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A son’s tribute to a loving Mother

VUSI MAVIMBELA

THIS special woman we have come to honour and to bid a befitting farewell was born on the 16th of June in 1933. Her parents christened her as Thokozile Martha Mdlalose. It was a great addition to the Mdlalose people. Whilst Thokozile’s arrival was surely a pleasant and special celebration to her parents, Matomu and Kellinah, the year 1933 was not a good year for the people of South Africa and indeed the world in general.

Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, and thus the German Third Reich was born, marking the dramatic rise of Nazi fascism into power. We all know what Hitler and fascism proceeded to do to world history. In South Africa, it was the year when the National Party of J. B. M. Hertzog won the general elections and cemented its all-white coalition with the South African Party of Jan Smuts.

We know that these two events, one happening in Germany and the other in South Africa, were not mutually exclusive. They were joined in the hip like Siamese tweens because the National Party went on to adopt many of the ideological cannons of Nazi fascism that characterised the worst cornerstones of the Apartheid regime.  

Therefore, Thokozile was born in a year whose events were going to have devastating impact in the course of humanity. She was born into an era of very grave human injustice.

Today, on the 28th of May 2022, almost eighty-nine years later, we are gathered here to recognise that a heroic lifetime has passed for the Mdlalose people, a great family of warriors has left its bold and indelible footprints on the sands of history. This beautiful generation has departed, leaving us behind to ponder the formidable lessons of fortitude, to drink from its fountain of honour and dedication.

It is a family tree that carries a lot of great history in the struggle against white settler invasion of this country. In each and every beautiful generation, a towering matriarch shall be born if only to shine the bright light on the enduring legacy of its warriors, it’s heroes and its heroines.

Today, in this hallowed chapel, the last chief matron of the Mdlalose family lies in quiet and serenity, but never subdued. Here in front of us, is the very last personage in this generation and this family of abakwaMdlalose, amaNyanda, oKhwenta. This woman of the proud Mdlalose clan and the glorious AbaQulusi tribe, shall forever stand tall in the celebrated annals of her departing generation.

Thokozile, we are here to praise you and celebrate your irrepressible and unmitigated life. Whilst some of us, especially your close family, might mourn your passing, but we refuse to be disarmed and paralysed by the magnitude of this loss. In the past week, in my own solitude, I have cried and convulsed in uncontrollable fits, with hot and yet icy tears burning my face and sketching painful scars deep into my soul. That measure of loss and pain has also been repeating itself among your other children with equal intensity.

That sense of pain and loss has taken nothing away from your children’s declaration that today is also the celebration of a great life, the boundless life of our beloved Sis’Thoks, as we, your loving children fondly call you. We are here to say,

“Wena wephahla elinhloke-nhle!

Wena kanhlangothi zibomvu amanxeba!

Wena webhaca elithanda impi ngoba ladla uDayi kaShova!

Wena owaphephetha ulwandle maqede kwavela usawoti omahadla.

Wena kaMdlovu! Wena kaDliwa!

Nyanda umkhulu nje, pho kungani ungakhothanyelwa?

               Siphungulo say’Ongoye!

Bhudukuziwisa!

Phangakufa!

Mgabashe!”      

When we talk of Thokozile, and ponder the honourable legacy she has left behind for us, it is difficult not to ask of her a few probing questions, even as she sleeps motionless in her casket. These are the questions we regrettably should have asked her in her more joyous days.

Thokozile, what ancestor spirits and what heritage gave you the sense of your great pride in yourself and your people? What bloodline flushed through your veins like restless rivers and gave you the sense of urgent purpose in your life?  What did the wars of settler colonialism, wars of colonial resistance and wars of conquest that were fought and settled by spilling the ancestral blood of your people do to your sense of patriotism?

What sense of consciousness have you derived from these vast grasslands of Vryheid’s surroundings, these varied rocky mountains and these undulating hill tops, these dongas and dry ravines that define the expansive abaQulusi territories?  Does the crisp breeze blowing down the Mpofini Mountain, the breeze that follow the choppy waters of the White and Black Umfolozi, has anything to do with the free and capricious spirit of the Mdlalose maidens that, with great abandon, splash cold waters on their beautiful bodies whilst perched on the shiny rocks at the river bank?

