The region called Mashonaland was divided into a number of relatively small independent chieftaincies, which in Company thinking were not seen as a military threat. Detailed historical research explains why many rebelled, beginning on 18 June 1896 in the Hartley (Chegutu) area, south-west of Salisbury (Harare) (Ranger, 1967; Beach, 1971, 1979, 1986; Cobbing, 1977). About 120 whites, including several women and children, were killed in the first few days and the road from Salisbury to Bulawayo temporarily blocked.
A laager was formed in Salisbury, with smaller contingents stationed at Umtali (Mutare), Mazoe and elsewhere. A similar pattern evolved as colonial patrols attacked different African chieftaincies and communities who in this case were more dispersed. There were few offensive actions by Africans, the rebellion did not involve all of the chieftaincies in the area, nor did they act simultaneously (Beach, 1979, 1986). For the most part Africans were trying to defend themselves against colonial troops. Rhodes did not think it was necessary to make peace with the chiefs in Mashonaland and ‘they were forced into capitulation by the harshest punitive measures’ (Davidson, 1984, 309). Such measures preceded the uprising and had been one of its causes: J.S. Brabant, chief Native Commissioner for Mashonaland, employed strong arm tactics in collecting taxes in 1895, including flogging, burning down villages and the confiscation of livestock (Rotberg, 1988, 553).
Alderson (1898, Appendix C I-III), head of the imperial Mashonaland Field Force, records some of the patrols from Salisbury both before and after he arrived. At the start they were small contingents, usually under 50 men, of locally raised units such as the Salisbury Field Force: 28 were sent out in two months from mid-June to mid-August. The first sorties were largely to bring in whites and African allies or to investigate deaths, bury bodies and to get forage from settler farms. But at least 16 incidents were recorded with 7 white and 4 black killed on the colonial side. About 223 African deaths were specifically recorded, 137 in one sweep through the Hartley Hills, seen as a rebel stronghold, from the 19th-28th July.
In July 1896 patrols were sent out from Salisbury to Enkeldoorn (Chivhu) where they were joined by Afrikaner settlers (Beach 1971, 396-7). De Moleyns, commanding a new force in Mashonaland, led them against chief Chesumba, about 12 miles from Salisbury, who had retreated to a koppie with boulders and some stone barricades. De Moleyns called out for the chief to surrender but instead was fired at, with the loss of two police. He then used dynamite – a material that was available from mining operations: 111 men and 500 women and children gave themselves up. Deaths from what may have been the first use of dynamite are not recorded.
As the scale of patrols increased, Alderson, using records from before he arrived, reported four further encounters where: ‘a good many rebels’ killed; ‘a good many dead bodies seen’; ‘many others believed killed’; and ‘some rebels’ killed. If these are added to the numerical records, there were perhaps 400 African deaths. From the start kraals were burnt, the biggest number recorded being 20 in one sortie, and livestock taken. As noted, kraals could vary from extended families to small villages of 100 huts, so that these could involve hundreds of dwellings. On five occasions, 4 to 6 wagon loads of grain was taken. A contingent from Mazoe in June was involved in a 12-hour battle in which 3 were killed on the colonial side and ‘a number’ on the African (Jones, 1953, 140); a column from Bulawayo of over 300 in July burnt 20 kraals, captured grain and killed a ‘considerable’ number. It may be fair to assume, that at least 500 were killed before the engagement of imperial troops.
When Alderson’s imperial Mounted Infantry and Mashonaland Field Force arrived at the end of July, colonial military intervention intensified. One of his first ventures was to attack a leading chief, Makoni, thought to be a key resistance leader (Alderson, 1898, 90ff.). He first bombarded the settlement with artillery, then opened up with a Maxim gun and when Makoni and his people retreated into caves and rock shelters, set fire to the village so that it was completely burnt out. He wrote: ‘We had walked into and destroyed the kraal of the biggest Chief in Mashonaland, inflicted on him a loss of some two hundred men, including his principal witch doctor and ten of his counsellors, made him go to ground like a rabbit, and, greatest blow of all, had captured 355 head of his cattle, and 210 goats and sheep’. Many were wounded while Alderson lost 3 men killed. To stamp his authority, he burnt several kraals on the way back. For the next week his column undertook a sweep of Marandellas (Marondera) to the south-east of Salisbury, burning homesteads and collecting grain. Another patrol burnt kraals in Mazoe. Systematic burning and looting of almost every village and homestead they passed became daily practice for Company and imperial forces.
