“I am the grandchild of the warrior men and women that Hintsa and Sekhukhune led, the patriots that Cetshwayo and Mphephu took to battle, the soldiers Moshoeshoe and Ngungunyane taught never to dishonour the cause of freedom”. Former President Thabo Mbeki, 1996.

King Mphephu, like his father, Makhado, and other African leaders such as kings Shaka Zulu, Mzilikazi Khumalo, Moshoeshoe, Sekhukhune, Malebogo, Makgoba, and Queen Modjadji, amongst others, fought for freedom. Their heroism inspired the establishment of the liberation movement in the early 20th century

After defeating Davhana in the war of succession, King Makhado decided to reorganise the Venda army by establishing battalions in different regions. The first battalion to be established was known as Mavhoi. This battalion consisted of Tshirululuni, Vhutuwangadzebu, Tshitopeni, Malimuwa, Magoni and Songozwi. This battalion, also known as Mmbi ya Thondo (the king’s battalion), was composed of very brave fighters. The proximity of the Mavhoi battalion to the king’s residence made it available to the service of Thovhele at any time.

The second battalion was known as Vhalube, and it consisted of the Vhalaudzi communities of Phawe and Makwatambani, under Khosi Maphaha and Khosi Makongoza respectively.

The third battalion was known as Maunavhathu, and it consisted of Old Mauluma and Tshakhuma. This battalion, led by Khosi Nndwayamiomva of Old Mauluma, had to keep an eye on Davhana’s activities, and to keep a watch on the marauding bands of Swazis, as they usually attempted to invade the country from an easterly direction. After Nndwayamiomva was killed in Vhukalanga (Zimbabwe) while hunting elephants, this battalion was led by his son and successor, Ravele.

Further west and to the north of Thivhalalwe (Schoemansdal), a fourth battalion, known as Vhaingamela, was established at Vhulorwa. This battalion, which consisted of Vhulorwa, Lunoni, and Musingadi, was under under Khosi Funyufunyu. Funyufunyu was a great fighter who became a pain in the Boers’ side who tried to annex Venda during Makhado and Mphephu’s reigns.

To the north of Songozwi, at Tshihanane (Musekwapoort), was the fifth battalion, known as Manenu Manena Misipha (those who chop people’s limbs). This battalion, simply known as Manenu, was under the leadership of Khosi Mavhasa Musekwa. It was a very strong battalion which as a result of its locality, had become a northern bulwark of safety.

After becoming king, Makhado embarked on a campaign of consolidating his position and ensuring loyalty from all chiefs in Venda. His intention was to ensure that all mahosi who had behaved like independent chiefs after Thohoyandou’s disappearance, submitted to him. On this very important mission, Makhado was accompanied by twelve trustworthy men, amongst them Funyufunyu, Nndwayamiomva and Rasivhetshele.

Senior chiefs such as Madzivhandila of Tshakhuma, Nelwamondo of Lwamondo, Ranwedzi Mphaphuli of Ha-Mphaphuli, and Ligegise Tshivhase of Ha-Tshivhasa, submitted to Makhado’s authority. As the Tshivhase royal house was second in royalty to Ramabulana, Ligegise’s willingness to submit to Makhado meant that Makhado was the undisputed king of Vhavenda.

When Makhado visited Dzimauli, Ha-Rambuda’s royal residence. Khosi Vele Rambuda submitted to Makhado. But Vele’s eldest son, Bele, behaved in a manner that indicated that he did not recognise Makhado. Makhado’s men also gathered information that Bele had allegedly stated that he neither respected Makhado nor feared him since Makhado was a boy (Makhado had just ascended to the throne and was in his late twenties, while Bele was in his thirties).

King Makhado could not forgive Bele for his behaviour. Makhado, however, restrained himself since Bele’s father, Vele Rambuda, had submitted to Makhado’s authority.

King Makhado got his opportunity to teach Bele Rambuda a lesson when Vele Rambuda died and there were divisions in Dzimauli on who should succeed Vele Rambuda as the chief of Ha-Rambuda (Dzimauli).

Some members of the Rambuda royal council decided to install Bele Rambuda as the new chief of Ha-Rambuda. But other members of the royal council rejected Bele’s installation on the basis that he was arrogant, boastful, egotistic, and disrespectful. There were also suspicions that Bele was not Vele’s biological son. This was due to the fact that Bele was extremely light skinned, and it was suspected that he was born out of an illicit love affair between his mother and a white man. But those who suspected that Bele was the son of a white man could not say so in public. They, therefore, argued that he looked like red meat and that Ha-Rambuda would incur the wrath of the ancestors if a man who looked like red meat was crowned as its chief.