Thokozile, Nyanda Wephahla, there is great honour in your family name. AbakwaMdlalose, as a family name, originated during the reign of King Shaka. A boy that belonged to the Zulu family of Jama kaNdaba, happened to impregnate a blood relative, the daughter of Mpushana.

 When the matter was reported to King Shaka for his guidance, he exclaimed, “Mpushana, yini le eyenziwa izingane na? Badabula uhlanga na? Ingathi sadabuka mlibeni munye na? (Mpushana, what is this the children have done? Are they breaking the reed that binds us together? Are we not born of the same family stalk?”) To the family’s surprise, however, Shaka concluded by saying, “Wo! Akusenani, bekudlala izingane nje.” (Nothing much can be done now, the children were only playing).

UMkabayi kaJama, a Zulu regent and one of the prominent advisors in King Shaka’s kraal, is credited with the founding of the abaQulusi tribe. When the king sent her to ebaQulusini, she went about setting up and consolidating this powerful tribe under the king of the Zulu nation. She subsequently became the first head of the abaQulusi military kraal.

The Mdlalose people grew rapidly into a fully-fledged clan with many izindlu (traditional houses) under it. The traditional house of abakwaMdlalose flourished under the broad chieftaincy of the abaQulusi clan. AbaQulusi were later to play a great role in the Zulu wars that followed.   

The first prominent personality in the formation and promotion of the Mdlalose clan was uDikane who gave birth to uNhlaka, uGada, uNjomela, uGomba, and the daughter uZililose . It was during the leadership of Nhlaka over the Mdlalose clan that the Mdlalose’s began to play a prominent role in the history of the Zulus and the wars in which Zulu regiments were to get involved. Nhlaka’s bravery and heroism earned him izibongo (praise songs) of,

“Umkhoto othengwa ngembuzi kwaButhelezi,

Umbambo zinamafa

Umagutshwa angayikufa

               Ubhuquk’uwisa wakohlahlose

               Umanxeba anganxuluma

               Igaqa libomvu nasekuphathweni

               Unonjela kulala nhlangothi lubomvu

Isiguqa esadla esinye, sadla udayi kaSkhova”.

Among Nhlaka’s prominent sons were uSekhethwayo, uNtuzwa, uThondolozi, uMahuluhulu, Mahubulwana, uSiyaphi, uBhenge, uXanyana no Mabubale. UNtuzwa Mdlalose, one of Nhlaka’s sons, became one of King Cetshwayo’s eyes and ears (inhloli) in the historic battle of Isandlwane. The other of Nhlaka’s sons, uSekhethwayo Mdlalose, became a prominent induna to both King Mpande and King Cetshwayo.

When the British invaded Cetshwayo’s kingdom in 1879, otherwise known as the Battle of Isandlwana, Sekhethwayo fought in that war as a leader of ibutho (regiment) called uThulwane. He fought with great bravery and unreserved self-sacrifice. Even after the British had captured Cetshwayo, Sekhethwayo continued fighting from the refuge of the Ngome Forest. The only time he stopped fighting is when Cetshwayo himself sent a word instructing him to stop fighting.

He was the member of Cetshwayo’s ibandla (inner council) at the time as well as being inkosi of Mdlalose clan. Together with him in the Ngome Forest was another Mdlalose, uMahubulwana Mdlalose, one of Nhlaka’s sons. At the time, Mahubulwana was the induna of abaQulusi. It was this bravery of Sekhethwayo that earned him izibongo zempi,

               “Umuthi owamila enkomeni

               Usandla ‘makhongwana

               Uncede wawo Mthece

               UGubhazi emhlophe weNengisa

               UGubhazi weminga nemisesane

               Isiphiqa siphila abakoBheje

               Ububula ndaba namhla engenandaba”

After the defeat of Cetshwayo at the Battle of Ulundi, in the true British calculated design of divide and rule, the Mdlaloses were allocated a so-called independent status in the Nqutu area. That was despite the fact that the bulk of the Mdlaloses where spread all over Vryheid, eHlobane, the whole territory stretching from Mzinyathi to Utrecht, all the way to the confluence of uMfolozi and Mvunyane rivers.

