HomeOpinion & AnalysisMugabe exhumation and the legend of Chief Zvimba

Mugabe exhumation and the legend of Chief Zvimba

By Tererai R. Mafukidze

I will not enter the debate on where the late Robert Mugabe’s body must be buried or reburied.

Hearing the debate raging in the media reminded me of the legendary Chief Matthew or Matewu Zvimba, who gave sleepless nights to colonial and church authorities in the early days of colonial Southern Rhodesia.

He was the son of Chief Chigaga (or Chikaka) Zvimba.

Matewu Zvimba and his siblings went to look for work in Salisbury.

In 1900, they ended up attending school.

He and his siblings were educated at the Methodist Epworth school just outside Harare before proceeding to the Methodist Waddilove school near Marondera, in the early 1900s.

Matewu became a teacher in 1905 and together with his brother Meshek, also became Methodist evangelists in Zvimba.

By 1907, Matewu had been dismissed from his position as a teacher.

Matewu could just not work under white supervision!

In 1915, he rebelled against the Methodist church and started his own church.

Matewu started the first African Christian Church called The Church of the White Bird (or Shiri Chena Church).

The Methodist Church had established its church at his father’s kraal.

Matewu chased away the Methodist teacher-evangelists at his father’s kraal and took over the Methodist church building and made it his own.

Matewu’s church combined Christian religious beliefs and traditional Shona religion.

The white bird, according to T.O. Ranger, stood for the dove of the Holy Spirit and the traditional messenger of Mwari, which had carried news of the First Chimurenga revolt to Murehwa in 1896.

Matewu was not only a political maverick, he was also a religious one.

His church had its own saints and martyrs.

The saints and martyrs were the women and men killed in the Zvimba area during Chimurenga in 1896-97.

He refused to recognise the official Methodist martyr, the Xhosa immigrant catechist, James Anta, who had been killed in Zvimba for collaborating with whites.

This is how Anta came to lose his life. Anta was from the Eastern Cape, South Africa.

He was the son of a chief.

He was converted by Wesleyan missionaries that were working in the area.

He took the baptism name James. In October 1891, Cecil John Rhodes gave three farms to Reverend Owen Watkins so that he could build Methodist missions in Mashonaland.

The Transvaal division of the church sent up eight African evangelists to help with the evangelisation.

One the evangelists was Modumedi Moleli, after whom Moleli Mission is named. Moleli was also killed in the area.

The evangelists arrived in May 1892 and were initially stationed at Epworth near Harare.

Anta was sent out to the present-day Chegutu-Zvimba area to set up a mission.

He then established a permanent set-up in Chief Zvimba’s kraal.

In 1894, the BSA Company sent out its tax enforcers.

They wanted to collect cattle from one Mazvimbakupa.

Mazvimbakupa was not amused. He killed one of them named Trooper Cooper.

A police patrol under sub-inspector Hopper was sent from Harare to investigate the murder of the tax collecting cop.

The patrol arrived in Zvimba on a Sunday, during an Anta-led church service. The most brutal murder was then committed at Zvimba.

A missionary named George Eva gathered some 600 villagers and seven chiefs to present his Christian message.

While busy at it, the British South Africa Police arrived.

They flogged the people in attendance accusing them of deserting their forced labour spots.

The chiefs were taken in as hostages.

Gusha, Zvimba, Murumbeza, Chikamba, Chifamba, Chizwanzwariba and Umbani were the seven chiefs present.

The police then shot and killed  four of the seven chiefs in cold blood while “resisting arrest”.

It said one of the victims was Chief Zvimba. (T.O. Ranger says he survived).

This action shattered all trust that the locals had vested in the missionaries and the white settlers.

It was suspected by many of the Zvimba people that Anta had been part of the plot to gather all the chiefs so that they could be shot.

They wanted revenge. But they waited for two years.

When the 1896 uprisings started, it presented an opportunity to avenge the murder of the four chiefs.

Anta was the target of this wrath. It is said that the revenge killing was arranged by Chief Zvimba’s wife’s relatives.

It is said that the conspirators gathered at night at the kraal of the deceased Chief Zvimba’s half-brother named Matare.

Matare means “courts”. What a name for a Zvimba! While Anta was busy preaching at night they came from behind and shot him in the neck.

Anta ran to a nearby hut where another conspirator finished him off.

This happened on June 21, 1896.  James Anta was buried at some rocky outcrop some distance from the mission.

Matewu Zvimba continued to be a thorn in the flesh of colonial authority.

In his fascinating book, The Mourned One, Stanlake Samkange relates how Matewu was so notorious for his rebellious ways that any native commissioner sent to work in Chinhoyi had to be personally briefed by the chief native commissioner on how to be careful when handling Matewu.

He relates an incident about a visit by the native commissioner. Matewu took a chair and went and sat right next to the native commissioner.

“They were all too scared to remove him…Six men like him in this country would change this land completely,” Samkange opines.

During that meeting, the native commissioner named Palmer Walker called him by his first name “Matthew”, he called him “Palmer” back.

The native commissioner is said to have said: “Who do you call Palmer?”

To which Matewu replied: “Well, who do you call Matthew?”

It is recorded that Matewu Zvimba continued to challenge the authority of the native commissioners.

He gave evidence as the spokesman for the Zvimba chiefs to the Land Apportionment Commission in 1925.

In January 1927, the colonial government introduced official grants for teachers.

Matewu submitted his own claim of three, 200 pounds backlog stating that through his work with his church he was owed the money.

Matewu is recorded as having declared himself in 1927 to the chief native commissioner: “I am the government official and demonstrator.”

In return, Matewu was convicted of refusing to pay dipping tax and sentenced to corporal punishment.

It must have been very humiliating for him.

A year later, Matewu told the chief native commissioner: “I am the Lord of Lords and King of Kings, the priest and the prophet, and who is now able to be against me about such obligation and taxing me? Can a servant tax his master?”

His brother Meshek — frustrated by his inordinately deferred ordination — resigned from the Methodist Church in 1930 and set up his own church.

Like his sibling, there was a rebellious spirit in him. He named his church “Hatitongwe” (We are not governed).

The two brothers remained in Chikaka village in Zvimba and terrified every Methodist teacher sent there.

They were folk heroes and feared by everyone.

A story is told by Jennifer I.M. Reid in her book Religion and Global Culture about Matewu.

She was told this by her own father.

She relates that in 1947, King George VI visited Southern Rhodesia.

Matewu, who she describes as “a sharp wit…and generally a pain in the neck for the settler colonial admistration”, approached the chief native commissioner (CNC) and insisted that he be included in the welcome motorcade that would accompany the visiting ruling monarch of the British Empire.

The chief native commissioner retorted that Zvimba’s “old truck, with its torn canvas flapping in the wind and a backfiring engine to match, was to be seen nowhere near the royal motorcade.

Zvimba went out, then came back with a sparkle in his eye.

He pointed out to the  CNC that the visiting king was George VI, just as the incumbent Chief Zvimba was Zvimba VI.

Exhorting the CNC to work out the significance of the conincidence, he trudged out triumphantly.”

Of course, within days Matewu was invited to join the motorcade, which he did driving his old truck with its torn canvas and backfiring engine!

Matewu died in May 1952.

The one-time president of the Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe, Bishop Johannes Ndanga, related in 2013 how Johanne Masowe prophesied Mugabe’s presidency.

This is how Matewu Zvimba was supposedly involved:

“In 1934, Baba Johanne walked from Chitungwiza to Zvimba Communal Lands where he prophesied about President Mugabe becoming the first black leader of Zimbabwe.

“He first approached Chief Matthew Zvimba and told him that he was looking for the Karigamombe family.

“He spent the night at Chief Zvimba’s homestead and during that night, the chief had a vision of white birds that had congregated to pray and in the morning he asked Baba Johanne to preach to them and convert them into Christianity, but he (Baba Johanne) had none of it and told him that he was on a mission to deliver a special message to the Karigamombe family.

“When he arrived at the Karigamombe homestead there was a stump of a tree that was cut down and Baba Johanne asked three times who had cut down the tree.

“The owner of the homestead, Mr Gabriel Karigamombe, came out holding an axe and enquired, who was asking that question at his homestead.

“Baba Johanne told him that the man who had cut the tree would be the first black man to be the president of this country.

The prophecy came to pass as President Mugabe went on to become the first president of Zimbabwe,” he said.

Now Chief Zvimba wants him to be exhumed! I wonder what Matewu — that great maverick — would make of the current imbroglio.

Asazi ke! Wet weeekend, folks!

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