The faction that opposed Bele Rambuda’s ascendancy to the Rambuda throne favoured his younger brother, Tshikosi.  The Tshivhases, who wanted one of Vele Rambuda’s sons, Mashila, to be the chief of Ha-Rambuda took advantage of the chaotic situation in Dzimauli and invaded Dzimauli. They managed to drive Bele out of Dzimauli and installed Mashila, whose mother was a Tshivhase, as the new chief of Ha-Rambuda. Bele and Tshikosi Rambuda, whose mother was King Makhado’s sister, fled to their maternal uncle at Tshirululuni. Tshikosi settled at Luatame, Makhado’s main royal residence on Mount Songozwi, while Bele settled at Mpheni village, east of Luatame.

Bele Rambuda was, however, not happy that he had been dislodged from Dzimauli. He was depressed all the time and desperately wanted to return to Dzimauli. After trying hard to convince whoever cared to listen, to help him return to Dzimauli, he invited Swazis from Swaziland and Ndebeles from Zimbabwe to help him fight Mashila and the Tshivhases. But he created more enemies than friends. When word got out that Bele had invited Swazi and Ndebele mercenaries, Venda people everywhere got scared because they thought he wanted the mercenaries to conquer the whole of Venda. This, coupled with Bele’s behaviour when Makhado paid Vele Rambuda a visit, led to King Makhado concluding that Bele should be eliminated.

After failing to get the support of both the Swazis and the Ndebeles, Bele returned from Zimbabwe and settled at Mphego village. King Makhado and Bele’s younger brother, Tshikosi, lured Bele to his death by promising him the chieftainship of Tshiendeulu and Maname. They also promised to help him recover Ha-Rambuda.

Bele believed that he would be crowned as Khosi of Tshiendeulu and Maņame by Makhado. A ‘coronation party’ was thrown for him at Mphego village. He was made to consume huge amounts of sorghum beer on the day of the ‘coronation’. Instead of being made Khosi, Bele was strangled to death by a group of men led by Mashige, one of the commanders of Makhado’s battalions.

After Bele Rambuda’s assassination, Makhado tasked his eldest son, Mphephu, with leading the Mavhoi battalion in assisting Tshikosi Rambuda to wrestle the control of Ha-Rambuda from Mashila Rambuda’s widow, Nyatshitahela. Mphephu led the Mavhoi battalion whose mission was to re-conquer and reunite Ha-Rambuda under Tshikosi’s chieftaincy. The first Ha-Rambuda village to come under attack was Gogogo, which had been wrestled from its rightful ruler, Negogogo, by Tshikosi’s half-brother, Siphuma Rambuda. Siphuma was defeated and he fled to Tshamulungwi. Negogogo was restored to his place by Mphephu and Tshikosi.

The Mavhoi battalion, led by Mphephu, later liberated other Rambuda villages such as Ha-Madala, Pile, Tshixwadza, Dzamba, and Luheni. The liberation of these villages led to Mashila’s widow, Nyatshitahela, getting scared of Mphephu’s fighters. She decided to flee Ha-Rambuda’s main royal capital, Dzimauli, and sought refuge at Ha-Tshivhasa.

Mphephu and Mavhoi battalion’s next target in the liberation of Ha-Rambuda was Tshamulungwi, where they needed to kick Siphuma out. But Mphephu’s first attempt, at capturing Tshamulungwi, failed since Siphuma’s residence was heavily fortified.  The Mavhoi battalion lost two men, including the brother of King Makhado’s wife, Nwaphunga.

Even though Siphuma had managed to repel the attack on his residence at Tshamulungwi, he still feared the Mavhoi battalion. He did not feel safe and he decided to flee to Dzimauli which had been abandoned by Nyatshitahela, Mashila’s widow. A gentleman by the name of Tshimunye, and who was Siphuma’s ally, was installed as the chief of Tshamulungwi.

Meanwhile, King Makhado punished Mphephu for his failure to capture Tshamulungwi. He sent him back and told not him not to come back if he failed again to capture Tshamulungwi and to liberate Ha-Rambuda. The Mavhoi battalion went back to Tshamulungwi to attack Tshimunye. The Mavhoi battalion besieged Tshamulungwi for six days and blocked all access to rivers and streams. Tshimunye’s fighters ran out of water and decided to surrender on the seventh day. The Mavhoi battalion, which was full of vengeance, broke with tradition by killing people who had surrendered. Tshimunye and thirteen of his trusted lieutenants were also killed. Tshamulungwi was captured, and the last target in the liberation of Ha-Rambuda was Dzimauli itself.

After thorough preparations, the army led, by Mavhoi battalion, failed in their first attempt at conquering Dzimauli. They also lost three important fighters, Nemakololwe, Gombami and Madzida. This was due to the fact that Dzimauli’s terrain was very difficult to negotiate, and the royal capital was situated next to Tshavhadinda caves, which was extremely difficult for invaders to access.

Mavhoi fighters waited a few months before attempting to capture Dzimauli. In their second attempt, they managed to get into the royal residence. They did so by hanging and dangling from tree branches. They jumped from these tree branches into the main residence. Nngwana Rambuda, Tshikosi’s younger brother, was the first to get into the royal residence, and everybody else followed.  Ever since that day, Tshikosi and his brother’s descendants referred to themselves as ‘vha ha Rambuda tshiwangamatembele’, meaning the Rambudas who jumped from tree branches. Today the area is also fondly referred to as Ha-Rambuda Tshiwangamatembele.

Mavhoi fighters’ first victim, when they got into the royal residence, was Siphuma’s son who they found sitting next to the mouth of Tshavhadinda caves. They rolled his corpse down the cliff into Siphuma’s yard. They later discovered that Siphuma was not home. They decided to wait till Siphuma returned home.

When Siphuma and his entourage returned home, they discovered his son’s corpse and started crying and wailing. Tshikosi fired bullets into the air and announced to Siphuma that he had, with the assistance of Mavhoi battalion, captured Dzimauli and that Siphuma should leave immediately. Tshikosi told Siphuma that he had decided to spare his life since he and Siphuma were Vele Rambuda’s sons. Siphuma fled to Ha-Tshivhasa, and Tshikosi, with Mphephu’s assistance, became the undisputed Khosi of Dzimuali, and Tshikosi remained loyal to King Makhado, and later to King Mphephu.

After having succeeded in killing Makhado, the council at Malimuwa, led by Rasivhetshele and Nwaphunga, crowned Maemu as king. This coronation, 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. Moreover, Maemu’s coronation did not have the blessing of the royal family. Neither the senior Makhadzi nor Khotsimunene was consulted in the decision to install Maemu as king. Maemu’s coronation was, therefore, an illegal coronation.

After becoming king, Maemu immediately sent messengers to Boer authorities in Tshwane, pledging his and Vhavenda loyalty to the Boers. Maemu was, however, opposed by senior Mahosi such as Maphaha of Phawe, Makongoza of Makwatambani, 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 of Ha-Raliphaswa. These senior chiefs also opposed Maemu’s efforts of handing over Venda to the Boers on a platter. They questioned the wisdom of the victors surrendering to those who lost the fight.

Mavhasa Musekwa also questioned the wisdom of crowning Maemu in the absence of his two older brothers and whilst the nation was still mourning the passing of their king. He, together with Ravele Matsheketsheke of Mauluma, approached Raliphaswa, Makhado’s brother, and Makhadzi Ndalammbi for advice. They all agreed that messengers should be sent to Kimberley and Zimbabwe respectively to fetch Mphephu and Sinthumule.  They also agreed that Mphephu should be the new king.

Funyufunyu, the general of Vhaingamela battalion, started preparing for war. He was joined by the Vhalube battalion consisting of the Vhalaudzi communities of Phawe and Makwatambani, under Khosi Maphaha and Khosi Makongoza respectively. Vhalaudzi supported Mphephu since his mother, Midana, was the daughter of Khosi Maphaha of Phawe.

Since Sinthumule was in Zimbabwe, which was nearer to Venda than Kimberley, he arrived back home before Mphephu did. When Sinthumule approached the main royal residence of Luatame, Songozwi, he was greeted with rejoicing and jubilation by people who were excited about Maemu’s coronation. He decided not to enter the royal residence. He proceeded to Makwatambani to confer with his paternal aunt Makhadzi Ndalammbi. She briefly recounted to him the whole sequence of events from Makhado’s death to Maemu’s coronation. She advised him to remain composed until the arrival of Mphephu from Kimberley.

When the messengers despatched to Kimberley to fetch Mphephu arrived there, they informed Mphephu what had transpired. Mphephu and his Mavhegwa age group, who had accompanied him to the diamond fields of Kimberley, waited till the end of the month in order to earn their salaries.

After buying a white horse and guns, Mphephu started the long journey back home. In order to protect himself from Rasivhetshele and Nwaphunga’s assassins, Mphephu travelled back to Venda through Botswana which at the time was known among Vhavenda as Ha-Manwadu (the land of Bamangwato).

Before going to the Songozwi royal residence, Mphephu visited Kgosi Ramokgopa, the chief of Botlokwa. Botlokwa was part and parcel of the Venda Kingdom. Kgosi Ramokgopa advised Mphephu to wait in Botlokwa while a spy was sent to Songozwi and Malimuwa to learn more about the situation. The spy obtained as much information as possible and hurried back to Botlokwa to report to Mphephu.

Mphephu then had a secret rendezvous with Sinthumule at Luvhivhini. From there they proceeded to Gogobole. From Gogobole they crossed Litshovhu and Thivhalalwe rivers into Makwatambani, the home of their aunt Makhadzi Ndalammbi. The three, together with Funyufunyu, planned to dethrone Maemu.

Makhadzi Ndalammbi urged the three men to go and dethrone Maemu and kick him out of Songozwi. She is reported as having stated that:

“If any of you dare to return without having taken Songozwi, you will never be given porridge by a woman’s hand again. Up! Up away! Let us once more hear the war cry of our people on the mountainside of my father.”

Makhadzi Ndalammbi continued that if the two brothers were afraid of attacking Mount Songozwi, she would rather dress like a man and eat goat’s tail. She said this due to the fact that Vhavenda women were forbidden from eating goat’s tail. It was therefore a warning that should they fail to dethrone Maemu, she would break with tradition by dressing like a man and enjoying goat’s tail.

Mphephu with the Mavhoi battalion, the Mavhegwa fighters, Sinthumule’s Ngomakhosi age group, Vhaingamela battalion under Funyufunyu, and the Vhalube battalion under the Vhalaudzi chiefs, listened to Makhadzi Ndalammbi’s sad but courageous words. Her words seemed to have injected new energy and courage into their veins and they were itching to inflict maximum damage on Maemu and his supporters. But Mphephu advised them to wait till dawn.

The army climbed the hills and mountains with Makhadzi Ndalammbi’s words of encouragement ringing in their ears. Maemu’s supporters knew the character and heroism of Mphephu and Sinthumule. They were therefore demoralised when they heard the war cries of Mphephu’s army. They felt that they could not withstand the combined forces of Mavhoi, Vhaingamela, Vhalube, Mavhegwa and Ngomakhosi.

Maemu had no choice but to flee to Malimuwa, Makhado’s third royal residence, where he grew up. Mphephu’s army followed him to Malimuwa. Mphephu’s army fired a hail of bullets at Maemu’s supporters.

Maemu and his supporters fled Malimuwa and went northwards towards Khavhambe, the area ruled by Makhado’s brother Ramalamula. They were trapped and could not go east as they would come across the Maunavhathu battalion under Ravele Matsheketsheke. They were forced to flee southwards. They crossed the Muhohodi River and sought the protection of the Boers at Fort Hendrina.

The way was now paved for the installation of the new legitimate king.

Alilali Mphephu Tshilamulela became the new king of Venda. The elders requested Sinthumule to be Mphephu’s Ndumi (right handman and assistance). Sinthumule, however, turned down the offer in favour of his younger brother, Kutama. Sinthumule told the elders that he would prefer to remain an ordinary Khotsimunene.  Kutama became Mphephu’s Ndumi while Funzani, Mphephu’s sister, became the Khadzi.

Mphephu could not forget the role played by Sinthumule in the war of succession against Maemu Malise. He rewarded Sinthumule by giving him the land of Tshifhefhe which was previously ruled by the deposed Liswoga. Sinthumule did not, however, regard this as a reward worthy of the great service he had rendered in the war of succession. Sinthumule initially refused to go to Tshifhefhe because he preferred Malimuwa. He was also not happy that Kutama was given Vhulorwa which was more fertile and bigger than Tshifhefhe. He could, however, not be given Malimuwa since it was too close to Luatame, Mphephu’s main royal residence at Songozwi. The elders were worried that having Sinthumule too close to the royal capital would lead to Sinthumule becoming ambitious and having designs on the throne. Sinthumule’s own mother, Dombo, warned Mphephu of the danger of allowing Sinthumule to settle at Malimuwa as it could lead to unnecessary conflicts. She stated that once Sinthumule had established himself at the mountain, it would be difficult to dislodge him.

Sinthumule later relented and settled at Tshifhefhe. He was accompanied by his age group, Ngomakhosi, while Mphephu’s age group, Mavhegwa remained at Luatame. Sinthumule built a large residence at the foot of Mount Tshifhefhe. King Mphephu proclaimed that all chiefs east of Tshifhefhe should from then on submit their minor cases to Sinthumule. This led to Sinthumule assuming the role of a prime minister, and it showed that Mphephu had confidence in Sinthumule as a ruler.

After Mphephu took over as king, he deposed all mahosi who supported Maemu. They included Makhado’s maternal uncle, Mutheiwana of Vuvha. Mutheiwana was also a feared diviner. Mutheiwana was replaced by his younger brother, Makaulule.

