The Last Ndebele ‘King’: Queen Lozikeyi

By Natasha Fuyane

I was reflecting on the women that through time, I have admired and aspire to emulate. They generally have had an independent streak, an unmatched industriousness, quick wit and the ability to make you straighten your back when they enter the room. They effortlessly occupy their space and cannot be ignored. They get stuff done.

I was reminded of Queen Lozikeyi through a casual conversation with a friend. Who is that, I thought? One of King Lobengula’s wives, history has it. I never probed her life or story further and it was only when I started researching about my history, Zimbabwean history and Ndebele history that I was drawn to Queen Lozikeyi: a woman who seemed to embody that very same independent, yet savvy streak, amazing insightfulness and unmatched industriousness.

Queen Lozikeyi was King Lobengula’s second senior wife. She married King Lobengula well after his coronation as King. The daughter of Ngokho Dlodlo and uMaTshabalala, she is believed to have been born (a twin) in 1855. Queen Lozikeyi’s story remains little known, and it is not taught in mainstream schools, which is curious considering the key role she played when she stepped into King Lobengula’s shoes following his disappearance.

Like her daughters in recent times I imagine her saying “kungcono ngizenzele” (it’ll be better if I do it myself) and just getting things done. Queen Lozikeyi was described by the colonial settlers as a very “dangerous and intriguing woman”. She was a leader, military strategist, counsel to the King, a trusted senior wife and a prominent Queen of the Ndebele people.

After the “disappearance” of King Lobengula in 1893, Queen Lozikeyi assumed the role of acting head of state. After the 1893 Matebele war (TheBritish South Africa Company fought the Ndebele) the Ndebele kingdom had been greatly weakened and a significant population displaced. Queen Lozikeyi stepped into the King’s role whilst the issue of succession was being considered. She became Queen Regent and oral tradition credits her for keeping King Lobengula’s subjects united.

After the land dispossession of 1893 and the following years, Queen Lozikeyi was resolute in her vision for a reinstated Ndebele kingdom and return of her people’s land. She instructed her twin brother, Muntuwani Dlodlo, to rebuild the Imbizo (King Lobengula’s regiment).

In 1896, along with Muntuwani, Queen Lozikeyi led the resistance against colonial rule and land dispossessions of the Ndebele people. This resistance is referred to as Imfazo or The War of the Red Axe (Impi Yehlok’elibomvu). This resistance was the catalyst to what is commonly referred to as the First Chimurenga war. The astute Queen Lozikeyi had carefully stored some of the ammunition which had not been used by King Lobengula and the the Imbizo regiment were able to use this ammunition against the Cecil Rhodes’ forces.

Her war credentials were memorialised by the predominantly Ndebele Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA) and they referred to her as the Foremother of ZIPRA. As a show of honour and for good fortune, the ZIPRA forces buried two bullets at her grave years after her death.

Queen of Peace

By the end of 1896, Rhodes’ forces and the Ndebele army had reached a stalemate. Queen Lozikeyi led the peace initiative through runners and guided the izindaba (negotiations) in the Matobo mountains. This led to an amnesty and ceasefire, although the Ndebele people had already lost their best land and control.

Legacy

Queen Lozikeyi did not have any biological children. In line with Ndebele culture, when a woman could not conceive, the woman’s family would provide an inhlanzi (surrogate) to birth for her. In Queen Lozikeyi’s case, her inhlanzi was Mamfimfi Dlodlo (her father’s brother’s daughter). Mamfimfi also experienced some difficulty conceiving and only did so after intervention from a traditional doctor called Sidambe. As per customary practice, whenever there was such intervention, the child was named after the traditional doctor — hence Queen Lozikeyi’s daughter (by surrogate) is named Princess Sidambe. Princess Sidambe was recognised as Queen Lozikeyi’s daughter.

Queen Lozikeyi established her courts in a plot of land in Bubi District, which today is referred to as iNkosikazi where she is laid to rest. She remained defiant until her passing away in 1919 after she succumbed to influenza.

Queen Lozikeyi was a firm, strong-willed, principled, and greatly respected woman. The author Yvonne Vera once referred to her as a:

“conspicuous and commanding figure. A big, bold and beautiful woman of ample proportions and clearly the leading spirit among the Ndebele queens. With quick intelligence and ready wit, she was also remarkable among Ndebele women.”

Memorialisation

What we have here is a remarkable woman who readily stepped in at a time of crisis to be the interim leader or ‘King’ of the Ndebele people. Yet her story remains little known. In Zimbabwe, as with most countries, memorialisation has leaned towards being patriarchal, as evidenced by the naming of significant structures, buildings and roads. There remains an opportunity to reimagine what and who is memorialised and just what this could mean for the psyche of young girls looking for themselves or a woman role model in their history.

If you’re interested in knowing more about Queen Lozikeyi, I recommend reading: A Very Dangerous and Intriguing Woman” by Marieke Faber Clarke and Pathisa Nyathi ( biography of Queen Lozikeyi)

The original article can be found on Natasha’s Medium blog at this link. Natasha Fuyane is a writer and policy strategist. Some of her work can be found on link.medium.com/CLgOvGU7eR She can also be reached on twitter @malaikadiva