The History of Sudwala

This is the history of Sudwala, in Mpumalanga, South Africa; an area with a rich history – rooted with fascinating individuals and compelling stories to be told. Let us delve into the tales and gripping dramas of long-ago:


Sobhuza I was the first king of the Swazi people. He was born in Swaziland in 1795 and succeeded his father, Ndvungunye, as king of the Dlamini clan in 1815. Sobhuza I was known as Somhlolo, or the “Father of Mysteries”. He was given this name because he left the Swazi people with a legacy that influenced their way of life. Sobhuza I had in total three wives, the first of whom, Tsandzile, bore him Mswati II, the oldest, and Mzamose Dlamini. He also had many other children with his other wives, of which one of the wives, whose name is unknown, bore Somquba.


The story of Sudwala’s history starts with the death of the late King of Swaziland in the nineteenth century, King Sobhuza I – who died in 1836. His heir, Mswati II, at the time was still a minor and could not ascend the vacant throne. It was therefore decided to install a regent* at the time, the cousin of Mswati, Paramount Chief Usutfu.

*What is a regent?

A regent is a title held by a noble, in this story it is Paramount Chief Usutfu, who then rules in the name of a King (or Queen), Mswati II in this story, because the rightful ruler is a minor, who is incapable of ruling with any degree of force. When ruling in the name of a child, a regent’s rule ends when the child heir reaches adulthood.


This choice, to install a regent*, proved to be flawed because Mswati’s half brother, Somquba, was power-hungry for the throne and made an effective bid for it by calling an Incwala*, or “Festival of the Fruit”. In Swazi tradition, especially orthodox beliefs, it is considered high treason for anyone other than the Swazi king to hold an Incwala. This led to a fight between the kingdom and Somgubu and his followers.

*What is an Incwala?

Incwala is an age-old tradition of the Kingdom of Eswatini. The rituals and celebration are centred on the cycles of the moon with harvest-related celebrations and rituals where boys become men. This national event that happens, usually in December or January, during the summer solstice. The main participant in Incwala is the King of Eswatini. If there is no King, the Incwala is called off until a new King has claimed the Eswatini thrown. Incwala runs for just less of a month. Several activities—such as Lusekwane, Kuhlamahlama, and Umdvutjulwa occur during this period.


Somgubu and his supporters fled the area, with 500 of Mswati’s cattle, after the squabble with Mswati’s army near Mgwenyana River, 9km west from Barberton.

Somguba and his partisans fled over the Crocodile River and settled near the Mankelekele Mountains, which is known as Sudwala today. Somguba used the Sudwala Caves as a fortress; this settlement was known as M’selezie. Sudwala Lodge was the battleground for various fights, raids and the theft of cattle – in the power struggle for the Swazi throne.

The Lydenburg Republic, a newly established Boer settlement, heard the news of the fights between the brothers and met with Somquba. After negotiations with the Boer settlement, a formal alliance was created, which lasted from 1856 to 1857. In the agreement, Somquba agreed to offer workers to assist with the excavation of the first canal in Lydenberg, and in exchange, they offered protection for Somquba and his followers from his half-brother, Mswati (the rightful heir to the Swazi throne).


In this period, Somquba and his followers used the Caves as a haven during times of conflict. To ensure that the hideout could be enduring, during times of battle, they stock-piled on food.
The plethora of internal water supply (water-filled underground chambers being created in the dolomite) made for a strong refuge. The Sudwala Caves mouth, during Somquba’s time, was much smaller than it is today, so much so that it could barely accommodate the longhorns of Sonquba’s herd of prized Nguni cattle. An observant post had to be maintained at the Caves entrance and always kept clear, should Sonquba have to make a quick retreat. The principal guardian of the Caves’ entrance was *Sudwala, Somquba’s chief inDuna (councillor and captain), whose name is thus commemorated to this day, and whose spirit is legendarily said to linger in the Caves.

*More on Sudwala

The Sibiya clan, who were considered the greatest Swazi hunters of the time, lived near to the Swazi kingdom. Their leader, Matsamo Sibiya, and his wife LoMave – had a son named Sudwala. He was born five days before the birth of king Somhlolo’s son, Mswati. Sudwala’s birth was a miracle for the Sibiya clan, at the time,  since Matsamo only had daughters and therefore no heir. Before Sudwala’s birth, his mother had a dream where she saw her future son leading people of different nations.


In a failed attempt to kill Somquba and his followers, the ever-persistent regiments of Mswati built a massive bonfire at the entrance, while Somquba and his followers were inside, in an attempt to suffocate them at the entrance. The smoke of this enormous bonfire,  with traces of the fire still visible today, failed, due to the fact that the Cave has a natural airflow*, therefore foiling this attack.

*The Cave natural airflow

The Cave has no form of forced ventilation and air is only exchanged via natural airflow through the numerous cracks, passages and breathing holes connecting the Cave with the outside atmosphere. A big contributing factor was the reservoir of underground water, created by the Cave formation and found in Cave tunnels, which enhanced the natural airflow and cooled the cave.


In an unexpected assassination, Somquba was killed later that year. Survivors stayed on under the leadership of Sudwala, and that is how the Caves and Lodge got their name.

Mswati II finally succeeding his father in 1840 and became the king of Eswatini, and he ruled between 1840 and 1868. He commenced a career of large-scale raids and adventure throughout his rulership. Mswati died at his royal residence at Hhohho in July 1868, aged about forty-seven.

Go down the path of history, while discovering the past for yourself, by visiting the numerous historic sites in and around Sudwala Lodge. Also, read our other blog about things that you can do at Sudwala Caves here.

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