Mlimo - Matebele Spiritual Leader

The second Matabele war, also known as the Matabele Rebellion or the second Chimurenga broke out on 20 March 1896 in Matabeleland Zimbabwe. The Mlimo (or M'limo, or Umlimo) the Matabele spiritual leader, was credited with fomenting much of the anger that led to this confrontation. He convinced the Matabele and the Shona that the settlers (almost 4,000 strong by then) were responsible for the drought, locust plagues and the cattle disease rinderpest ravaging the country at the time. The Ndebeles had lost a lot of cattle in the War of Dispossession and the few herds they were left with were now under threat from various diseases. To make matters worse, the white man randomly killed cattle to contain the diseases. No one was allowed to eat the meat, further infuriating the Ndebeles.

AFRICAN HISTORY

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10/10/20220 min read

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The second Matabele war, also known as the Matabele Rebellion or the second Chimurenga broke out on 20 March 1896 in Matabeleland Zimbabwe. The Mlimo (or M'limo, or Umlimo) the Matabele spiritual leader, was credited with fomenting much of the anger that led to this confrontation. He convinced the Matabele and the Shona that the settlers (almost 4,000 strong by then) were responsible for the drought, locust plagues and the cattle disease rinderpest ravaging the country at the time. The Ndebeles had lost a lot of cattle in the War of Dispossession and the few herd they were left with were now under threat from various diseases. To make matters worse, the white man randomly killed cattle to contain the diseases. No one was allowed to eat the meat, further infuriating the Ndebeles.

The Mlimo's call to battle was well-timed. Only a few months earlier, the British South Africa Company's Administrator General for Matabeleland, Leander Starr Jameson, had sent most of his troops and armaments to fight the Transvaal Republic in the ill-fated Jameson Raid. This left the country nearly defenseless. According to a report by the British South Africa Company (BSAP), it rained as the war started, further boosting the confidence of the Ndebeles engaged in the war.

The initial plan was to attack Bulawayo but without destroying it as they had plans to have a capital for the new king there (Royal Kraal), then move into the periphery of Bulawayo on farms and ranches. The Mlimo decreed that the settlers should be attacked and driven from the country through the Mangwe Pass on the Western edge of the Matobo Hills, which was to be left open and unguarded for this reason. Once the settlers were purged from Bulawayo, the Ndebele and Shona warriors would head out into the countryside and continue the slaughter until all the settlers were either killed or had fled.

The British immediately sent troops to suppress the Matabele and the Shona, but it cost the lives of many on both sides. Months passed before the British forces were strong enough to break the sieges and defend the major settlements. The turning point in the campaign against the rising came when The Mlimo was assassinated and resistance waned. It was a personal representation by Cecil Rhodes that persuaded the warring leaders to accept peace, although it was not until October 1897 that the Shona people eventually succumbed.