History of South Africa podcast

Desmond Latham

A series that seeks to tell the story of the South Africa in some depth. Presented by experienced broadcaster/podcaster Des Latham and updated weekly, the episodes will take a listener through the various epochs that have made up the story of South Africa. read less
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Episode 167 - Maitland dithers, Stockenstrom sallies forth into the Transkei and biblical storms change everything
Today
Episode 167 - Maitland dithers, Stockenstrom sallies forth into the Transkei and biblical storms change everything
This is episode 167 and the British army is clumping along towards the Amathola fastnesses, the deep ravines and steep riverine environment not the most ideal for an army that dragged everything around on wagons. Leading this army were officers steeped in the traditions of empire, and marching under their command were men from across Great Britain and beyond. They were poor, some with debts to pay back home, many were recruited from the haunts of dissipation and inebriation as historian Noel Mostert notes one officer saying in a somewhat sneering tone. But that’s a bit harsh, because when we read the journals of these soldiers, they’re full of character and intelligence, adventurers of their time whatever your political view. Half of these British soldiers were actually from Scotland and Ireland, they weren’t even English. It was the officers who’d neered at the colonials, openly, and it was the officers who symbolised the rotten core of this empire with it’s rampant class lunacy. It was only on rare occasions that rank and file soldiers made it to the heady ranks of the officer corps, and promotion was painfully slow. The officer class was notorious - it took the Crimean War before the British Army was dragged into the 19th Century. Up to the Seventh Frontier War it functioned as it had for hundreds of years — a place where the chinless wonders of the Empire could seek fame and fortune while retaining their artificial edifice of class. Then there was the South African bush which was a frightening experience for the British soldiers, it’s alien succulents a bizarre sight for the British. At night, as they soldiers lay in this bush, they could not light their pipes or a fire. At the first sign of a glimmer, the amaXhosa would open fire from several directions and while their aim was not good, the British didn’t take a chance and spent most of their time in their camp lying down out of sight. Sir Peregrine Maitland’s large army mobilised in June 1846, and lumbered into the Amathola’s looking for Rharhabe chief Sandile. They were also trying to corner Phato of the Gqunukhwebe closer to the ocean, along with Mhala of the Ndlambe — both were lurking somewhere between the Keiskamma and Kei Rivers. Colonel Henry Somerset swept the coastal regions, as Colonel Hare and Andries Stockenstrom scouted the Amatholas. On the 11th August 1846 Maitland made his decision. This was an exact copy of the decision made by Harry Smith in the previous Frontier War, who told then Governor Sir Benjamin D’Urban that a strike across the Kei River was required — a decisive strike. That’s because Harry Smith was a man of action, fully believing in the power of power. In the previous war, the Sixth Frontier War of 1834 to 1836, Smith wanted to strike Hintsa. That highly regarded amaXhosa chief had been killed by the very same Smith. Now here was Hintsa’s heir and his son, Sarhili, facing another British veteran of the war against Napoleon.
Episode 166 - Colonel Lindsay lashes a local lad, Fort Peddie attacked and the Battle of Gwangqa River
1w ago
Episode 166 - Colonel Lindsay lashes a local lad, Fort Peddie attacked and the Battle of Gwangqa River
The Seventh Frontier war has burst into flame, and across the Ceded Territory and down into the land around Port Elizabeth amaXhosa warriors are on the warpath, the British have been forced into the defensive. If you remember, Sir Peregrine Maitland declared war on the amaXhosa chief Mgolombane Sandile Ngqika on 1st April 1846 — but the eastern Xhosa, the Gcaleka under Sarhili, had remained out of the latest war - at least for now. The amaXhosa have notched up two major victories against the British, one in the Amatola mountains where Sandile ambushed Gibson’s column, destroyed over 60 wagons then attacked a second wagon train from Grahamstown on its way to Fort Peddie with supplies which lay just over sixty east. More than 40 wagons were destroyed in the second attack, and the English cavalry and infantry were forced to shelter inside Fort Peddie with it’s 8 sided earth walls. Phato of the Gqunukhwebe had been particularly successful — but the amaXhosa were going to commit a cardinal error in warfare. Allow hotheaded soldiers to dictate tactics. On the 28th Mary 1846 the largest amaXhosa army in the Eastern Cape since the failed attempt at taking Grahamstown in 1819 surrounded Fort Peddie. The warriors hadn’t needed much convincing, because the British were now torching every single amaXhosa homestead they came across. The fort was a strategic target. It developed from a frontier post established in 1835 and named Fort Peddie, named