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Chimurenga

The term ‘Chimurenga’ has various historical associations. It was originally used to describe the first rising against British rule of the 1890s; the Rhodesian Bush War of the 1970s is known as the Second Chimurenga. J.V. Woolford, writing as the Bush War was ongoing, puts the term in context.

After their comparatively easy defeat in 1893 it was not surprising the Matabele should, as Selous put it, ‘try the chances of rebellion’. In 1893 the white victory had been fast and dramatic; and the Matabele appeared thoroughly cowed. However, Dr Jameson had gone, at the end of 1895, on his most celebrated raid, this time into the Transvaal, and had ended in a Boer gaol with the bulk of Rhodesia’s fighting men.

Jameson’s raid was made all the more irresponsible by the fact that he knew better than anyone that the Matabele had not been properly disarmed after 1893; for he had been told by Lord Ripon, the Liberal Colonial Secretary, not to press the Matabele too hard to surrender their fire-arms. The Matabele, and later the Mashona in the Chimurenga war, were to exact a more terrible revenge for Jameson’s folly than did the Boers.

The Matabele were waiting for a chance such as this; they may not have lost more than 2000 men in 1893, and the best part of 20,000 warriors had not faced the bullets of the whites. Now their land was being given away in large tracts to whites by the haphazard British South Africa Co. administration; the Company had mishandled the cattle question by taking as loot not only Lobengula’s animals but any others they fancied; the Company had given the Matabele two useless reserves at Gwaai and Shangani to live in, and had failed to make its peace with the spirits of the land.

Now, in the face of these grievances, the Company had disarmed the whites by sending their fighting men off with Jameson, the Administrator, to Kruger’s prisons. On top of this, a terrible outbreak of rinderpest caused them to shoot any cattle that had been left with the Matabele. No wonder the gods, and the Matabele, were not happy! The threads of opportunity and grievance were brought together early in 1896 by the old chief priest of the Matabele, Lobengula’s friend Umlugulu.

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