The Vhavenda of today are descendants of many heterogeneous groupings and clans such as:

  • Vhadau
  • Vhambedzi
  • Vhanyai
  • Vhatavhatsindi
  • Vhalea
  • Vhatwamamba
  • Vhania
  • Vhagoni
  • Vhaluvhu
  • Vhanzhelele/Vhalembethu
  • Vhalovhedzi

Vhadau, Vhambedzi, Vhatavhatsindi, Vhalea, Vhania, Vhatwamamba, Vhagoni and Vhaluvhu were collectively known as Vhangona. Vhangona clans were the first clans to settle in present day Venda and parts of southern Zimbabwe. Vhangona are therefore regarded as the aboriginal Vendas. Archaeological evidence indicates that Vhangona were already in Venda and Southern Zimbabwe in 700 AD. As the first group to settle in Venda, Vhangona named all the places, mountains, rivers, hills, etc.

Vhadau inhabited the area from Mount Sunguzwi/Songozwi in the west to Mount Tshitumbe in the east. Their prominent chiefs were Raphulu, Tshidziwelele, Mudau and Dewasi.

Vhambedzi’s headquarters were in Marungudzi, Zimbabwe, while in Venda they were concentrated at Tshulu (Ha-Makuya), Mianzwi, Tshilavulu and Makonde. Their prominent Khosi was Luvhimbi who was famous for rain making powers.

Vhatavhatsindi settled at Lwandali and Thengwe. Vhakwevho, a sub-group of Vhatavhatsindi, settled at Luonde and Luvhola. The other sub-group of Vhatavhatsindi, Vhafamadi, settled at Ha-Mashau. Vhatavhatsindi’s prominent chiefs were Matidze, Nethengwe and Manenzhe.

Vhalea and Vhatwamamba settled at Musina, Mapungubwe, and Ha-Tshivhula.

  • Karanga-Rozvi clans such as Vhanyai, Vhalembethu, Vhalovhedzi and Vhasenzi later settled in Venda. Vhanyai and Vhalembethu occupied the whole eastern Venda. The Vhanyai prominent chiefs were Makahane, Nelombe and Tshilowa.
  • Vhasenzi consisted of Masingo, Vhalaudzi, and Vhandalamo. They were also joined by Vhalemba who are of Semitic origin.

The different clans were independent of one another until they were all conquered by Dambanyika (Dimbanyika) of the Vhasenzi to form one nation called Vhavenda. King Dimbanyika is, therefore, regarded as the father of Vhavenda and Vhavenda’s first king.

Vhasenzi and all the other clans that settled in Venda were, with time, absorbed culturally and linguistically by Vhangona, the clan they conquered. The conquerors’ descendants owe much of their present identity to the earlier inhabitants of Venda, Vhangona. It is believed that about 85% of present day Tshivenda words and vocabulary come from the original Tshingona. But the conquerors also transmitted a great number of Karanga traits.

It is not clear where the name Venda came from. One version states that when Vhasenzi settled in the land of Vhangona they fell in love with the landscape and the environment and called the place Venda, meaning pleasant place. Another version states that the Vhangona referred to all Karanga-Rodzvi clans that settled in their land as Vhavannda (outsiders). This was later corrupted to Vhavenda, and the area they occupied was named Venda. The third version states that Venda was the name of a Vhangona king and that his people were known as Vhavenda (Venda’s subjects).

According to Vhavenda oral tradition, Vhasenzi had a magic drum known as Ngomalungundu. This was a sacred drum of Mwali (Mwari), the Great God of Vhasenzi. Ngomalungundu was the spear and shield of Vhasenzi. Their king is believed to have worked miracles with this drum which had magic and killing powers. In fear of Ngomalungundu, other groupings surrendered to or fled from the Singo killing powers.

Through conquest the Vhangona came to revere and fear this greatest musical instrument. They regarded this drum as the Voice of their Great God, Raluvhimba.

The title for a Vhangona king was Thovhele while Vhasenzi’s title for king was Mambo. These titles were also used interchangeably, although the surviving one is Thovhele.