after Lieutenant-Colonel John Peddie who led the 72nd Highlanders against the Xhosa in the Sixth Frontier War. Eight thousand men from every clan from chieftans west of the Kei River had joined forces and at midday they launched their attack on the strong defensive position. Fort Peddie had been regarded as a relatively safe outpost, surrounded by the resettled amaMfengu people, as well the Gqunukhwebe who had been allies of the British. But no more, Gqunukhwebe chief Phato had switched sides and he was eyeing the amaMfengu for special attention. As the tension rose in the fort, and awaiting the inevitable amaXhosa assault, a terrible incident was recorded which further damaged the British soldier’s honour. It was 26th May and Lindsay unleashed his rage up on a young colonial boy .. a wagon driver .. who had refused to go out and cut wood in fear of the surrounding amaXhosa. In what can only be called a shocking display of bombastic lunacy, Lindsay had this young teen tied to his wagon and was then subjected to 25 lashes. This after the child changed his mind and said he would go out into the bush, preferring to take his chances with the amaXhosa than the lash. Too late said Lindsay, it’s the lash for you. Ten days after the Peddie assault, Siyolo and Mhala moved towards the Fish River crossing points separately. There was enough British ammunition at the strong points on both sides to replenish the amaXhosa’s gunpowder barrels. Henry Somerset, yes the very same man we met so many episodes ago, was leading a force of cavalry nearby. They’d been sweeping the countryside, and came across the tracks of Mhala’s army, after a short skirmish the amaXhosa disappeared. But soon the cavalry came across the soldiers of Siyolo, Mhala’s nephew. Caught in the open along the Gwangqa River. The amaXhosa were to suffer a major defeat.
Episode 165 - Sandile ambushes a British column, Captain Bambrick’s skull and Somerset’s humiliation
05-04-2024
Episode 165 - Sandile ambushes a British column, Captain Bambrick’s skull and Somerset’s humiliation
This is episode 165 — and the atmosphere in Xhosaland was ablaze with indignation. A Mr Holliday had complained in Fort Beaufort that an imaDange man called Tsili had stolen his axe, and if you recall last episode, Tsili had been arrested then freed while under military escort by Tola a headman who lived nearby. Tola had hacked off a prisoners hand to free Tsili from his shackles, the prisoner was thrown into a nearby river and died. The British demanded Tstili and Tola be handed over but imiDange chief Nkosi Bhotomane refused. Rharhabe chief Sandile was approached but he’d had enough of the English authorities, and refused to hand over the two. This was ostensibly what set off the War of the Axe, or the War of the Bounday as the amaXhosa called it. Maitland declared war on April 1st 1846 and lieutenant Governor John Hare launched their preemptive strike into Xhosaland. It took almost two weeks to assemble the troops while the Governor issued orders for all missionaries to leave emaXhoseni. Many white traders had already been killed by this time, the rest scattered from Xhosa territory. On the 11th April Colonel Somerset led three columns across the Great Fish River, then the Keiskamma. He was heading towards Sandile’s Great Place alongside Burnshill — the abandoned Glasgow missionary society’s station on the slopes of the Amathola mountains. That’s east of where the town of Alice is today. The British were advancing in classic British style, 125 wagons each drawn by 24 oxen, a five kilometer long column of men. The Dragoons were mounted on their heavy chargers, dressed in red tunics and their blue forage caps, the Cape Mounted Rifles on their smaller Boer ponies, dressed in green tunics and brown breeches, blending into the countryside. The infantry marched behind, dressed in scarlet jackets with white cross belts and white trousers and their cylindrical hats, called Albert Shakos that tapered to protect against the sun. You can imagine the scene, hundreds of troops on horseback and marching, the dust lifted off the trail, and very soon, the infantry began to discard their thick red coats. These soldiers began this war dressed like they dressed for a European battle, by the end, they would all look very different. They replaced these Albert Shakos with forage caps, or large Boer hats, they ditched their heavy backpacks for much lighter knapsacks, and they put away their leather collars. Somerset was pleasantly surprised to find no amaXhosa warrior in his way as his force arrived at Burnshill. After setting up camp there and leaving the wagons under Major John Gibson, he marched off into the Amathole valley on the 16th April, leading 500 men. Watching him were thousands of amaNGqika warriors, many armed with muskets. They began peppering the British with heavy albeit inaccurate fire. Maqoma was a highly experienced commander and recognized the British had a major weakness. Their baggage train. It was under his prompting that the other Xhosa commanders agreed to strike the wagons rather than aiming at the infantry. IN the late afternoon of the 16th as Somerset was toiling in the Amathola valley the Xhosa made their move.
