PRONUNCIATION: nn-deh-BEH leh
ALTERNATE NAMES: Amandebele; Ndzundza; Manala
LOCATION: The Mpumalanga and the Northern provinces of South Africa
LANGUAGE: Ndebele (IsiNdebele); Sepedi; Afrikaans; English
RELIGION: Christianity; African Christianity
The Ndebele of South Africa refer to themselves as “Amandebele,” or “Ndzundza” and “Manala”—denoting two main sections or tribal groupings. Early writers used the term “Transvaal Ndebele” to distinguish them from the “Zimbabwean Ndebele” (or “Matebele”). On geographical grounds, the Transvaal Ndebele was subdivided into the “Southern” (Ndzundza and Manala sections) and “Northern” Ndebele. Oral tradition points to a possible common origin for both the Southern and Northern groups, although the latter, as the numerically smaller group, became absorbed into their Northern-Sotho-speaking neighbors.
After a succession struggle, the Ndzundza section migrated to KwaSimkhulu (“Place of Large Fields”), approximately 260 km (160 mi) east of the present Pretoria, in the Mpumalanga province. The numerically smaller Manala section occupied settlements such as Ezotshaneni, KoNonduna, and Embilaneni, which include the present eastern suburbs of Pretoria in the Gauteng Province.
The Ndzundza chieftaincy is believed to have extended its boundaries along the Steelpoort (Indubazi) river catchment area between the 1600s and early 1800s. Several of these settlement sites (KwaSimkhulu, KwaMaza, and Esikhunjini) are known through oral history and are currently under archaeo-logical investigation.
Both the Ndzundza and Manala chiefdoms were almost annihilated by the armies of Mzilikazi's Matebele (Zimbabwean Ndebele) around 1820. The Manala in particular suffered serious losses, while the Ndzundza recovered significantly under the legendary Mabhoko during the 1840s. He revolutionized Ndzundza settlement patterns by building a number of impenetrable stone fortresses and renamed the tribal capital: Ko-Nomtjharhelo (later popularly known as Mapoch's Caves). The Ndzundza developed into a significant regional political and military force during the middle 1800s. During the colonial era, white settlers derogatively referred to the Ndzundza-Ndebele as “Mapoggers” after their ruler Mabhoko, called Mapog or Mapoch by whites.
The Ndzundza-Ndebele soon had to face the threat of these white colonials, against whom they fought in 1849, 1863, and finally in 1883 during the lengthy Mapoch War against the ZAR forces. The latter's tactic of besiegement forced the famine-stricken Ndzundza to capitulate. They lost their independence, their land was expropriated, the leaders were imprisoned (Chief Nyabela to life imprisonment), and the Ndebele were displaced and indentured as laborers for a five-year (1883–1888) period among white farmers. (The Manala chiefdom was not involved in the war and had previously (1873) settled on land provided by the Berlin Mission some 32 km (20 mi) north of Pretoria, at a place the Manala named KoMjekejeke, also known as Wallmannsthal.)
Chief Nyabela Mahlangu of the Ndzundza was released in 1903 after the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902) and died soon afterwards. His successor tried fruitlessly in 1916 and 1918 to regain the tribal land. Instead, the royal house and a growing number of followers privately bought land in 1922, around which the Ndzundza-Ndebele reassembled. They have never gained permission to reoccupy their original land.
Within the framework of the bantustan or homeland system in South Africa, the Ndebele (both Manala and Ndzundza) were only during the late 1970s allowed to settle in a homeland called KwaNdebele.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
The majority of Ndebele live in the Mpumalanga and the Limpopo provinces) of South Africa between 24°53' to 25°43' south latitude and 28°22' to 29°50' east longitude, and approximately 65 km to 130 km (40–80 mi) northeast of Pretoria, South Africa. The total area amounts to 350,000 hectares (865,000 acres), including the Moutse and Nebo areas. Temperatures range from a high of 36°c (97°F) in the northern parts to a low of –5°c (23°F) in the south. Rainfall in the north averages 5 cm (2 in) per year and 8 cm (3 in) per year in the south. Almost two-thirds of the entire former KwaNdebele lies within a vegetational zone known as Mixed Bushveld (Savanna-type) in the north. The southern parts fall within the Bankenveld (False Grassland-type) zone.
Population figures are based on the 1991 census figures for the former KwaNdebele homeland (now part of Mpumalanga Province), updated for the April 1994 general elections. The total population for the area was estimated at more than 403,700 people. A minority of labor tenants and farm workers outside the former homeland are not included.
The Ndebele language, called IsiNdebele by its users, is one of nine official languages recognized by the interim South African constitution. It forms part of the Nguni language group (including Zulu, Swazi, and Xhosa), which comprises 43% of mother-tongue languages in South Africa. It is estimated that Ndebele comprises 1.55% of African languages in South Africa. Mother-tongue speakers seldom distinguish between the dialects of IsiNdzundza and IsiNala. A written orthography was only recently published, in 1982. Most Ndebele are fluent in the neighboring Northern Sotho language called Sepedi, as well as in Afrikaans (mostly elderly people) and English (the younger generation).
IsiNdebele, like other Nguni-type languages, contains a variety of click sounds. The Ndebele have also absorbed a proportionate amount of Afrikaans words in their vocabulary. These assimilated terms were probably adopted during the period of indenture on Afrikaner-owned farms. The everyday greeting term is, “Lotjani!” (“Good day”), followed by “Kunjani?” (“How are you?”), etc. The departing person will end the conversation with: “Salani kuhleke!” (“Goodbye to all of you!”)
