Mzilikazi (meaning the path of blood) (ca. 1790 - 9 September 1868) was a Southern African king who founded the Ndebele (sometimes also called the Matabele) kingdom in what is now Zimbabwe. He was born near Mkuze, Zululand (now part of South Africa) and died at Ingama, Matabeleland (near Bulawayo, Zimbabwe). Many consider him to be the greatest Southern African military leader after the Zulu king Shaka.
He took his tribe, the Khumalo, on an 800 km long journey from Zululand to what is now called Zimbabwe. Along the way he showed considerable statesmanship, as he was able to weld his own people and the many tribes he conquered into a large and ethnically diverse but centralized kingdom.
He was originally a lieutenant of Shaka, but in 1823 he had a quarrel with him and rebelled. Rather than face ritual execution, he fled northwards with his tribe. He first travelled to Mozambique but in 1826 he moved west into the Transvaal due to continued attacks by his enemies.
Further attacks first caused him to move west again to present-day Botswana and then later northwards to what is now Zambia in 1837. He was unable to conquer the indigenous Kololo nation there, so travelled southeast to what became known as Matabeleland (situated in the southwest of present-day Zimbabwe) and settled there in 1840.
After his arrival, he organized his followers into a military system with regimental kraals, similar to those of Shaka, which became strong enough to repel the Boer attacks of 1847 - 1851 and to force government in the South African Republic sign a peace treaty with him in 1852.
While Mzilikazi was generally friendly to European travellers, the discovery of gold in Matabeleland in 1867 brought a flood of settlers which he was unable to control and that led to the eventual downfall of the kingdom under his successor, Lobengula.