The Rise and Fall of the Gaza Empire

The Gaza Empire (1824-1895) was a kingdom located in the south of present-day Mozambique and the southeastern areas of modern Zimbabwe. Starting in 1815, the militaristic Zulu Kingdom led by King Shaka Zulu waged expansionist wars throughout southern Africa, causing a wave of disruption known as the Mfecane (‘the crushing’ or ‘upheaval’), which birthed a chaos in the region that would last until around 1840. Fleeing the turmoil of the Mfecane, Soshangane, a general of the Ndwandwe (a southern African Bantu subgroup) established his own empire in the highlands of present-day Zimbabwe, naming it ‘Gaza’ after his grandfather.

Soshangane ruled until his death in 1856, after which his two sons, Mzile and Mawewe, battled each other for the throne. With the assistance of the Portuguese, by 1861, Mzile defeated his brother Mawewe and ruled until 1884. In 1884, Mzile’s son Gungunhana took the throne as the last dynastic king of the Gaza Empire. Around this same time, the Berlin conference of 1884-85 took place, European powers met to partition Africa and establish the methods of  formal colonization. As a result, the Portuguese sought to cement their rule in Mozambique through force, which local empires resisted.

The primary resistance to the Portuguese invaders came from Gungunhana and troops of the Gaza Empire. Gungunhana and his army were able to stave off the Portuguese in several military battles, but the resistance came to a halt in 1895 when Gungunhana was captured and exiled to the Azores, where he would die 11 years later. Gungunhana’s capture marked the end of the Gaza Empire. Nevertheless, due to constant resistance from local forces, it would not be until the 1910s (over 25 years after the initial Berlin conference) that the Portuguese were finally able to assert political and military control over Mozambique.

By Tre Hunt

(Image: Wikimedia)

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