Among a rich collection of oral traditions, many relate and explain the founding history of the various clans or family names (called izibongo), most of all that of the ruling Mahlangu clan among the Ndzundza. Praise poetry, as recited by praise poets (iimbongi), relates heroic escapes from captors, battle field tactics, treachery and revenge, and the introduction of new customs, by past rulers (i.e. circumcision by Mahlangu).
The most well known oral tradition concerns the founder of the Ndebele, a chief called Musi who lived at KwaMnyamane (“Place of the Black Hills”) near Pretoria. Musi had five sons and there was a succession struggle between Musi's two eldest sons, which shows remarkable similarity to the Jacob and Esau myth in the Bible. While the eldest son Manala was on a hunting trip he was betrayed by his younger brother Ndzundza (the clever one), who disguised himself as Manala and received the royal regalia from his aged and blind father Musi. When Manala pledged revenge in pursuit of the already fleeing Ndzundza and his followers, the other three sons migrated northwards and one of them, Kekana, became the founder of the Northern Ndebele, among others.
Many past events and experiences, and even recent events, are handed down through generations via the media of song and dance. During the 1986–87 unrest in the former home-land, Ndebele women protested, through female initiation rituals and songs of protest, the atrocities committed by the infamous Imbokodo vigilante movement who terrorized the area. One such song mourned the death of a popular community leader (Somakatha), and another celebrated the death of the notorious vigilante leader (Maqhawe).
Even contemporary heroes of the struggle against apartheid are remembered: Prince James Mahlangu, leader of the comrades movement against the Imbokodo vigilantes in 1986–87; and Umkhonto Wesizwe (MK) African National Congress (ANC) military-wing-martyr Solomon Mahlangu, who was reburied in Mamelodi in Pretoria and honored with a memorial that was unveiled by Nelson Mandela.
Traditionally, there is the belief in a creator god, Zimu, and in ancestral spirits (abezimu). Disgruntled ancestral spirits cause illness, misfortune, and death. The royal ancestral spirits are annually honored, while individuals may consult the family ancestral spirits before and during important rituals and even before the annual school examinations. Traditional practitioners (iinyanga and izangoma) act as mediators between the past and present world and are still frequently consulted. Sorcerers (abathakathi or abaloyi) are believed to use familiars such as the well-known “baboon” midget utikoloshe, especially in cases of jealousy towards achievers in the community in general. Both women and men become healers after a prolonged period of internship with existing practitioners.
Nineteenth-century missionary activities by the Berlin Mission did little to change traditional Ndebele religion, especially among the Ndzundza. Although the Manala lived on the Wall-mannsthal mission station from 1873 on, they were in frequent conflict with local missionaries. Recent Christian and African Christian church influences spread rapidly, and most Ndebele are now members of these churches: ZCC (Zion Christian Church), a variety of (African) Apostolic churches, Roman Catholic, etc.
Apart from national holidays, the two Ndebele royal houses (of Ndzundza and Manala) honor their past heroes with celebrations at the respective historical settlements and graves. Since 1969 the Ndzundza have celebrated Nyabela day on December 19 at KoNomtjharhelo (Mabhoko's caves), where they were forced to surrender during the 1883 war. The site has been declared a national monument and a statue of Nyabela was erected from funds contributed by the Ndzundza community. Several Manala-Ndebele chiefs (e.g., Silamba, Libangeni) are buried at the KoMjekejeke historical site at Wallmannsthal where the tribe holds their annual celebrations on Silamba day.
In recent years, apart from paying tribute to past heroes with praise poetry, song, dance, and music during these events, Ndebele politicians have used the occasions for political rallying and to air grievances on issues such as land restitution and better governance within the Mpumalanga Province.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Initiation at puberty dominates ritual life in Ndebele society. Girls' initiation (iqhude or ukuthombisa) is organized on an individual basis within the homestead. It entails the isolation of a girl in an existing house in the homestead, which is prepared by her mother after the girl's second or third menstruation. The week-long period of isolation ends over the weekend when often more than 200 relatives, friends, and neighbors attend the coming-out ritual. The occasion is marked by the slaughtering of cattle and goats, cooking and drinking of traditional beer (unotlhabalala), song and dance, and the large-scale presentation of gifts (clothing and toiletries) to the initiate's mother and father. In return, the initiate's mother presents large quantities of bread and jam to attendants. The notion of reciprocity is prominent. During the girls' initiation, female activities (including song, dance, and the display of traditional costumes) dominate those of men who are spatially isolated from the courtyard in front of the homestead.
Male initiation (ingoma or ukuwela), which includes circumcision, is a collective and quadrennial ritual that lasts two months during the winter (April to June). The notion of cyclical regimentation is prominent as initiates receive a regimental name, with which Ndebele men identify themselves for life, from the paramount (chief). The Ndzundza-Ndebele have a system of 15 such names that run over a period of approximately 60 years, and the cycle repeats itself in strict chronological order. The Manala-Ndebele have 13 names.
The numerical dimension of Ndebele male initiation is unparalleled in South Africa. During the 2006 initiation, some 13,000 young men were initiated. The ritual is controlled, offi-ciated, and administered by the royal house. It is decentralized over a wide area within the former KwaNdebele, in rural as well as urban (township) areas. Regional headmen are assigned to supervise the entire ritual process over the two-month period that involves nine sectional rituals at lodges in the field and the homestead.
Three institutions pervade Ndebele daily life. Firstly, there is the lineage segment or family (the ikoro), which consists of three to four generations and is of functional value, especially in ritual and socioeconomic reciprocity. Secondly, this lineage is composed of various residential units (homesteads) called imizi. The third important unit is an economic one, the household, which may be composed of a man, his wife and children (including children of an unmarried daughter), wives and children of his sons, and his father's widowed sisters.
A Ndebele woman has a lifelong obligation to observe the custom of ukuhlonipha or “respect” for her father-in-law. The custom implies the physical avoidance of her father-in-law. While he has unlimited freedom of movement in and around the homestead, she will at all costs enter and exit the homestead bearing in mind her father-in-law's whereabouts in an effort to avoid him. In the event of accidental contact, she will turn her back on him and cover her face. She will furthermore never mention his first name.
Space in and around the Ndebele homestead is gender-specific. There is an abstract division between front (male) and back (female), and inside the house between left (female, incabafazi) and right (male, incamadoda). Male visitors on arrival at the homestead occupy the front courtyard (isirhodlo), while women visitors proceed to the “domestic” back courtyard (isibuya). During meals this spatial separation is maintained. Even in modern Western-style houses, men dine in the lounge/TV room while women eat in the kitchen.
Living conditions for rural and urban Ndebele are integrally part of the past and current political and economic conditions in South Africa. The Ndebele is probably numerically the single largest community that has never been allowed to reclaim the land they lost in 1883. When they were drawn into apart-heid's homeland dispensation, the land they received was alien to them in more than one respect: it was far away from ancestors, climatologically harsh, and without infrastructure (e.g., transport).
Apart from a few examples in KwaNdebele and on White-owned farms, the three-generational homestead (umuzi) has almost disappeared. This type consists of a number of houses (izindlu) representing various households centered around a cattle enclosure (isibaya). Other structures in the homestead include the boys' hut (ilawu), various smaller huts for girls behind each house, and granaries. Each house complex is separated from the other by an enclosure wall called isirhodlo.
Pre-colonial Ndebele structures were of the thatched beehive dome-type. Since the late 1800s, they have adopted a cone-on-cylinder type of structure consisting of mud walls and a thatched roof, while simultaneously reverting to a linear outlay that has replaced the circular center cattle pattern. The present settlement pattern consists of a single house built on a square stand and occasionally providing for two or more extra buildings, as well as cattle and goat enclosures. A wide range of modern building material and house designs have been introduced.
Ndebele society is structured into approximately 80 patrilineal clans (izibongo), each subdivided into a variety of subclans or patrilineages (iinanazelo). Each clan associates itself with a totem animal or object. Members of the same clan do not marry, and certain clans, such as the Nduli's and the Giyana's, will not intermarry because there is a saying, “Long ago, we were brothers!”
Polygyny (more than one wife) has almost disappeared. Bride-wealth (ikhazi) consists of cattle and/or money. Marital negotiations between the two sets of families are an extended process. These include the presentation in installments of six to eight heads of cattle, the last installment often given long after the birth of the first child. Fathers demand more bride-wealth for educated daughters. Nowadays wealthy women with children often marry very late or stay single.
Weddings often involve a customary as well as a Christian ceremony. The married couple settles at the husband's village for a few years, and the new bride (umakhothi) is involved in cooking and the rearing of other small children of various households in the homestead. The taking of a substitute wife (umngenandlu or ihlanzi), in cases of infertility, was still common in the 1960s. In case of divorce, witchcraft accusation, and even infidelity, a woman is forced to return to her natal homestead.
Western-style dress is the norm among most South Africans. Traditional Ndebele attire such as beaded aprons and blankets, and beaded arm bands and anklets for women are worn during ritual performances as indicated in Rites of Passage above.
The rural staple diet consists of maize, bread, vegetables, and, to a lesser extent, meat. Considering the climate and low rainfall in the rural area, very little maize is self-produced but is rather bought at stores, as is chicken, and if people can afford it, red meat. The only time when there is a relative abundance of meat is during rituals when cattle and goats are slaughtered. During the summer rain season (September to March), many Ndebele women seem to be able to produce their own vegetables (umrorho), such as two indigenous types of spinach (imbuyane and irude), and tomatoes. Spinach is often dehydrated, stored, and consumed during the winter months. Other popular vegetables include cabbage and pumpkin.
Maize porridge (umratha) accounts for more than 80% of the daily diet and is consumed during midmorning and during the evenings. Occasionally soft porridge (umdogo) is eaten with sour milk (amasi) during the day. Breakfast, in particular for school children, consists of sliced bread, often without any spread, and tea. Dinner as the main meal mostly consists of porridge, a piece of cooked chicken, tomato sauce, and spinach or cabbage.
A delicacy that is often consumed during rituals is “Ndebele beer” or unotlhabalala. No social event is regarded as complete without this drink of which the main components are mealie (corn) and sorghum sprouts. Sprouts are ground with a grinding stone (imbokodo), cooked, sieved, and filtered, mixed with maize flour, and cooked again before being poured into large container gourds called amarhabha, which are then sealed and stored away to ferment for three to four days. The opening of the containers is often publicly announced to boast the skills of the manufacturer, usually an old woman and her younger team.