The Singo kept the other Changamire-Rozvi title, for a king, of Chikurawadyembeuwu, altering it to Vele-la-mbeu. They also converted Mwari’s praise name, Sororezhou, into a title, Thohoyandou.

Vhasenzi and all the other clans that conquered Venda were, with time, absorbed culturally and linguistically by Vhangona, the clan they conquered. The conquerors’ descendants owe much of their present identity to the earlier inhabitants of Venda, Vhangona. It is believed that about 85% of present day Tshivenda words and vocabulary come from the original Tshingona. But the conquerors also transmitted a great number of Karanga traits.

Today it is very difficult to find anybody willing to admit that they are the descendants of Vhangona. This is due to the fact that the conquerors despised Vhangona and they labelled them sorcerers. It was, therefore, an embarrassment to claim Ngona heritage, and almost everybody started identifying themselves as a Muvenda. But the majority of Vhavenda are Vhangona. Most people with Ngona heritage can be identified by their clan names and surnames which start with the prefix “Ne” (like Nevondo, Nenzhelele, Nedzanani, Nevhutalu, Nemadzivhanani, Neluvhola, Neluonde, Netshitenzhe, Nengwekhulu, etc). The prefix “Ne” simply means ruler/ owner of. For example, Neluvhola means the ruler/owner of Luvhola. The majority of Venda surnames start with “Ne”.

The Vhangona traditional leaders welcomed the conquerors and paid tribute to them. Different Vhangona traditional leaders continued to exercise authority over their areas of jurisdiction. They were, however, now paying tribute to a Singo King.

The Founding of The Venda Kingdom

Although there are different oral versions of Masingo/Vhasenzi history, written historical records indicate that Vhasenzi were Karangas who broke away from the Changamire Rodzvi (Vhalozwi). It appears that after the death of the Rodzvi king, Chiphaphami Shiriyedenga of the Sanga/Singo dynasty in 1672, a war of succession ensued between his sons. It is said that due to this war of succession Shiriyedenga’s eldest son refused to be installed as the king. Due to his refusal to take over as the king of Vhalozwi he was nicknamed Dambanyika, meaning he who refused to be the ruler of the land. His younger brother who accepted the throne was nicknamed Liwanyika. Thereafter a section led by Dambanyika (also known as Dimbanyika) left Vhukalanga (Zimbabwe) for Venda. They crossed the Vhembe river (Limpopo river) and settled on Mount Lwandali in Nzhelele.

Vhasenzi started the process of subjugating all the clans in Venda. This process of building one nation was completed during Dimbanyika’s reign. Dimbanyika managed to subjugate the Vhalembethu of Ha-Mutele and Thulamela, and Vhatavhatsindi of Fundudzi to establish a nation known as Vhavenda. Dimbanyika is, therefore, regarded as the first king of all Vhavenda. He ruled from 1688 to 1722.

King Dimbanyika’s royal palace was at Dzata I on Mount Lwandali, Nzhelele. Dzata I was abandoned after the death of Dimbanyika in 1722. Oral history has it that Dimbanyika was a hunter. One day he went out hunting but never came back. But his two dogs went back home. A search party, led by one of his dogs, was dispatched the following day to look for him. The dog led the search party to a cave. The opening of the cave was filled with huge rocks which were impossible to move. After trying unsuccessfully to move the rocks, they were addressed by Dimbanyika. He told them to stop trying and that the cave would be his Tshiendeulu (royal grave). He instructed them to move the capital since nobody would be allowed to live on Mount Lwandali. He forbade people from eating fruits from Lwandali. He also gave instructions that the son of Rambwapenga and his descendants must remain on Mount Lwandali to tend his grave and to be guardians of Lwandali.

Lwandali became known as Tshiendeulu and the son of Rambwapenga and his descendants became known as Netshiendeulu, meaning the owner/ruler/custodian of Tshiendeulu. The Singo moved to the south west of Lwandali and built a new capital, Dzata II.

