The history of the Ndebele people can be traced back to Mafana, their first identifiable chief. Mafana's successor, Mhlanga, had a son named Musi who, in the early 1600's, decided to move away from his cousins who lived in present day Kwazulu-Natal who founded the Zulu nation and settled in the hills of modern day Gauteng province. After the death of Chief Musi, his two sons quarrelled over the chieftainship and the tribe divided into two sections, the Manala and the Ndzundza. The Manala remained in the north while the Ndzundza, also known as the Southern Ndebele, travelled to the east and the south.
Despite the fact that the Ndebele settled in a predominantly Sotho-Tswana speaking area, they have retained their customs and Nguni language roots with remarkable tenacity. However some researchers have suggested a Sotho influence in some rituals and aspects of material culture, and more recent research into their architecture, settlement patterns, and methods of construction seem to indicate a definite Pedi-Tswana influence, even allowing for the adaptations one has come to expect of a culture moving from the grass-rich coastal lands east of the Drakensberg to the more extreme thermal variations found on the South African Highveld.
Traditional religion put the home or family as the centre of religious practice. The thin line between
day-to-day life and religious life facilitated and sustained strong social bonds among groups and individuals, and created a solid line of communication
between the living and the dead. This was further enhanced by social bonds created by inter-clan and sometimes cross clan marriages. The permanent seeking of bonds and relations was the general character of pre-colonial African life. Then the state, religion and society were one in a well-structured hierarchy.
European Christian conversion had a strong capitalist agenda. The concept that all things European were better aligned with the teachings that salvation can only be received if your are receiving a pay check removed all of the traditional values and replaced them with the ideal of indentured labour.
During the reign of the Ndebele chief Mabhogo, war broke out between the Ndzundza and the 'Boer' Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek . The Ndebele held out against the onslaught by hiding in subterranean tunnels in their mountain stronghold at konomtjharhelo (later popularly known as Mapoch's Caves) near the town of Roossenekal for eight months. From time to time, Mabhogo's brave warriors crept past the enemy lines undetected to fetch water and food. However, after two women of the tribe had been ambushed in the nearby woods and tortured, one revealed the Mabhogo's whereabouts. After Mabhogo's defeat, the cohesive tribal structure was broken up and the tribal lands confiscated. All the Ndebele were scattered as indentured laborers for a five-year (1883-1888) period among White farmers despite the disintegration of the tribe, the Ndebele retained their cultural unity by maintaining cultural identity and traditions such as initiation.
The introduction of the Apartheid laws by the newly elected Nationalist party, who were elected to power in 1948 by a minority of the white electorate, coincided with the homesteads painted by their women in a distinctive polychromatic style. This was due in part to the availability of manufactured paints.
KwaNdebele, in the current province of Mpumalanga and Northern Gauteng, is a 3,500-foot- (1,060-metre-) high dry savannah area about 100 miles (160 km) northeast of Johannesburg, a 'Bantustan' in South Africa, intended by the apartheid government as a semi-independent homeland for the Ndebele people. The homeland was created when the South African government purchased nineteen white-owned farms and installed a government. This specific land, climate, and soil was entirely alien to them, It was established in 1979, when many Transvaal Ndebele were expelled from the nearby Bophuthatswana Bantustan. A massive resettlement program led to the creation of 12 camps in KwaNdebele, housing about 40 percent of the Transvaal Ndebele population in South Africa by the end of 1982.
The homeland was granted self-rule in April 1981. Siyabuswa was designated as its capital, but in 1986 the capital was relocated to KwaMhlanga. These structures were all dissolved in 1994 and it is now part of a Free South Africa
Esther Mahlangu was born in 1935 on a farm outside Middleburg, and is the first known Ndebele artist to travel internationally as an artist in residence. She travelled to France in 1989, staying there for two months and painting a house in front of thousands of spectators. She also decorated a wall inside the AngoulÁªme Museum of Fine Arts and showed her work at other locations in France.
The dawning of the new south Africa causes interesting conflicts of identity of South Africa vs Ndebele. This is the new journey of discovery.
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