Mthwakazi Forum II: Is the Mthwakazi Question inherently Secessionist?


By Kernan Mzelikahle

There is a huge elephant in the room when it comes to the Mthwakazi question. Many people, by default assume that the Mthwakazi question is a secessionist question.

In fact, any discussion about Mthwakazi is opened in the context of secession and a number of scenarios are run from there.

Such scenarios may include drawing lessons from the Biafra problem in Nigeria, or the war that saw South Sudan seceding from the rest of Sudan, or any other historical scenario.

This is an unfortunate development that has beset the Mthwakazi question, and it would come as a surprise to many having to learn that the Mthwakazi question is not at all a secessionist question.

In order to understand this question, let us begin by exploring its history and quickly discuss the current developments.

The Mthwakazi question begins in December 1893, after the disappearance of King Lobhengula, after the Pupu battle.

White settle government

The people who came back to the King’s kraal after the battle announced that the Pupu battle was won against the White invading army, however, Bulawayo had been occupied already, thus the King could not possibly return.

By 1895, the White Company rule announced that King Lobhengula had died at an unidentified place. This meant that the Mthwakazi people had no political leadership and had to restructure their social organs.

During the uprising of 1896/7 (Impi yehloka elibomvu / Chimurenga I), the Mthwakazi nation attempted to reconstitute its political structure by installing Nyamande (King Lobhengula’s son) as the new King.

Needless to say that this effort was in vain as the natives (both in the East and West of the country) were defeated by the White settler government. At this point, the Mthwakazi question reformed, from being a restoration question to being an amicable-settlement question.

Unfortunately, successive governments since 1898 have largely ignored this question.

Nyamande, beginning the turn of the 20th century (circa 1903), began to petition the Imperial Government seeking a federal state in Southern Rhodesia, where the white settlers would have their representation, and the natives would also have their representation.

The Nyamande Petition

This was rejected because the government in Southern Rhodesia at the time was through Company Rule (BSAC).

At the conference to decide handing over Southern Rhodesia to Imperial Rule in 1919, Nyamande sent a petition letter for a federal state. Once again, the petition was rejected, and it was decided Rhodesia was going to be an Imperial Self Ruling Colony. The formal referendum and progression to self rule occurred in 1921 – 3.

Nyamande died in 1929, his hopes for an amicable federal settlement arrangement, not realised.

During the 1960s, when the spirit of nationalism took hold, several proposals for a Federal State were put forward in the political parties such as UDP and UANC.

However, when ZAPU was formed, the general perception was that the form of government for the envisaged Zimbabwe shall be discussed after the country is liberated.

By 1963, when ZANU splintered from ZAPU, overt opposition to a Federal State was voiced, and a unitary state was espoused in its stead.

Similarly, ZAPU was inclined towards a unitary state. By 1980, the only political party that still maintained the spirit of a Federal State was the United National Federal Party (UNFP), led by Chief Khayisa Ndiweni.

The party had won 9 parliamentary seats in the 1979 elections, however, it failed to win any seats in the ensuing 1980 elections.

The remnants of the UNFP and some disillusioned ZAPU cadres (after 1987) continued to discuss the Mthwakazi question as a Federation question since 1980 to date.

Notwithstanding these ongoing discussions, most of the people who left the country for South Africa, particularly during the Gukurahundi period, began agitating for moving in the secessionist direction citing the genocide and the rigidity of the Zimbabwean government to entertain any views other than ZANUPF’s views.


Secessionism has been rejected by local remnants of the UNFP throughout the period of Zimbabwe’s independence. For this reason, the people or organisations that champion secessionism are largely in the diaspora, while the local people still pursue the federation idea.

This is evident when one lists the political parties in this bracket and their positions. On one side of the fence are two local parties that have clearly rejected secessionism and these are the Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP), and Patriotic Union of Matabeleland (PUMA).

Both MRP and PUMA categorically state that they do not seek to secede from Zimbabwe, and they have participated in Zimbabwean elections.

On the other side of the fence are two political parties, Mthwakazi Liberation Front (MLF), and Matabeleland Liberation Organisation (MLO). Both MLF and MLO are largely diaspora parties, and have categorically stated that they seek to secede from Zimbabwe.

Devolution and Federation

It is, therefore, clear that the Mthwakazi question is not a secessionist question, rather it is a spectrum. On the near end of the spectrum is the idea of Devolution and Federation, while on the extreme end is the idea of secessionism.

Some of the Mthwakazi ideas were incorporated and enshrined into the 2013 constitution, in the form of devolution. The (disbanded) Welshman Ncube MDC-N espoused a lot of the Mthwakazi ideas and was central in spearheading the devolution agenda into the 2013 constitution.

With this in mind, it is therefore clear, that Zimbabwe has lived with Mthwakazi ideals for at least the past seven (7) years. Clearly, today ZANU-PF accepts that devolution improves local governance and participation of local people in governance.

With this point, in essence, ZANU-PF accepts that the Mthwakazi ideals (short of secession) are nation building ideals. In other words, now more than ever should the Mthwakazi ideals be communicated to people such that they learn in earnest, peacefully and constitutionally.

Kernan Mzelikahle is an apolitical analyst, and may be contacted by cellphone on +263775195334, or by email on, twitter handle is @Mzelikahle. This article and others like it may be found on Mthwakazi Forum website:



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