Mzilikazi Mzilikazi seems to have been popular with his subjects, and  he ruled successfully until his death in 1868, in contrast to the  fate of his contemporary Shaka. White missionaries, impatient  at his refusal to let his people go to work for them, often  portrayed him as a savage tyrant who ruled solely by terror,  but others - like the Scottish missionary Robert Moffat, got on  well with him and regarded him as intelligent and  statesmanlike. Matabele tradition suggests that he was  genuinely mourned as the "founder of the nation". Of course  nineteenth century African ideas of government will not  always appeal to modern tastes, and people were executed for  witchcraft, impaled, mutilated or fed to crocodiles. And  ruthless aggression against neighbouring peoples weak  enough to be exploited was par for the course. Even Moffat  admitted that Mzilikazi was responsible for "the desolation of  many of the towns around us - the sweeping away the cattle  and valuables - the butchering of the inhabitants". One of his  native informants recalled "the great chief of multitudes... the  chief of the blue-coloured cattle", who was so confident of his  strength that he had refused to flee when the invaders  approached, heralded by “the smoke of burning towns”. "The  onset was as the voice of lightning, and their spears as the  shaking of a forest in the autumn storm. The Matabele lions  raised the shout of death, and flew upon their victims… Their  hissing and hollow groans told their progress among the  dead… Stooping to the ground on which we stood, he took up a little dust in his hand; blowing it off, and holding out his  naked palm, he added, 'That is all that remains of the great  chief of the blue-coloured cattle!'" Something of this  reputation remains to this day in southern Africa, where the  fearsome army ants, famous for their aggressive wars against  the local termites, are still known as "Matabele ants".
Aggressors But the Matabele were not always the aggressors. The Griquas  and Koranas from the south had horses and guns, and were said to be the worst cattle thieves in southern Africa (quite an  achievement!) In 1831 they descended on the Matabele  settlements and drove off a huge herd. They might have been  surprised to encounter no resistance, but after three days riding  they decided that they had got away with it. After all, the  Matabele were entirely on foot and could hardly have followed  them undetected across the open veldt. So on the third night the thieves had a feast and went to sleep. During the night a  Matabele “impi” - which had indeed kept up with them by  marching at night - surrounded them at a place now known as  Moordkop, or Murder Hill. Mzilikazi got his cows back, and  only three Griquas escaped with their lives. In 1832 a Zulu "impi" or army attacked Mzilikazi's  headquarters while his warriors were away on a raid. The  subsequent battle was a draw, but the Matabele suffered serious losses. Knowing that the Zulus were the one people he could  not intimidate, the king decided to take his people out of their  reach once. First he moved them a hundred miles to the west  into the Marico Valley, but in 1836 the vanguard of the Boers  "Vortrekkers" began to arrive there. Like his contemporary the  Zulu king Dingaan, Mzilikazi decided to strike first, but also  like Dingaan he failed to finish the job. At first the Boers were  taken by surprise and several of their camps were wiped out,  but most of the men escaped. A Matabele "impi" of around  3,000 men attacked the now concentrated Boers at the Battle of  Vegkop, but were unable to storm their wagon laager and were  driven off with heavy losses. Then the Zulus and Griquas  returned to the attack, and Mzilikazi realised that he could not  hope to survive on the High Veldt against such a combination of enemies. He led his people north once again, this time across