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Ndebele/Shona Rebel Armies of 1896

By Dennis Bishop

The Ndebele army was traditionally organized, although not always on a strict regimental basis according to some accounts. Induna Mtini's impi was probably the exception to this, making it the main striking force. The Ndebele iviyo (companies) may have retrieved their hidden shields and weapons, and rallied to the izinduna in their vicinity. Many of the warriors wore adopted European clothing, although some may have retained some of their former regalia. Although the uniforms and shields may have been haphazard, the warriors were much better armed with firearms than they had been in 1893. Most of the rebel izinduna had fought in 1893, supported Lobengula's heirs and the Ndebele traditional way of life, and believed in the prophet, Mlimo. The tactics of the impis would rely upon the use of firepower and numerical strength in the belief that the "White man's bullets would turn to water." These factors would make them a formidable foe. The seven impis were organized upon recapturing the heart of Matableland, Buluwayo as follows: Induna Mtini (4000 "elite" warriors based on the Umgusa River).
Second Induna: Somabulana:
Ibutho:

Induna Sikombo (2000 warriors based 25 miles southeast of Buluwayo blocking the Tuli Road).
Second Induna: Umlugulu

Babyaan (800 warriors based 14 miles south of Buluwayo on the Khama River).
Second Induna: Dhliss

Induna Nkonkobela (2000 warriors in the Inyoka District).
Second Induna: Hole

Induna Matisa (2000 warriors in the Shangani District).
Second Induna: Godhlo

Induna Umsolo (1200 warriors in the Gwande District).

Induna Fezela (2000 warriors in the Filabusi District).
Second Induna: Mahlehleni

The total number of 14,000 estimated warriors is consistent with the elimination of the "negligible" amabutho, losses from 1893 and individual izinduna refusing to join the rebellion.

The Mashona impis were a shock to the Europeans who considered the Shona a disorganized group of peoples subjected first to the Ndebele and then Europeans. When the Shona rose in revolt of European subjugation in preference to Ndebele semi-autonomy, the Europeans could only attempt to reassert their authority. The Europeans later appreciated the guerrilla war that resulted from both the loose organization of the Shona and the European underestimation of this group of peoples as the Shona continued to fight long after the Ndebele had concluded hostilities.

The loosely grouped Shona impis were organized in June 1896 as follows:
Chibi Chiquaqua (500 warriors)
Chibi Makoni (200 warriors based upon fortress Gwindingwe)
Chibi Svosve ( 200 warriors)
Chibi Mashayamombe (200 warriors)
Chibi Nyandoro (200 warriors)
Chibi Mehemwe (200 warriors)
Chibi Chipunza (200 warriors)
Chibi Seki (200 warriors)
Chibi Zwimba (200 warriors)
Chibi Chinamora (200 warriors)
Chibi Mangwende (700 warriors based upon fortress Maopo)
Chibi Kunzwi (100 warriors)
Chibi Nyandoro (100 warriors)

Western Mashonaland:
Chibi Bonda (200 warriors)
Chibi Tohiwa (200 warriors)
Chibi Hartley (200 warriors)
Chibi Dekwende (200 warriors)

Rozwi Chieftainships:
Chibi Chiduksu (200 warriors)
Chibi Mbava (200 warriors)
Chibi Mavudzi (200 warriors)

Njinja Chieftainship:
Chibi Gambezi (200 warriors)

The total number of Shona warriors can best be estimated at 4800 warriors at their peak. This number would change drastically as months passed.

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