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BlakAkhive, Matimu

Vuwani – The repeat of 1979 (History of Tsonga-Venda Power Struggles)

Tribalism shows its head each time there is a service protest in Vhembe district. In 2014, Mihloti Masuluke was forced to resign because Vhavenda did not want to be led by a Mutsonga; SAMWU was used as a vehicle to oust Masuluke. In Malamulele, there is more Vhavenda than Vatsonga working in government institutions and this is an issue during protests.

As much as South Africa is still geographically setup the same way as the Apartheid era, the Demarcation board took a rainbow decision in merging the two groups. And this evoked very strong emotions from one group.

Vatsonga and Vhavenda have a long history, and in order to understand the tribalism issue of Vuwani, you will need to understand the historical dynamics of the two groups:


1200 AD:

  • Vatsonga are recorded to have arrived in the current land mass previously known as Republic of Venda, Bungeni and Malamulele at around 1200 AD. The first Vatsonga to settle in the area was led by a Mukhari Dynasty, which had a well organised political entity based on hunting, trade, mining and farming.

1300 – 1400 AD:

  • The Van’wanati of Maluleke, who had their capital in Mapai followed. They settled extensively in what is Malamulele and surrounding areas.
  • The Xigalo clan settled in and around the vast majority of the land in Nandoni and Xikonela.
  • The Manganyi clan of Mavambe and that of Mdavula clan of Hlengwe, settled in the Pfukani area; which was later renamed Vuwani to fit into the Bantustan of the Republic of Venda.

Note: Hlengwe groups were already established in the Musini (smoke) area (currently known as Musina) and mining. Among the Tshivenda speaking people, a famous Hlengwe group are the Tshivhasa, who were known for being iron and goldsmiths of note. Vatsonga lived in these areas for their trading in minerals and in animal skins of Timhungubye (Hyenas/Jackal – Mhisi/Mhungubye used interchangeably). The area was largely infested by hyenas, hence Vatsonga called it such, which is currently known as Maphungubye in modern historical parlance. Maphungubye main trade routes to the sea were controlled by mostly Vatsonga. Many Karanga offshoots had settled towards the sea; hence, among Vatsonga, there are people who claim a Venda, Sotho and Lobedu ancestry.

  • The other Tsonga grouping occupied Xikopeni (now known as Sekgopo) led by Vahlave of Mavunda, this group settled there around 1400AD and were very close to Valuveri (Balobedu) of Modjaji. The Mavunda lived peacefully with the Modjaji political entity, to the extent that, due to weak military potency of Modjaji; the Mavunda were the de facto military protectors of Modjaji. They lived with them until the establishment of Bantustans.


  • It is recorded by Junod, that Vhavenda, as a political entity that was to make up the Republic of Venda arrived in the late 1600AD; centuries after the collapse of Maphungubye. The early “Venda” groups, notably the Vhangona, settled amongst Vatsonga in the area, which was predominately led by Tsonga traditional leaders who historically saw them as brothers.

Note: Maphungubye was not a “Venda” political entity, in the same way Great Zimbabwe was not a “Shona” political entity.  

  • Historically, Vhavenda and Vatsonga lived together from the period of 1700AD and intermarried amongst each other, until the establishment of Bantustans. Some Vhavenda submitted to Vatsonga chiefs for 300 years, however, some Vhavenda initially tried to fight Vatsonga in the 1700 and were defeated by the house of Xigalo and Manganyi (Mavambe). The last battle was that of Makhado, who sided with, and was sponsored by the Afrikaners against Njakanjaka. Makhado and his army were defeated.

There are no historic records of Vatsonga inhumanly mistreating Vhavenda based on their ancestry. As a matter of fact, even outside the confines of South Africa, say, in Mozambique, there are many Vhavenda who live peacefully with their Tsonga brethren. Vatsonga and Vhavenda call each other Vasivara (in laws), and share similar diet and cultural rituals;

  • Ngoma (Initiation school)
  • Ncuva
  • Music
  • The Musangwe fights were a combination of Vatsonga and Vhavenda, and it was fought as sport and not for tribal division.

Then the Republic of Venda happened…

Continues on next page

Image: vendaland.org

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