The attempts by Makhado to revive the Venda Kingdom, 1864-1895
Nemudzivhadi, Mphaya Henry
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The period between 1836 and 1864 constituted a prelude to Makhado's reign. It was characterised by a war of succession between Ramabulana and Ramavhoya which coincided with the arrival of the Voortrekkers under the leadership of Louis Tregardt and Andries Hendrik Potgieter respectively in 1836 and 1848. In this period Ramabulana regained his kingship and thereby secured the dominance of his family in respect of ruling the Venda people. The Tlokwa and the Boers played an important role in this process. The Boers had come to stay. Evidence of this new trend was the fact that they established in 1848 the town of Zoutpansbergdorp or "Oudedorp" which later became known as Schoemansdal. Ramabulana had many sons of whom Davhana, Rasikhuthuma, Nthabalala and Makhado were the most important. Schoemansdal developed as a hunting and trading town. The number of the local Boer population increased. Many of them penetrated the whole territory which the Venda considered as their own. Apart from the village the Whites established and developed farms. Ramabulana felt unsafe in the vicinity of the newcomers. He consequently left his royal residence, Tshirululuni, and ultimately settled at Bambalani where he died in 1864. His death, as was customary in Venda society, was followed by the struggle for succession among his four sons. The eldest son, Davhana, did not doubt his eligibility to succeed, but he lacked a power base. It was alleged that he had been instrumental in causing the death of his father. The youngest son, Makhado, in addition to being his father's favourite, had many people behind him, especially the circumcised people. He had personally undergone that rite. Makhadzi Nyakhuhu and Khotsimunene Madzhie only had eyes for him. With this support Makhado was able to outwit his elder brothers. He ascended the throne and drove Davhana away from Vuvha. The latter fled for sanctuary to the Goanese trader and farmer, Joao Albasini at Luonde. Albasini at the time was the paramount chief of the local Tsonga population. He had a substantial military capacity. The new Thovhele, Makhado, moved his royal residence to Luatame. Once he established himself there, he despatched an army to attack Davhana at Luonde. Supported by Albasini and his Tsonga warriors, Davhana repulsed the attack. This support which Albasini gave to Davhana, created a feeling of enmity between Makhado and Albasini as well as the Boer community. Makhado was under the impression that they, the Whites along with Albasini, recognised Davhana as Thovhele - the supreme ruler of the Venda people. From the outset Makhado, as ruler, had the objective of reviving the Venda kingdom. Backed by his uncle, Madzhie, he reorganised his territory, initiated social, political and military reforms. He introduced age regiments and military battalions. These were the crucial means which would enable him to achieve his objectives. To begin with, he undertook a fact finding tour to Tshakhuma, Lwamondo, Mbilwi, Mukumbani and Dzimauli in order to ferret out any opposition to his status as Thovhele. Meanwhile the Boers increased their activities. They demanded labourers and tribute in the form of taxes from the Venda. The Venda who joined the hunting parties eventually armed themselves with the firearms of their masters. When clashes cropped up on farms, the Boers demanded that their firearms be returned. Makhado and Madzhie responded by demanding the extradition of Davhana. The Whites' protection of Davhana, problems between Monene and Albasini, land ownership and the general conditions on farms, led to the outbreak of hostilities. As a result of the collapse of peaceful negotiations, Commandant General Paul Kruger was instructed to lead a republican army into the Soutpansberg. The army failed to achieve its objective. They consequently withdrew to Schoemansdal and the town was evacuated on 15 July 1867. The Venda came down and reduced the settlement to ashes. After the evacuation the Boers, who were eager to return, sent a group volunteers under the command of Stefanus Schoeman to restore republican authority. Also this attempt was unsuccessful. Then followed a visit by President M.W. Pretorius and Commandant General Paul Kruger. They tried to negotiate a peace settlement. Albasini stepped in, and with the blessing of the government, invited the Ngoni and Swazi to "discipline" Makhado. Makhado repulsed the attack and emerged from the conflict stronger than ever. Paul Kruger then visited the Soutpansberg in order to assure the participants in peace negotiations that should they agree to sign the contract with the government, they would be protected against attacks by Mabunyu - the Swazi. Unfortunately the real rulers were not involved. While Makhado and the Boers were still at least verbally in conflict, German and Swiss Missionaries appeared respectively in 1872 and 1875. They were permitted to establish mission stations. Later on they became involved in the continuing conflict as mediators. In 1877 Sir Theophilus Shepstone annexed the Transvaal. He held talks with the chiefs in order to negotiate treaties with them and secure the payment of taxes. After the British left in 1881, the Boers again came in. By this time Makhado had failed twice in his attempt to obtain a bullet-proof medicine from Vhukalanga. Events in Tsianda and Lwamondo attracted his attention to settle the civil strife. He extended his territory by annexing Tshivhase's lands. When he heard that Tshivhase had an interest in Dzimauli, he intervened, pushed the latter out and installed his candidate, Tshikosi. He flexed his muscles and attacked Mbwenda, Lambani, Tshimbupfe, Nngwekhulu, Tshivhulana, Moletsi and Matlala. This he did in order to keep the Boers out. In Tshabwa, he attacked Begwa and Nthabalala. The Boers intervened and Makhado retreated. Thereafter the Boers asserted their pressure by demanding taxes through the local field cornets and commissioners. Makhado once more resisted. The newly instituted Location Commission visited him in 1887 and 1895 in order to demarcate his location. This was of no avail. Meanwhile the government's attention was diverted from Makhado by other pressing problems. Makhado became obsessed with his achievements. His moral standards degenerated and he felt free to satisfy his longing for pleasures by leaving the royal residence. His enemies trapped and poisoned him. He died in September 1895. In this way the man who the people believed was great, succumbed. Had he lived perhaps he would have devised some means of marking time until the Boers lost the Transvaal after the Anglo-Boer War.
- ETD@PUK