Mkabayi kaJama c1760

Mkabayika Jama Zulu was the daughter of Jama ka Ndaba; King of the Zulu clan from 1763 to 1781. Said to be amazingly beautiful; Mkabayi was born the eldest of twin daughters. According to the Zulu custom at the time, one of the twins had to be sacrificed to avoid bad luck that would result in the death of one of the parents. It was at the naming ceremony that King Jama refused to yield to this custom, and declared that both Mkabayi and her twin named Mamma, would live.  From that time on, Mkabayi was subjected to great hatred and ostracism. She was subsequently blamed for her mother’s death when she was five years old. Mkabayi’s mother died without bearing her father a successor. Years later after her mother’s death, Mkabayi arranged and selected a wife for her father.  She courted Mthaniya Sibiya for her father without his knowledge and was highly respected for this gesture. Mthaniya bore Jama a son and named him Senzangakhona (we have done accordingly). Senzangakhona succeeded Jama after his death in 1781.
To show gratitude to her father for sparing her life, Mkabayi dedicated her life to serving him and she became his regent. Mkabayi continued to serve as regent for Senzangakhona after the death of their father. Mkabayi refused an arranged marriage with one of the most powerful and wealthy neighbouring kings. Instead, she became politically active and took care of the affairs of the nation. Mkabayi did this to protect the Zulu identity and also to ensure that the stability and well-being of her people was maintained. Labouring for one’s people was traditionally considered to be a man’s duty, but Mkabayi defied the odds.  She became one of the most powerful female figures amongst the Zulu nation as she continued to politically influence even the most patriarchal men. She would call political assemblies, known as izimbizo in isiZulu, where she would address Zulu elders and councillors in an effort to protect and ensure the stability of the Zulu nation.  Due to the patriarchal society she lived in at the time, Mkabayi was not appreciated as a leader, although others appreciated her remarkable political and administrative skills. 
Shortly before Senzangakhona ascended to the throne, he impregnated a lover – Nandi – before their wedding. He, however, went on to marry her and she bore him a son, Shaka in 1787.  Along the years, he married other wives who bore him more sons; who would eventually succeed him. Due to the harsh treatment received by Nandi and Shaka they were often called “outsiders”, which caused Nandi and Shaka to leave the clan and reside elsewhere. After Senzangakhona’s death in 1815, Mkabayi encouraged Nandi and Shaka to return and seize power from his brother Sigujana, who was killed at the age of 26.  Mkabayi continued to influence the decisions of all the Zulu Kings who reigned during her lifetime. It is believed that she had a hand in the death of Shaka so that he would be succeeded by Dingani in 1828.
Mkabayi was known for her wisdom, trickery, deceit; but at the same time for her passion, sacrifices, stubbornness and defying culture by standing up to misogynists. She successfully succeeded in convincing some key political figures to support some of her plots. She broke the gender boundaries that were created by the patriarchal system, standing in front of men to address them, a phenomenon that was unheard of during this historical time.  She was the one who installed new kings on their thrones and was also responsible for their dethroning. She was also very strategic in influencing the Kings’ decision-making. She lived at a time when Zulu was a clan and witnessed it grow into a nation. As a woman noted for her strong character, many went to her to seek her counsel. A popular phrase at the time was “Buzani ka Mkabayi” meaning, consult Mkabayi for any wisdom. During King Mapande’s reign, Mkabayi was sent to live ‘kwa Baqulusi’; because he didn’t want her opinionated self to disturb him. Mkabayi died in old age, not in the land she had so hard fought for.
The researcher is unaware of the year she passed away.

[1]De Wit, H. and West, GO. African and European readers of the bible in dialogue: In quest of a shared  
   meaning, p. 239.  Koninklijke Brill NV, The Netherlands, 2008.
[1]  Ibid.
[1]Manyathi PPP, Ucwaningo ngeqhaza labesifazane esizweni samaZulu, kubhekiswe kakhulukazi kuMkabayi
kaJama. Unpublished Master’s theses, pp. 86
[1]De Wit H. and West GO, p. 241
[1] Jackson, GM, Women and leaders of Africa, Asia, Middle East and Pacific: A biographical reference, p. 90. USA, 2009.
[1]Oom Wessel , sa, retrieved 04.04.2014
[1] Jackson, p. 90
[1] Manyathi, pp. 91-92.
[1]Oom Wessel , sa, retrieved 04.04.2014
[1]Manyathi pp. 95-96
[1]Oom Wessel , sa, retrieved 04.04.2014
[1]Manyathi, pp. 101-103

Ntando PZ Mbatha


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