Pupu Monument: An African perspective

Mashudu Netsianda

THE Second Republic took a bold step to correct a one-sided narrative of the famous Battle of Pupu when it made an undertaking to correctly portray and promote the country’s rich history and cultural heritage.

For many years, the account of the Battle of Pupu deliberately overlooked the African perspective. In telling the story of the Battle of Pupu, the colonialists intentionally snubbed the Ndebele perspective.

Government has, however, reconfigured the Shangani (Pupu) Monument, a place where King Lobengula’s Imbizo Regiment led by General Mtshana Khumalo, killed settler forces’ commander Major Allan Wilson and his fighters on 4 December 1893, to represent the whole story.

Unlike in the past when the settler government portrayed Major Wilson and his forces as the heroes, the monument is now justifying the victors in that particular battle.

Until recently, a tapering stone pillar with names of a 34-soldier unit of the British South African Company (BSAC) that was ambushed and annihilated by more than 3 000 Ndebele warriors, was the only structure erected as a landmark by the Rhodesian government.

The obelisk has 34 names of Maj Wilson’s patrol inscribed on it.

The National Museums and Monuments of Zimbabwe (NMMZ) refurbished the Shangani (Pupu) Monument, which President Mnangagwa is tomorrow expected to commission.

Some of the improvements include the erection of a perimeter fence, the construction of horseshoe-shaped exhibition wall panels at the site, ablution facilities, and the drilling of a borehole.

The display panels show Ndebeles resisting colonial forces manifesting in the battle at Bonko by the Shangani River and at Gadade in Mbembesi. The exhibition also relives the burning of King Lobengula’s Royal capital at Emahlabathini.

When the King got the news of the defeat of the Ndebele army at Bonko and Gadade he ordered the burning down of the royal town as per tradition and fled towards the Shangani River accompanied by a force of about 2 000 to 3 000 men.

The exhibition also shows the pursuit of the King by the pioneers. A force of 34 men, later known as Shangani Patrol, was assembled to pursue and capture the King. Pupu Monument is located on the outskirts of Lupane, the provincial capital of Matabeleland North.

The province played a critical role in the liberation struggle as the cradle of bold anti-colonial resistance in both the First and Second Umvukela/Chimurenga, which led to Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980. The commissioning of the Pupu Monument comes three days before the country commemorates Heroes’ Day and Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) Day on 14 and 15 August respectively.

This year’s Heroes Day commemorations will be held under the theme “Remembering Our Heroes – Nyika Inovakwa Nevene vayo/Ilizwe Lakhiwa Ngabanikazi Balo.”

In 2020, during the country’s 40th Heroes’ Day and Defence Forces Day commemorations, President Mnangagwa posthumously conferred National Hero status on the revered military tactician, Gen Khumalo alongside Queen Lozikeyi, Mgandani Dlodlo and Mbuya Nehanda whose statue was erected in Harare at the intersection of Samora Machel and Julius Nyerere, where it is believed, she occasionally stopped to rest and drink water from a river that flowed through the site. Gen Khumalo led King Lobengula’s regiment that defeated the Allan Wilson Patrol during the 4 December 1893 battle, blocking the attempted capture of the King by the colonialists.

The Anglo-Ndebele War of 1893 triggered by Cecil John Rhodes specifically targeted King Lobengula who was seen as a stumbling block in the total colonialism of western Zimbabwe.

Having noted that the whites had superior firepower, especially in the Maxim machine gun, King Lobengula opted to move away from his capital, Bulawayo for some place in the north as the settlers wanted to capture and humiliate him.

Gen Khumalo, the commander of the elite group of fighters was tasked to protect King Lobengula’s life and dignity as he trekked north. The Wilson patrol that had crossed the Shangani River was wiped out at what has now come to be remembered as Pupu.

Despite their superior weaponry comprising Maxim guns and cannons, Maj Wilson and his forces were killed by King Lobengula’s brave warriors.

The epic battle that was fought on the shores of the Shangani River, symbolises the beginning of a protracted resistance against settler colonial regime.

The settler army reached the southern banks of the Shangani River on the evening of 3 December 1893 only to learn that King Lobengula had crossed the day before and that his entourage had briefly rested under the leadwood tree before proceeding north.

Renowned historian, Mr Pathisa Nyathi said in documenting the Battle of Pupu, the colonialists deliberately overlooked the Ndebele perspective, which Government has now corrected.

“Government has come up with a new monument, which is in line with a perspective from the African victors, precisely the Ndebele warriors. This is a new effort, which in a way is trying to portray the battle in a different light which is the Ndebele perspective,” he said.

“The site continued giving praise to the colonialists who were defeated and killed there. The monument has been there, but only in memory and commemoration of the 34 soldiers of the Allan Wilson Patrol.”

Mr Nyathi said the efforts under the Second Republic were commendable as they have changed the one-sided narrative of the battle.

“What has always been known are the names of the 34 white soldiers who perished during that battle. Sadly, the names of Ndebele warriors, probably running into 100, who also died during that battle are unknown,” he said.

Mr Nyathi said there are two mass graves of the fallen Ndebele heroes at the Shangani (Pupu) Memorial Site, but due to the general neglect of history and culture during the First Republic, their names are not known.

“We need to do research and come up with a list. We have also agreed with relevant authorities that when we get those names, they should also be put in the panel including their regiments and the commanders of those particular regiments,” he said.

Mr Nyathi said information was never documented by the whites in their archives and urged families of the fallen Ndebele warriors to assist in that regard.

“I am hoping that there will be research that seeks to identify the fallen heroes at Pupu, Gadade and Bonko. It is very important that we have that information and with what is happening now under the Second Republic, there is a possibility that it can be done,” he said.

Mr Nyathi said they are also proposing a site museum, which will only focus on Ndebele military traditions.

“If you focus on Ndebele history centred on its culture, you cannot leave out the issue of spirituality. The Ndebele would not go out to war and exclude spiritual intervention,” he said.

“We are talking of spiritual manifestations because there is a strong belief that Dakamela Ncube performed some ritual which resulted in the rain and Shangani River flooding. Remember were it not for the rain and the river, there is no doubt the white settlers were going to capture King Lobengula.” NMMZ executive director Dr Godfrey Mahachi said all is set for the commissioning of the Pupu Monument.

“The Pupu Monument project is complete and we are now doing the final touches in preparation for its commissioning by His Excellency, President Mnangagwa on tomorrow. Through Pupu, we are celebrating our history of resistance against colonialism as we recognise the effort that our ancestors made to liberate the country,” he said.

Dr Mahachi said the Pupu Monument is a reminder of one of the major incidents in the history of Zimbabwe that inspired freedom fighters to take up arms against the Rhodesian government in the Second Chimurenga/Umvukela.

British South African Company (BSAC)

“The defeat and annihilation of the British South African Company (BSAC) army led by Allan Wilson is something that we as Zimbabweans must be proud of because it speaks to resistance to colonialism,” he said.

Matabeleland North Provincial Affairs Minister Richard Moyo said the commissioning of the Pupu Monument is a recognition by the Second Republic of the legacy of the heroic luminaries of the country’s first liberation struggle.

“As Matabeleland North, we are excited and ready to host His Excellency, President Mnangagwa who will be commissioning Pupu Monument. Our province is an important flame that ignited the liberation struggle,” he said.

“The President is walking the talk in terms of honouring our fallen heroes of both the First and Second Chimurenga. We already have a statue erected in Harare in honour of Mbuya Nehanda, and we now have Pupu Monument to honour General Mtshana Khumalo for his role in fighting colonialism.”

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