The First Matabele War was fought between 1893 and 1894 in modern-day Zimbabwe. It pitted the British South Africa Company against the Ndebele Kingdom. Lobengula, king of the Ndebele, had tried to avoid outright war with the company's pioneers because he and his advisors were mindful of the destructive power of European-produced weapons on traditional Matabele impis attacking in massed ranks. Lobengula reportedly could muster 80,000 spearmen and 20,000 riflemen, armed with Martini-Henry rifles, which were modern arms at that time. However, poor training meant that these were not used effectively.
The British South Africa Company had no more than 750 troops in the British South Africa Company's Police, with an undetermined number of possible colonial volunteers and an additional 700 Tswana allies. Cecil Rhodes, who was Prime Minister of the Cape Colony and Leander Starr Jameson, the Administrator of Mashonaland also tried to avoid war to prevent loss of confidence in the future of the territory.