In July Carrington ordered a section of Plumer’s troops in Matabeleland, under Watts, to assist in the suppression of the rebellion in Mashonaland (Plumer, 1897, 221ff.). They had their first serious encounter at the end of July near Marondera store where they killed an estimated 50-60. They joined a further attack on Makoni at the end of August (Alderson, 1898, 230). Makoni offered to surrender in return for amnesty, and Company officials, as well as Rhodes himself, were disposed to accept this as a way of neutralising an important chief, but the imperial authorities wanted unconditional surrender. His stronghold was located near the main road from Salisbury to Mutare and seen to threaten transport routes.
Arriving at Makoni’s, the huts and granaries already burnt, Watts fired shells into cave mouths where people had taken refuge. His column advanced the use of dynamite by dropping lighted sticks from above into the caves. These were seldom completely blocked off at the top and ‘it was usually possible to find some crevice’ (Ranger, 1967, 276-7). The effect produced after a few days of dynamiting was ‘terrible … and the stench from the dead bodies was over-powering’. Makoni was captured, Watts court-martialled him in rapid trial without authority, and had him shot in public. This, as noted, preceded the shooting of Uwini (Whinya) on Baden-Powell’s orders; the High Commissioner ordered an enquiry which exonerated Watts.
Intended as a warning to the other chiefs, it seems to have had the opposite effect because the message they took was that there was no point in surrender, which would likely lead to death. Some women and children came out of the cave after the first dynamite was lobbed inside, and some men escaped. It is not clear how many were killed; one source suggests about 60 (Keppel-Jones, 1983, 490).
Alderson divided his imperial force into four units of about 120 men each, who made a sequence of destructive patrols. I will put the names of chiefs attacked in inverted commas as I have not yet had a chance to verify them and their identity. For example, at the end of August (Alderson, 1898, 147-151) an expedition to ‘Untegeza’, in the eastern highlands, burnt a village and took its grain on the way. On reaching the chief’s area, in mid-September, some attempt was made to parley but the chief feared for his life and sent a gift of cattle and two sovereigns: ‘the kraal was absolutely destroyed, and every particle of grain from it and the surrounding kraals was carried away or spoilt. A good few prisoners were taken, and those that were not killed or taken prisoner cleared away in the night’.
Similarly, at the villages of ‘Gona’, they fought for a few days until they destroyed the settlement and carried off the grain. The same pattern took place at ‘Simbanoota’s (Alderson, 1898, 159) and when they marched to ‘Mzimilima’’s, they found the homesteads deserted so took ‘a fair bag of grain and cattle’. MacMahon, one of the section leaders, moved into Mazoe and attacked ‘Gaderra’ with artillery, rifles and dynamite. They burnt kraals, including ‘Nyanda’’s, mined caves, which were blown to pieces, ‘captured large amount of various loot’ and ‘a number of natives [were] known to have been killed’ (Alderson. 1898, 291).
Alderson wanted to complete the process of scorched earth, posting small contingents of colonial forces wherever they had destroyed villages and cleared the people, in order to prevent any from returning and sowing crops or using their old rock shelters. This was done in a few areas, but there were not enough troops for systematic control of countryside in this way.
There is insufficient numerical information in his book to estimate deaths effectively and it is unlikely that 200 were killed in every incident, as recorded for the first attack on Makoni. But deaths are commonly mentioned and in only one of the sorties was the settlement and rock shelter deserted. It may be fair to assume that if the attacks on Makoni are included, at least another 500 were killed in six sorties mentioned here in August and September.
I have not yet been able to compile a record of all similar incidents that continued for over nine months until July 1897 and the sources less often mention estimates of casualties. But other examples can be cited. In October a chief who was not part of the rising was attacked in error, and when he tried to escape, was shot along with ten of his men (Beach, 1971, 301). Further attacks in Mazoe destroyed cave shelters.
In early October, a devastating attack took place on Manyepera and his people, when they took refuge in caves in Marendellas (Ranger, 1967, 276-7, now Marondera). Company troops saw smoke coming out of a narrow crack in the roof and by removing stones could see the light of fires. They tried throwing down artillery shells and then smoking people out by pulling down nearby huts and using them in fires near the entrance. Receiving a consignment of dynamite they dropped lighted sticks down the cracks. Sixty women and children came out after this first explosion. The contents of several cases of dynamite were then inserted and the explosion ‘rent the cave from end to end’; only 2 people survived. ‘This terrible encounter’, Ranger (1967, 277) notes, ‘became the pattern for many attacks on Shona strongholds, despite humanitarian outcry in England’. It certainly was repeated, but the strategy was already well-established. Alderson (1898, 291) recorded: ‘Killed 15 natives. Many more believed to be killed’. The caves and shelters were not inspected for corpses.
