Lobengula birth, as also his death, is unrecorded, although it is probable that he was born in the mid 1830s, the son of Mzilikazi by a Swazi princess, and would have travelled north as an infant on the great migration of his people.
As Baxter records:
The choice of Lobengula as heir to Mzilikazi, although obvious in some respects, was not an easy transition. Mzilikazi had named no successor, and in keeping with convention, and his nature, he had tried to kill any obvious rivals. In this way had died four of his brothers, at least one son, and very nearly Lobengula himself. To add to this the question of nKulumane’s survival and exile was revived by Mbigo, the Induna of the Zwangendaba regiment.
On eventually being given that bad news that he had been named the heir elect Lobengula took to his horse and sought refuge at the ailing Inyati Mission, itself scarcely free of internal strife and discord. When uMncumbata put it to him that it was necessary that he set the tone of leadership by assuming certain royal duties Lobengula palled. He pleaded that so long as the merest thread of hope remained that nKulumane was alive it was impossible for him to accept trust for the legacy of his father. It was not until a contingent of indunas visited him, bearing a gift of cattle did Lobengula reluctantly consent to be king. In January 1870 the matter was ceremonially formalised, and on 17 March the new king was publicly introduced to the nation and charged with responsibility for his father’s country, his cattle and his people.
A missionary, T M Thomas, described the ceremony of installation:
The soldiers numbered about seven thousand and constituted a semi-circle about twenty deep, ...Lobengula had a long staff in his right hand, an ample cape of black ostrich feathers and a bandeau of yellow otter skins... To a looker-on from the adjoining hillock, where I stood at the time, the view was a fine one. The motley, moving mass of people presented themselves with black and white, red and white, and other coloured shields in their left hands... swelling their songs of praise to the illustrious ancestors and former kings, like the chanting of a great cathedral.
Not all acknowledged Lobengula's claim however, and the new King was soon to have to show his strength. Mbigo, the Induna of the Zwangendaba regiment, one of Mzilikazi's most respected generals, was open in his defiance of Lobengula, who had no option but to crush this opposition. Mbigo was defeated, and his kraal destroyed. Kulumane never appeared to claim his right to the throne, and appears to have died in exile.
Lobengula of the Matabele; by Ralph Peacock, based on a sketch by E. A. Maund
Trick or Treaty?
Rhodes had already tried and failed to get a mining concession from Lobengula, king of the Ndebele, when in 1888 he sent John Moffat (son of the missionary Robert Moffat), who was trusted by Lobengula, to persuade the latter to sign a treaty of friendship with Britain, and to look favourably on Rhodes' proposals.
No record exists of exactly how Moffat approached the matter of a treaty with the British, but it can be safely assumed that he used the fear latent in the amaNdebele that a renewed invasion of Matabeleland by the Boer would be imminent if Lobengula did not place himself under the protection of Her Majesty. This had lately been a decision made by Lobengula’s neighbour, Chief Khama of Bechuanaland, who now enjoyed the safety of knowing that he could rely on the forces of Her Majesty to protect him against the advances of either the Boers, the Germans or the amaPutukezi (Portuguese).
By February 1888 Moffat had convinced Lobengula to commit his mark to a document outlining the principals agreed between these two men. The document itself, copied below, was an innocuous document, offering little and requiring little, other than that the amaNdebele make no firm commitments to any other nation or authority without the prior agreement of Her Majesty. Bearing in mind that this was not an official document, and that Moffat did not speak for the Crown, any specific offer of protection was fraudulent. All that it truly meant was that Cecil Rhodes had managed to second the assistance of three Crown servants acting outside of their authority, and had secured for his future interests and option on Matabeleland.
The text of the Moffat's 'treaty of friendship':
The Chief Lobengula, ruler of the tribe known as Amandebele, together with the Mashona and Makalaka tributaries of the same, hereby agrees to the following articles and conditions...
That peace and amity will continue forever between Her Britannic Majesty, her subjects and the Amandebele people; and the contracting Chief, Lobengula, engages to use his utmost endeavours to prevent any rupture of the same, to cause the strict observance of this treaty, and so to carry out the treaty of friendship which was entered into by his late father, the Chief Umsiligaas, with the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, in the year of our Lord 1836.
It is hereby further agreed by Lobengula, Chief in and over the Amandebele country, with the dependencies as aforesaid, on behalf of himself and people, that he will refrain from entering into any correspondence or treat with any foreign state or power to sell, alienate or cede or permit or countenance any sale, alienation or cession of the whole or any part of the said Amandebele country under his chieftainship, or upon any other subject without the previous knowledge and sanction of Her Majesties High Commissioner for South Africa.
In faith of which I, Lobengula, on my part have hereto set my hands at Gubulawayo, Amandabeleland, this eleventh day of February, and of Her Majesties reign the 51st.
Lobengula: His Mark.
Witnesses: W. Graham & GB van Wyk.
Before me, J.S. Moffat.
Moffat had successfully used fears of Boer invaision to invite British protection. However Rhodes needed more than this if he was to achieve his ambitions of a Royal Charter. He needed a concession of mineral rights, and so before the year was out he sent another agent, Charles Daniel Rudd, to persuade Lobengula to sign away his country.
Rudd assured Lobengula that no more than ten white men would mine in Matabeleland, but this was left out of the document Lobengula signed. As part of this agreement, and at the insistence of the British, neither the Boer or Portuguese were permitted to settle or gain concessions in the region. The 25-year Rudd Concession as the agreement became known, was signed by Lobengula on October 3, 1889 and by Queen Victoria on October 20, 1889.
He was soon to discover, however, that he had been tricked into signing a document that contained few of the assurances promised to him during the negotiations and although he dispatched envoys to England to intercede with Queen Victoria, by then it was too late. The treaty would lead to the annexation of his country.
Baxter, P (20??) Rhodesia, Last Outpost of the British Empire (1890-1980), Galago
Strage, Mark (1973?) Cape to Cairo, Jonathan Cape
Wills W A and Colinbridge (1971) The Downfall of Lobengula, Books of Rhodesia.
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