Like most other Black South Africans, the Ndebele, in particular those in the former homeland, still suffer from the consequences of the Bantu education system. During the homeland period, teachers were grossly underqualified, classrooms were overcrowded, and text books were in perpetually short supply. Although school buildings and equipment were never damaged or destroyed, as was the case elsewhere in South Africa during the unrest periods (1976, 1986–87), the area experienced frequent school boycotts, student and teacher stayaways, and strikes. Another concern of parents during the late 1970s was the complete absence of mother-tongue education and the lack of Ndebele-speaking teachers. Teaching in IsiNdebele could only be gradually introduced after 1982.
The adult literacy rate in the area is low. The majority of female and male students have become early school drop-outs, mainly due to economic circumstances. It appears as if the tide is turning as many early dropouts, after spending some time earning a salary, are now reregistering either as full-time or part-time students. In the early 21st century, the education system is still hampered by lack of resources such as classrooms, textbooks, and qualified teachers.
Communal singing and dancing in Ndebele society is either related to tribal ritual activities (initiation, divination, and weddings) or of the congregational type practiced during church services. Women in particular are active participants in tribal singing and dancing since traditional costumes play an integral part. Musical instruments are limited, although a plastic tube (iphalaphala), replacing the antelope horn, and anklet rattles (amahlwayi) are used during the dance.
A royal praise poet (imbongi) always accompanies the paramount and guests on arrival at the royal capital. When the paramount attends official meetings outside the royal capital, he is always presented to his audience by this same poet. The poet, dressed in traditional costume, asks guests to rise, shouting, “Bayede!” “Ngwenyama!” and “Ndabezitha!” As the paramount enters the room, the imbongi recites the royal praises, which could last for half an hour if he wishes, depending on the historical depth of the recital.
Most Ndebele love listening to music of their choice on the regional Radio Ndebele (SABC) service that broadcasts from Pretoria. Young people attend discos at night, or the occasional music concert in the area. African jazz (Soweto String Quartet), local African bands (Mendoza and Ladysmith Black Mambazo), reggae (Lucky Dube), and Lionel Ritchie are among the favorites. Ndebele are particularly fond of local heroines such as Nothembi Mkhwebane.
The majority of Ndebele are daily, weekly, or monthly migrants to urban Johannesburg and Pretoria, where most women are employed in the domestic sector and men in the building and related industries. There are few employment opportunities inside their home area.
Elderly women engage in hawking fresh produce near shopping centers and taxi stands. Likewise, men in the former bantustan have few job opportunities, mostly in the heavily competitive taxi industry; low-income industries such as vehicle repairs; and private enterprise, including selling liquor privately or running a bar lounge and opening spaza shops (small-scale general stores) at home. Economically, rural Ndebele depend heavily on the resources of urban kin to support the household.
Most male urban Ndebele employees have over the past four decades carved a niche for themselves in the building industry, a skill it is believed they obtained during the arduous years of indenture and labor tenancy on farms. Many of these building artisans are private contractors—bricklayers, plumbers, electricians, pavers, and painters—especially in the Pretoria region, and are in great demand.
Many Ndebele women are domestic servants, and in certain suburbs in Pretoria they tend to “ethnically monopolize” the area. Others choose self employment and become street vendors in fresh produce or sell hot food (vetkoek, meat and maize porridge). The latter category cook food on paraffin or gas stoves, or on wood (referred to as imbawula) in open parking areas, on street corners, or alongside taxi ranks.
The sport of netball, introduced by the schools, is popular among girls, while soccer tops the list in terms of popularity among men and women. Bets are taken before most important matches in the South African Professional Soccer League itinerary. No particular club is favored, although the Orlando Pirates (Bucs), Kaizer Chiefs (Amakosi), and the Pretoria-based club Mamelodi Sundowns (Brazilians) are among the most popular.
The most- talked-about Ndebele sports star is the 1996 Atlanta Olympic gold medalist in the marathon, Josiah Tung-wane. Special honor was bestowed upon him when the late Paramount Mayisha presented him with a special Ndebele iporiyana (ritual cloth for males).
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
A variety of traditional games such as umadlwandlwana (freely translated as “to play house”) and unomkhetwa are still popular pastimes for children. Unomkhwetwa usually involves two players who try to outdo each other by tossing a collection of stones up in the air and catching it without losing any stones, almost like juggling.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
If anyone around the globe remembers the name Ndebele, it would most probably be in connection with the mural art and beadwork that has made them internationally famous, especially since the late 1950s. Mural painting (ukugwala) is done by women and their daughters and entails the multicolored application of acrylic paint on entire outer and inner courtyard and house walls. Earlier paints were manufactured and mixed from natural materials such as clay, plant pulp, ash, and cow dung. Since the 1950s, mural patterns show clear urban and Western influences. Consumer goods such as razor blades; urban architectural features, including gables and lamp posts; and symbols of modern transportation such as airplanes and license plates act as inspiration for women artists.
Beadwork (ukupothela) also proliferated during the 1950s and shows similarity to murals in color and design. Ndebele beadwork is essentially part of female ceremonial costume. Beads are sewn on goatskins, canvas, and nowadays even cardboard, and worn as aprons. Beaded necklaces and arm and neck rings form part of the outfit, which is worn during rituals such as initiations and weddings.
As Ndebele beadwork became one of the most popular curio art commodities, women also started to bead glass bottles, gourds, animal horns, etc. The recent prolific trading in Ndebele beadwork concentrates on “antique”' garments as pieces of art. Some women are privately commissioned to apply their painting to canvas, shopping center walls, and even cars. The first artist who won international fame was Esther Mahlangu (from KwaNdebele) who painted murals and canvasses in Paris, Japan, Australia, and Washington D.C. Others started to follow in her footsteps and apply their mural art on an international level e.g. by painting shopping center surfaces, automobiles, and aircraft carriers.
Except for the 1800s, the Ndebele as a political entity were not involved in any major regional conflicts, especially since 1883 when they lost their independence and had their land expropriated. In 1986, almost a century later, they experienced violent internal (and regional) conflict when a minority vigilante movement called Imbokodo (“Grinding Stone”) took over the local police and security system and terrorized the entire former homeland. In a surprising move, the whole population called on the royal house of Paramount Mabhoko for moral support, and within weeks the youth rid the area of that infamous organization. Human rights abuses relating to that period are heard by the national Truth and Reconciliation Committee.
Probably the most challenging problem for the Ndebele leadership at present is how to define and negotiate the former homeland's residents' needs in terms of the provincial dispensation. Large-scale discontent has emerged among the rank-and-file Ndebele on the authoritarian and ethnically chauvinist way in which the new Mpumalanga Provincial government in Nelspruit is handling the well-being of the residents in the area. There is widespread discontent with the lack of resources in the region, in particular hospitals and clinics, schools, electricity and pure water reticulation.
Ndebele society is a patriarchal one with male dominance in most socio-economic and socio-cultural sectors. Rural Ndebele women have found it difficult to cope with notions such as gender equality, which is regularly advocated in the South African Constitution and the Gender Commission. However, there were a few landmark events in the recent past that gave them a foothold on regional and national level. During the 1986 unrest it was the female vote that helped with the toppling of the Imbokodo vigilante regime in the homeland. Before that election (in 1988) Ndebele women did not have the franchise. They obtained this on the eve of election with an urgent court interdict, successfully brought by themselves. Ever since the 1970s Ndebele women use the female initiation ritual (the iqhude) to mock and demean male dominance when they perform the so-termed “traffic cop” performance. During this rite they dress in traffic cop attire and “fine” male taxi drivers who transport participating female guests to these rituals. Although this is performed only over weekends, Ndebele argue that this opportunity empowers them to take control of the dominant male order.
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—by C. Van Vuuren
ETHNONYMS: Amandebele, Mapoggers, Ndzundza, Ndzundza-Ndebele or Manala-Ndebele, Southern Ndebele
Identification. The people refer to themselves as "Amandebele," or "Ndzundza" or "Manala," denoting the two main tribal groupings. Early writers used the term "Transvaal Ndebele" to distinguish them from the Zimbabwean Ndebele (or Matebele). On geographical grounds, the Transvaal Ndebele were subdivided into the Northern (Transvaal) and Southern (Transvaal) Ndebele sections. Oral tradition points to a possible common origin for both the northern and southern sections, although the former, as the numerically smaller group, became absorbed into their Northern-Sotho-speaking neighbors. The Southern Ndebele are comprised of the Ndzundza and the Manala ethnic groups or tribes. During the colonial era, White settlers derogatively referred to the Ndzundza-Ndebele as "Mapoggers" or "Mapoêrs," after their ruler Mabhoko, called "Mapog" or "Mapoch" by Whites. Early ethnographies identified a third Southern Ndebele tribe, the Mhwaduba, which also became completely integrated with neighboring Sotho-speaking communities.
Location. The majority of Ndebele live in the former Bantustans or "homelands" of KwaNdebele and Lebowa, between 24°53′ to 25°43′ S and 28°22′ to 29°50′ E, approximately 60 to 130 kilometers northeast of Pretoria, South Africa. The total area amounts to 350,000 hectares, including the Moutse and Nebo areas, which were previously part of the former Lebowa homeland. Temperatures range from a maximum of 36° C in the northern parts to a minimum of -5° C in the south; rainfall averages 50 centimeters per annum in the north and 80 centimeters per annum in the south. Almost two-thirds of the entire former KwaNdebele lies within a vegetational zone known as Mixed Bushveld (Savanna type), in the north. The southern parts fall within a zone known as Bankenveld (False Grassland type).
Demography. Population figures are based on the 1991 sensus figures for the former KwaNdebele homeland (now part of Eastern Transvaal Province) and updated for the April 1994 general elections. The total for the area was estimated at 403,700. A minority of labor tenants and farmworkers outside the former homeland were not included.
Linguistic Affiliation. IsiNdebele is a Southern Bantu language, part of the Nguni Language Group. Mother-tongue speakers seldom distinguish between the dialects IsiNdzundza and IsiNala. A written orthography was published only in 1982. Most Ndebele are fluent in the neighboring Northern Sotho language called Sepedi, as well as Afrikaans (elderly people) and English (the younger generation).
