In the course of cataloguing my library, I’m learning a lot about my books (many of which I bought after a cursory inspection and never investigated until now) and being forced to figure out linguistic details that I could gloss over when simply sticking the books on the appropriate shelf. This is the case with Umthwakazi, by P. S. Mahlangu (Longmans 1957), which according to this site is a historical account of Mzilikazi and the founding of the amaNdebele nation and was the first book published in Ndebele. The back cover says “NDEBELE (The Owner of the State),” the parenthetical phrase being apparently a translation of the book’s title; googling “umthwakazi” suggests that it consists of a prefix u- and the noun Mthwakazi, now used by Ndebele nationalists as the name of the Ndebele nation (considered as independent from Zimbabwe). The online Ndebele-English translator says “u-Mthwakazi: the nation of the Ndebele people,” and a news story from earlier this year quotes Godfrey Ncube as saying “Mthwakazi means ‘a nation’. That is what the Ndebele people were called.”
Now, Ndebele is a Nguni language that split off from Zulu quite recently; Dalby’s Dictionary of Languages says “Zulu and Ndebele are still to some extent mutually intelligible, though idioms differ and Ndebele has clearly borrowed numerous terms from the languages previously spoken in its territory” (where it arrived from what is now South Africa in the early 19th century). So I’ve tried to use my Zulu dictionaries to translate the subtitle and author line: “Izindaba ZamaNdebele Zemvelo. Zilotshwe ngu- P.S. Mahlangu.” So far I’ve learned that izindaba is the plural of -daba and means ‘reports, accounts,’ and zemvelo seems to be a form of -velo ‘nature.’ If anyone can provide further enlightenment, be my guest.
Incidentally, Dalby provides a sidebar account of the complicated history of the name of the language:
Speakers call their language isiNdebele and themselves amaNdebele. The word is correctly pronounced with three short es of which the first is stressed, Ndĕ’bĕlĕ.
AmaNdebele appears to have been their own version of the name given to them by the Sotho and Tswana speakers in whose land they were settled — maTebele. Early English-speaking explorers heard and adopted this Sotho form, calling the people Matabele and their northern domain Matabeleland.
And this site says that the name “was probably derived from the Sotho-Tswana term tebele, meaning a stranger, or one who plunders.”