Liswoga, Makhado’s brother who was the chief of Tshifhefhe, was also deposed. Rasivhetshele, Makhado’s great ally and childhood friend who later betrayed Makhado, was also deposed. Ratombo of Tshidzivhani, who had earlier supported Maemu, switched sides and paid tribute to Mphephu.

The Boers were disappointed with Mphephu’s victory. They had celebrated too soon after Maemu’s coronation and after Maemu had sent a delegation to Tshwane submitting to Boer authority.

In 1896, the Tshivhases took advantage of Makhado’s death and tried to invade Tshikosi at Dzimauli to re-install Siphuma as the chief of Ha-Rambuda. They had underestimated Mphephu’s heroism and the fact that it was Mphephu himself, under Makhado’s instructions, who had liberated Ha-Rambuda. Mphephu, once more, decided to go to Tshikosi’s assistance. Tshivhase’s army could not withstand the onslaught of Mphephu’s battalions. After heavy shelling, and after Tshivhase’s army had suffered too many casualties, they surrendered and were allowed to go back home to Mukumbani.

The Boers were alarmed when they heard that Mphephu had inflicted serious damages on Tshivhase’s army, and that the Tshivhases had surrendered to Tshikosi. Reverend Beuster, stationed at Maungani, was shocked by Mphephu’s heroism. He thought that Mphephu might want to attack Ha-Tshivhasa. Reverend Beuster’s fears were shared by the few local whites who were stationed at Fort Hendrina, south of Songozwi.

The Boers, realising that Mphephu was as brave as his father, Makhado, and that he would never submit to them, started making preparations for the invasion of Venda.

King Makhado had more than fifteen (15) wives. Some of these wives were very young at the time of his death. They were the same age as his sons, Mphephu, Sinthumule, Kutama, and Maemu. The young wives were, in terms of Venda law, supposed to be ‘inherited’ by Makhado’s sons. Their children fathered by Makhado’s sons would, however, be regarded as Makhado’s children since their mothers were first Makhado’s wives before they were ‘inherited’ by Makhado’s sons.

The first open clash between Mphephu and Sinthumule flared up when Sinthumule wanted to marry two of Makhado’s young wives. He first wanted to marry Matoro, but Mphephu had already taken her. When he turned to Mokgadi, the daughter of Chief Ramokgopa of Botlokwa, Mphephu also wanted her as his wife.

Rasivhetshele, Mutheiwana and the Boers seized the opportunity and urged Sinthumule to stop recognising Mphephu as his king. They later urged Sinthumule to fight for the Venda kingship. At first Sinthumule argued against dethroning Mphephu and told his supporters to stop creating enmity between him and Mphephu. But he later changed his mind after being made to believe that his age group, Ngomakhosi, was more powerful than the Mavhegwa at Luatame. The Boers, Rasivhetshela and Mutheiwana also lied to Sinthumule that Mphephu was planning to assassinate him.

Mphephu was also reluctant to fight with Sinthumule. His supporters urged him to take action against Sinthumule for conspiring with Rasivhetshele, Mutheiwana and the Boers. Mphephu did not believe that Sinthumule could do such a thing. He told his supporters not to fuel the fire. But Mphephu started to take the allegations against Sinthumule seriously after receiving numerous complaints and intelligence briefings from his supporters. He dispatched messengers to Tshifhefhe to summon Sinthumule to Luatame. Sinthumule refused to go to Luatame after his supporters warned him that he would be killed at Luatame.

Later Mphephu asked Sinthumule to send his subjects to work at the dzunde (king’s field that is ploughed by all the king’s subjects). Sinthumule did not respond. Mphephu’s advisors urged him to attack Sinthumule and depose him as the Khosi of Tshifhefhe.

The Mavhegwa army, supported by Mavhoi, Vhaingamela, Vhalube, Manenu, Khavhambe, Tshitopeni, Maunavhathu and Malimuwa battalions, was dispatched to attack Sinthumule at Tshifhefhe. Instructions were issued to the generals that they should destroy Sinthumule’s supporters but that Sinthumule should be saved since he was of royal blood.

Fierce fighting took place at Tshifhefhe. A lot of Sinthumule’s Ngomakhosi supporters were murdered. Sinthumule and his people evacuated Tshifhefhe and fled to Tshivhodza. They were, however, not welcomed at Tshivhodza since Khosi Makatu of Tshivhodza was Mphephu’s supporter. They then went to Luonde, but could also not receive help from Khosi Matidze of Luonde. Sinthumule then crossed the Muhohodi River and settled at Ha-Manavhela (Ben Lavin). Mphephu initially did not want to pursue Sinthumule since in terms of Tshivenda rules of combat, an enemy that fled and crossed a major river was not supposed to be pursued. But Mphephu later changed his mind after learning that Maemu and Rasivhetshele had joined Sinthumule at Ha-Manavhela, and that Khosi Kumbani Manavhela had switched sides and had become a supporter of Sinthumule.

