Puzzle of a thriving Ndebele tribe in Buhera explained

By Norma Tsopo

BUHERA – The existence of a thriving Ndebele community deep among the Shona has been vexing observers for decades.

Chief Gwebu-Fish
Chief Gwebu-Fish’s thriving Ndebele’s community’s presence hundreds of kilometres from Matebeleland has been a puzzle

Sitting comfortably in Buhera and holding on to their language and culture after almost a century Chief Gwebu-Fish’s tribe has been the subject of many theories – often misinformed by a history of tribal wars that were ragging before colonialism.

They thus are often viewed as a remnant of a pillaging regiment that either got greedy or decided against returning with its loot or repented and decided against going back after their infamous raids of the Shona.

Neither is true.

Their story shows the beauty of Zimbabweans’ acceptance and tolerance of each other as a people.

These came as fellow peace-loving countryman in need of space away from incessant disruptions of their lives by white settlers in 1927 from Isigodini, says Chief Gwebu-Fish.

The Chief is the 8th since they were allocated their small portion of land by Chief Makumbe.

“We came here from near Isigodini town where we were constantly being disturbed by white settler activities and we decided to move as far away as possible from them ending up here in Manicaland.

“We were welcomed by Chief Makumbe who gave us the land we currently have,” he said.

He however said some groups of his people went on to settle under other chiefs across Buhera with a significant community under Chief Chimombe in Mlandeni.

Settled in swampy soils Chief Gwebu-Fish said they chose these as they were similar to the land they had back in Isigodini and this perhaps limited conflict with locals who had no use for the watery plains.

“We chose swampy areas which locals didn’t want. We knew the soils were rich because of our experience working them back in Isigodini,” he said adding that he they were equipped with specialised ploughs and cultivators and would “have up to 12 cattle drawing the plough” – a monstrosity among locals even to date.

Buhera’s infamous drought induced hunger is not as common place here as for the rest of the district, the Ndebele chief says adding that they often would experience hunger due to too much rainfall instead.

“Our area is not as bad as the rest of the district but on occasion we fail to have fair harvests because of too much rainfall as with last year,” he said.

“While others move in soon after a down pour it can take us up to 3 weeks to move into the fields,” Chief Gwebu-Fish said adding though that the area has good water retention.

Confined only to one ward just off the Murambinda-Chivhu highway Ndebele’s are the predominant population in four of the six villages under him, he told maDzimbahwe Explorer.

The middle-aged Chief said while he never learnt Ndebele in school they have managed to hang onto their language and culture as it is the language they use in the home.

“We used Ndebele in the home but learnt Shona at school. I personally never learnt my language in school but l can speak, read and write it,” he said.

However this has changed of late as Ndebele has now been introduced at Gwebu primary school.

And they remain a symbol of success and hope for any people who are intent on preserving their language and culture even against all odds.