Episode 164 - British sappers cross Block Drift into Xhosaland setting off a chain of events on the eve of war
31-03-2024
Episode 164 - British sappers cross Block Drift into Xhosaland setting off a chain of events on the eve of war
This is episode 164. Remember when we left off we’d been hearing about the squad of Royal engineers who’d crossed into amaXhosa territory over the Tyhume River in January 1846. They were led by Lieutenant J Stokes — this small team of five were surveying land for the site of the new fort. Little did they know that their crossing of Block Drift into Ngqika country was a small initial skirmish that was going to lead to war. Some say war was coming anyway, however their blatant trespass definitely applied the amaXhosa chief’s minds as you’re going to hear. They’d crossed over from the Ceded Territory where forts were allowed, into Xhosa territory where forts definitely weren’t and why they did this has been debated. Conservative preacher Henry Calderwood if you remember had also been shocked by the news and wrote a letter warning the Cape Governor of this umbrage. Chief Mgolombane Sandile of the Rharhabe was under pressure from other chiefs, and his young warriors. Sandile had been thrown into his role almost a decade earlier and faced crises after crises. His older brother Maqoma despised him, no worse, hated him and mainly for his superior rank. Sandile however, was no fool, his speeches that have been written down prove he was an agile thinker and he determined policy only through consultation with another brother, Anta and a wise counsellor, Thyala. The latter lived near Sandile at the Burns Hill mission. There was an obvious and steady march to war once more on the Eastern Cape frontier. Sandile decided to go and visit the engineers himself to see what they were up to. A lot has been made of this visit — that he arrived with a full war party and was aggressive. It so happened that shortly before he set off, he’d received a letter from the English administrator of the Ceded Territory, Charles Lennox Stretch who was based in Fort Beaufort. It was a letter of complaint about cattle theft and about an incident where Sandile had slapped an trader who’d insulted him, then taken goods from his shop. Sandile sent his reply saying that both the Governor of the Cape Sir Peregrine Maitland and Stretch were rascals, and that the traders were under his feet as chief and he’d do what he liked with them, and those who complained about cattle theft should shut up. It was in this dark mood that Sandile arrived at Block Drift — at the site of the proposed fort. The five British soldiers in the survey camp were shaken by his attitude, and Lieutenant Stokes sent an urgent message to Fort Beaufort for reinforcements. A darkness seemed to hang over the region through that February, the traditional month of thunderstorms which cracked open the skies, and mirrored the sentiment of both amaXhosa and settler. This year was dry, despite these flashing storms, little rain had fallen increasing the sense of foreboding. For the amaXhosa, this constant threat of an invasion of their land appeared to be attached to genocidal intent. The land rooted their ways and the settlers had made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with the Xhosa culture, their ancient way of life was anathema to these new arrivals. As with other areas of the globe, the immigrants were encroaching not only on territory, but on the very idea of autochthonous survival.
