1896: Chief Chingaira Makoni, Rhodesian rebel

On this date in 1897, the British captured, then summarily tried and shot, one of the most persistent native rebels of the Second Matabele War — or (since that’s the colonial British designation), the Chimurenga, or revolutionary struggle of what would become present-day Zimbabwe.

At this point, it was “Rhodesia”, named for imperialist wizard Cecil Rhodes. It was his British South Africa Company, relentlessly pursuing mineral exploitation,* that had pushed the Union Jack into this land.

For natives, of course, that meant dispossession by white settlers, with all the attendant conflicts.

Chief Chingaira of the Makoni district was one of these: “what annoyed him most was the pegging-out of the whole of his territory for farms or gold claims.”

That’s the sort of thing to annoy a man right into outright hostility — resource conflicts, after all, would soon put British and Dutch settlers into their own war, with memorable results for death penalty history.

Not the less affronted, Makoni rose in the Ndebele-Shona chimurenga of 1896-97.** Though the revolt was defeated, its progress ultimately would claim the lives of 372 settlers — one-tenth of Rhodesia’s white settler population.

Chingaira Makoni and a few dozen of his supporters were besieged from the end of August 1896 in a cave, and forced out after several days by dynamite and pledges of safe conduct. Makoni emerged into capture in the dark of night September 3-4, but as described in this public-domain history of Rhodesia, initial plans for some regular trial were hastily discarded upon the escape of some of his fellows.

… [after capture] it was feared that if Makoni should escape … the whole district would be in a blaze, and that the safety of Umtali itself might be endangered. A court-martial was therefore convened to try him, one of the native commissioners being appointed to act as interpreter, and as his defender. In spite of his assertion that he was innocent, he was found guilty of being a rebel, and of having caused the murder of the three traders; he was therefore sentenced to be shot, and the sentence was carried out at once. He was placed with his back to a corn-bin, on the edge of the precipice on which his kraal stood, and died with a courage and dignity that extorted an unwilling admiration from all who were present. One of the best known men in Salisbury, when talking to me about it, said, “I know of nothing grander than Makoni’s death, than the quiet way in which he spoke to his people, and told them to abstain from further resistance; for himself he only begged that he might be buried decently. ‘And now,’ he said, ‘you shall see how a Makoni can die.'”

As with so many entrants in these dolorous pages, the end of the vital signs were not the end of the story. In consequence of Makoni’s martyrdom:

  • The officer who ordered his drumhead trial and execution was himself court-martialed — but acquitted
  • Makoni’s head was allegedly (pdf) hewed off as a trophy (legend has it being sent to Cecil Rhodes† himself)
  • Chingaira Makoni was elevated into the national mythology of (eventually) Zimbabwe

Though it does not deal in any great detail with our day’s principal, this narrative of the campaign by one of the white soldiers involved makes topical reading.

* Rhodes also founded the De Beers diamond mining colossus.

** Actually (and this is a scholarly pdf),

Academic historians have debated whether or not Chingaira Makoni was really a resister, or whether he did not merely stumble into confrontation with the whites, or whether, indeed, he did nothing at all and was merely a victim of white paranoia. These revisionist debates are very remote from the terms of the Chingaira myth in Makoni in the 1970s. In the myth Chingaira was unequivocally the embodiment of resistance; the hero ambiguously slain; buried, no-one was quite sure where; maybe to come again.

The source cited for this entry’s description of Makoni’s death actually upholds the “he didn’t actually rebel at all” position in its chapter on Makoni.

† Rhodes’s disastrous Jameson Raid on the neighboring Transvaal Republic had itself set the stage for the second Matabele Rebellion by depleting Rhodesian troop strength. It also got brother Frank Rhodes sentenced to death — a sentence later commuted.

On this day..

32 thoughts on “1896: Chief Chingaira Makoni, Rhodesian rebel

  1. Great conversations here. I’m a historian, descendant of Mambo Mutekedza Muchecheterwa Chiwashira of Nharira/Zvevare, fellow fighter of the British and ruler of the Hera people. I’m documenting these histories across the kingdoms, and would be happy to speak with any of you Nyati people on Chingaira, Chipunza, etc. Ndatenda.

    Mhoze Chikowero Chiwashira: Chikowero@history.ucsb.edu, University of California.

