Kamuzu Academy Classics Department

Greek and Latin Composition

De casu regis Mzilikazi (English)

Taken from Findlay, A H 1986. Root and Branch, An Anthology of Southern African Literature. London: Macmillan Publishers. 53-55


The news reached Gubuza that night, and he at once led his retreating forces back to rejoin the king. It was a depressed army, however, that returned. The impi had witnessed a succession of disasters with nothing to cheer them; they had been fighting and marching for days and nights with very little sleep and hardly any food. They all hoped that the king had by a miracle freed the country from the implacable devils, whose thunder they had been subjected to since the invasion commenced.


By daybreak the evicted king met his disappointed commander. To them the golden dawn broke drear and hopeless for, before Gubuza had time to render a full report of his generalship and the losses of preceding days, their scouts ran in to say that a yet more imposing body of the allied forces was marching upon them and at once the impis scrambled to meet their fire.


“Oh Gubuza, my brother,” was the lament of the despondent king, his melancholy voice sounding like a dead weight upon the disconsolate spirit of his general. “Would that I were with you on the day of the big fight, to share in all the terrors of your brave men! What sorcery are we faced with, my brother? Your experience has indeed been greater than the most thrilling battles of another age. Truly your indunas were more daring than the bravest Zulu warrior who ever cast a spear. What would you advise me under this heavy cloud of death? Speak, for you alone bear the amulet that could shield us from destruction. Even now do I hear the thunder of their murderous weapons.”


Looking down towards his warriors and the one-sided struggle raging before him on the battleground, he saw what had now become the usual folly of the Matabele being re-enacted. From the top of the hill, Mzilikazi saw his men marching spear in hand and shoulder to shoulder, forming an easy target for the insatiable fire of the musketeers. He saw his brave men mown down and the allies retreating to reload; he saw the confused ranks of his army reforming and returning to the charge, only to be mown down again and the decimated ranks scattering in wild confusion, leaving the battlefield bestrewn with the dead bodies of their fallen comrades.


‘Look, just look,’ said the broken-hearted Gubuza to his despondent king, pointing a solemn finger at the frightful scene of the massacre. It is thunder, lightning! No warriors can resist it. Our attempts to get at the enemy have been superhuman, but try as we did, we never got any of them within range of the spears. My advice to the Great One is, take the bodyguard, return at once to the people and move them to a place of safety, while I remain to delay the enemy’s advance as long as I can.’


King Mzilikazi adopted his general’s advice, left the field of battle and returned to the encampment of the nation. The crestfallen king was almost delirious with disappointment. He had for years been cherishing a beautiful dream. He had dreamt of establishing a kingdom stretching east, west, north and south. He had made enormous preparations for overpowering and annexing the adjacent nations one by one and for augmenting the Matabele contingents from the fighting men of the conquered peoples and, having inured them with Matabele pluck, he had hoped to rule over the most terror-inspiring nation of death-defiers that ever faced an enemy. Then with his power thus magnified he had looked forward to a march upon Zululand, the crown of his ambition, recapturing the ancient dynasty with superior fighting forces and establishing an empire from the northern extremity of Bechuanaland to the sea coast of Monomotapa, embracing the Tonga, Swazi and Zululand kingdoms and extending with the sea shore as its boundary right away to the Pondoland coast. This was his dream of many years, but now he saw the Imperial structure of his super-expansionist dream shattered and blown away like so many autumn leaves at the mercy of a violent hurricane.


He had repeatedly sent out armies, but not a single tribe had been subdued; their most outstanding success had been to make for him fresh enemies every time. Even the weakest of his Bechuana vassals only remained quiescent for a time in order the better to revolt at the first favourable opportunity. The ancient Zulu dynasty was itself quaking under the relentless onslaughts of strange foreign invaders whose existence had never found a place in his calculations. The Zulu king, Dingana, was slain and the great nation wailed without a head.


Marching back to his waiting people, the king heard the lament of his guard, mourning the loss of Prince Langa, ‘the bravest son of the great one.’ This was an unparalleled blow. ‘My son, my son, my gallant son and glory of my eyes,’ he groaned. ‘He fell beside his brave uncles Dingiswayo, Matambo, Sitonga, Tabata…and Dambuza, the warrior orator is also among the slain.’


Mzilikazi quavered under the lash of these reminders. He recalled with a pang the patriotic speeches of Dambuza and the others, now killed, and the poignancy of the new situation in which Gubuza, who in the heyday of their rejoicings was accused of being a coward, now remained his sole pillar of strength. ‘Where is that bombastic spirit now,’ he asked himself. ‘The wind, which at one time seemed to be under my sway and that of my invincibles, continues to blow as if nothing has happened; the leaves of the great Modubu and Mopani trees are waving in the breeze as if gladdened by the flight and melody of birds of every plume. The mountain mist like a giant pall still connects the peaceful earth with a dull sky and the clouds roll heedlessly by in the same manner as they did during the height of my glory; everything retains its natural serenity, the fatal comet has not blighted their existence. Only one giant is uprooted and overthrown. Low lies the city of Inzwinyani. Mayebab’o! (Alas!) Shall not my greatness survive? Could not the storm have been averted? Yes, then why was it not avoided? Forsooth, the cataclysm was not unexpected.’


He wished that he could meet the authors of his extreme misfortune and smash their skulls for them. He felt that he could not entrust their execution to a deputy, but would lop off their heads with his own hands. ‘Who was responsible for this calamity?’ he asked himself once again.


Looking about him he regarded the sympathetic faces of his bodyguard, then remembered with a tremor that none but Mzilikazi was the culprit, and muttered: ‘I alone am to blame; notwithstanding that my magicians warned me of the looming terrors, I heeded them not. Had I only listened and moved the nation to the north, I could have transplanted my kingdom there with all my impis still intact but – mayebab’o – now I have lost all!’

Chikondi Medson