Mphephu instructed Khosi Makaulule of Vuvha, Khosi Ravele of Old Mauluma, and Khosi Ratombo of Tshidzivhani to attack Mutheiwana who was hiding at Cooksley’s farm, next to Tshidzivhani. The western army, led by Mphephu himself, attacked Sinthumule at Ha-Manavhela on 13 October 1896. Thirteen (13) of Sinthumule and Manavhela’s people, including Mulayo and Mabalanganye, were killed. Sinthumule, Maemu and Rasivhetshele fled to Polokwane and sought the Boers’ protection.

The eastern army led by Ratombo attacked Cooksley’s farm and killed twenty six (26) people all of whom were Tsonga-Shangaans who were farm workers. Since the eastern army had murdered people at a white man’s farm, the Boers asked Mphephu to deliver Ratombo to Polokwane. The Boers promised Mphephu that they would arrest Sinthumule, Maemu and Rasivhetshele. Mphephu did not want them arrested since that would mean that they would spend time in a white man’s jail instead of being delivered to Luatame where they would be punished in terms of Tshivenda law.

King Mphephu refused to deliver Ratombo to the Boers in Polokwane. The Boers warned him that his refusal to hand over Ratombo would mean that he would be held responsible for the murder of the twenty six Tsonga-Shangaan farm workers killed at Cooksley’s farm.

Mphephu also refused to pay tax to junior officers of the white regime. He insisted that if he and his people had to pay tax, they would only pay taxes to Paul Kruger. This is because the Ramabulanas regarded Kruger as the king of the Boers. They, therefore, insisted that Mphephu as the king of Vhavenda could only meet with another king, and not chiefs or headmen. The Boers, fearing that chiefs such as Tshivhase, Mphaphuli and Nethengwe would be influenced by King Mphephu to not pay taxes, decided to act against him. The Boers interpreted Mphephu’s refusal to pay tax as a sign of not wanting to subject himself to the authority of the white regime.

In 1896 the Boers decided to conduct population census. King Mphephu stopped policemen from entering Venda and from conducting a census. The Boers in Polokwane sent a message to Tshwane that ‘the Makhado nation was a thorn in the flesh’. The white government in Tshwane was, due to the messages it was receiving from Polokwane and from a few Boers in Venda, forced to take up arms against King Mphephu. The Boers also wanted to punish Vhavenda for the heavy defeat the Boers suffered at Thivhalalwe (Schoemansdal) on 13 July 1867. The Boers were also afraid that the British army in Zimbabwe, led by Captain Taylor, was communicating with King Mphephu, and that Taylor intended to supply arms and ammunition to Mphephu to help him drive out the Boers from Venda.

The Boers knew that the Ramabulana royal house was the most senior house of all Vhavenda royal houses. Defeating and subjugating Mphephu would lead to the subjugation of all Vhavenda. Defeating the king would send a strong message to all Vhavenda that resisting Boer might was a futile exercise.

The white regime in Tshwane decided to take action against Mphephu. The Boers gave Mphephu an ultimatum to pay tax, to allow policemen to conduct census, and to deliver Ratombo to them. Mphephu ignored the ultimatum. The white regime dispatched Devenish and Jan du Preeze to demarcate Venda. The two were sent packing and told that there would be trouble if they came back. The Executive Council of the white regime met in Tshwane on 13 September 1898 and took a decision to wage war against King Mphephu.

The Boers mobilised 1800 Boers: 850 from Tshwane, 200 from Potchefstroom, 100 from Waterberg, 200 from Heidelberg, 200 from Standerton, and 250 from the Soutpansberg. The Boer commando, led by General Joubert, reached Tshirululuni  on 18th October 1898. They constructed a laager in the form of a square, fortified by a stone wall in order to combat night attacks. The Vhavenda on the other hand constructed their own fortifications about a mile from the laager.

Joubert wrote a letter to King Mphephu asking him to negotiate. Mphephu refused due to the fact that Sinthumule, Maemu, and Rasivhetshele were with the Boers. Mphephu thought that he was being asked to go to a meeting with the Boers so that he could be killed, and that the Boers wanted to install Sinthumule as king of Vhavenda.

On 2 November 1898 Reverend Beuster visited Joubert with two messengers from Khosi Tshivhase. The two messengers brought with them four oxen and an assurance that Tshivhase would support Joubert.  Later on Khosi Mphaphuli also indicated that he would not support Mphephu. Two Batlokoa chiefs, Machaka and Ramokgopa, were also forced to pledge their allegiance to the Boers at Mphephu’s expense. By forcing Tshivhase, Machaka, Ramokgopa, and Mphaphuli to state that they would not support their king, the Boers managed to isolate Mphephu. The Tshivhases were more than willing to support the Boers since they were still smarting from the crushing defeat they suffered under Mphephu in the battles of Ha-Rambuda.