This British design, however, did not succeed essentially because Sekhethwayo and Mdlalose people remained loyal to King Cetshwayo. Sekhethwayo went on to become one of the great advocates for Cetshwayo’s release from captivity. There was also a bond that had been cemented by virtue of the fact that Cetshwayo’s principal wife was Nompaka Mdlalose, the daughter of Sekhethwayo Mdlalose himself.

It is therefore important to understand this rich Mdlalose clan history and tradition if we are to appreciate where Thokozile derived her culture, her folklore, her courage, her relentlessness, and her resolve never to forsake the course she set for herself and that of her people.

That Mdlalose clan history and tradition, as well as the history and tradition of the abaQulusi tribe, to which Thokozile belonged, are deeply intertwined with the most gruesome and bloody wars of Zulu resistance against invasions that were launched by both Afrikaner and British settlers. Most of those wars were fought in and around this very town of Vryheid where Thokozile and most of us here were born and grew up.

The forests, the grassy valleys, the rivers, the dongas, the rocky mountains and the undulating hillocks that characterise and define Vryheid and the broader lands of abaQulusi, are all soaked in untold amount of blood that was spilt in the wars among the Zulus, the Afrikaners and the British.

To add salt to the collective injury that had been suffered by the Zulus, some of those wars were fought between the colonial invading armies of the Afrikaners and the British for the control of the land of Malandela, izwe likaJama kaNdaba, izwe likaSenzangakhona, izwe likaShaka kaSenzangakhona, the land of Cetshwayo kaMpande.  

An example of the colonial invaders fighting amongst themselves for the control of the land of abaQulusi is what happened at the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Boer War (or what is today recognised as the South African War), in October 1899. Both at Lancaster Hill and at Scheepersnek there were Anglo-Boer battles. Both these places are a mere 10 km from the town of Vryheid.

At the culmination of that Second Anglo-Boer War, there was also a clash between abaQulusi warriors and the Afrikaner settlers just here at Mthashana (Holkrans), on the outskirts of Vryheid. The chief of abaQulusi, Skhobobo Sibiya, led his warriors to attack the Afrikaner settlement at the foot of  Mthashana. That battle was crowned by the victory for abaQulusi over the Afrikaners.

On 28 March 1879, during the Battle of Isandlwana, abaQulusi also defeated a British column (called Border Horse) led by Colonel Evelyn Wood at the Battle of Hlobane. The column was broken up in the course of the clashes and got disorganised, some of the horses of the British column had been lost.

The Border Horse column had been trapped behind the enemy lines by abaQulusi manoeuvres. They had no way out, they could not retreat to Nkambule and were consequently annihilated. At that battle, AbaQulusi were commanded by Chief Msebe kaMadaka. We should not forget that at the time uMahubulwane Mdlalose was one of the key indunas of abaQulusi.

Another fierce and bloody war that was fought in the larger terrain of abaQulusi is the Battle of Blood River. Both the Battle of Ulundi where the British defeated the Zulus, and the Battle of Blood River (impi yaseNcome) where the Zulu army was defeated by the Afrikaner settlers, are sketched very deeply in the consciousness, not only of abaQulusi and the Zulu people in general, but also in the national consciousness of the South African nation as a whole, both on the side of those who invaded the territory we today call South Africa, and us the African people whose territory was invaded.

Those two major battles have writ large the historical injustice that was visited upon the African people in our country.

If we do not succeed to deliver the African majority from deprived landlessness, corrosive poverty, endemic corruption, wanton destruction of infrastructure, the scourge of national and international crime, general lawlessness that has engulfed every aspect of our country, then that sense of historical injustice shall continue to resonate among African people, and it shall remain a serious indictment against whoever governs this country for many generations to come.

UMatomu Mdlalose, the man who gave birth to our mother uThokozile, comes from the same proud bloodline of uDikane, uNhlaka, uSekhethwayo, Mahubulwana no Mahuluhulu. uMatomu also gave birth to Esther Mdlalose noBafana Elijah Mdlalose, both of whom took leave of us well ahead of our mother.

Matomu was born five years before the Battle of Isandlwana. He was drawn into a regiment called Felaphakathi. It took its name from one of the regiments that had fought in the Battle of Blood River. His regiment was fashioned as a younger version of Khandempevu, the regiment that had formed the chest of the horns in the Battle of Isandlwana.