      • Hi all, late as ever to this post. I am Lynette Muzembe, ndinoera Nyati, Shonga. I would like to know what Muzembe means. My grandfathers brothers use Makoni as their surname. My village of origin on my ID is Makoni kwa Chendambuya. I would like to know the totems and clan praises for the Makoni’s, nhetembo dzemadzinza. Please assist

  2. l wish to learn more about my ancestors and the ancestral family trees .my grand father was mateo his father was gandandzara who was son to muswati and who was son to muswere .pliz if anyone can help l would appreciate it .

  3. Interesting:I am not a Makoni but I am a simple African man who values our history and heritage.This is interesting history to be even the most eye opening on the term Shona today being a tribe.
    Today our politicians and colonization have divided us and scattered us everywhere.Do we remember well the Ngoni-Ndau tribe?Is Makoni go in hand with Nyati or Dhliwayo?By picking Names like MuSwati even not spelt as proper Nguni,I sincerely feel that Makoni is a Ngoni Ndau and that complicates ,as politics and tribal matters kills us as Africans.After all we are one.
    Our continent needs future leaders with that mentality of one as Africans.
    Thank you Nina abaseBukhosini
    Bakone Makoni Muswati

  4. My father was called Tamburai Titoes. He was the third son of Mvochoma. Mvochoma was the son of Chingaira Makoni who escaped from captivity a night before his father was executed. I don’t pretend to know it all but believe you me, Chingaira’s spirit is still restless until his head is returned to be buried together with his whole body. I believe every one of us has got a role to play to see a descent burial of Chingaira. My number is +263773550840. As a direct descendant of Mutota Chingaira Chirimaunga, i will be happy to get in touch with all the Makonis.


    • True, the spirit of Chirimaunga Chingaira will never rest until his head is returned and buried.

  5. I am Tinashe Nedewedzo a Nyati of the Manica land from Dewedzo village in a place called Mazingizi just below the dewedzo platu, im proud of my brothers and sisters and our history of power and rulership ,Gunguwo our great great grand dad along with Muswere and Chimbo from which all the names were born…im happy i met with u

  6. About the 1st Chimurenga wars, so called Rebellions; in my early primary school 60`s, our history text books stated that there were two seperate rebellions, one Mashona rebellion 1893 and the Matabele rebellion 1896! in which Chingaira Makoni fought gallantly and his officers came to him in the ninga (cave) and said the whites have massacred your children (people) and he came out from his command centre and handed himself over. A red cloth was tied on his face shot and beheaded. My grand mother said his head was taken to the Queen of England.

    The impression that the Shona joined the Ndebele rebellion
    is annoying. The whites want to perpetuate their myth that Shonas were docile and subjects of the ndebeles.

  7. My grandmother was Mapundu Rudhia Makoni married to Paul Madzvimbo Chihoho whose homestead is near Nyahonye hills in Nyamima village. She always said she was a Muzvare and sister to Chingaira. She always swore; “NaChingaira akachekwa nevarungu” Does anyone know her connections with the royal family of Chingaira?

  8. Am great granddaughter of Chingaira Makoni and Ndapfunya and everyone in their line.These were descendants of our ancestor Gunguwo who migrated to Zimbabwe around 1600. I am but one of the thousands and not millions of the great grandchildren.Whatever family disagreements they were from what I collected these were brothers who shared power and lived together.Whether he was cousin or whatever the word brother was used.Yes I lived at the Vazvare Chitsotso Royal Mountain and as someone bestowed with honour to rebuild the shrine and bring us together to protect girls just like our father Chingaira this was done.It is there for the world to see.His legacy did not die.I invite family to visit the shrine and keep the legacy.I invite you to do charitable works like Chingaira and our forefathers and serve Zimbabwe. Our father was excuted trying to protect people. I played just a small part as a great grand daughter as Muzvare title i proudly spread round the world. Our forefathers gave us permanent authority as Vazvare and as women royals from this family we carry legacy of our Royal heros.Please contact me for more details. Our work as Vazvare is to do good charity work and protect vulnerable people because our hero Chingaira died for that.My email muzvare11.My whatsup 00447951522790. Family history is there and please join us on Facebook.Forward with our Royalty.

    • im also a family of gunguwo. whats the facebook page. want to learnmore about this dynast. our grand father move to chiredzi during the 18th century(sangwe communal land) and we are still located there.

