One of the military commanders of the Ndwandwe army, Zwangendaba Gumbi (c1780–1848), was the head of the Jele or Gumbi clan, which itself formed part of the larger emaNcwangeni alliance in what is now north-east kwaZulu-Natal. In 1819, the Zulu army under Shaka defeated the Ndwandwe alliance at a battle on the Umhlatuze River, near Nkandla. The battle resulted in the diaspora of many indigenous groups in southern Africa.
In the following decades, Zwangendaba led a small group of his followers north through Mozambique and Zimbabwe to the region around the Viphya Plateau. In this region he established a state, using Zulu warfare techniques to conquer and integrate local peoples.
The date on which Zwengandaba's party crossed the River Zambezi, sometimes given in early writings as 1825, has been argued to have been on 20 November 1835.
Following Zwangendaba's death in 1848, succession disputes split the Ngoni people. Zwangendaba's following and the Maseko Ngoni eventually created seven substantial Ngoni kingdoms in Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi.