(one of the huts at Old Bulawayo)
Two prominent Ndebele authors
(A short essay by Jerry Zondo)
Mayford Sibanda, 1955-1978, died young. In the short period of his writing between 1974 and 1978, he produced some of the most outstanding pieces of Ndebele writing to date.
His Sesitshaye Kwazwela (1981) and UMbiko KaMadlenya (1981) provide a deep and committed Ndebele language which can only be operative at a highly formal and dignified level. His vocabulary is attractive with the reader learning a new word from every page.
In various ways, Sibanda operates at a similar level to Mthandazo Ndema Ngwenya, his contempoorary. Ngwenya was born in 1949 in Nkosikazi, Nkayi. While Sibanda was born in Siphepha Tsholotsho, the vision of both authors is frighteningly similar. Their lives and deaths are equally similar, leading to most Ndebele scholars identifying them and talking about them under one breath.
For example both contribute extensively to the anthology Inkundla Yezimbongi (1979), and it is apparently here where they have the only obvious and real contribution in Ndebele poetry writing. Sibanda has 19 poems to Ngwenya’s 12. The poems in both experiments introduce new words and attempt at term creation. Both poets offer some of the most outstanding amalgams for the Ndebele sociological and cultural terminology.
What derives a further similarity is that both trained together at Gweru Teachers College, both taught at Lower Gweru Mission and both entered for the same competitions for the Literature Bureau. Both then died in a similar manner in car accidents in South African cars. Sibanda though, died in South Africa while Ngweya died in Zimbabwe. Ngwenya though, lived a little longer, went on to teach at the university of Zimbabwe, got involved in drama for television in the series UTshaka and Kukhulwa kokuphela.
Sibanda and Ngwenya have made tremendous contributions to Ndebele ethnicity and nationalism, redefining it first within the backdrop of a colonially denying environment and then within the “surprising” independence era. Sibanda identifies Ndebele nationalism within the Lobhengula opposition to white domination, and the Ndebelehood that he defines as distancing itself from the Zansi (original Khumalo Nguni group to migrate with Mzilikazi), or “South African original identity” which is the pride of Mbiko kaMadlenya and the Zwangandaba regiment (which rebelled against Lobhengula in order to put up a Nguni-Zansi government).
Sibanda argues for Ndebele ethnic identity based on the new emergent nation consisting of Kalanga-Nambya, Tonga, Sotho-Venda, Nyubi, Shona, and the variegated clustering of Mzilikazi/Lobhengula followers. The defeat of Zwangandaba and the rise of Lobhengula is seen by Sibanda as the success of a Ndebele project of a broader and more engulfing base that is as cosmopolitan as it is forward looking.
Ngwenya looks at the renewal and resurrection of the fledging Ndebele ethnic confidence shattered by the negative experiences of a military defeat. He uses, just like Sibanda, language as a tool for socio-political and economic revival. If the Ndebele could get in touch with her beautiful language, she could get to gain access directly to her political, economic and social advancement.
Both authors visualise a connection with the Ndebele past as another link that the Ndebeles have dispensed with to their detriment. In a near nostalgic connection with and recreation of that past, the two authors revisit the Ndebele, expounding new levels of sensibility and reassignment of duties and responsibilities in terms of the dictates of that past. Something a bit unnerving in that proposition, the Ndebele might have to deny the present in order to live in the past – or it is a misinterpretation; the Ndebele will forge ahead only after she has understood the past! Both authors provide a necessary cog in the wheel of Ndebele fortunes and misfortunes that will be necessary in the redefinition of the Ndebele psyche and in the plotting of the Ndebele future. *** Talk to Zondo +26311628022