Episode 163 - British engineers build forts and semaphores while disabled chief Mgolombane Sandile signs a treaty
24-03-2024
Episode 163 - British engineers build forts and semaphores while disabled chief Mgolombane Sandile signs a treaty
This is episode 163, the year, 1845. New Cape Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland had shown he was a man of action — as a veteran of the Peninsular Campaign against Napoleon you’d expect that, particularly as he fought at Waterloo. This new man of action governor had some doubts about a few things here in sunny South Africa. He doubted the effectiveness of Andries Stockenstrom’s Eastern Cape Ceded territory system for a start. He would sort that he thought with the introduction of a new system which was actually an old system. More about that later. Maitland also doubted the effectiveness of two other treaties signed by his predecessor Sir George Napier with Griqua leader Adam Kok the third and King Moshoeshoe the First of the Basotho. But we need to turn south, back to the Eastern Cape Frontier. The 1840s were a high point of settler power in the Eastern Cape and wool was driving development. As the state expanded, pressure grew on the Ceded Territory, between the Fish and Keiskamma Rivers. It was also a time of reinforcing both the military forts around the frontier, and the communication systems. Starting in the mid-1830s, the British had extended their forts and signalling systems. They had been caught off-guard by the amaXhosa who’d raided the Eastern Cape without warning at the start of the Sixth Frontier War and it was imperative they improve their communication. After the frontier war of 1835-6, the planning of the system of frontier defence fell on the Royal engineers including Lieutenant-Colonel Griffith George Lewis and Captain WFD Jervois, as well as a civilian employee of the War Office, Henry L Hall. Lewis commanded the Royal Engineers in the colony at the time. He repeatedly expressed his frustration at the tardiness of the British government in allocating funds for the effective defence of the frontier districts. These funds of course were squeezed out of the British taxpayer, so the political leadership would not always release investments of this sort immediately. Lewis was one of those folks we come across every now and again, someone who seems to understand the big picture and the need for action. He wrote extensively on frontier defence policy, and complained that for years after the close of the war no clear decisions had been taken on how funds were to be utilised. His warnings like those of Sir John Hare the lieutenant Governor of the Eastern Cape were not being heeded. Jervois built the stockades at Peddie, Trompetter’s Drift, Double Drift and fort Brown, all found in the frontier districts of the Eastern Cape. Jervois would end up in the Channel Islands by the way, and designed and built a whole series of fortifications that were to become famous during the Second world War. The imperial government also approved of Lewis’s scheme for ‘signal towers’, and new roads and bridges to improve communications between these forts and the headquarters at Grahamstown where new barracks were to be built on the old Drostdy Ground. Lewis had been instrumental in building a series of towers to improve communications with Fort Beaufort and Fort Peddie, starting from Fort Selwyn in Grahamstown. The survey to establish suitable points on which to erect the stations was done by Henry Hall, stationed in the Eastern Cape in the period 1842–1858. Robert Godlonton had decided that his Grahamstown Journal was going to up the ante once more when it came to both the Kat River settlement where the khoekhoe lived, and the Ceded Territory. Appropriating the language of civilisation, Godlonton wrote in the journal that “…Colonisation would be then synonymous with civilisation, and the natives instead of being depressed or destroyed, would be raised from their wretched grovelling condition and participate in all the advantages which civilised government is calculated to bestow.” The fact that the amaXhosa people did not regard themselves as in a grovelling condition was utterly ignored by Godlonton.
Episode 162 - The 1845 Battle of Swartkoppies, Divide and Rule and a Bloemfontein origin story
16-03-2024
Episode 162 - The 1845 Battle of Swartkoppies, Divide and Rule and a Bloemfontein origin story
This is episode 162. First, some housekeeping. A huge thank you to all my supporters, the podcast just passed 1.3 million listens, so there’s a large number of folks out there who’ve found this series useful. I’m so delighted that our crazy tale here on the southern tip of Africa has resonated with so many people. The response has utterly stunned me, thinking when I started that being so battered by headwinds as we are at the moment, cynicism would sink the show. But it’s the opposite. To all the hundreds of listeners sending emails over the last 24 months, your personal stories and responses are all noted and stored. There’s a treasure trove of stuff which I’m going to try and use where appropriate. If you’d like to contact me please send a mail to desmondlatham@gmail.com Or head off to my site desmondlatham.blog there’s a contact form there and a newsletter sign-up. And now back to the mid-1840s. When we left off, Moshoeshoe and Adam Kok had signed a Treaty with the Cape Governor which gave them formal power over their territory. And as you know if you listened to episode 161, the definition of exactly what was their territory was somewhat hazy. By now the BaTlokwa, the Koranna and the Voortrekkers amongst others, had taken issue with this treaty, saying Moshoeshoe and Kok had no control over their people. There was a flourishing trade across the Orange, tying Cape Towns like Beaufort West, Graaff-Reinet and Grahamstown were directly linked to the settlements to the north by these trade routes. The Griqua received their gunpowder from these towns and sold their cattle and ivory there for example. The Orange River was a significant challenge, at this stage there was no bridge or ferry and when it flooded, weeks could pass before wagons could cross. The British presence was concentrated in Colesberg where the civil commissioner with the wonderfully memorable name of Fleetwood Rawstone served for 21 years. He was subordinate to the Lieutenant Governor of the eastern Province held through the crucial years of the 1840s by Lieutenant Colonel Hare who lived in Grahamstown. After the return of Jan Mocke, Jan Kock and the Modder River Boers from Natal, life became more difficult for the British commissioner. The Treaty signed between the Griqua and the Cape Colony in 1843 was supposed to bring permanent peace to the Transorangia region but was predicated on the fact that the Griqua were supposed to pacify the Boers. The Boers totally rejected that premise. In November 1844, the Boers had enough and a commando was assembled under Jan Kock which rode to Philippolis, where a Griqua commando had been also been assembled and awaited their arrival. A Mexican standoff developed. It’s defined as a confrontation where no strategy exists that allows either party to achieve victory. Just as an aside, the cliché of a Mexican standoff is best known in Westerns, and probably the most memorable would be Sergio Leone’s 1966 Classic The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Governor Maitland was deep in thought back in the Cape. He’d quickly assessed the rising tension across the Orange, as well as in the eastern Cape. He was another Peninsular war vet, commanding a Brigade at the Battle of Waterloo. Maitland had been part of the army that defeated Napoleon and his bravery during that Battle had brought him a formal vote of thanks from the British House of Commons.
Episode 161 - Moshoeshoe signs a Treaty then collects gunpowder and horses
10-03-2024
Episode 161 - Moshoeshoe signs a Treaty then collects gunpowder and horses
This is episode 161 — and what’s this I hear? The sound of wind whipping and howling through the mountain recesses, snow-capped mountains, where the rivers have torn deep ravines in the geography, terraphysics scraping rocks, rushing waters plunging from the escarpment into the eastern cape and free state, foaming and roiling. It must be the home of the BaSotho. Many South Africans make the fatal mistake of thinking that Lesotho is such a small place, reliant on its big neighbour, it is basically another province of the RSA. My friends, harbouring that misconception will get you in deep trouble. Its not size that matters, its pure unbridled pride. Moshoeshoe and his descendents have fought long and hard for independence, albeit in a nation surrounded by a single other nation. By the mid-1940s, Moshoeshoe had turned to the British authorities and their policies were more favourable to him than those of the Boers. The British at least at this point showed no sign of coveting his land, nor had they ill-treated his people, unlike the amaXhosa to the south. Moshoeshoe was being kept up to date about diplomatic events by the influential Frency missionary, Eugene Casalis. By 1843 the Paris missionaries had realised that the biggest threat to Moshoeshoe and his Basotho were not the English, despite the bad blood between the French and the English, but the trekboers. This is important because the Boers didn’t see the Basotho as original owners of the land, they say the owners as San. In the years of discussions, letters, meetings, official notes, logs, missionary biographies, it became obvious that to the Boers, the San being the original owners, meant that the Basotho couldn’t really own the land at all. Basotho national existence began in the midst of what we’d call settler colonialism as well as the intra-African wars between rulers like Mzilikazi, Mantatisi, Shaka. It’s remarkable because this is one of the African states that grew out of a response to invasions by brown, black and white. Sotho oral tradition speaks of the royal family line of Bakoena Ba Mokoteli — which forms the totemic core of Basotho aristocracy, and existed way before these invasions. Casalis and his colleagues became Moshoeshoe’s external voice, writing his communications, and despite their patriotism as Frenchmen, they regarded the British in the Cape as their allies. The reason is simple. France had zero interests in southern Africa by now, so this decision to sidle up to the Brits in Cape Town was not a contradiction. By 1844 treaties with Adam Kok and Moshoeshoe were concluded, with the eye-catching line in both agreements where each undertook to be “the faithful Friend and Ally of the colony…” This was not regarded as a valid claim by the trekboers. Nor Moshoeshoe’s implacable enemy, Sekonyela of the Batlokwa people among others.