Dimbanyika was succeeded by Vele-la-Mbeu. Vele-la-Mbeu had four children, one girl called Tshavhungwe, and three sons, Phophi (Thohoyandou) Tshisevhe and Raluswielo (Tshivhase). Tshavhungwe was the child of mufumakadzi wa dzekiso (the woman who is chosen for the current chief/king by the royal household to bear the future chief), and would have taken over if she was not female. She could, however, not take over as the king due to the fact that only males could ascend the throne. The royal council took a decision that the son of the second senior house, Thohoyandou, should take over as the king of Vhavenda.

Thohoyandou was a great king who expanded the Vhavenda Kingdom. Data gathered by the Dutch at Delagoa Bay between 1723 and 1730 indicate that during Thohoyandou’s time the Vhavenda Kingdom stretched from Vhembe river (Limpopo) in the north to Crocodile river in the south. This kingdom included people who were not Venda speaking. The Karanga of Zimbabwe were subject to him and the Bapedi chiefs recognised him as their sovereign.

The Singo domination of Venda was entrenched during King Thohoyandou’s rule. During his reign, Thohoyandou deployed his son Munzhedzi Mpofu, to Luatame on Mount Songozwi, and his brothers Raluswielo and Tshisevhe to Dopeni and Makonde respectively.

Thohoyandou Disappears Without Trace

The Singo tradition has it that King Thohoyandou disappeared without a trace in 1770. It was believed that he had gone to Vhukalanga (Zimbabwe), the land of his forefathers. Tshisevhe, Thohoyandou’s brother, was installed as acting king. It was believed that Thohoyandou would come back. It later transpired that Thohoyandou had died. But Tshisevhe refused to step down as acting king, and this led to a conflict between him and Thohoyandou’s son, Munzhedzi Mpofu.

Tshisevhe was defeated in the war of succession and was assassinated by Munzhedzi Mpofu. Tshisevhe’s son, Ravhura, fled to Makonde after his father was defeated in the war of succession. Munzhedzi Mpofu became the new king of Venda. But Raluswielo (Tshivhase), who was at Dopeni, wanted the kingship. He attempted to return to Dzata to usurp the throne. Raluswielo, just like Tshisevhe, was defeated by Munzhedzi Mpofu.

Munzhedzi Mpofu later relocated the royal kraal from Dzata to Songozwi. This was because Songozwi was strategically situated, as one could see the whole kingdom from the summit. Tshivhase once again mobilized an army and invaded Munzhedzi Mpofu at Songozwi. The battle was fought along the banks of a river that became red with blood. It was consequently known as Khwivhila, which means red. Tshivhase lost the battle. Having been defeated twice, first at Dzata and then at Khwivhila, Tshivhase fled. Munzhedzi Mpofu remained king of Vhavenda.

Historians believe that the geography of Venda was not in favour of unity and that the temptation for Ravhura and Tshivhase houses to convert autonomy into independence must have been too strong. The Singo rulers had tried to counterbalance the temptation by favouring certain houses that could not succeed to the supreme title, such as the Ndalamo and Mphaphuli.

Munzhedzi Mpofu’s brothers, Mandiwana and Ratombo settled in the Nzhelele valley and Luvuvhu valley respectively. Both Mandiwana and Ratombo paid tribute to their brother, Munzhedzi Mpofu.

From Munzhedzi to Toni Mphephu Ramabulana

King Munzhedzi Mpofu had three sons: Rasithu (Ramabulana), Ramavhoya, and Madzhie. Rasithu and Ramavhoya had the same mother, while Madzhie was their half-brother.

Munzhedzi Mpofu died in 1791. After Mpofu’s death, Rasithu ascended the throne. However, his mother (Nyamulanalwo), whose candidate to the throne was her other son, Ramavhoya, urged him (Ramavhoya), to rise against his elder brother. As a result of this Ramavhoya became confident that he was the one to succeed his father. With this in mind he hurried to Tshirululuni, the royal residence together with his supporters. When the newly installed Thovhele, saw him with his followers, he subsequently gave way and fled to Mafishi, also known as Mutholini (Bandelierkop), as he could not face his younger brother on the battlefield. From Mafishi, he proceeded further and ultimately settled at Mount Rida, Moletjie (Botlokwa)[1].

Rasithu’s flight, leaving the throne vacant, paved the way for the usurpation of kingship by Ramavhoya, who immediately enthroned himself at Tshirululuni. Thus the people who had once rejoiced in the ascension of Rasithu, now turned from him to support Ramavhoya.

Rasithu was nicknamed Ramapulana (the rainmaker) by the people of Moletjie. Ramapulana was Vendalised to Ramabulana. Ramabulana gave up hope of regaining the throne. But his eldest son, Davhana, who had accompanied him there, made several abortive military attempts to enable his father to return to power. As Ramavhoya’s defences were impenetrable, the attacks failed. Davhana, in an effort to convince his father of how serious and earnest he was in his intentions and the possibility of defeating Ramavhoya, cut off the heads of his victims and presented them to his father[2].

Ramavhoya, despite the pomp and the glory which accompanied his usurpation of power, could not, however, rule out the possibility that one day his brother, the true and lawful successor to the throne, would return. This fact, aggravated by Davhana’s minor attacks, forced him into a state of restlessness. Something had to be done to prevent the return of Ramabulana and secure permanently his place in power. He felt compelled to consult traditional doctors and diviners. They advised him to look for a physically strong man, a courageous man with whose flesh phamba (charms) could be made.

An opportunity to harvest the parts of a physically strong man presented itself when Mmamokotopi, the Tlokwa ruler, requested a state visit, during which the two most powerful leaders in the region would undertake a hunting expedition into the sub-tropical jungles of Vhukalanga, Zimbabwe. Ramavhoya responded positively to Mmamotopi’s proposal and decided that he and the Mmamokotopi would meet at the confluence of the Khwivhila and Litshovhu Rivers.

Mmamokotopi left to meet Ramavhoya. As instructed by Ramavhoya, his bodyguards hid their spears in their clothing. The plan was to kill Mmamokotopi at an opportune moment. In the midst of great rejoicing and jubilation, when nothing untoward was suspected, one of Ramavhoya’s men, stabbed Mmamokotopi in the heart. His subjects, finding themselves caught up in a horrible situation, scattered in a state of fear in all directions, fleeing homeward, leaving their fallen leader at the mercy of Ramavhoya’s men, who immediately and carefully harvested parts of his body in order to prepare the phamba[3].

Heartbroken and leaderless, the Tlokwa refused to leave the matter there. At Rida the Tlokwa approached Rasithu who was already aware of Mmamokotopi’s tragic death. By deposing his brother from the throne as well as assassinating Mmamokotopi, Ramavhoya had brought the Tlokwa and Rasithu together. Rasithu now had allies among the Tlokwa. They offered to provide him with military assistance in his bid to remove Ramavhoya from Tshirululuni.

[1] MH Nemudzivhadi – The Attempts by Makhado to Revive the Venda Kingdom, 1864-1895 (1998).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

The Batlokwa attacked the villages of Lunoni and Muthadzheni and set them alight. Thereafter they drove Ramavhoya from Tshirululuni. But Rasithu would not move to Tshirululuni until Ramavhoya was captured and murdered.

It was at this time that the Boers arrived in Venda and were stationed at Gogobole. Rasithu teamed up with the Boer leader, Louis Trichardt, to assassinate Ramavhoya. Trichardt then sent for Ramavhoya. Ramavhoya’s mother, Nyamulanalwo, reacting to a premonition she had had the night before, warned Ramavhoya against going. In her premonition she saw her son Rasithu and her grandson Davhana with a group of White people. It was an ominous sign, she thought. Consequently Ramavhoya relegated the task of visiting the Voortrekker leader to Funyufunyu and Madzhie. Trichardt, however, sent them back with the request to see Ramavhoya in person. Reports from the people of how they had been received and entertained, and thenews that Ramabulana and Davhana were not amongst them, created a feeling of optimism in Ramavhoya’s mind. He defied his mother’s warning and decided to meet with Trichardt the following day.

Davhana’s warriors and the Batlokwa allies hid in the bushes along the Litshovhu and Gogobole Rivers. Ramabulana and Davhana hid in a Boer wagon covered with canvas.

On their arrival, Ramavhoya’s group was well-received and entertained in a fitting manner. He was then asked to climb into the wagon in order to see the Boer king. The canvas was uncovered. When Ramavhoya saw Ramabulana, he immediately attacked him. In the fray that ensued, the elder brother was unable to withstand the strength of the younger Ramavhoya. Davhana too, assisted the father. In the midst of this tussle, Trichardt pulled the trigger, firing a shot into the air, thereby arousing the warriors in hiding who descended upon Ramavhoya and his men.

The Tlokwa urged Rasithu to kill Ramavhoya. Rasithu, the legitimate king of Venda, could however not kill his mother’s son. The Tlokwa then threatened to kill him instead. Faced with this dilemma, Ramabulana ultimately yielded and strangled his younger brother with a cord. He could not stab him because according to Tshivenda tradition, royal blood is not supposed to be spilt. As he died Ramavhoya looked at his brother and said “Vhuhosi u nga si vhu dzule, hu do bvelela vhusunzi vhutswuku vhu no do u mona” (You won’t rest as king. Red ants will come and wither you down). In this way Ramavhoya disappeared from the historical scene.

Rasithu became the King and was given the title of Ramabulana. His two royal kraals were at Luatame (Mount Songozwi) and Vuvha. King Ramabulana ruled until his death in 1864. He was very old when he died, and he had already allowed his eldest son, Davhana, to be in charge. King Ramabulana was the last Vhavenda King to be buried in a cave. He was buried at Vuvha, and the cave where he was laid to rest is up to this day regarded as sacred. It is guarded by the Khosi of Vuvha, Mulambilu Mphephu.

Davhana, Rasikhuthuma (Masakona), Khangale, Nthabalala, Ramalamula, Ramanala, Liswoga, Matamela, Raliphaswa, Ramaru and Makhado were the sons of King Ramabulana. Davhana was the eldest son and had stayed with his father at Vuvha. Davhana should have taken over the reign, but he was disliked by the Royal Council and chiefs due to the fact that he was seen as a dictator. It was also suspected that Davhana had poisoned his father because he wanted to be king. Most members of the Royal Council preferred Makhado, Ramabulana’s youngest son. Makhado was considered to be brave and was the most popular among his brothers. Makhado’s popularity and bravery, and the assistance he got from Makhadzi Nyakhuhu and Khotsimunene Madzhie led to his assumption of the Ramabulana kingship.

Davhana was defeated in the war of succession. He left Vuvha and settled for a while at Dzivhe, Ha-Mphaphuli. He later sought Joao Albasini’s protection at Luonde. Davhana had to once again flee from Luonde to settle at  Mpheni, Mount Luvhola.

The war of succession between Makhado and Davhana led to the following stanza in one of Tshivenda poems:

Songozwi i a dudumela
I toda u tiba Davhana
Ya tiba Makhado ri a lwa.

(Mount Songozwi wants to destroy Davhana. We will fight if it destroys Makhado)

To ensure that Davhana was completely surrounded by Mahosi (chiefs) who were loyal to Songozwi, King Makhado strategically placed his brothers and cousins as Mahosi in the following areas:

  • Nthabalala was sent to Vari, south of Luvhola. Vari was later known and is still known as Ha-Nthabalala (the land of Nthabalala);
  • Ramaru was sent to Shehe, west of Luvhola. Shehe became known as Ha-Ramaru (the land of Ramaru). Shehe is known today as Mpheni, Elim, Lemana, and Njakanjaka;
  • Rasikhuthuma (Masakona) was sent to Luvuvhu River valley (Levubu), east of Luvhola and next to Ha-Mashau. The land occupied by Rasikhuthuma/Masakona became known as Ha-Masakona. The Masakona community was forcibly removed from their land  by the Boers in the 1930s to make way for timber plantations and commercial fruit farming; and
  • King Makhado’s cousin, Ravele Matsheketsheke (Nndwayamiomva), was sent to Old Mauluma, north-east of Luvhola. Old Mauluma was situated next to Tshakhuma. The Ravele community was also forcibly removed from their land in the 1930s to also make way for timber plantations and commercial fruit farming. Old Mauluma was subdivided into the following farms: Barotta, Klein Australie, Entabeni, Levubu No.15LT, Nooitgedaght, and Appelsfontein;

To the north, north-east, and north-west of Luvhola there were other communities loyal to King Makhado such as Ratombo, Tshitungulu, Tshifhefhe, Tshivhodza, Marandela, Ramaite, etc. Communities such as Manavhela (Ramovha), Folovhodwe, Mamphodo, Mushasha, Begwa, which were south and south-west of Luvhola were also loyal to King Makhado. Davhana was, therefore, completely surrounded by Mahosi loyal to King Makhado. These Mahosi were instructed to monitor Davhana’s activities and to guard against any possible attacks from Davhana.

King Makhado’s main royal kraal was at Luatame on Mount Songozwi. He also had two other royal kraals at Malimuwa and Kolombani. There was bad blood between Makhado and the Boers who had been allowed to settle at Thivhalalwe (Schoemansdal) by Makhado’s father, King Ramabulana in 1858.

Schoemansdal was the northernmost part of white encroachment into the rest of South Africa. It was a hive of activity, the centre of business – where elephant tusks, skins from leopard and lion, dried meat and teak wood were exchanged for gold and other commodities. Trade in ivory and skins constituted two-thirds of the £150 000 derived from business in one year. Of that amount, £30 000 was from ivory.

As time went on, settlers wanted more and more land. They also wanted Vhavenda, including royal princes, to work for them for free. They even wanted tax and to map out where King Makhado’s area would be – a reserve designating where his jurisdiction would begin and end. King Makhado would have none of it. He told the whites to get off and that he did not recognise their rule over Vhavenda.

By 1861 there were more than 70 families at Thivhalalwe (Schoemansdal). From here, as tensions grew, whites called for reinforcements from Pretoria. They were given 400 commandos under the leadership of Commandant General Paul Kruger, later to become a leader and hero of the Boers. Their task was to dislodge King Makhado from Luatame and establish unchallenged rule over his areas and subjects.

One day King Makhado’s army commander, Funyufunyu, visited his brother who was working for the Boers at Schoemansdal. Funyufunyu witnessed how the Boers were ill-treating Vhavenda at Schoemansdal. The following day, 13 July 1867, the drum was beaten and Venda soldiers assembled for the attack. They went down and killed

everybody who was there. The only survivors were two hunters who had gone out. They raced away towards the south, where they got help to go back and claim their dead. The bodies were taken to Soekmekaar and many went there to look for their relatives – and the name Soekmekaar (looking for one another) came from that.

The destruction of Schoemansdal meant that the regime in Pretoria had lost its hold on Venda. The whites settled in Marabastad, outside Polokwane and later settled in Polokwane. The settlers then tried many tricks to get King Makhado on their side. On 20 November 1869, Kruger, RA van Nispen and Commandant DB Snyman assembled more than Vhavenda chiefs and headmen to pledge their loyalty to the white regime. King Makhado boycotted the meeting and refused to abide by its decree.

In 1887, General Piet Joubert was sent to try and convince Makhado that his land was too big for the number of people he ruled. King Makhado rejected this. He said his people would not be counted for a census and that his land did not need to be measured as he knew where it started and ended. The settlers, together with Shangaan/Tsonga speaking men aligned to a Portuguese man called Joao Albasini, once more tried to fight King Makhado. But they could not dislodge him after several fights. This earned King Makhado the nickname “Bull of the North” and the praise name “Tshilwavhusiku tsha Ramabulana” (the night fighter of Ramabulana), because he attacked at night with men who knew the area intimately.