History and Cultural Relations
It is still unclear when and how the Ndebele parted from the main Nguni-speaking migration along the eastern part of southern Africa. Oral history suggests an early (c. late 1500) settlement in the interior, to the immediate north of present-day Pretoria, under a founder ruler called Musi. A succession struggle among Musi's sons is a probable explanation for the twofold split in clans and the resultant two main tribal categories, Ndzundza and Manala. The twofold split resulted in clans associating themselves with one of the two groups. The majority of clans followed Ndzundza, who migrated to KwaSimkhulu, approximately 200 kilometers east of present-day Pretoria. The numerically smaller Manala occupied the areas called Ezotshaneni, KoNonduna, and Embilaneni, which include what are today the eastern suburbs of Pretoria.
The Ndzundza chieftaincy is believed to have extended its boundaries along the Steelpoort (Indubazi) River catchment area between the 1600s and early 1800s. Several of these settlement sites (KwaSimkhulu, KwaMaza, and Esikhunjini) are known through oral history and are currently under archaeological investigation.
Both the Ndzundza and Manala chiefdoms were almost annihilated by the armies of Mzilikzazi's Matebele (Zimbabwean Ndebele) around 1820. The Manala in particular suffered serious losses, but the Ndzundza recovered significantly under the legendary Mabhoko, during the 1840s. He revolutionized the Ndzundza settlement pattern by building a number of impenetrable stone fortresses and renamed the tribal capital KoNomtjharhelo (later popularly known as Mapoch's Caves). During the middle 1800s, the Ndzundza developed into a significant regional political and military force.
They soon had to face the threat of White colonial settlers, with whom they fought in 1849, 1863, and, finally, in 1883, during the lengthy Mapoch War against the ZAR forces. The latter's tactic of besiegement forced the famine-stricken Ndzundza to capitulate. They lost their independence, their land was expropriated, the leaders were imprisoned (Chief Nyabela to life imprisonment), and all the Ndebele were scattered as indentured laborers for a five-year (1883-1888) period among White farmers. The Manala chiefdom was not involved in the war and had previously (1873) settled on land provided by the Berlin Mission, some 30 kilometers north of Pretoria, at a place the Manala named KoMjekejeke (Wallmannsthal).
Chief Nyabela Mahlangu was released after the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) in 1903 and died soon afterward. His successor tried fruitlessly in 1916 and 1918 to regain their tribal land. Instead, the royal house and a growing number of followers privately bought land in 1922, around which the Ndzundza-Ndebele reassembled. Within the framework of the bantustan or homeland system in South Africa, the Ndebele (both Manala and Ndzundza) were only allowed to settle in a homeland called KwaNdebele in 1979. This specific land, climate, and soil was entirely alien to them.
Precolonial Ndebele homesteads (imizi ) were organized along three-generational patrilinear agnatic lines. It seems that these might have extended into large localized lineages (iikoro ) under the social and ritual leadership of the senior male member. During and after the indentured period, the three-generational homestead remained popular despite restrictions in size and number imposed by White landlords. The homestead consists of a number of houses (izindlu ) representing various households and centered around a cattle enclosure (isibaya ). Other structures in the homestead include the boys' hut (ilawu ), various smaller huts for girls behind each house (indlu ), and granaries. Each house complex was separated from the other by an enclosure called the isirhodlo. This enclosure was subdivided along gender lines into a men's section in the front and a domestic (cooking) area (isibuya ) at the back.
Precolonial Ndebele structures were of the thatched beehive-dome type. Since the late 1800s, Ndebele have adopted a cone-on-cylinder type, consisting of mud walls and a thatched roof, while simultaneously reverting to a linear outlay, replacing the circular-center cattle pattern. In the current rural settlement pattern, the nuclear-family single house built on a square stand predominates, occasionally with provision for two or more extra buildings. A wide range of modern building material and designs have been introduced, including modern services and infrastructure.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. The precolonial Ndebele were a cattle-centred society, but they also kept goats. The most important crops, even today, are maize, sorghum, pumpkins, and at least three types of domesticated green vegetables (umroho ). Since farm-laborer days, crops such as beans and potatoes have been grown and the tractor has substituted for the cattle-drawn plow, although the latter is still commonly used. Pumpkins and other vegetables are planted around the house and tilled with hoes. Cattle (now in limited numbers), goats, pigs, and chickens (the most prevalent) are still common.
Industrial Arts. Present crafts include weaving of sleeping mats, sieves, and grain mats; woodcarving of spoons and wooden pieces used in necklaces; and the manufacturing of a variety of brass anklets and neck rings. Since precolonial times, Ndebele are believed to have obtained all pottery from trading with Sotho-speaking neighbors. The Tshabangu clan reportedly introduced the Ndebele to blacksmithing.
Trade. Archaeologists believe that societies such as that of the Ndebele formed part of the wider pre-nineteenth century trade industry on the African east coast and had been introduced to consumer goods such as tobacco, cloth, and glass beads. Historians such as Delius (1989) believe that a large number of firearms reached the Ndzundza-Ndebele during the middle 1800s.
Division of Labor. In a pastoral society such as that of the Ndebele, men attended to animal husbandry and women to horticultural and agricultural activities except when new fields (amasimu ) are cleared with the help of men who join in a communal working party called an ijima. Even male social age status is defined in terms of husbandry activities: a boy who herds goats (umsana wembuzana ), a boy who herds calves (umsana wamakhonyana ), and so forth. Men are responsible for the construction and thatching of houses, women for plastering and painting of walls. Teenage girls are trained by their mothers in the art of smearing and painting. Even today girls from an early age (approximately 5 or 6) assist their mothers in the fetching of water and wood, making fire, and cooking. Female responsibilities have arduously increased in recent years with the increase in permanent and temporary male and female labor migrants to urban areas. It is calculated that some 80 percent of rural KwaNdebele residents are labor migrants.
Land Tenure. Land was tribal property; portions were allocated to individual families by the chief and headmen as custodians, under a system called ukulotjha, with the one-time payment of a fee that also implied allegiance to the political ruler of the area. Grazing land was entirely communal. The system of traditional tenure still applies in the former KwaN-debele, except in certain urban areas where private ownership has been introduced. In South Africa, Black people could never own land; the Ndzunzda-Ndebele's land was expropriated in 1883, when they became labor tenants on White-owned farms. Most Ndzunzda-Ndebele exchanged free labor for the right to build, plant, and keep a minimum of cattle. Since the formation of the KwaNdebele homeland, traditional tenure, controlled by the chief, has been reintroduced.
The last born son inherits the land, but married sons often build adjacent to their natal homesteads, if space allows it. In certain rural areas (e.g., Nebo), this form of extended three-generational settlement is still intact.
Kin Groups and Descent. On the macro level, Ndebele society is structured into approximately eighty patrilineal exogamous clans (izibongo ), each subdivided into a variety of subclans or patrilineages (iinanzelo or iikoro ). Totems of animals and objects are associated with each clan. The three- to four-generational lineage segment (i aro ) is of functional value in daily life (e.g., ritual and religion, socioeconomic reciprocity); it is composed of various residential units (homesteads) (imizi).
Kinship Terminology. Classificatory kinship applies, and with similar terms in every alternate generation—for example, grandfathers and grandsons (obaba omkhulu ). Smaller distinctions are drawn between own father (ubaba ), father's elder brothers (abasongwane ), and his younger brothers (obaba omncane ), although all these men on the same generation level may be called ubaba.
Marriage. Polygyny has almost disappeared. Bride-wealth consists of cattle and/or money (ikhazi ). Marital negotiations between the two sets of families are an extended process that includes the stadial presentation of six to eight cattle and may not be finally contracted until long after the birth of the first child. Marital residence is virilocal, and new brides (omak jothi ) are involved in cooking, beadwork, and even the rearing of other small children of various households in the homestead. Brides have a lifelong obligation to observe the custom of ukuhlonipha or "respect" for their fathers-in-law (e.g., physical avoidance, first-name taboo). A substitute wife (umngenandlu or ihlanzi ), in case of infertility, was still common in the 1960s. In case of divorce, witchcraft accusation, and even infidelity, a woman is forced to return to her natal homestead. Currently, wealthy women with children often marry very late or stay single. Fathers demand more bride-wealth for educated women. Both urban and rural Ndebele weddings nowadays involve a customary ceremony (ngesikhethu ) as well as a Christian ceremony.
Domestic Unit. The traditional Ndebele homestead (umuzi ), based on agnatic kinship and intergenerational ties, consists of several households. Apart from the nuclear household, the three-generational household along agnatic lines still seems to be the prevalent one among rural Ndebele. Married sons of the founder household head still prefer to settle adjacent to the original homestead, provided that building space is available. A single household may be composed of a man, his wife and children (including children of an unmarried daughter), wives and children of his sons, and a father's widowed sister.
Inheritance. Although the inheritance of land and other movable and immovable household assets are negotiated within the homestead as a whole, Ndebele seem to subscribe to the custom of inheritance by the youngest son (the upetjhana ).
Socialization. The three-generational household enhances intergenerational contact; the absence of migrant mothers and fathers necessitates that grandparents care for children. Contemporary Ndebele households are essentially matrifocal, and children interact with their fathers and elder male siblings only over weekends.
Social Organization. In precolonial times, Ndebele clan organization seemed to have been hierarchical in terms of duration of alliance to the ruling clans, Mahlangu for Ndzundza and Mabhena for the Manala. This pattern pervaded the entire political system.
Political Organization. Tribal political power is in the hands of the ruling clan and royal lineage, Mgwezane Mahlangu (among the Ndzundza) and Somlokothwa Mabhena (among the Manala). In the case of the Ndzundza, the paramount (called Ingewenyama), the royal family, and the tribal council (ibandla ) together make political decisions to be implemented by regional headmen (amaduna or amakosana ) over a wide area, including the former KwaNdebele, rural areas outside KwaNdebele, and urban (township) areas. The headmen system includes more than one hundred such men of whom the greater portion are amakosana, or men of royal (clan) origin. Certain of these headmen were elevated to the status of subchiefs (amakosi ).
There is currently a national political debate as to whether headmen, chiefs, paramounts, and kings like these will in future be stipended by local or central government.
Social Control. Traditionally, criminal and civil jurisdiction were vested in the tribal court. The latter still presides over regional disputes (i.e., those relating to land, cattle and grazing, and bride-wealth). All other disputes are forwarded to local magistrates in three districts in the former KwaNdebele.
