The Shangaan, Thonga, Tonga, and a variety of other ethnic groups are all part of the Tsonga people. They numbered roughly 1.5 million individuals in South Africa in the mid-1990s, and 4.5 million in southern Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
It is very likely that the first Tsonga-speaking individuals arrived in the ancient Transvaal in the 18th century. They were essentially river traders who followed rivers through the interior, bartering linen and beads for ivory, copper, and salt.
King Shaka of the Zulu despatched Soshangane (Manukosi) to subdue the Tsonga people in modern-day southern Mozambique during the Mfecane upheaval of the nineteenth century. Rather than returning to Shaka, Soshangane discovered a fertile land dotted with peaceful communities and decided to make it his home.
The Shangaan, a mix of Nguni (a language group that includes Swazi, Zulu, and Xhosa) and Tsonga speakers, were conquered and controlled by Soshangane (Ronga, Ndzawu, Shona, and Chopi tribes).
Soshangane insisted that the Tsonga learn Zulu and adopt Nguni practices. Young Tsonga men were assigned to the army as'mabulandlela' (those who open the road). Shaka's military dominion system was also imposed by Soshangane, who taught the Zulu fighting styles to the public.
During the next few years, Soshangane's army seized Portuguese territories in Mozambique at Delagoa Bay, Inhambane, and Sena, and established the Nguni kingdom of Kwa Gaza, which he named after his grandfather, Gaza.
The Gaza Kingdom, which stretched from the Save River to the southern section of Mozambique, included parts of what is now southeastern Zimbabwe, as well as parts of the modern provinces of Sofala, Manica, Inhambane, Gaza, and Maputo, as well as surrounding parts of South Africa.
To cope with Soshangane, Shaka deployed another army led by Dingane and Mhlangana, but the army was afflicted by starvation and malaria, and Soshangane easily drove them out near the end of 1828.
Tsonga speakers moved southwards from 1830, defeating smaller groups in northern Natal; others moved westwards into the Transvaal, settling in an arc stretching from the Soutpansberg in the north to the Nelspruit and Barberton areas in the southeast, with isolated groups reaching as far west as Rustenburg.
After Soshangane's death in 1856, his sons struggled for the chieftainship. Mzila had been handed the throne by Soshangane, but Mawewe felt he should be in charge. Mzila and his followers were attacked by Mawewe, forcing them to flee Mozambique for the Transvaal's Soutpansberg Mountains.
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