  9. I am grand child of Absolom kunzwa and Loyce Kunzwa
    Absolom the son of Charlse kunzwa (who was the first son of chief makoni air to the throne of makon rusape region. he settled in wedza changing his surname from makoni to kunzwa. he was a very wealthy generous honorable man who was gifted with the clan’s secret. my grand mother was the second daughter of chipunza. i need to establish the storyline of the clan. the father of first kunzwa (makoni) was chief makoni, he wass short and had 5 spears and 2 axes. we was know of bravery and courage after rescuing a whole neighboring village from single handed. defeating 200 man.

  10. I’m also a direct descended of the makoni’ sand would really like to know more about my ancestry please someone help

  11. i am descendent from Runzonza, son of Nyamanhindi, son of Chingaira…would like to know more about the blood lines and family structures. My grandfather was chandisareva.

    • This is the beginning guys gunguwo had his brothers and sons and cousins when they migrated.however we talk about makoni today because he is the one who carried out the instruction that gunguwo said before he died.Gunguwo said if he died hiring the journey he was to be embalmed and carried along they reached a prophetic land where he was to be brief in a natural tunnel (ninga).i can’t say much but Makoni was not his first name this name he was given by locals who were fascinated by his civilised way of doing things.one of them was giving the locals fire.it is said the locals used to eat raw meat thanks to Makoni the stated having roast meat.i just want to point out that Makoni had four sons zendera,nyakurukwa ,Kamba,naNyamanhindi.its from these boys that you must connect to Makoni

      • The account on Makoni is inaccurate and distorted. Gunguwo is father to Sabarawara( Mubvakure). Sabarawara is the founding Great Chief of the Nyati dynasty of the Maungwe land, which land was originally occupied by Mutwira(Madziwa) and his people of the Chihwa, or Bonga totem, the true Maungwe. On his death bed Gunguwo instructed his son, Sabarawara to preserve his remains and protect them and was never to be interred and to pass on this responsibility to his successors. Sabarawara himself had nine sons notable among them Jembere(Chipunza) his first born, Muswere(Makoni)second born, Chinamasezhu (Mukuwapasi) and Sena among others. Jembere succeeded their father on Sabarawara’s passing on as the 1st prince hence becoming the 1st Chipunza. Muswere( Makoni) oral tradition has it later founded his own chiefdom separate from the one founded by his father,Sabarawara now led by Chipunza , by wresting land occupied by Mutwira through trickery. Thus the advent of the European colonial occupiers found the Chipunza and Makoni Chiefdoms in coexistence. Chief Chipunza is still charged with the safe keeping of Gunguwo’ s remains and walkin stick(tsvimbo-Mwedzi Usiku ). Every successor to the throne is charged with this task. Gunguwo’ s remains are not interred in an known grave of Ninga to this day as per his express instructions as oral tradition has it. Chipunza and Muswere are blood brothers inseparable in their life time and Chipunza assisted Makoni in his many battles with Mutasa. If this could not separate them certainly it should be a work up call for all the descendants of the Great Gunguwo to close ranks and unite and chart a common course to certainly bring pride to this Great Grand Ancestor. Therefore Chipunza and Makoni are one people though presiding over seperate realms which were distorted by the coloniast to the disadvantage of Chipunza to this day.

  12. Please come to Zimbabwe if you a true descendant and get facts on the ground . It’s quite a rich history the Makoni / Chipunza have . That blood runs through my vains through my grandfather’s mother who is from the Chipunza clan .

  13. Please would Nyauta Makoni contact me urgently. I have so many questions and woul love to connect with him on this matter. Thanks Facil

  14. My name is Facil Carlson. I am a direct decendant of Patrick Makoni (17th Nov 1912 to 8th Jan 1992) My mother was Dorothy Barbra Makoni who was his first of 6 children with Gladys Elizabeth Carlson. They were the first Black and White couple to be married in Bulawayo on 5th August 1943. Patrick’s father was my great grand father Chief Cyprian Chipundza Makoni who was the son of king Changaira Makoni.
    I have been working on my ancestry file for nearly 20 years now and would be very keen to connect with members of my family there in Zimbabwe. I recently received an article about my grand father Patrick who was interviewed by a reporter Marc Ncube (22nd March 1989) at his home in Forrestvale Bulawayo. I am so excited to find out more about my ancestors. I live in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA currently. My email is facilcarlson@gmail.com. Please contact me with any information on this very important issue. Kind regards, Facil.

  15. By far the greatest mornachy in the mashonaland and most feared King was Chingaira. It must be put on record that the King was not a rebel but a man defending his land and people from the axis of evil of the white settler turned permanent visitor. History has a devastating bias towards opinions and not necessarily facts from the settlers to suit their ambition to dominate and conquer even the mindset of the unsuspecting students of history.

    King Chingaira Makoni was the greatest threat to the white settler regime and evidence is there to prove that the white man fell from King Chingaira’s gun power. Up to this day, there is still an area called the devil’s pass, where it was the place the white man found his match and realised as he had been warned by other kingdoms that Makoni was not the usual chief but a King revered by the whole land from the shonas and ndebeles.

    I am personally tired of the doctored Makoni history, here are some facts you will not get in any other tribe:
    1. The Kings were laid to rest in a cave which opened by itself called Kumatotwe
    2. The only tree without a name brought by our ancestors where rain making and hunting and food delivery rituals where conducted and the answer from our ancestors through the power of the Creator came immediately e.g wild game would find itself lost into the hands of the hunters.
    3. The only Kings to totally have their subjects under their absolute rule because of a secret I will not disclose but the covenant was broken by the King Chingaira which led to his downfall through family members, Chipunza and Ndapfunya.

    I will not go further but when writing the history of a great people, please consult the owners of the history and we will enlighten you. I am in the royal family and am disturbed at the distortions. Secrets of a royal family are never disclosed to people of various opinions, so please stick to british or whatever history, we deserve to be respected. Thank you kindly.

    • Its most unfortunate that you continue to patrot and to malign Chipunza with facts which are totally inaccurate presenting yourself as fundi in dynastic history of Gunguwo, Sabarawara, Jembere and Muswere. We of the Chipunza dynasty will call you to order if you continue to parrot the colonialist lies about us. Chipunza lost many a sons and generals aiding Chingaira in the first Chimurenga war of 1896 and for you to label him a traitor is just down right wrong, ill informed and uncalled for. Chipunza was never in competition with Chingaira for kingship. He was a king in his own right, a rightful heir to the kingdom founded by Sabarawara and was in full charge of this his own realm. Whilst Chingaira ascended to the throne of a kingdom founded by Muswere his grandfather a different realm altogether. In 1896 these two Nyati dynasties were in coexistence before the unraveling of the war of resistance against Cecil John Rhodes’s colonial occupiers. Setting the record straight as it is. That Ndafunya is a sibling to Chingaira and his own descedents are there to defend their themselves. If anything from the passing on of Muswere the founder of the Makoni dynasty and with Ruredzo his heir ascending to the throne. The Makoni succession to the thrown after him has been fractious to this day why is that?

  16. Thanks for the addition, Geoff. I tried in the post to avoid making any such claim and generally steer clear of an aspect of the story I didn’t know well enough to contextualize. But then I went and slapped on a careless title (hopefully improved now). My bad.

  17. Chief Chingaira Makoni was NOT a Matabele who inhabit the SW of Zimbabwe, but from the Manyika sect of the Shona tribe. The Shona and Matabele languages and culture are very different.

    Indeed there has long been animosity between the two. The Shona first colonized what is now Zimbabwe around 1100 AD, displacing the San or Bushmen who are now extinct in the country.

    The Matabele — an offshoot from the Zulu — arrived from South Africa in 1840 and plundered the Shona, burning their villages and stealing cattle.

    In 1980 when (Shona) leader Robert Mugabe came to power in Zimbabwe, his troops led the Gukurahundi genocide against the Matabele in which at least 20 000 are alleged to have been killed.

    So, naming Chief Makoni as Matabele would be regarded as offensive to his descendants..

    • Its not true that Mugabe led a genocide against the Matabeles but that it was a follow-up to rebels or dissidents/terrorists in Matabeleland. Tribalists chose to phrase it look that way and ignore reality that was on the ground . Its common knowledge dissidents operated in that region.

      People are deliberately ignoring these facts because of political motives and propaganda . In fact the British supported and trained the Zimbabwean forces through BMATT go fight off dissidents and now they turnaround.

      • It’s also not true about Chingaira being involved in the Matabelele rebellion but that besides fighting the British colonial settlers , he also fought off the Matabelele invasions off his territory . His brother Chipunza actually got the name Mukundadzviti after defeating the Matabeleles.

        Having said that , this is now water under the bridge and people should live in harmony now as Africans and do their best to fend ofc this tribal propaganda . This will make the Great Chingaira happy wherever he is if we as Africans unite .

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