Conflict. Except for the 1800s, the Ndebele as a political entity were not involved in any major regional conflicts, especially after 1883, when they lost their independence and had their land expropriated. Almost a century later, in 1986, they experienced violent internal (regional) conflict when a minority vigilante movement called Imbokodo (Grinding Stone) took over the local police and security system and terrorized the entire former homeland. In a surprising move, the whole population called on the royal house of Paramount Mabhoko for moral support, and, within weeks, the youth rid the area of that infamous organization. Royal leaders emerged as local heroes of the struggle.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Religious Beliefs. Nineteenth-century evangelizing activities by the Berlin Mission did little to change traditional Ndebele religion, especially that of the Ndzundza. Although the Manala lived on the Wallmannsthal mission station from 1873, they were in frequent conflict with local missionaries. Recent Christian and African Christian church influences spread rapidly, however, and most Ndebele are now members of the Zion Christian Church (ZCC), one of a variety of (African) Apostolic churches, or the Catholic church. Traditional beliefs were centered on a creator god, Zimu, and ancestral spirits (abezimu ).
Religious Practitioners. Disgruntled ancestral spirits cause illness, misfortune, and death. Traditional practitioners (iinyanga and izangoma ) act as mediators between the past and present world and are still frequently consulted. Sorcerers (abathakathi or abaloyi) are believe to use familiars like the well-known "baboon" midget (utikoloshe ), especially in cases of jealousy toward achievers in the community in general. Both women and men become healers after a prolonged period of internship with existing practitioners.
Ceremonies. Initiation at puberty dominates ritual life in Ndebele society. Girls' initiation (iqhude or ukuthombisa ) is organized on an individual basis, within the homestead. It entails the isolation of a girl after her second or third menstruation in an existing house in the homestead, which is prepared by her mother. The weeklong period of isolation ends over the weekend, when as many as two hundred relatives, friends, and neighbors attend the coming-out ritual. The occasion is marked by the slaughtering of cows and goats, cooking and drinking of traditional beer (unotlhabalala ), song and dance, and the large-scale presentation of gifts (clothing and toiletries) to the initiate's mother and rather. In return, the initiate's mother presents large quantities of bread and jam to attendants. The notion of reciprocity is prominent. During the iqhude, women sing, dance, and display traditional costumes as the men remain spatially isolated from the courtyard in front of the homestead.
Male initiation (ingoma or ukuwela ), which includes circumcision, is a collective and quadrennial ritual that lasts two months during the winter (April to June). The notion of cyclical regimentation is prominent: initiates in the postliminal stage receive a regimental name from the paramount, and it is this name with which an Ndebele man identifies himself for life. The Ndzundza-Ndebele have a system of fifteen such names that are used over a period of approximately sixty years. The cycle repeats itself in strict chronological order. The Manala-Ndebele have thirteen names.
The numerical dimension of Ndebele male initiation is unparalleled in southern Africa. During the 1985 initiation, some 10,000 young men were initiated and, during 1993, more than 12,000. The ritual is controlled, installed, officiated, and administered by the royal house. It is decentralized over a wide area within the former KwaNdebele, in rural as well as urban (township) areas. Regional headmen (see "Political Organization") are assigned to supervise the entire ritual process over the two-month period, which involves nine sectional rituals at emphadwini (lodges in the field) and emzini (lodges at the homestead).
Arts. Ndebele aesthetic expression in the form of mural art and beadwork has won international fame for that society during the latter half of the twentieth century. Mural painting (ukugwala ) is done by women and their daughters and entails the multicolor application of acrylic paint on entire outer and inner courtyard and house walls. Earlier paints were manufactured and mixed from natural material such as clay, plant pulp, ash, and cow dung. Since the 1950s, mural patterns have shown clear urban and Western influences. Consumer goods (e.g., razor blades), urban architecture (e.g., gables, lampposts), and symbols of modern transportation (e.g., airplanes, number plates) acted as inspiration for women artists.
Beadwork (ukupothela ) also proliferated during the 1950s; it shows similarity in color and design to murals. Ndebele beadwork is essentially part of female ceremonial costume. Beads are sown on goat skins, canvas, and even hard board nowadays, and worn as aprons. Beaded necklaces and arm and neck rings form part of the outfit that is worn during rituals such as initiation and weddings. As Ndebele beadwork became one of the most popular curio art commodities in the period from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, women also beaded glass bottles, gourds, and animal horns. The recent prolific trading in Ndebele beadwork concentrates on "antique" garments as pieces of art. Some women are privately commissioned to apply their painting on canvas, shopping center walls, and even cars.
The recent discourse on Ndebele art suggests that the phenomenon should be interpreted in terms of the conscious establishment of a distinctive ethnic Ndebele niche at a time in South African history when the Ndebele struggled to regain their land and were not regarded as a society with its own identity.
Medicine. Current medical assistance includes the simultaneous use and application of traditional cures and medicines and visits to local hospitals and clinics. Children are born with or without the assistance of modern maternity care.
Death and Afterlife. Death is attributed to both natural and supernatural causes. A period of night watch over the body precedes the funeral. Funerals reunite the homestead and family members and involve the recital of clan praises (iibongo ) at the grave and the slaughtering of animals at the deceased's homestead afterward. Today many Ndebele receive church burials. Widows are regarded as unclean; they may be ritually cleansed after many months or even a year. Traditionally, the deceased are buried at family grave sites, which are usually at the ruins of previous settlements and often far away from their homes. Nowadays, however, people are mostly buried at nearby cemeteries.
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CHRIS J. VAN VUUREN