Episode 160 - A tour of Philippolis, an 1844 update, the Great Guano discovery and the Merino sheep miracle
03-03-2024
Episode 160 - A tour of Philippolis, an 1844 update, the Great Guano discovery and the Merino sheep miracle
This is episode 160 and we’re breathing the spicy smells of the semi-desert, and taking in the exotic and wonderous scenary of the Richtersveld, Namaqualand, and the stunning area around south westn Free State in the 840s. Last episode we heard about the period 1840-1843 in the southern Caledon River valley, and how the Voortrekkers like Jan Mocke were flowing into land that Moshoeshoe of the BaSotho believed was his. That was setting up a classic situation where land was the core of the ension. A lot of what we’re looking at today is centred on a town largely forgotten these days, Philippolis. If you drive along the N1 between Bloemfontein and Colesburg, turn off at Trompsburg and head south west along the R717 for around 45 kilometres. It’s not far from the Orange River, and it’s history is certainly chequered. It’s also the home town of writer and intellectual Laurens van Der Post and former Springbok Rugby player Adriaan Strauss. On the 22nd October, 1842, the country beyond the Orange River to the north-east of the Cape Colony was proclaimed British Territory and the sphere of operations of the Cape British military garrison was considerably enlarged. The emigrant Boers based in this region reacted with anger, it was Adam Kok the second the Griqualand leader who had requested protection from the British because of the increased numbers of trekkers in his vicinity. Between 1826 when Kok arrived and the 1840, Kok had managed to get along with the Boers, but the Great Trek had changed everything. The London Missionary Society had founded Philippolis in 1823 as a mission station serving the local Griqua people, named after the man you heard about last episode, Dr John Philip, who was the superintendent of the Society from 1819 to 1849. Adam Kok II settled in Philippolis with his people in 1826 and became the protector of the mission station, on condition that he promised to protect the San against the aggression of the Boers. Kok was supposed to promote peace in the region, at least that was the brief from the London Missionary Society. Instead, carnage ensued as the Griqua used Philippolis as a base for a number of deadly commandos against the San people - virtually wiping them out in the area. Ironically, the Griqua worked with Boers to conduct their raids. This violated the agreement made between the London Missionary Society and Adam Kok II and eventually the San were driven out of the area. When the Voortrekkers began showing up nearby at Colesberg which was one of the main jumping off points of the Great Trek and tension grew between the trekkers and the Griqua. 1844 - like 2024 - was a leap year. And coming up was a momentous moment. In May 24 1844 the first electrical telegram was sent by Samuel Morse from the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. to the B&O Railroad "outer depot" in Baltimore, saying "What hath God wrought”. Considering that the telegram and later the radio led to television and then social media, perhaps we should all wonder What Hath God wrought. In June of 1844 the Young Men’s Christian Association was formed, the YMCA, setting off a chain of events culminating in the song of the same name by the Village People. History is not all skop skiet and donder. Back on the dusty flatlands around Philippolis, Adam Kok and the Boers were blissfully unaware of the significance of all of these births and deaths across the Atlantic Ocean. Further south, in the Cape, the newly created road boards were hard at work as I mentioned, building new routes out of Cape Town, connecting the Colony to the most important port in the southern hemisphere. By this point, there were steamships operating between Cape Town and Port Elizabeth, which oftened called in at Mossel Bay. Other ships began flocking in huge numbers to a bunch of islands off Namaqualand .. the Great Guano Rush had started at the end of 1843 and really got going in 1844. It was discovered that vast deposits of guano on uninhabited island.
Episode 159 - Boer women as handmaidens to history and the swirling social dust storms in TransOrangia circa 1843
25-02-2024
Episode 159 - Boer women as handmaidens to history and the swirling social dust storms in TransOrangia circa 1843
This is episode 159. If we take out a map of south Africa and reconsider the regions, it will become quite apparent that the main demarcation is geographical, geological, the main points of reference are the rivers and the mountains, the desert and semi-desert, the good soils and the bad. Take a look at a map of the region to the south west of the Drakensberg, for its this area way down to the Orange River and extending towards the Kalahari and the Richtersveld that we’re going to focus on in this episode. There is a direct correlation between the British seizing Natal from the Boers, and the effect on the Basotho, the Griqua, the baTlokwa amongst others. The Voortrekkers who refused to take an oath of allegiance to the British Queen Victoria trekked back up over the Drakensberg. And it was the vast majority. Some of these would head north, some south west. Most headed back south were not going to where they began, the Cape Colony, but to try and negotiate or seize land between the Cape and Natal. This was not empty land and I’m going to explain what happened after 1843, after the English flag began to flutter from the Fort in Durban. Slow as wagon travel was, the speed with which the Boers had spread themselves across so much of southern Africa in such a short time had taken everyone by surprise - it had taken six years. The Cape Governors were totally unprepared for this migration. Their narrative had been that these Europeans would find inland Africa far too unforgiving and then return to the Cape where they’d settle down and pay their