On 16 November 1898, 4500 Boers attacked Luatame. They were joined by 1000 Swazi men and 1000 Tsonga-Shangaan men. Seven divisions were dispatched to attack Luatame from three sides. The easterly division attacked from Malimuwa. The central division attacked from Tshirululuni, while the westerly division forced its way through Vhulorwa.

The Boers, after heavy fighting and resistance from Vhavenda, took over Luatame. But the Phawe, Malimuwa and Tshitopeni regiments gave the Boers a run for their money. Finally, after two days of fighting, and after about 130 people had perished, Vhavenda surrendered to the Boers. Most of the people who perished were old men and women.

The Boers, after annexing Luatame and Malimuwa, were surprised why Vhavenda surrendered. The two places were well fortified and impenetrable. It would not have been easy for the Boers to capture the two places had Vhavenda not been terrified by the sound of cannons.  The Boers were able to capture the two places because Vhavenda got terrified and deserted the two areas after only two days of fighting.

King Mphephu fled to Vhuxwa in Zimbabwe and sought help from the British. The Boers were disappointed at having failed to capture him. They continued searching for Mphephu, not knowing that he had fled to Zimbabwe. Vhavenda who were taken prisoners of war misled the Boers by telling them that Mphephu was hiding in caves. The Boers looked for Mphephu in different caves, but could not find him.

On 20 November 1898 Joubert received congratulatory messages from Khosi Tshivhase and Khosi Mphaphuli. The two promised to guard the boundary on the north-east to prevent Mphephu from escaping.

The search for Mphephu continued on 21 November 1898. The Boers went as far as Ha-Madzhie, but Mphephu was nowhere to be found. Some of Vhavenda senior chiefs, Tshiangamela, Kharivhe, Matshisevhe, Lishivha, Madzhie, Ravele, Madzivhandila, Mugivhi, Nelwamondo, and Netsianda offered to negotiate peace with the Boers.

The Boer army left Venda on 8 December 1898. Joubert reported to the white regime in Tshwane that although the army had failed in its mission to capture King Mphephu, they had succeeded in subduing all Vhavenda.

The total number of people who crossed Vhembe River into Zimbabwe was 2 402. With the recall of the Boer army from Venda and the surrender of Vhavenda, the Venda-Boer war ended.

The Boers decided to establish a town at Tshirululuni. This town was, by a proclamation published on 22 February 1899, named Louis Trichardt. But the Boers continued to search for Mphephu. They later learnt that he was in Zimbabwe. They requested the British to extradite him to South Africa. The British refused to extradite Mphephu.

The Boers gave Tshifhefhe back to Sinthumule. Maemu was also given his own land which was later known as Ha-Maemu. But people refused to acknowledge Sinthumule and Maemu as chiefs since they accused them of inviting Boer enemies to Venda.

Vhavenda continued to pay tribute to King Mphephu in exile through Rammbiyana and Ravele Matsheketsheke. When the South African War (Anglo-Boer War) broke out in 1899, Mphephu encouraged his people to assist the British against the Boers. Vhavenda responded by attacking the newly established town of Louis Trichardt, established at Tshirululuni, and setting it on fire. Vhavenda also joined the English in the war against the Boers and actively participated in the war.

The Boers decided to arrest Mphephu’s followers. Amongst those arrested were senior Vhavenda chiefs such as Ratombo, Ravele, Nelwamondo, Tshifhango, Mahadulula, Makaulule, Makongoza, Mavhungu, Mashavha, Netshiendeulu, Netshituni, and Radzilani. Mphephu’s younger brother, Kutama, was also arrested. All those arrested were taken to Tshwane. These prisoners of war were later released.

Whilst in Matabeleland, Zimbabwe, Mphephu managed to secretly return to Venda in 1900. The Boers, who were involved in a war with the British in the South African War (Anglo-Boer War), learned of his return, but could do nothing about it. The British, who were trusted by Vhavenda, asked King Mphephu to stay in Polokwane until after the war. But Vhavenda chiefs petitioned the British to allow their king to return home. Vhavenda chiefs reminded the British that whilst Vhavenda had resisted and refused paying taxes to the Boers, they had paid taxes to the British without complaints, and that the British needed to reciprocate by allowing King Mphephu to return home.

When realising how popular King Mphephu was amongst his subjects, the British reluctantly allowed King Mphephu to return home before the war came to an end. When the war ended in 1902, the Chief Native Commissioner of Matabeleland, Captain Taylor visited Luatame where he held a court case in which some of Mphephu’s enemies who colluded with the Boers were sentenced to death. These people, including Rasivhetshele and Tsonga-Shangaan men who assisted the Boers, were ordered to dig their own graves. They were then shot. This earned Taylor the nickname of ‘Bulalazonke Matshangani’.

The majority of Vhavenda chiefs who attended the court case argued that Sinthumule and Maemu should also be killed. They had no respect for Sinthumule and Maemu because they were seen as selfish traitors who had colluded with the Boers. Sinthumule and Maemu were seen as traitors that wanted to hand over Venda to the Boers on a platter. But the two were saved from death by King Mphephu himself. He argued that they were his brothers and should be forgiven.

During Mphephu’s absence, Vhavenda had felt the need for the initiation of the boys since the last initiation school had been held during Makhado’s time. The initiation school was organised by Rammbiyana who had remained in charge of affairs at Songozwi, the royal capital. The age group which was initiated and circumcised under Rammbiyana’s regency was known as Malatwa nga Khosi, meaning those deserted by the king. But after his return to Venda, King Mphephu changed the name malatwa nga khosi to Mauxu. He also organised another initiation school where his oldest son, Mbulaheni George, was initiated and circumcised. Mbulaheni’s age group was given the name of Dzithahamirivha.

The Boers, who wanted to destroy the Ramabulana kingship and thereby permanently subjugate Vhavenda, decided to proclaim a number of senior chiefs as independent chiefs, independent of their king, Mphephu. They included Tshivhase, Mphaphuli, Rambuda, Nesengani, Nethengwe, Tshikundamalema, as well as Mphephu’s younger brothers, Sinthumule and Kutama. With the exception of Tshivhase and Mphaphuli, all the other chiefs regarded the Boer proclamation as unlawful, and continued to view the Ramabulana royal house as the most senior royal house of all Vhavenda.

As a way of entrenching their foothold in Venda, the Boers built a police station at Tshanowa, Ha-Tshivhasa, in 1902. A Native Commissioner was also appointed and at stationed at Tshanowa. Eastern chiefs such as Tshivhase, Mphaphuli, Nethengwe, Tshikundamalema, and Rambuda were instructed to hand over their rifles in exchange for new ones. After the rifles had been collected, the chiefs were given money instead. They were then told that they owed the Boer government because they had not been paying taxes. The money they were given was immediately taken away from them as tax payments. Chiefs who supported the Boers against Mphephu, such as Tshivhase and Mphaphuli, realised the mistake they had made. They learnt that the Boers could not be trusted, but it was too late.

The police station at Tshanowa was relocated to Miluwani in 1908. This is where the Sibasa camp (referred to as Gammbani) was established, and which later became the administrative capital of the Venda Bantustan, before Thohoyandou was built.

King Mphephu was forced to relocate his royal residence to Dzanani in 1913 after the 1913 land Act came into effect. The 1913 dispossessed Africans of their land in the whole of South Africa. The areas listed below, which were in and around Tshirululuni, were declared ‘white areas’. These areas were turned into white-owned farms. Vhavenda were forcibly removed from these areas. These areas included:

  • Songozwi;
  • Magoni;
  • Landou;
  • Vhulorwa;
  • Lunoni;
  • Phawe;
  • Khavhambe
  • Malimuwa;
  • Vhutuwangadzebu;
  • Ha-Funyufunyu;
  • Ha-Mudimeli;
  • Ha-Mulelu;
  • Ha-Makhavhu;
  • Tshihanane;
  • Ha-Tshikhudo;
  • Mudzivhadi;
  • Tshifhefhe;
  • Tshitungulu;
  • Luonde;
  • Vumbani;
  • Phawe;
  • Makwatambani;
  • Old Mauluma;
  • Ha-Mashau;
  • Luvhola;
  • Ha-Ramaru (Shehe/Elim);
  • Ha-Ratombo;
  • Ha-Marandela;
  • Tshivhodza;
  • Ha-Manavhela (Ben Lavin);
  • Ha-Mamphodo;
  • Ha-Mushasha;
  • Ha-Begwa;
  • Folovhodwe; and
  • Ha-Matshavha.

Vhavenda were forcibly removed from these areas from 1930 onwards. But Songozwi continued to serve as the Royal Court and the burial site (Tshiendeulu) of Mphephu kings and chiefs, as well as Sinthumule and Kutama chiefs. Some families stayed at Songozwi. The Boers tried frustrating them by denying them passage to town and other areas through their farms. A lower primary school was built by a philanthropist for Songozwi pupils. But Songozwi learners were forced to go to Nzhelele, Ha-Sinthumule, and Ha-Kutama for higher primary and secondary education.