The forces gave rise to the set of events generally referred to as “ Mfecane” in the history of southern Africa

Filed in articles by 0 Comments

A word Mfecane has been understood by the societies of southern Africa in different ways including, in the Zulu Kingdom, they call “Mfecane” meaning crushing in English, in Sotho referred as Difaqane or “lifacaqane” meaning scattering or hammering or forced migration, while in Nguni they mean destroyed in total war.

Mfecane is a radical political and social change among the Bantu societies due to the expansion of the Zulu kingdom under Shaka who improved military organization, centralization, and expansion of the scale of the political organization through rapid incorporation and assimilation of the member of the separate communities.[2]

Generally, Mfecane was a period of widespread warfare and disturbances among indigenous ethnic communities in southern Africa, during the period between the 1780s up to 1840s.

Mfecane occurred in southern Africa which is the southernmost region of the Africa continent, variably defined by geography or geopolitics, within the regions, there are numerous territories, including the republic of south Africa now day, the simpler term South Africa.

The background of Mfecane can be traced far back from the year 1780’s to the 1840s. But during the year 1820’s the entire region of southern Africa was affected directly or indirectly in social, economic and political. The period was featured by massive migration, destruction, disturbances, plundering as well as the widespread of warfare. It happened among the Nguni speaking people or societies who were historically the Bantu speaking people. It took place in the natal province between the high veld which lies between the Drakensberg Mountains, Kalahari Desert and the Limpopo River as well as the area between Delagoa Bay (Maputo) and Tugela river.

Many historians do believe that there were numerous forces gave rise to the set of events generally referred to as “Mfecane” in the history of southern Africa, these forces including the following.

Trading activities, this activity was conducted around the 16th century between the Nguni societies and Portuguese as well as other Europeans at Delagoa Bay (currently Maputo). Because the Nguni had the intension of monopolizing trade they decided to attack other societies in order to control trade and acquire more tributes. The trading items involved were ivories and slaves; it is also at Delagoa Bay involved primarily the export of ivory leading to political amalgamation at the expense of the weaker societies. Therefore due to this led to an increase of political inequality between chiefdoms and increasing socio-economic inequality within societies made weaker societies with fewer entitlements to food, more vulnerable to famine especially in the time of drought-induced food security. Hence conflict was inevitable among these societies.

READ ALSO  How teachers lose their position in teaching and learning process under the current revolution in education technology

The increase of population, also acted as a force behind gave rise to the set of events to be regarded as Mfecane. This period experience tremendous demographic upheaval and revolution and social change. It is also in the year 1820’s many Africa tribes migrated, merged and grew to take up new homes in southern Africa beyond the cape colony. More overpopulation had increased greatly in Zulu land following the Portuguese introduction of maize (corn) in Mozambique from Americans, while corn was more productive than the indigenous grains of grasses; it encouraged population growth than ever. After population increases there emerged chaos whereby the people attempted to struggle for the land where they could meet with pasture land and area for agricultural land. Therefore these societies started to collide with each other a condition that encouraged warfare among the societies in the entire South African hence the eruption of Mfecane.

Changes in production are also another force to the rise of an event called Mfecane. The advancement in European terms of production coincided with the beginning of class formation amongst the Nguni people. This development and modernization of society came from internal factors within the Nguni people and therefore they could modernize themselves without the influences of Europeans. In the other hand changes in production encouraged classes within the Nguni speakers in the entire southern Africa region, thus confrontation was investable in the ground, therefore Mfecane.

Formation of the alliance, in the history of southern Africa there were some societies with their leaders who attempted to form an alliance as an alternative to absorb other starts. For example, Dingiswayo of Mthethwa entered an alliance with Tsonga who controlled trade routes along Delagoa Bay, after their alliance, they encroached the Ndwandwe under Zwide who controlled north near the Pongola River. After their alliance they formed a confederation with Zulu’s chief (Tshaka), The Zulus conquered and assimilated clan in the area. The Zulus practice was to absorb only the women and young men of a clan or village; they killed the elders and men of fighting age. Therefore due to the mass killing of innocent people others were decided to react against Zulus’ injustice and made confrontation, thus led to the emergence of Mfecane.

READ ALSO  Compare and contrast between curriculum goals and objectives as applied in teaching and learning process

Increasing inequalities, within and between societies coupled with a series of environment crises at the beginning of the 19th century transformed long competition over the natural resources and trade in southeastern Africa into a violent struggle for permanent and survival place. In the first two decades of the 19th-century competition became new over fertile land. Well- watered land and those who had already consolidated their power prevailed over weaker groups in their lower chiefdoms of stronger societies. Due to this Ndwandwe under, Zwide decided to fight with Ngwane over the Pongola river to complete for fertile land, but Ngwane under Sobhuza was defeated and they moved and established their own rule in Swazi in nowadays Swaziland. Therefore through this situation, Mfecane occurred.

Environmental factor; changing of climatic condition exacerbated the crisis this is because rainfall decreased significantly throughout the region of southern Africa during the first three-decade of the 19th century with an exceptionally severe drought between 1800 to 1807 followed by another in 1820 to 1823 the problem was especially serious in the northern Nguni area Mfecane did not start with a single man or even with a single chiefdom but was the product of simultaneous emergence of three conquering chiefdoms, that is Mthethwa, Ndwandwe and Sobhuza. These chiefdoms made an important or remarkable event, for example, all these chiefdoms situated either on or close, it is also all chiefdom had access at least one additional vegetation zone, all chiefdoms had close to lager rivers and good alluvial soil. However, after the emergence of the drought of about 10years, there emerged conflict among these three groups, whereby every chiefdom attempted to acquire water, pastureland, and agricultural land therefore under this circumstance led to confrontation within these three kingdoms eventually led to Mfecane.

READ ALSO  Tyler Objective Curriculum Evaluation Model

In summary, the so-called Mfecane has been explained differently by historians but never adequately this is because everyone had his or her own views towards mMfecane, for instance, Elizabeth Eldridge argued that social-political, environmental and demographic changes must be regarded as a cause of Mfecane. Whereas Cobbing Julian believes much on trade at Delagoa bay and the role of European activities to be the factor behind Mfecane. In a real sense, many historians believe much on the role of environmental factor to be regarded as the cause of Mfecane and other causes are found within the environmental factors and its aftermath.


Eldredge,E,A. Sources of conflict in Southern Africa, C. 1800-30: “the mfecane” reconsired. the

Journal of Africa history, vol.33, no. 1 (1992)

Omer- cooper, J,D: Has  the mfecane future? a respond to Cobbing critique “In journal of

southern African studies” vol. 19 (1993).


Peires,J,B Paradigm deleted: the materialist interpretation of the mfecane: Taylor and Francis

Ltd (1993).


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *