The decisive Battle of Bembesi (Bembasi) is fought in the First Matabele War (Ndebele), Zimbabwe


King Lobengula

Wednesday, 1 November 1893

The most decisive battle of the Matabele War of 1893 was fought between the Matabele Warriors (Ndebele), under the leadership of Lobengula, and the British forces, under the command of Major Patrick Forbes, at Bembesi on 1 November 1893. Cecil John Rhodes, Premier of South Africa, had ordered British Administrator Leander Jameson to set up the 1893 Campaign.

The Battle:

On 1 November 1893 the Matabele warriors carried out a frontal assault on the British forces, demonstrating their courage. They had 80 000 spearmen and 20 000 riflemen, against fewer than 700 British soldiers, but the Ndebele warriors were no match against the British Maxim guns.

Lobengula fled after the defeat at Bembesi but not before deciding to burn his capital Bulawayo to the ground rather than allow it to be captured by the British. The British captured the ruined Bulawayo on 4 November. A detachment of troops under Major Alan Wilson were sent to pursue Lobengula, they followed him across the Shangani River but they were cut off by the king's amabutho on 4 December. Efforts by Commanding Officer Forbes' column to re-enforce the patrol were too little and too late. The ensuing battle and eventual loss of 34 British soldiers became known simply as the Shangani Patrol. However, by this stage the Ndebele had lost.

Visit our Matabele Wars feature, to read more about the Matabele Wars and the early history of the Ndebele people and


• Wallis, F. (2000). Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau
• Potgieter, D.J. et al. (eds)(1970). Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, Cape Town: NASOU, v. 2, p. 274.
• Military History magazine(2006),Second Matabele War,12 June,[online],Available at [Accessed:31 October 2013]
• Giliomee, H. and Mbenga, B. (2007). New History of South Africa. Tafelberg Publishers, Cape Town.

Last updated : 31-Oct-2013

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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