Culture Humanity Future


The Mahlobo people trace their origin from Ntombela who was one of the great ancestors of the Zulu nation.

By Sfiso Themba   Monday,8th April 2013

History of the Mahlobo Traditional Leadership: The Mahlobo people trace their origin from Ntombela who was one of the great ancestors of the Zulu nation. As one of the Zulu nation leader, Ntombela was buried in the Makhosini Royal Graveyard where all the late Zulu Kings are buried.

Ntombela and his people were found in the present day area called oBonjeni. His son, Zwana and grandson Sobadli were buried at oBonjeni. In line with the norms of that time, Nzobo, (also known as Dambuza) son of Sobadli moved with his father’s people and looked for greener pastures where the town of Nongoma is currently located. The area was called Ngwemnyama next to Mona River.

Many history books refer to both Ndlela ka Sompisi and Nzobo as the great warriors; chief indunas of Dingane; Dingane’s army generals; advisors of Dingane; and the key negotiators between the Boers and the Zulu king, Dingane.

On 6 February 1838, Nzobo ordered the killing of Piet Retief and 67 Voortrekkers. These killings marked the beginning of the Blood River Battle (Impi yase Ncome). On 16 December 1838, Nzobo and Ndlela ka Sompisi led 10 000-20 000 Zulu warriors against the Voortrekker however, the Zulu warriors were defeated in this war. After the war, Nzobo was detained and was subsequently convicted of having been the instigator of the massacre of Piet Retief’s men. Later on he was killed.  
King Mpande took over the leadership of the Zulu people in 1840. In 1843 he ordered a purge of dissidents within his kingdom. By this time, Mgamule (son of Nzobo) was the leader of the “Ntombela people”. He continued to pay allegiance to King Mpande and fought alongside the Zulu King. When he died, his son Maphungwana took over the leadership of the “Ntombela people”.  He served the two Zulu kings, that is,  Mpande and  Cetshwayo.

King Mpande began raiding the surrounding areas. This culminated in the invasion of Swaziland in 1852. However, the British pressured him into withdrawing, which he did shortly. Maphungwana was honoured (waxoshiswa) as warrior and given land across the Pongolo River. He was also given herd of cattle called “inyoni kayiphumuli”. This type of honour and position were given to elders who had proven record of wisdom and bravery. The recipients were members of the inner circle of the King’s relatives and personal friends including influential members of the community. (Zungu, 1996) was common and only given to great warriors of that time who fought wars to protect the Zulu Kingdom.  At that time, there was only one inkosi, so those who were honoured could not be referred to as amakhosi (traditional leaders) but they were allowed to lead their own people.   King Mpande died and his son Cetshwayo took over as a ruler in 1872.

The Ntombela people continued to play a pivotal role in the affairs of the Kingdom.   During this time, the Ntombela people had crossed the Pongolo River and settled to what was then known as Ngabule Hill. When they were across the Pongolo River, Maphungwane decided to change the name to Mahlobo. Mahlobo is one of the praisenames for Ntombela people. There, he built his royal palace and named it KwaNdwalaza.

When they left Ngwenyama under the leadership of Maphungwane, the Zondo, Mabaso and Buthelezi clans joined them. Maphungwane always fought on the side of King Cetshwayo. In 1879, war between Zulu people and the English (Anglo-Zulu War) started.   As in the vein of his forefathers, Maphungwane became part of the Zulu war. His regiment was Izinyosi.  This war marked the beginning of the destruction of Zulu independence (as a kingdom). The Zulu Kingdom was now represented by 13 kinglets each with its own subkingdom. Later on, Cetshwayo was reinstated as king over a reserve territory, far smaller than his original kingdom.

He died in 1884 and his son, Dinuzulu took over the throne. Again, support of the Ntombela people to the Zulu affairs was evident.   When an internal succession battle ensued between Dinuzulu and Zibhebhu, Nkanankana, (son of Maphungwane) fought on the side of King Dinuzulu against Zibhebhu.  This was a time when King Dinuzulu recruited Boer mercenaries under Louis Botha and promised them land in return for their assistance. When they defeated Zibhebhu they duly demanded their land. The British annexed Zululand in 1887 and by 1897 Zululand was formally incorporated into Natal and much of it was opened to white settlement. Dinuzulu died in 1913.
The Ntombela people now called abakwaMahlobo, were under the leadership of Nkanankana. Their land became part of the 1913 Land Act annexation. They found themselves being forced to recognize the leadership of the white (Boer) farmers. Their culture and traditional leadership became eroded and all their followers were forced to work for the farmers. The farmers would not dare recognize Nkanankana’s traditional leadership.

The role that was palyed by his forefathers was well known amongst the farmers and still fresh in their minds. Nkanankana continued to stay kwaNdwalaza, his father’s royal palace. His people continued to see him as their traditional leader.  His senior headman was Mgebeni Magubane.  However, the farmers continued to remind Nkanankana that he was now under their leadership and the only position that they could accord him is that of an induna. He refused to be recognized as a headman. Whilst the farmers were saying that to him, his people saw him as their “chief”. During that time the Mahlobo land was now dermacated as Bergplaats HU 82 and Belgrade HU 86.
Nkanankana died in kwaDwalaza in March 1929.

In 1927, an act that governed Bantu traditional leadership was passed. It became known as the Black Administration Act of 1927. For the first time in the history of African leadership, the nature of the system changed and became undemocratic. This Act gave colonial and apartheid governments’ immense powers to appoint traditional leaders and to change their areas of jurisdiction. The Governor General (who was now a supreme chief of all the Native Chiefs) could define boundaries of the area of any traditional authority or traditional settlement. Traditional leaders were often used and manipulated by colonialists. They arbitrarily did not recognize or appoint hereditary traditional leaders who did not act in ways approved by them. At times, they replaced the hereditary traditional leaders who were seen not to be cooperating with apartheid system with government appointed ones. At the end, traditional leaders had no land; even their homesteads were built on a land that belonged to government.

The system of land ownership by traditional leaders was eroded and distorted.  Most traditional leaders, including the King, woke up to a situation where they found themselves landless.  Instead of senior traditional leaders (amakhosi) reporting to a King, they were answerable to a local Magistrate.  These distortions continued and were magnified under apartheid rule through the Bantu Authorities Act. This was the Act that rubber stamped the Divide and Rule policy. Homelands for Blacks were created and chieftainship was no longer strictly a hereditary right. Appointment of all new chiefs had to be ratified by the homeland governments.

These two Acts ensured that those traditional leaders who were fighting or did not recognize the government of that time were never given recognition.
Nkanankana passed on leaving his heir Mfuneni. Since the heir was still a minor, one of Nkanankana’s sons, Nkamfu acted for Mfuneni.  By this time, the Mahlobo land was taken over by Boer farmers. The Mahlobo people were given a small piece of land called European Farm No. 125. This happened around 1933.

In 1935, a survey of Bantu Tribes in South Africa was done by a government Anthropologist, Professor NJ van Warmello. One of the tribes that appear in that survey is the Mahlobo tribe under “Chief “Nkamfu in Piet Retief (p.75).   The same survey showed that his area was in the Piet Retief District consisting (of more or less) of farms Berbice 23 HU; Bergplaats 25HU and Belgrade 27HU on the Swaziland border. Although the Mahlobo people are listed as chiefs in that survey, they were never officially recognized by government of that time as senior traditional leaders.  However, the Mahlobo people knew who their traditional leaders were and continued to recognize them as such.
Mfuneni, born in 1916, took over the leadership around June 1940. From 19 June up until 21 June 1946, Professor AC Myburgh visited the Mahlobo people who were now under the leadership of Mfuneni.

Again on 13 July 1948, Professor AC Myburgh conducted another research amongst the Mahlobo people. His research was again not different from any other research conducted amongst the “chiefs” of that time. His report referred to the leader of abakwa Mahlobo as “minor chiefs”. Although the 1935 survey pointed out that the Mahlobo were a “chieftainship” under [acting] Chief Nkamfu, and later as minor chiefs, the Apartheid government refused to recognize them as anything. It should be noted that recognition meant returning land to bakwa Mahlobo. The farmers were well established and could not allow a situation where “their land” would be given to a chief. Professor Myburgh’s research indicated that Mfuneni was a chief but labeled him a “minor chief”. This suited the government of the time because a minor chief could not own land.  However, in his research report, he would “accidentally” use terms like chieftainship, chief, etc.

By 1969, the then government was clear that the Mahlobo people will not be recognized as “chiefs”.  The Black Administration Act was then used to issue a Government Gazette that amalgamated certain tribes around Piet Retief area into one tribe called Masidla Community Authority under three chiefs. These chiefs were Mavuso; Sibiya; and Dlangamandla. Part of the Mahlobo area (Belgrade 27HU and Bergplaats 25 HU, to the bacon common to farms Belgrade 27 HU and Bergplaats 25 HU and situated on the swaziland border) was placed under Masidla Community Authority. All traditional leaders whose land was placed under Masidla Authority were now subjects of the three traditional leaders.  Mahlobo people became subjects of inkosi Bekayiphi Sibiya.   The farm Belgrade 27 HU was now a government owned SADT farm.

In 1983, the Mahlobo people made another application for recognition. Research by government Ethnologist CW Malan referred to abakwaMahlobo as people who always had been headman and not chiefs. He claimed that this information came from the Mahlobo people. Another application by the Mahlobo people was made. A response dated 25 February 1985; states that the matter was referred to the Cabinet and the resolution were that the Mahlobo application be turned down. No reasons were advanced why the application was refused.  

In 1994, there were huge political changes in the leadership of South Africa. The release of Mandela in February 1990 meant the beginning of freedom for ordinary South Africans and the end of Homeland system for Africans. 

On the eve of the 1994 General Elections, the former homelands and four provinces were reintegrated and divided into 9 provinces. The Mahlobo people were again affected by the political changes, their area now straddled across two provinces of KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga. In fact, some of the royal houses are in the KwaZulu- Natal province and others are in the Mpumalanga province.

2003 saw the enactment of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, Act 41 of 2003. This Act, amongst other things, established a Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims. This Commission is tasked with the restoration of the authentic traditional institutions and leadership in line with the customary law. Act 41 of 2003 -the establishment of the Commission on Traditional Leadership Dispute and Claims gave him an objective platform to state his people’s case. 

Culture of the Mahlobo people

The Mahlobo people are Zulu speaking people. They are of Zulu origin hence their customs and culture is not different from those of other Zulu-speaking people.  Zulu, the founder of the Zulu clan was the son of Ntombela. They have their own unique praise songs. The community observes a system of customary law where there are headmen (not officially recognized) who meet every Wednesday to deal with community issues.  Above the headmen, the Community recognizes a Senior Traditional Leader who is of higher status than the headmen.

The community is led by a defined system of traditional leadership dating back to the early 19th  century where the community was led by one of its leaders, Nzobo. Throughout the years, the community continued to recognize this system of traditional leadership but under difficult conditions where they found themselves without land and their leadership acknowledged, but not recognized by various governments.

Line of succession of the Mahlobo traditional Leadership

Below are the origins of the Mahlobo leadership and the line of succession:

Zulu             Zwana Ntombela
                    Sobadli Ntombela
                    Nzobo  (Dambuza) Ntombela(d. 1838)
                    Mgamule  Ntombela
                    Maphungwane  Mahlobo ( 18…
                    Nkanankana  Mahlobo( circa 1913
                    Nkamfu Mahlobo (acting)
                    Mfuneni  Mahlobo (d.1952)

Customary Law of Succession of the Mahlobo Royalty

Traditional leadership is hereditary and follows patrilineal line. The first wife married becomes the great wife. However, if another woman who happens to come from another traditional leadership is married later, she automatically, in terms of customary law of succession, becomes a great wife.  Lobolo (cattle) for the great wife comes from the nation/royal family. A great wife is the only wife who enters the royal kraal during the wedding ceremony. This custom indirectly informs the public that she will be the great wife.

If there are two women married from other traditional leadership, seniority of their maiden royalty determines their seniority within their marital homes. For example, a woman whose maiden family is at a Kingship level, her status will be that of a great wife as compared to, for example, the one who comes from a Senior Traditional leadership.
Below is the order of qualification in the house system amongst the Mahlobo traditional leadership.

The next house only qualifies if there are no longer male issues in the preceding house:

a)    Great House
b)    Supporting House to the Great House (uyise wabo)
c)    Right Hand House
d)    Supporting House to the Right Hand House
e)    Second Supporting House to the Right Hand House
f)    Third Supporting House to the Right Hand House
g)    If there are no longer houses, the late inkosi’s brother’s house.
A woman, who got married when she already had children by another man other her current husband, cannot become a great wife. Seniority of her maiden family does not apply in this situation.

Women do not qualify to be senior traditional leaders. If there is no heir or other issues in the great house, the issues, (in terms of their birth) from the supporting house to the great house takes over leadership.

Ukungena custom is practised amongst the Mahlobo people. Like most Nguni speaking peoples, it happens for a reason. There are usually one or two reasons why ukungena custom to happen. Amongst commoners as well as traditional leadership, it is meant to take care or to look after the family of the late male relative. It can also happen with the aim of producing an heir where there is none. It should be borne in mind that ukungena does not apply (in the case of traditional leadership succession) if there are still surviving males of the late traditional leader (even if they were born from junior houses). Most traditional communities argue that traditional leadership (ubukhosi) never move from one house to another if there are still issues (males) in the main/great house as well as supporting houses. In the case where there are no males at all, in all the houses, that is when it moves to a brother’s house.

In the case of Mahlobo traditional leadership, the ukungena custom and Ukufaka esiswini (taking a child from another house and placing him the great house) can only be practised if sanctioned by Amabekankosi houses (key decision makers).