Swazi, Sotho, and Ndebele States

South Africa Table of Contents

Indeed, as a result of the mfecane , a series of states formed throughout southern Africa as people banded together to secure access to foodstuffs and to protect themselves from Zulu marauders. Sobhuza, leader of the Ngwane people to the north of the Zulu, built a defensive state that eventually took the name of his son and heir Mswati to form the basis of the modern Swazi nation, Swaziland. Sobhuza secured the boundaries of his state through a combination of diplomacy and force. He negotiated marriage alliances with Ndwandwe and later Zulu chiefs and cemented similar arrangements with his own chiefs. He paid tribute to the Zulu kings when he thought it necessary, but he also built a powerful army with which the Swazi were able to repel Dingane's incursions in the 1830s.

Moshoeshoe, another contemporary (b. 1786) of Shaka, forged a strong Sotho kingdom on the southern Highveld in the 1820s and 1830s. This kingdom became the foundation for the modern state of Lesotho. Moshoeshoe, seeking in the 1820s to protect his people from the worst ravages of the difaqane , fortified a large mesa, Thaba Bosiu, that proved impregnable to attack for decades thereafter. With this natural fortress as his base, he built a large kingdom, welcomed in particular refugees from famine and wars elsewhere, and provided them with food and shelter. These refugees, once incorporated into the state, were considered Sotho like their hosts; thus, as with the Zulu, ever larger numbers were integrated into a group with a consolidated ethnic identity, a practice that furthered the process of nation building. Moshoeshoe also sought to strengthen his kingdom militarily, especially by acquiring guns and horses from the Cape. A superb diplomat, he sought to maintain cordial relations with all his neighbors, even paying tribute on occasion to Shaka and seeking always to avoid war. Believing that they could act as emissaries on his behalf to the intruding European powers while also teaching his children to read and write, he welcomed French Protestant missionaries. By the mid-1830s, Moshoeshoe's kingdom comprised about 30,000 people and was the largest state on the southern Highveld.

A fourth major African state formed in South Africa during the 1820s and 1830s was the Ndebele state ruled by Mzilikazi. Mzilikazi had been a subject chief of Shaka, but in 1821 he had sought to demonstrate his independence by refusing to send tribute cattle to the king. Fleeing from a punitive force sent by Shaka, Mzilikazi and a few hundred followers crossed the Drakensberg Mountains and established a series of armed settlements on the Highveld. Raiding for cattle and grain and forcibly incorporating Sotho-Tswana people into his forces, Mzilikazi built a powerful kingdom in the 1830s near present-day Johannesburg and Pretoria.

Although the mfecane in many ways promoted the political development of southern Africa, it also caused great suffering. Thousands died because of famine and warfare, and thousands more were uprooted from their homes and were forced to travel great distances, many to become refugee laborers in the Cape who sought work at any wage. Perhaps the most significant result in terms of the future was that large areas of South Africa were temporarily depopulated, making it seem to Europeans that there were unclaimed lands in the interior into which they could expand.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress