King Lobengula

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Former Matabele King
King Lobengula
Lobengula Khumalo
BornLobengula Khumalo
  • King.
Years active1868-1894
Home townMatabeleland
Spouse(s)Lozikeyi Dhlodhlo and several others
ChildrenNjube, Nguboyenja, Sidojiwe, Nyamande, Tshakalisa
Parent(s)Mzilikazi Khumalo

King Lobengula was the second king of the Ndebele people who are believed to have migrated from Transvaal during the Mfecane upheavals which were instigated by Tshaka around the 1830s. He was the first son of King Mzilikazi. He signed many treaties with concession seekers (mainly British) and has been blamed for necessitating the inception of colonial rule in 1890 through these treaties.


Lobengula's date of birth is shrouded in ambiguity. It is, however, believed that he was born sometime in 1834 as Lobengula Khumalo.[1] His father was Mzilikazi Khumalo who was the first king of the Ndebele people. His mother was the daughter of King Malindela, who was a Swazi king.[1] It is believed that Lobengula together with mother were sentenced to death, but the Chief who was mandated to kill them released them and they were forced to hide as a way of escaping the wrath of King Mzilikazi. [2] King Mzilikazi however discovered that he was duped, nonetheless he ordered that his son was reprimanded from entering his courtyard. Lobengula was thus taken care of by a certain Ndebele Chief. [2] He was married to Lozikeyi Dhlodhlo and several other wives. Some of his sons included Njube, Nguboyenja, Sidojiwe, Nyamande and Tshakalisa.

Military Prowess

It is believed that Lobengula was an outstanding warrior more or less like his father. Contrary to this, it was also reported that he was a weaker version of his father. Lobengula received military training as an imBovana.[1] In 1845, he was inducted into Zwangendaba's regiment which was trained and under the control of Mzilikazi.[1] In 1847, he is said to have led the Zwangendaba regiment against Hendrik Potgieter expedition which had crossed the Limpopo River. Notwithstanding this, it was also believed that Lobengula was part of the Amashlogoshlogo regiment which was also under the control of Mzilikazi.[1]

In 1863, Lobengula took part in a campaign directed against the Bamangwato. It was suggested that Lobengula was shot in the neck and scarred for life, although, not debilitated or seriously injured. It was believed that in Matabeleland it was reported that Lobengula was not shot in but had accidentally injured himself as a means of preserving his reputation as a true and undefeated Ndebele warrior.

As the Ndebele King

Lobengula was crowned as the Ndebele king in September 1868 after the death of his father. It was reported that disputes arose over his legitimacy to be the Ndebele king considering that his mother was a Swazi Princess. He was however sworn in as the Matabele king and was coronated in 1869.

Renaming Kingdom to Bulawayo

On being appointed king, Lobengula established his own kingdom and called it Gibixhegu. However, a section of the Ndebele nation, was opposed to Lobengula, possibly stirred up by some instances by other members of the royal family who wished to have the crown for themselves, refused to accept any king but Nkulumane (the son of Mzilikazi from his royal wife). It was easy to see, therefore, that there was but one way to decide the question, - a fearful battle was to be fought between the two opposing parties, with the result that Lobengula and the warriors supporting him gained the victory, and the rebels were crushed, so much that they consented to Lobengula becoming king without further protests.

In 1872 after scoring victory, King Lobengula renamed his royal town. The name was changed from Gibixhegu to Bulawayo. The name derives from the verb bulala and the locative formative ko-. Bulala means, in the first instance to kill. It also means to oppose, persecute or bother. King Lobengula was thus referring to the figurative meaning of the word bulala. He was being opposed and persecuted by his opponents. The town shall be called "the place of he who is persecuted'.[3]

The Moffart Treaty

Lobengula’s soft spot and sympathy for the British missionaries eventually led to the downfall of the Matabele Kingdom. On 11 February, he signed the Moffart Treaty with John Smith Moffat, the son of Robert Moffat, who was King Mzilikazi's friend. Lobengula easily welcomed him as a bearer of spiritual tidings. The missionary persuaded the King to sign a treaty with the British, by which Lobengula agreed not to cede land to any European power without the consent of the British.

Piet Grobler Treaty 1887

Pieter Grobler secured a treaty of "renewal of friendship" between Matabeleland and the South African Republic in July 1887 ... Moffat reached Bulawayo on 29 November to find Grobler still at the kraal ... Because the exact text of the Grobler treaty had not been released publicly, it was unclear to outside observers precisely what had been agreed with Lobengula. Rhodes began advocating the annexation by Britain of Matabeleland and Mashonaland in 1887 by applying pressure to a number of senior colonial officials, most prominently the High Commissioner for Southern Africa, Sir Hercules Robinson, and Sidney Shippard, the British administrator in the territory of Bechuanaland, which lay immediately between the Cape and Matabeleland. Shippard, an old friend of Rhodes, was soon won over to the idea, and in May 1887 the administrator wrote to Robinson strongly endorsing annexation of the territories, particularly Mashonaland, which he described as "beyond comparison the most valuable country south of the Zambezi". It was the Boers, however, who were first to achieve diplomatic successes with Lobengula, with Pieter Grobler securing a treaty of "renewal of friendship". The same month, Robinson organised the appointment of John Smith Moffat, a locally born missionary, as assistant commissioner in Bechuanaland. Moffat, well-known to Lobengula, was given this position in the hope that he might make the king less cordial with the Boers and more pro-British

The Rudd Concenssion

On 30 October 1888, he signed the Rudd Concession (with Reverend Charles D. Helm, Charles Rudd and his induna Lotshe) which sealed the fate of what is now present day Zimbabwe. Lobengula gave Rhodes permission to trade, hunt, and prospect for precious minerals in Mashonaland. In return, Rhodes offered 1 000 Martini-Henry rifles, 100 000 rounds of ammunition, an annual stipend of £1 200.00, and a gunboat which was to be placed on Zambezi River. After realising that he had been duped, Lobengula tried to repudiate the concession but his efforts were in vain. In September 1890, the Pioneer Column raised the Union Jack signifying the occupation of Mashonaland after the British South Africa Company (BSAC) was given the Royal Charter to colonise Mashonaland.

The Matabele or Anglo-Ndebele War

In July 1893, the Anglo-Ndebele War broke out, during which the Ndebele army was defeated at Shangaani and Bembezi and Lobengula set his capital on fire and escaped. It is with this in mind that it has been stated that Matabeleland was conquered and not colonised as the Ndebele fought against the Europeans.

His Death

It is believed that Lobengula died in 1894, but the cause of his death is still unknown. Some have argued that he succumbed to smallpox after he fled his capital heading northwards towards the Zambezi River[4] whilst this has been dispelled on the basis that he was killed by members of the BSAC.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Peter Baxter Lobengula, "African History", Published:12 May 2011,Retrieved:11 February 2015"
  2. 2.0 2.1 Lobengula, King of the Matabele, "Bulawayo History", Published:,Retrieved:11 February 2015"
  3. The Birth of Lobengula's Bulawayo,, Published: No Date Given, Retrieved: 23 Feb 2016
  4. Farai Machivenyika, Lobengula causes stir in Parliament, "New Zimbabwe", Published:11 Dec 2012,Retrieved:11 February 2015"

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