The relationship  between  Shona and Ndebele  people and British began  in October  1888 at the signing of Rudd  concession between Lobengula  and Cecil Rhodes'  BSACo  represented by Charles Rudd.  This followed  the coming  in of many whites  that named  themselves  as the pioneer  column.  In  1891 British  South African  Company  took over the ownership  of the land occupied by these newcomers  named as Mashonaland.  In 1894 they tried to extend their control to Ndebele  under Chief Lobengula  who resisted  for sometime  and afterwards he fled and died in the wilderness leaving his kingdom under British colonial  rule in 1894.

The  British  government   then  instituted   their  administrative   and  exploitative   economic policies.    Settlers   increased   in  number,   that   necessitated    more   land   grabbing   (land alienation)  followed  by forced  labour  and  overtaxation.   With  all these,  in confidence  of their  traditional   gods  the Shona-Ndebele   had  to rebel  hence  the  famous  Shona-Ndebele uprising (Chimurenga)  of 1896-97.

1.      Land alienation:


Following  the  occupation  of Mashonaland   and Matabeleland   in  1894 by white  settlers, Africans   were  pushed  to less  productive   reserves   or turned  into  landless   squatters   on European   farms  where  they  had  to pay  rent  in form  of produce  or cash  so  as to avoid expulsion from their own kingdom.

In Mashonaland,   land '}'as grabbed without  permission  from the local chiefs  on the claim that  Lobengula  had  given  the  land  to the  British  South  African  Company   in the Rudd concession  which  was not true. The land policy  therefore  caused  resentment   to both  the Ndebele  and the Shona leading into the outbreak of 1896-97 rebellion.


Colonial  government   introduced  hut  tax which  the  Shona  and Ndebele  were  not  happy with. This tax was oppressive  in nature and the population  was  forced to pay at a threat. Those who had no cash  to pay  the tax> had their  cattle  confiscated.  This hut  tax was  so disturbing in that people were forced to congest in few huts which increased their suffering.

forced  labour:

The Shona and the Ndebele  hated the operation  of the forced  labour  system. Labour  was often  recruited  by  force  with  the  help  of  armed  policemen    Flogging  was  a common practice and Africans were made to work under near slave conditions.

The British interference  with the exisiting African economies:

Before  the coming  of the British  South African  Company  rule, the Ndebele  were  mainly cattle raiders raiding  from the Shona while the Shona had Ivory trade with the Portuguese. The Ndebele raiding system under this colonial rule turned a crime while the Shona control of their trade shifted to the hands of the British. The Shona were forced to buy goods  from South Africa  that were  more  expensive  than those  produced  by  the Portuguese   hence  a cause for 1896-97 uprising.

Loss  of cattle:

Following the 1893-94 British-Ndebele  war, African heads  of cattles were stolen  or killed D) the British  forces  e.g. its estimated  that before  the war Ndebele  had 250,000  heads  of cattle but after the war only 40,000 were remaining.  The rest of cattle had been distributed to  the white soldiers,  some to policemen  and others  driven  to south Africa by whites.  The remainder  would be given  out to African  collaborators  especially  the chiefs.  The colonial government  officers distributed  this cattle out on the grounds  that they formerly  belonged to the ablished Ndebele  Monarchy  and therefore  they had exterminated  it.

Natural disasters:

111a period  between  1894-97 the Ndebele  and  Shona  societies  were  hit by a number  of natural calamities.  In 1895, there was a drought while  in 1896 there was locust attack.  All these reduced on crop harvest.  In 1896 a rinderpest  outbreak  swept herds of cattle. In trying to solve the rinderpest  problem,  cattle  were  slaughtered   under  Company  administration orders  which  increased   the  African  misery.  These  natural   calamities   added  to  famine created a desperate situation that led to the rise of Chimurenga  rebellion.

The role of religion:

The  miseries  of diseases,   famine  and  suffering  made  the  religious   leaders  to  be  quite important  to the Shona-Ndebele  people.  According  to their priests  and spirit mediums  the remedy  to the African  problems  laid in fighting  a religious  war against  the whites  whom they blamed  for such misfortunes.  They argued that, if whites  could be driven out, locusts, diseases  and all misfortunes   would  be taken  away  and  rain  would  come.  Their  leaders promised victory and those who could refuse to fight would be punished.

In Mashonaland   there  was  a male  priest  called  Kagubi   while  the  Woman  was  named Nehanda.   They  both  played   a  significant   role  injnobilising      the  masses   against   the Europeans.  In Matembeland   there  was  the Mwari  cult  or MEmo  cult priests.  These  had

been very powerful during the time of Lozi kingdom but after its collapse,  it was allowed to operate in Ndebele Shrines especially  in Matapo hills.

It is imperative to note that the organisational  support of Mwari cult or Mlimo spirit in both Shona  and Ndebele  provided  confidence  among  the fighters.  For example,  Mkwati  their leading priest once remarked"

"Now  go to these  white  people and drive them out of our father's  land and I

will take away the cattle diseases, locusts and give you rain".

Thus  such  a  promise   to  end  misfortune   gave  courage  to  the  fighters   to believe   that European   weapons  would  be harmless  to them.  Sometimes  Mkwati  could  threaten  and issue more serious wannings  that:

"Mlimo  will kill all who have made peace  with whites,  we are going to fight again ... "

8.      Loss of political independence:

The white  occupation  of Matabeleland  was  followed  by deliberate  attempts  to transform the whole  structure of Ndebele society.  The dismantling  of the Ndebele  kingdom involved the breaking  down of the regimental  system  and destroymg  the authority  of the Ndebele traditional  chiefs. Ndebele kingdom was transformed  and divided up into districts ruled by white   men  but  not  Indunas.   Africans   began   to  be  oppressed,   Ndebele   chiefs   were mistreated  and even lost respect hence the Shona-Ndebele uprising.

9.    In Matabeleland,  natives were upset by the use of the Shona police who had been slaves of the Ndebele.  The white recruitment  of the Shona into police was welcome  as a chance for the Shena  to revenge on Ndebele their traditional  enemies. More to this, the company rule took  up  the  responsibility   of punishing   the  African  people  in a brutal  way  involving flogging which was bitterly hated by the masses.

10.    Failure of the Jameson Raid 1895:

In 1895, Jameson raid led the protectorate  police to raid President Paul Kruger of the Boers in Transvaal.  The Ndebele  took this advantage  as many white policemen had gone to raid. Ndebele  attacked white settlement,  raided farms, looted their cattle and cut off the communication    lines.  The  news  that  Jameson  raid  had  failed  encouraged   them.  They realised  that even the Whitemen  could  be defeated.  The Ndebele  began  the war and the Shona followed,

11.    Hatred of Christianity:

The  Shona  were  deeply  religious  and  strongly  attached  to their  traditional  religion.  But Christianity  introduced by missionaries  had had a tremendous  impact on the Shona society. The spread of Christianity  disrupted the Shona way of life and undermined  their traditional institutions.  This is why their traditional  religious  leaders played a leading role in the war. Because  of the respect people had  in their traditional  religion;  they turned their traditional religious leaders into their military leaders to fight the British imperialism.



The Matebele rebellion  which first broke out in March  1-896had not been planned at all. No

precautionary  measures had been instituted  by rebels  against whites for example.  This was because the Ndebele regimental  system had been disbanded  and when the war broke out the Ndebele army was raised in series.

In addition,  they were poorly  armed and not well organised.  Their initial success therefore was because of absence  of a strong company police that they had distributed  in other parts of  country  and  leaving  only  40  at the  headquarters,   as  they  never  expected   any  war. Following the disbanding  of the regimental system.

But after proving  the abortion  of the Jameson's  raid of 30th December  1895, the Ndebele and  the  Shona  were  encouraged   to revolt  as  they  thought   that  the  company  was  not

powerful.  The British defeat by the Boers  gave the Ndebele hopes to defeat them also.

The trouhle    began in 20TH March.  1896 when the Ndebele  murdered two Shona policemen  in

their area working on behalf of the British. Three days later, the whole of Mat abele land was

in a rebellion busy massacring European  families, destruction  of property on farms in mines and stores.

Within  two weeks  about  143 Europeans  had been  killed.  Only those  living in Bulawayo, Gwero  and Baligwe  survived  because  they formed defensive  enclosures  made of Wagons around their towns.


On the side of Shonaland,  the action Vs the British began on 15th  June  1896, it also began

by killing Europeans  on scattered  settlements.  In the first week, about 120 Europeans  bad been killed.

This followed the sending  of British reserve troops that had been stationed  in Cape Town. Fearing  the war  after  some  serious  exchanges  they  also entered  the bush and began  the guerilla warfare tactic.

As hopes of success  faded away, the remaining Shona rebels handed over their weapons to the British. Mkwati  seems  to have been killed by the Shona  themselves  because  of false protection. Both Kakubi and Nehanda were captured and executed in 1898.


The period  1896-97 witnessed  a climax of a rebellion against the foreign rule in Shona and

Ndebele  Societies.  The old regimental  system had been replaced  by military  organisation since  1894.

After the defeat of the Ndebele  and the Shona chiefs  in 1894, they turned their loyalty to religion  as a symbol  of unity  and  leadership.  Therefore  Umlugulu  and Nyamanda  were main religious leaders of the revolt.

Nyamanda  was Lobengula's   eldest son and during the struggle  he presented the wishes of the  young  generation  while  Urnungulu  was  the  chief  priest  of  the Ndebele  nation  and supported by old genefation.  They both worked hand in hand in spearheading  the cause of the revolt  The trusted gods of the Ndebele were called the Mlimo or Mwari cult.

Among   the  Shona  the  leading   priests   were  Mkwati   at  Thobazikamarubo     hills   and Siginyamatshe  in Matopohills.  They  were both responsible  for spiritual  unity among the fighters;  their main spirit mediums  were Kakubi and Nehanda  who provided  courage  and support for fighters.

When  the war began,  most tribes joined  Ndebele  and Shona.  The bond of unity  that had brought  people together was to fight against a common enemy.  Germany  sent well armed soldiers  with machine  guns  and howitzers  to rescue  the European  volunteers  who were raised from the Cape and Transvaal.  Some hundreds of African troops came from societies that had collaborated  e.g. Kbama of the Lozi Kingdom.

With such a force the Ndebele  were defeated  easily. One of their  forces went to Umgusa River while  the main body retreated  into the Matopohills  from where  they began series of guerilla attacks. In December  1896, the Ndebele agreed to sign peace treaty with the Cecil Rhodes.


1.    After the negotiations  between Cecil Rhodes and the Ndebele  Indunas  in the Matopo hills, the people of Matabeleland  were promised  a relaxed life e.g. an adquate land, amnesty for their leaders and payment  of the Induna  services.  The British promised  to respect African people and their chiefs. By the end of 1898, peace had been restored in Matabeland.

2.        The British  government  introduced  new procedures  to check on ill-treatment  of the Shona Ndebele  people.  All  the  former  brutal  systems  of Administration   were  withdrawn.   For example  the  1903 increase  in hut  tax from  10 to 2 pounds  a year was  abandoned.  The

colonial secretary set the tax at 1 pound a year with' even a delay in collection .

3.    The rebellion resulted  into loss of lives and property  of the Shona and Ndebele.  Trade and agriculture  were also disrupted.  The rebellion  was very costly  to suppress  on British  side. This contributed to the deteorration  of the British South Africa Company  financial position.

4.    Mistrust  of African  Traditional  Religion:  After-the  rebellion  had been suppressed,   many Shona and Ndebele withdrew their trust from the traditional  religious beliefs. They turned to the Christian missionaries  and adopted Christianity plus Western Education.

5.    The rebellion gave light to the African that there  is a need to face reality in any war. It was through this rebellion  that the Shena- Ndebele  realised  the importance  of first assessing  the strength of the enemy (Europeans)  before facing them on a front line.

6.    The Ndebele  were  promised  their  original Iand  which  they  really got. and  some  of their leaders were employed  in the  the paid servants of the State. Most of their leaders were not victimised  as was.the case-with the Shona leaders. The Shona surrendered without any conditions  and lost political authority.

7.    Furthermore,   a number  of  reserve  camps  were  set  aside  for  the  Shona  and  the  Shona squatters were to move into these reserves.  The young Shona who had been recruited  into the company police were dissolved  and a local government  police under whitemen  was set up. In 1898, Mashonaland  was opened up for more white  settlers.  This made them to lose hope of regaining their independence.

8.      In return,  the  Ndebele  warriors  were  to be disarmed  and  an  weapons  given  to Rhodes.

Therefore.  the Ndebele  lost their military strength  and succumbed  (agreed) to SUbjugation. More to that the Matabele  who instigated  the rebellion  were to be tried in courts.  Thus in Negotiations  to end Ndebele  rebellion  some of their grievances  were attended to unlike the Shona.

9.    In  the  History  of  central  Africa,  Shona-Ndebele   staged  a significant   impact  to  British colonisers    e.g.  at  the  onset   of  the  revolt   the  company   was  caught   unaware   and  in Matabeleland  143 Europeans  were murdered while  in the Mashonaland  119 were killed in the first week.

10.    Reversing  this state of affairs  involved heavy re-inforcements   that were too expensive  for the company government.  Eventually  the company  was forced  into bankruptcy  and it was because. of this  that the British  stepped  in 1900 to establish   direct British  administration. The  Shona-Ndebele   rebellion   therefore   led  to  the  failure  of  the  British  South  African Company in Africa.

The British South African Comapany  discredited  itself in the eye of the British government in  its  failure  to  maintain   law  and  order  in Matabeleland,    Mashonaland   and  Transvaal republic.

11 .    After  the  silencing   of  the  rebellion,   Shona  and  Ndebele  'people  became  vulnerable   to European exploitation  e.g. the payment of hut tax, land grabbing  and forced labour became part and parcel of their life.