By Lulu Brenda Harris
In September 2013, Prince Bulelani Khumalo sat at the Berea Park in Johannesburg,
South Africa, among over 150 Ndebele people who are Zimbabwean migrants and now
living in the country regarded as Africa’s most stable economy.
The event Bulelani Khumalo attended was the commemoration of the king who founded
the Ndebele nation, Mzilikazi Khumalo, who died on 9 September 1868.
At his death King Mzilikazi, who migrated from today South Africa’s Kwazulu region to
build a nation in what has become Southern Zimbabwe, was succeeded by his son,
Prince Lobengula Khumalo, as king of the Ndebele nation.
This was after a brief civil war between Prince Lobengula and one of the most powerful
Ndebele chiefs, Mbiko Masuku, who was married to King Mzilikazi’s daughter and
Lobengula’s sister, Zinkabi Khumalo.
For Prince Bulelani Khumalo, the paradox of commemorating his ancestor’s death in a
‘foreign’ country has always been the least of his worries.
Born in the Eastern Cape, Bulelani Khumalo is a South African citizen and has served in
His biggest worry is that the Ndebele people of Zimbabwe have traced him to be the
heir apparent to the throne left vacant in 1893 when the white colonialists defeated the
Ndebele driving their king, Lobengula Khumalo, to exile at an unknown destination.
This set him up in a game of thrones against an older relative in Zimbabwe, Prince
In September 2013, when he sat at Berea Park, Prince Bulelani could hardly imagine
the ides of March five years later when the government of Zimbabwe would block his
coronation as King of the Ndebele in Zimbabwe.
However, he had a distinct idea that Prince Zwidekalanga Khumalo would not let him
assume the throne as simply as old men share a beer mug back in the village.
In March 2013, when it seemed the Ndebele monarchy, destroyed by the colonising
British South Africa Company (BSAC) in 1893, had finally triumphed over history, the
government of Zimbabwe, through ministers and the courts, declared Prince Bulelani’s
coronation as unconstitutional.
The government and courts were assisted by Prince Zwidekalanga Khumalo’s own
court application to declare the coronation of Prince Bulelani illegal because he
(Zwidekalanga) argues he is the right king.
Another civil war
The Khumalo royal family has never agreed on the heir apparent to replace King
Lobengula as the next Ndebele king. This is despite pressure from ordinary people to
have a king.
It would seem the battle to the throne is now between three people: Self-anointed
Raphael Khumalo who calls himself King Mzilikazi II, and Prince Zwidekalanga
Khumalo, who had organised his own coronation at the beginning of the year crowning
himself King Lobengula Nyamande II.
However, Bulelani Khumalo seems to have the support of most ordinary Ndebele
people including their chiefs, who are the ones expected to conduct the coronation of
the next king.
Days before Prince Bulelani’s coronation, Prince Zwidekalanga Khumalo filed a high
court application to stop the coronation.
Prince Zwidekalanga who was represented by Ncube Attorneys, cited the chairperson
of the Crown Council, Chief Mathema as the first respondent, the Royal Crown Trust as
second respondents and Prince Bulelani Khumalo as the third respondent.
In his affidavit, Prince Zwidekalanga argued that he is the rightful heir to the throne and
is still awaiting his coronation (by the chiefs and the crown council).
“The restoration process, through a meeting called for that purpose, required the
identification of a person that qualified for succession into the Ndebele royalty,” he said
in part of his affidavit. “King Lobengula
s various houses were represented in this
discussion. These were Nyamande, Mhlambi, Njube and Sidojiwe. King Lobengulas
Sintinga house was not represented.
“In all these meetings Bulelani and myself were in attendance and participated. It is
critical to note that Bulelani Khumalo in fact disassociated himself from the claims to the
Ndebele kingship`s throne”.
However the Crown Council seemed not worried by Prince Zwidekalanga’s claims as
they had already settled on the heir to the throne.
In September 2018, traditional leaders in Matabeleland and the royal Khumalo family
crowned Bulelani, who was 33 years old then – new King of the Ndebele nation in a
He went through a series of rites held across seven days before he was installed on
September 28, 2018 according to Chief Felix Ndiweni.
Government batting for team colonialism
It was, however, Minister of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing,
July Moyo’s directive that it was unconstitutional to have a king in Zimbabwe.
The Crown Council had to approach the High Court that also agreed with the minister,
blocking the coronation of Prince Bulelani Khumalo as king on the grounds that there
was no law in the country allowing for the setting up of any monarchy.
As this ruling was reached at a court, there were running battles between the riot police
and Ndebele people demanding their cultural rights to have their king.
Bulelani’s coronation was originally set to be held on March 3, 2018 but the Local
Government Minister said it would be illegal.
Bulawayo High Court judge Martin Makonese said he could not set aside Moyo’s order
because there was “no relevant constitutional provisions for the coronation of a King in
Makonese was yet to release his written judgment which would allow Chief Mathema of
the Royal Crown Trust, who had challenged Moyo’s ban, to appeal the ruling.
But the patience of the royal family and traditional leaders – who insist their actions are
constitutional – finally ran out.
King Bulelani was introduced to a carefully selected group at Mhlahlandlela, 22km
outside Bulawayo on Old Gwanda Road during that year’s annual commemorations of
Ndebele nation founder, King Mzilikazi.
However, questions have always been posed on why the Ndebele would want a king in
In response to the directive by the minister that the proposed coronation was illegal, one
contributor on Facebook, (a social networking platform) asked why the Ndebele people
cannot have their king in South Africa.
“I don’t understand these Ndebele people,” he said. “They’ve their home in South Africa.
Why is it they don’t want to claim their own territory in their own ancestors’ land? They
should crown their King in their own ancestors’ land not in other people’s land.”
A South African king in Zimbabwe?
That the man who would be Ndebele king in 2018 is South African is another of the
many tragedies around the relationship of the Ndebele people to the West and their
history with colonialism.
After the defeat of the Ndebele people in December 1893, the colonial government of
Cecil John Rhodes deported King Lobengula’s sons from Matabeleland to the Eastern
Cape so that the Ndebele people would not rally behind their leadership and mount
challenge to the colonial system.
Bulelani Khumalo is a son of the descendants of King Lobengula Khumalo who were
exiled to the Eastern Cape.
Among the reasons proffered by King Bulelani’s detractors have been claims that he is
a South African citizen.
However, Bulelani has found supporters who argue that it is true he is a South African
citizen, but he qualifies to be Ndebele king through descent.
“Lest we forget, Mzilikazi was South African, as was Lobengula, Qalingana, Nkulumane
and a whole host of Mzilikazi’s sons,” one of Bulelani’s supporters, George Mtshede has
“The question to be asked is, does, Bulelani Khumalo qualify by descent? The crown
prince is the son of Prince Humphrey Mcedisi Lobengula, son of Prince Patrick Fana
Boyd Lobengula, son of Prince Rhodes Mpango Lobengula, son of Prince Njube
Lobengula Khumalo, son of King Lobengula Khumalo, son of King Mzilikazi
kaMatshobana. He clearly does qualify.”
One of Bulelani’s ancestors, Rhodes Khumalo and Albert Khumalo together with
Ntshele Hlabangana, founded the famous Bulawayo soccer team, Highlanders Football
Club. They were also banished to exile in South Africa by the authorities who knew that
they had a claim to the throne.
According to oral history, Mpoliyana, King Lobengula’s mother, is buried in the same
plot as Prince Njube Khumalo in Grahamstown, Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Would the man who would be king be the king someday?
History may vindicate Bulelani Khumalo. However, it remains to be seen if King Bulelani
Lobengula Khumalo, will be able to turn back the hands of history and bring tremors to
the politics of Zimbabwe that the current government could be afraid of.
It is the latent calls for the self-determination of Matabeleland that the government of
Zimbabwe wants to suppress by all means necessary.
If the restoration of the Ndebele monarchy would create a new rallying point for
Matabeleland politics, revive it from a cultural sense yet cause nightmares for the
Zimbabwean government – who agitated might trample on the region, some think it
would be better if the Ndebele monarchy remained consigned, trapped in colonial
history and imperial violence of the late 1890s. MA