger brother, Makombe, who in settler accounts of the popular revolt is referred to as Makombi. Nicknamed Chimurenga (a term that was later broadly used to refer to the uprising), Makombe organised the revolt in the Mazowe area. A number of settlers (estimated at more than fifty) perished in the region. The most famous casualty was the brutal Native Commissioner Henry Pollard, the colonial administrator who subjected Africans to forced labour and brutality.

Makombe himself was captured three times but his deep knowledge of the terrain, including its underground tunnels (ninga) enabled him to escape each time. In disguise, he was able to collect the body of Mbuya Nehanda, amongst others, and buried it at a place unknown to enemies.

Makombe would not have succeeded without the participation of his nephews (Mbari’s sons) namely Nyamadzawo and Mutinha and Chiridzambira.

Much attention has been paid to the spiritual leaders of the 1896/7 revolution but little to the people who actually did the fighting. One such is Nyamadzawo, Mbari’s son, who commanded the insurgents and carried out daring attacks, despite the inferior weapons at their disposal. Nyamadzawo mastered guerrilla tactics which had never been employed elsewhere in the region. These were surprise attacks, ambush, siege, and hit and run. He made the Mazowe area dangerous for white settlers. A master tactician, Nyamadzawo also cut off telegraph wires to isolate settler families in the region. These guerrilla tactics were used decades later by the Chinese under Mao tse Tung in the Chinese Revolution.

To make matters worse for settlers, the influential spirit of Mbuya Nehanda operated from Makombe’s (Mbari’s) territory. Combining spiritualism with guerrilla warfare, the fighters gained in confidence. Colonial documents of this period refer to the area as the “troubled Mazowe area.”

Some of the white settlers who died in the area were Frank Austin, a prospector, and James Steel who were killed on 24 June 1896. The others were Walter Tapsell (21 June), Louis Herman (21 June) and William Harvey Brown (23 July).

The siege of Deary’s Store lasted from 21 June to 13 July.
When the revolt was suppressed, Nyamadzawo evaded arrest and died of natural causes.

Another of Mbari’s sons, Mutinha, by then a sub-chief in the Mazowe area, is best known for organising the capture of the notorious Native Commissioner, Henry Pollard. With the co-operation of Mbuya Nehanda, the capture and subsequent killing of Pollard, a symbol of colonial power, dealt a heavy blow for the Administration.

Outsiders did not and still do not understand the complex two-tier chieftaincy system of Mbari’s Shumba Gurundoro people. Chiridzambira, one of the several of Mbari’s sons, was ordained by his father to be the spiritual leader of his kingdom while Makombe was the de-facto Paramount Chief. Chiridzambira, though his reign was short-lived due to the annihilation of the clan by colonial rule, had almost the same powers as Mbari, that of King-maker who gave land and jurisdiction to fugitives such as Seke. Chiridzambira gave his blessing for the start of the uprising.

All the gallantry of Mbari’s clan effectively ended on the 1st of March 1897 when the settlers massacred everyone in sight in Makombe’s settlement. Some escaped to the caves where they were betrayed by well-known collaborators. They were dynamited. This will be the subject of a follow up article.

The authors of the article can be reached at [email protected]