Ubumbano LwamaQwabe

kaQwabe, uNgoye, eMthandeni


The amaQwabe chiefdom was threatened by external forces, but perhaps more serious were internal problems, originating mainly in disputes regarding chiefly

succession, which were further aggravated by the colonial government’s intervention in the succession dispute. The colonial government closely watched the chiefdom because

of its large population, which like other chiefdoms was scattered across various magistracies, as described below, and its political allegiance to and blood ties with the

Zulu royal chiefdom. In 1906 the amaQwabe were against the payment of the poll tax. By the early 20th century, iNkosi Meseni was the head of the amaQwabe chieftaincy in kwaMaphumulo, Lower Thukela, Indwedwe and Inanda divisions.61 The amaQwabe chiefdom was “one of the most ancient and famous tribes in Natal and

Zululand”. Qwabe was son of Malandela, who “flourished probably at the beginning of the sixteenth century”. Although Malandela indicated his wish that Qwabe should be his successor as chief, a dispute arose between Qwabe and his younger brother Zulu, who moved to a new umuzi near Babanango. Eventually Zulu became the more prominent chief, and from his lineage came Shaka, effectively the founder of the Zulu royal house.The dispute between Zulu and Qwabe filtered down the generations, and the Qwabe and Zulu chiefdoms were traditionally hostile. It is noteworthy that the events of 1906 had the

effect of uniting them. “The area between Stanger and the Mapumulo magistracy” was mainly the amaQwabe territory. INkosi Meseni’s chiefdom was one of the largest chiefdoms in the Colony but it experienced a “highly complicated succession dispute” after the death of his father Musi (1890’s). The division of the chiefdom took place in 1897. His chiefdom was then divided into two sections; he ruled over one place (“although he contended he was the rightful heir”65) and the other one was placed under a white local magistrate Mr F. P. Shuter of Lower Thukela.66 Shuter was appointed as an acting regent for the “minor heir of the chiefdom which accounted for much of the tension and bitterness in the area”. The relationship between Meseni and the magistrate was a bitter one long before the poll tax. For the amaQwabe, the issue of participation in impi yamakhanda was greatly influenced by this hostility: in fact, the Natal government’s intervention in the succession dispute of amaQwabe chiefdom pre-determined their position during impi yamakhanda. This was not a unique case, as it will be later demonstrated. One of the incidents of their bitterness took place in 1905 when the amaQwabe under Meseni attacked iNkosi Swayimane’s chiefdom “whom the Qwabe accused of stealing their cattle”. Shuter, the magistrate, ordered the arrest of amaQwabe attackers, and Meseni was extremely bitter towards the colonial authorities and the magistrate in

particular on this account. Meseni had a jurisdiction over 2,231 huts that spread over Maphumulo (940), Inanda (238), Lower Thukela (979) and Ndwedwe (74).69 Inkosi

Meseni’s principal umuzi was eMthandeni (the place of love), which was situated at the junction of the uMvoti and iNsuze Rivers. INkosi Meseni’s son was Mtshingwa and one of his izinduna was Macabacaba

who was also implicated in impi yamakhanda.72 In January his people refused to pay the poll tax and as a result he also clashed with colonial forces, conforming with the pattern

of events involving Ndlovu and Ngobizembe.73 The uMvoti Mounted Rifles under Colonel Leuchars was dispatched to kwaMaphumulo division when the incidents of Meseni’s dissatisfaction were reported. The Maphumulo division was the first to display discontentment over the payment of the poll tax in 1906.74 Like Ndlovu in February Meseni was also arrested and detained for a number of weeks without trial on Leuchars’instructions. These steps had the blessings of the Minister of Native Affairs (Winter). In the middle of March Leuchars’ column was demobilized in the region of

Maphumulo – Lower Thukela, and only a few of the uMvoti Mounted Rifles were retained. Owing to the continued rumours of unrest in that area the Natal Mounted Rifles

and Durban Light Infantry were sent there.The number of troops was increased at kwaMaphumulo in May and June and “Meseni, fearful that they were about to attack

him, called upon an impi to protect himself”.McKenzie, Woolls-Sampson, Leuchars and Mackay were all dispatched to the uMvoti Valley where Meseni’s homestead was to be closed down on him in the first

week of July. A clash took place during which more than 400 amaQwabe were massacred. Meseni fled to Zululand, he and Ndlovu were arrested in iNkosi Hashi’s

ward and Macabacaba was captured on 26 July in Ndwedwe. Meseni was also tried by a court martial at Maphumulo and convicted of High Treason78 and he was given the death

sentence that was “commuted by the Governor to terms of life imprisonment with hard labour”. The Natal colonial government refused to treat him and the other ‘ringleaders’

as political prisoners, rather than as ‘ordinary convicts’. This was very much against Lord Elgin’s wishes. Meseni and other leaders were expatriated to St Helena in June 1907. The amaQwabe chiefdom like those of Ndlovu and Ngobizembe became part of the Ngubane chiefdom under the ‘loyal’ Sibindi.81 Lord Gladstone released iNkosi Meseni in 1910 together with the other ‘ringleaders’.