Although uMatomu had adopted Christianity and was deeply devoted to his religion, he maintained the strong culture and tradition that the Mdlaloses and abaQulusi had bequeathed him. In 1891, the Native Law had outlawed Africans from carrying an assortment of traditional weapons like abontshumentshu if there was no permission from the Administrator of Native Law.

UMatomu refused to surrender his own assortment of traditional weapons to the authorities. He chose to bury them under a rock in his own backyard in KwaBhanya. Those weapons remained preserved under that rock until Matomu went to his grave. That was the character that Matomu passed on to Thokozile; the respect for your heritage and the resolve never to surrender to the challenges that Apartheid forced on us.

Thokozile was an educator and an educationist par excellence. She did not just educate the children that came out of her womb. She took money out of her pocket to pay for education of relatives. She fought for education for the African child in general. She broke down barriers of government red tape in order to access education for many more African children. I had better leave that aspect of her life to her former teacher colleagues to narrate.

Despite her limited financial resources, Thokozile adopted children of some of her siblings as her own, altruistically natured and put them through the best educational institutions.

Thokozile, Musa Mdlalose, your sister’s son, is here with us today. Musa, Thokozile took you to the University of Turfloop. You were there when Abraham Tiro gave that firebrand speech. You were politically moved forever. You later moved to The University of Wentworth to pursue your medical studies but you were already politically aflame. It was only the matter of time before you challenged the Apartheid establishment without fear.

When I came to visit you in Durban during your political trial, your face had been bashed and was all over covered in scars sustained through torture by the Special Branch police. Your act of bravery and your political trial where you were accused number one was all over the newspapers at the time. Under those circumstances of repression you decided to leave the country in order to pursue the struggle from exile. When you left, Thokozile was devastated, She had wanted you to succeed in your studies, uthole iziqu, get your degrees something that Thokozile valued greatly.  She was also devastated because she was left behind paying a huge financial debt to the university.

When I also left the country a few years later, Thokozile’s devastation was multiplied and her health gave in to debilitating stress and anxiety. Not only was the Apartheid Special Branch police harassing her and those around her, asking where I was, for nine years, from 1976 to 1984, she did not know whether I was dead or alive.

To add to her harassment, some of her own teacher colleagues sent a petition to higher education authorities asking why she was being promoted when it was known that her children are terrorists that had joined amaphekulazikhuni nabashokobezi in exile.

The increased harassment worsened her faltering health. One day she collapsed with epilepsy, something she had never suffered before. She was found lying helplessly prostate on the ground.  After that she spent a lot of time consulting doctors at King Edward VIII Hospital and assisted by my sister Thandi who happens to be a medical practitioner. When I came back in the country after 1990, Thokozile was still prepared and ready to help me through university. That is the kind of tempered still Thokozile’s resolve was made of.

Thokozile, there are no words to thank you for the thought, your insistence and the courage of smuggling my daughter, Kalushi, from exile, and then spend a lot of dangerous time hiding her from the Special Branch police. I always shuddered at the thought what would have happened to you, to Kalushi and Thandi, your co-conspirator, had the conspiracy been discovered by the Special Branch. Thandi, particularly played a big and highly risky role, risky both to herself and to Kalushi, by smuggling Kalushi through two border posts under the noses of the police and immigration officials.

Thandi, Mfaniseni (Mbhe) and Simphiwe, my two younger dear sisters and younger dear brother, Thokozile broke her back and took you through education. I can only thank you profusely for the discipline and a sense of maturity and responsibility you displayed in the company of Thokozile when some of us were in exile.

We all owe you a great gratitude that, even now, you Thandi and Mbhe, sacrificed interests that you could have pursued elsewhere in the country, by deciding to come back home and look after Sis’Thoks in the last few years. Thokozile gasped for her last breath in your loving arms. Take a bow! Simphiwe, you have always been there for Thokozile even at short notice and you matured early in your life and became the pillar of strength for our dear mother.

Hamba Kahle magutshwa laph’engefekhona!

Dikane!

Madlula!

  • This is Ambassador Vusi Mavimbela’s eulogy in honour of his mother Thokozile Martha Masondo (nee Mdlalose) at a funeral held at the Uniting Reformed Church in Vryheid, KwaZulu-Natal.

 

By The African Mirror

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