In 1890 Captain JH Taylor, the Chief Native Commissioner of the British South African Police stationed in Zimbabwe, visited Makhado. Captain Taylor was accompanied by two Englishmen. The purpose of the visit was not disclosed. Taylor left, but returned a few weeks later with thirteen English soldiers and camped at Tshirululuni. Taylor showed King Makhado how to build fortifications. On his departure Taylor asked Makhado to send one of his sons to Zimbabwe to fetch a cannon. Makhado’s sons were Alilali Tshilamulela, Sinthumule, Kutama, and Maemu Malise. Alilali Tshilamulela’s mother was Midana, the daughter of Khosi Maphaha of Phawe. Sinthumule’s mother was Dombo, the daughter of Khosi Madzivhandila of Tshakhuma.

The Boers in Tshwane learnt of secret liaison between Makhado and Taylor. They reacted by writing a letter to King Makhado warning him against British agitators and asking him to meet General Joubert either in Venda or in Tshwane. King Makhado refused to go to Tshwane. Joubert decided to go to Venda to meet King Makhado but was stopped by Makhado’s army before crossing Muhohodi river.

Makhado’s refusal to submit to white rule led to some of his subjects from Malimuwa believing that he was the source of conflict between Vhavenda and the Boers. They therefore decided to eliminate him hoping that his death would bring peace between Vhavenda and the Boers. Makhado’s first wife Nwaphunga, together with Rasivhetshele, Liswe, Makhokha, Makhethekhethe, and Mutheiwana planned the assassination of Makhado. According to one of the highly respected Venda historian, Professor MH Nemudzivhadi, the assassination was made easy by the fact that King Makhado had become fond of brandy. King Makhado was given poisoned brandy by Rasivhetshele and Nwaphunga at a party specifically arranged by Nwaphunga. King Makhado died on 3 September 1895. The poison that killed him was obtained from Boer farms across the Muhohodi river.

King Makhado had earlier informed his counsellors and the elders that he should be succeeded by Maemu, his youngest son. Maemu was the eldest child of Nwaphunga. After having succeeded in killing Makhado, the council at Malimuwa, led by Rasivhetshele and Nwaphunga, installed Maemu as king. This installation, which was performed at Malimuwa, was contrary to Tshivenda culture which dictates that after the death of a king the nation has to mourn for a year before a new king is installed.

Maemu immediately sent word to Tshwane subjecting himself and Vhavenda to the white regime. Alilali Tshilamulela was in Kimberley when Makhado died. Sinthumule had visited Taylor in Zimbabwe to fetch the cannon that had been promised to Makhado.

But Maemu was opposed by chiefs such as Mavhasa Musekwa of Tshihanane, Ravele Matsheketsheke of Old Mauluma, Matidze of Luonde, Funyufunyu of Vhulorwa, Madzivhandila of Tshakhuma, Netsianda of Tsianda, Nelwamondo of Lwamondo, Makatu of Tshivhodza, and Raliphaswa. Mavhasa Musekwa, Ravele Matsheketsheke, Raliphaswa and Makhadzi Ndalammbi sent messengers to bring back Alilali and Sinthumule from Kimberley and Zimbabwe respectively.  They all agreed that Alilali Tshilamulela should be the new king.

Funyufunyu secretly raised an army to attack Maemu. Sinthumule came back from Zimbabwe before Alilali Tshilamulela arrived from Kimberley. Sinthumule was advised by Makhadzi Ndalammbi to remain composed until the arrival of Alilali Tshilamulela from Kimberley.

In order to protect himself from Rasivhetshele and Nwaphunga’s assassins, Alilali Tshilamulela travelled back to Venda through Botswana which at the time was known among Vhavenda as Ha-Manwadu. Alilali Tshilamulela had a rendezvous with Sinthumule at Luvhivhini. Together with Funyufunyu and Makhadzi Ndalammbi they planned to dethrone Maemu.

Maemu was driven out of Luatame. He and his followers initially fled to Malimuwa. But they also fled Malimuwa and crossed Muhohodi river and sought the protection of the Boers at Fort Hendrina. The way was now paved for the installation of the new king.

Alilali Tshilamulela became the new king of Venda and was given the title of   Mphephu. All Mahosi who supported Maemu Malise were deposed. They included Mutheiwana of Vuvha, Liswoga of Tshifhefhe and Rasivhetshele.

King Mphephu died in 1924, and was succeeded by his son Mbulaheni George. Mbulaheni was crowned King Mphephu II in 1925. King Mphephu II died in 1949 and was laid to rest at Songozwi. He was succeeded by his son, Ramaano Patrick, who was given the title of Mphephu III. Mphephu III ruled from 1950 to 1988, and was succeeded by Tshimangadzo (Dimbanyika Thohoyandou Ramabulana II). Dimbanyika Thohoyandou Ramabulana II died in a car accident in December 1997, leaving a baby girl as the only heir to the throne. His younger brother, Toni, was installed as the new King of Venda and was given the title of King Mphephu Ramabulana. He was crowned by former president Nelson Mandela in 1998.

Venda Homeland

The Native Affairs Act, No.23 of 1920 provided for the establishment of local councils and a Native Commission to advise the South African government on issues that affected Africans. The Bantu Authorities Act, No 68 of 1951 provided for the creation of tribal, regional and territorial authorities. As a result of this Act, 25 tribal authorities, three regional authorities and one territorial authority were established in Venda. The apartheid ideology recognised Vhavenda as distinct from non-Vendas, as a homogenous entity who needed to have their own territorial state. This led to the establishment of the Thohoyandou Territorial Authority in 1962 headed by Thovhele Ramaano Patrick Mphephu Ramabulana. The 25 tribal authorities were represented in the regional authority by two or more members and one of the members had to be a Khosi (senior chief) or Vhamusanda (junior chief). The regional authorities were in turn represented by their chairmen and other members depending on population size and the numbers of taxpayers.

Proclamation R.168 of 20 June 1969 proclaimed the Thohoyandou Territorial Authority as the Venda Territorial Authority. This led to several changes in the form of representation. Each ‘tribal’ authority was represented at the Territorial Authority by its Khosi or chairman and another member elected by the tribal authority from among its councillors. The Black States Constitution Act of 1971 provided for the creation of Legislative Assemblies in the Bantustans. The Venda Legislative Assembly was constituted in 1973 and this led to Venda becoming a so-called self-governing territory. The Legislative Assembly was made of 60 members, 42 of whom had to be Mahosi or Vhamusanda. The remaining 18 were elected by Venda citizens as well as Vhavenda who were outside the Venda Bantustan.

In 1979 Venda became a so-called independent state and was known as the Republic of Venda. Thovhele Ramaano Patrick Mphephu Ramabulana was elected the first president of the Republic of Venda. This Banana Republic was, however, only recognised by its creators, apartheid South Africa, and fellow banana republics: Transkei, Bophuthatswana and Ciskei.

Ramaano Patrick Mphephu Ramabulana died in April 1988, and was succeeded by his cousin, Khosi Nndwakhulu Frank Ravele of Mauluma as the new president of the Republic of Venda.

Khosi Nndwakhulu Frank Ravele took over the presidency of the Republic of Venda at the time when the tide was turning against the apartheid rulers in South Africa. The liberation movement was unbanned in February 1990 and political prisoners were released. People in Venda intensified their calls for the re-incorporation of Venda into South Africa. Riots broke out in Venda and so-called witches and wizards were killed through stoning and ‘necklacing’. The riots culminated in the military, the Venda Defence Force, led by Gabriel Mutheiwana Ramushwana, staging a bloodless coup d’état in 1990. It came to light, however, some years later, that Khosi Nndwakhulu Frank Ravele had, in consultation with the ANC, masterminded his own downfall. He peacefully handed over the reins to the military, but had to do it secretly to avoid making the apartheid rulers aware that he and the Venda Defence Force were working together with the ANC.

Venda was dissolved as a homeland and a republic and re-incorporated into South Africa shortly before the April 1994 elections. Venda is today part of Limpopo province, and is known officially as Vhembe district. Vhembe district is made up of four local municipalities: Makhado, Thulamela, Musina, and Mutale.

Towns and major centres found in Venda include Makhado (former Louis Trichardt), Elim-Mpheni, Vuwani, Dzanani, Musina, Tshipise, Thohoyandou, Shayandima, Sibasa, Masisi, Tshikondeni, and Tshilamba.