Mashiangombi (Mashayamombe) was both a major chief in Mashonaland and a key figure in the resistance. His substantial settlement included ‘numerous small kraals …scattered along the broken granite kopjes on both sides of the Umfuli river. They contained 25 to 100 huts each’ with nearby ‘caves and recesses, partly natural but partly supplemented with artificial stone walls, thus making an excellent refuge and fortress in the case of attack’ (Ranger, 1967, 281ff). His settlement was first attacked in July 1896 when twenty people were killed and 500 head of cattle taken. A further expedition in August burnt kraals, including the chief’s. In October, Alderson (1898, 292) himself led a contingent of over 500 colonial troops and African allies, which burnt the whole of the remaining settlement, a ‘very large number of kraals’, and all the caves that could be located were blown up. Mashayamombe escaped and, seen to have successfully survived three attacks, remained a focus for resistance. Alderson noted that ‘enemy’s loss difficult to estimate owing to thick bush and numerous caves but must have been considerable’. He was later blamed for failing to deliver a knock-out blow but his account of this attack was devastating. In February 1897, crops that had been planted were destroyed in the middle of the growing season.
A series of further attacks took place in October and early November. At ‘Chena’s’ in the Hartley hills, kraals were burnt, caves destroyed, and ‘a considerable number of natives killed’ (Alderson, 1898, 208). Evans burnt kraals at chief ‘Cheri’ and was then killed in the attack on ‘Gatzi’, where troops nevertheless burnt the settlement and killed all in the caves, with 16 bodies counted and ‘many more believed to have been killed’ (Alderson, 1898, 292). Mapondera, another substantial chief, was attacked and his villages destroyed. In the face of this onslaught, Alderson heard that many had fled into ‘fly country’ – to the margins of settlement, beyond the reach perhaps of the colonial troops, but also away from food supplies.
This is not an exhaustive record of the Salisbury based patrols and there were others. In the first week of October 1897, Baden-Powell (1901, 364ff., before his court martial) moved eastwards from Matabeleland and attacked communities near Wedza mountain about 120 km south of Salisbury. When people retreated to shelters, Baden-Powell chose to interpret the response as an act of war. Having burnt vacated settlements as an ‘object lesson’, his troops proceeded to ‘freely help ourselves’ to the grain and livestock. ‘We began to hammer away with the 7–pounder, the Maxims, and Nordenfeldt, taking each koppie and its kraal in turn. Through the glass I could see the natives move from the kraals into the caves, and when we shelled these, we could see them stealing away through the rocks and bush, evidently anxious to make their escape’; when people tried to escape, they were shot down (Baden Powell, 1896, 380, 387).
The settlements on Wedza mountain were cleared and burned. Baden Powell (1901, 389-95) then blew up a stronghold with dynamite and celebrated ‘the complete destruction of the enemy’s villages and the clearing of their grain stores … the blazing evidences of it gleaming out their message to all the rebels for miles round’. Heading east, his patrol then looted and burnt the abandoned defensive village of ‘Monti’ (Mondi) – this located on a ‘bold, upstanding, solitary peak, a regular acropolis’. He continued with a series of attacks described in his narrative: ‘We helped ourselves to all the corn that we could carry, as well as to some little bits of loot, such as a Kaffir piano and some tambourines—the piano being a small flat board on which is fixed a row of iron tongues, and these when struck give each a different note of soft, metallic sound… Then we set the village in a blaze’.
‘In Monogula’s’, he wrote, ‘we placed thirty-four cases of dynamite, and at one grand burst blew up the whole koppie, so that where there had been hill there remained but a crater. Previous to demolishing the caves, we had of course removed, for our own use, the stores of grain which had been stowed away for the rebel garrison’ (Baden-Powell, 1901, 409-11, 428). Most had been able to escape but they found nine dead. More kraals were burnt and 26 killed en route to Enkeldoorn (Chivhu) on the way to Salisbury.
As noted, Rhodes himself had been involved in such practices since May in Gweru and he continued till the end of his stay in Zimbabwe. Alderson (1898, 242) received news on 31st October that Rhodes, then on his way from Bulawayo to Salisbury, when passing Enkeldoorn (Chivhu), had gone out with members of the garrison there, burnt ‘Singala’’s kraal, and killed about thirty. Rhodes wrote enthusiastically to Grey of this sortie: ‘we went out and destroyed his [chief Sango’s] kraal, killing a good many natives’ (Ranger, 1967, 285; Beach 1971, 348).
In these twelve specific attacks mentioned in October, many were killed but it is difficult to provide any clear estimates because those blown up in shelters and caves were not counted. Again, it may be legitimate to suggest at least five hundred, as well as devastation of the countryside. Even an incomplete record of the first few months of this punitive war suggests more than 1,500 were killed and tens of thousands of people affected by the destruction of villages.
Baden-Powell (1901, 447) met Rhodes in Salisbury on 22nd November and talked to him about ‘ways and means or plans of campaign … [Rhodes] full of restlessness and energy’. They both joined a hunt (for wild animals) and as they passed under a telegraph line Rhodes ‘at once went into particulars of that’. Rhodes, who had long been immersed in military planning in Matabeleland, was equally engaged at the time when villages were being burnt, caves blown up and grain stores destroyed in Mashonaland. In December, Baden-Powell travelled back with Rhodes by ship from Beira to Cape Town and then to England. At Port Elizabeth they were greeted by crowds and treated to a banquet for 500, as well as dinner at the club.
By the time he left, Rhodes and his military leaders mistakenly believed that the rebellion was at an end. Alderson (1898, 249) summarised the position in November, claiming that the major rebel chiefs around Salisbury had been defeated, their settlements destroyed, and the main routes to Mutare and Mozambique, as well as Bulawayo, had been secured. He and his contingent of imperial troops left in late November and December. The cost of keeping them longer was seen as too high, and they faced the wet, hot summer months. The Company wanted to assert its control over military as well as civil administration.
Beach (1986, 109) believes that by December, only limited areas were under colonial control, ‘in spite of frequent illusory successes such as that of Alderson at Mashayamombe’s’. He also sees this period as one when the Kaguvi spirit medium began to feature even more centrally in European minds as a major factor in the rebellion. Troops were sent out to capture him in January and this led to further destruction of a now empty settlement.
Beach underestimates the destruction but some Shona chiefs were remarkably persistent despite the devastation that they saw around them. In January 1897, de Moleyns destroyed kraals at ‘Sosve’, who had been attacked earlier; in February he captured 60-70 wagon loads of grain and in April a patrol with African allies took a stronghold at Shangwe after cutting off food and water supplies and killing perhaps 90 (Keppel-Jones, 1983, 514-5; Davidson, 1984, 311). In May 1897 a contingent attacked Chief Mashanganyika who, with his people, retired into caves. Over a week, all the caves were destroyed ‘with great loss to the occupants’.
In June a colonial force captured Kunzwi’s stronghold in a fortified koppie after two days of hard fighting. Major Gosling thought the engagement was ‘the most severe the police have as yet taken part in’. Ranger (1967, 305) agreed that this was the fiercest action of 1897, but provides no record of casualties. Although Kunzwi escaped, he surrendered in August.
In the final attack on Mashayamombe in July 1897, 130 men with a Maxim maintained a cordon, shooting anyone who attempted to escape. The chief was killed, trying to move between shelters, and the next day the caves were destroyed with dynamite. The losses were ‘heavy’ and 100 men and 320 women and children surrendered (Keppel-Jones, 1983, 516). The Kaguvi and Nehanda mediums were apparently in Mazoe district, where they were attacked on 23rd July and their supporters took to caves, which were blown up with many killed. In August, remaining huts at the Kaguvi medium’s settlement were burnt (Ranger, 1967, 300) and he surrendered. It was only in August that ‘Mangwende’, ‘Svoswe’, ‘Zwimba’, ‘Chiquaqua’ (Chikwakwa), ‘Chinamora’, ‘Seki’ and others surrendered. Nehanda, who had escaped, was captured in December, hung in Salisbury, with the Kaguvi medium and 25 men identified as rebels.
I have described briefly many incidents of highly destructive behaviour by the Company and imperial troops, including bombarding settlements with artillery, burning villages, shooting those who tried to escape, and dynamiting caves – with the probability of many deaths, perhaps hundreds, in some incidents. This record does not look systematically at patrols and attacks from November 1896 to July 1897. Further research would be needed to identify chiefs mentioned as well as to develop a fuller record. The frequency of military patrols is likely to have declined when the imperial troops left in early December. But it is likely that there were similar losses in these nine months as in the first five months from June to October, estimated as at least 1,500. Total deaths in Mashonaland were higher than those in Matabeleland (estimated above at over 3,000). Food was destroyed on a large scale. The new growing season started with the rains, generally around October, with grain only maturing some months after that, so that the many whose food supplies were captured or burnt from July 1896 to February 1897 were in a perilous position over a long period. Growing crops were also destroyed.