taxes. When they left in the late 1830s, Cape Governor Sir Benjamin D’urban was anxious, his successor Sir George Napier was even more so. The Boers trundled into the interior and directly into the seething hinterland, shattered as it had been by Mzilikazi, Shaka, the BaTlokwa, and of course, the Griqua and Bastard raiders who travelled like Boers, on horses, with hats and guns. It’s hard for many to fathom these days in the 21st Century, post-apartheid, in a land so riven by what seems to be race-based antagonisms, that back in 1843 by far the most caustic, acrimonious, begrudging and irreconcilable emotions were those felt by the Boers against the British. Their anti-British sentiments were fixed although on an individual basis, the two people seemed to get along. When deserting British soldiers appeared in their midst, Boer mothers and fathers were not averse to their daughters marrying these men. The Boers began to concentrate on the high Veld and across the orange, but for many, the crucial state was Natal. They had gained bloody victories over the amaZulu here, Blood River was their covenant, a lasting affirmation of God’s great plan for the Boers, part of their Exodus narrative, his support of them in smiting the Philistines, the heathens, their dark enemies. Jan Mocke was one of these men on the extreme edge of this sentiment. What had emerged to startle the British, was the power of the voices of Boer Women. They had seen the resistance of their husbands weakening, they’d heard the disparate arguments, the egos where their men had come to blows after a couple of brandies, and told British offiicals to their faces that they’d walk out of Natal Barefoot across the Drakensberg if necessary to die in freedom. As Noel Mostert points out, the Boer women, like amaXhosa women who’d also been busy stiffening their men’s spines, were force that could never be ignored. They were active, demanding and the handmaidens to their history.
Episode 158 - Venda kingdoms and the Lemba Yemeni enigma
17-02-2024
Episode 158 - Venda kingdoms and the Lemba Yemeni enigma
This is episode 158 and we’re taking an epic regional tour into the along the Limpopo River to meet with the Venda and other groups of folks who hail from the province we now call Limpopo. Thanks to listener Mushe for the suggestion. By the mid-fifteenth century Shona-speaking immigrants from Zimbabwe settled across the Limpopo River and interacted with the local Sotho inhabitants. As a result of this interaction, Shona and Sotho led to what is now regarded as a common Venda identity by the mid-sixteenth century. Venda-speaking people live mainly in the Soutpansberg area and southern Zimbabwe, but they also once lived in south-western Mozambique and north-eastern Botswana. Venda grammar and phonology is similar to Shona, particularly western Shona and Venda vocabulary has its greatest equivalent in Sotho. Phonology is the branch of linguistics that deals with systems of sounds within a language or between different languages. According to most ethnographers it is not only the Venda language, but also certain customs, such as the domba pre-marital school, that distinguish them from surrounding Shona, Sotho-Tswana and Tsonga communities. First a quick refresh. We heard in one of earlier podcasts about the Mapungubwe kingdom which lasted until the 13th Century - following which Shona speaking people’s moved southwards into the Soutpansberg region over the centuries. Archaeologists have established that by the fourteenth century, or the late Mapungubwe period and what is known as and the Moloko, the early post Mapungubwe kingdoms emerged in northern Transvaal. This is where the forebears of the Venda come in. Zimbabwean ceramics help a lot here, they were produced by Shona speakers and their fourteenth century distribution demarcated the Shona trading empire centred around Great Zimbabwe. The rulers at Great Zimbabwe controlled most of the country between the Limpopo and Zambezi rivers until smaller trading states broke away in the fifteenth century. I’ve covered this in great detail in Episodes 5, 6 and 7 if you want to refresh memories. We also know that trade between these early kingdoms and the east coast was established, goods like gold, ivory, and copper were traded with Arabic and Portuguese merchants. The Venda were directly impacted by this trade, along with another unique group called the Lemba who are directly related to ancestors who actually traded all the way from Yemen in the Middle East. More about them in a few minutes. Ceramics help us piece together the past more effectively, the period of Shona and Sotho interaction eventually involved into more than a mere overlap of these ceramic styles, because for the first time different stylistic elements appeared on the same vessels. These Letaba pots have also been unearthed in the eastern Transvaal or Limpopo Province as its now known. It is interesting that these ceramics are still produced today, these Letaba pots and ceramics are made by the Venda, the Tsonga, the Ndebele, but anthropologists and historians believe the style itself is distinctly Venda in character. The Venda kingdom pretty much stretched from the Limpopo River in the north to the Olifants and Ngwenya River, or Crocodile River, in the south, but by the time Louis Trichardt rode through their land in 1836, the great Venda empire had almost vanished, torn up by external threats — damaged by the amaNdebele and even amaZulu raiders. The second group who could be found in this territory are the Lemba. They remain one of the self-defining groups of the region who have a stunning origin story. I am going to tread quite carefully here because there’s science and then there’s oral tradition. As you’ll hear, the Lemba believe they are related to the lost Tribes of Israel, and have recently demanded that they be recognized as such. Their narrative and origin story links them to the Middle East and the Judaism and there is DNA evidence to back them up.
Episode 157 - Dick King and Ndongeni Ka Xoki’s epic ride leads another d’Urban to Durban
11-02-2024
Episode 157 - Dick King and Ndongeni Ka Xoki’s epic ride leads another d’Urban to Durban
This is episode 157 - where Dick King and Ndongeni ka Xoki ride to out of Durban carrying a dispatch from besieged British commander, Captain Smith, surrounded by Boers, in real danger. On the 24th May 1842 King and ka Xoki snuck out of the Port Natal region heading to Grahamstown in the south. That was a thousand kilometre journey which was going to take 10 days. Averaging 100 kilometres a day on a horse was some feat. Ndongeni Ndongeni Ka Xoki had already given King his Zulu nickname -Mlamulankunzi which loosely translated means a peacemaker among bulls. This was regarded as a mark of respect and admiration and there’s a lot to admire about King as well as Ka Xoki. They had agreed to take a dispatch to Lieutenant Governor Colonel Hare in Grahamstown for Captain Thomas Smith who’d been shamed by the Boers at the Battle of Congella which I covered last episode. King was young and adventurous, he was an elephant hunter and a trader and came to South Africa as an 1820 Settler at the age of six. He was a frontiersman and an excellent rider who could and did turn his hand to anything it seems. Ndongeni ka Xoki had worked for King for a few years by this time. There’s also been a great deal of hooplah, disinformation and propaganda about King’s ride. The popular view of Dick King over the decades has been moulded by the Durban public memorial - it is an equestrian statue on the Esplanade - now Margaret Mcadi Avenue. The main Dick King statue presents the sole figure of King as the heroic if exhausted rider, but there is a missing Ndongeni on his horse. Protestors who defaced the statue in 2015 of course had no idea about that, they were throwing paint at all colonial era artefacts - equal opportunity statue painters. It was midday on the 24th June when Boer lookouts spotted a schooner called the Conch rounding the Bluff and sailing into the bay. It was a trading ship not a war ship, so the boers relaxed. They shouldn’t have, because the wily and wicked English had a surprise up their sleeves. Crouching below decks were 100 Grenadiers of the 27th Regiment under command of Captain Durnford, a few others were on deck but dressed in civilians clothes. Trickery and deceit — how very English.
Episode 156 - The Battle of Congella leaves 34 British soldiers dead on a moonlit Durban beach
04-02-2024
Episode 156 - The Battle of Congella leaves 34 British soldiers dead on a moonlit Durban beach
When we left off last episode, Captain Thomas Smith and two companies of the 27th Inniskilling Regiment, an 18 pounder that had just arrived by ship, two six pounder field guns, a small section of the Royal Artillery, a hand full of Royal Engineers, Sappers and miners, along with a company of Cape Mountain Rifles had formed their laager at level area to then north of Durban CBD today - where the Old Fort can be seen. Just a note - the 27th Inniskilling were an Irish infantry regiment of the British army, formed in 1689 so they’d been around the block so to speak. Boer commander Andries Pretorius had called his men to where he’d setup camp at Congella and by the time this battle commenced, there’d be more than 200 ready to face Smith’s professional soldiers. The British were hopelessly optimistic in their plans as you’re going to hear. Some of the English traders left at Port Natal, Henry Ogle for example, had warned Captain Smith that his force was somewhat underwhelming and that the Boers were not to be taken lightly. Smith unfortunately had no choice but to impose himself. He’d marched to Durban from Umgazi, and the last orders he’d received from Cape Governor Sir George Napier was to secure the bay for the British Empire. I’ve already explained that back in England, the Secretary for War and the Colonies Lord Stanley had changed his mind and ordered Smith back to base but his letter was going to arrive woefully too late. Captain Smith was aware of the Boer capacity to fight in bush, so he ordered his men to march along the beachfront. A stunning full moon was shining, causing the waves to fluoresce. Anyone who’s marched on a beach knows that its very difficult, made worse by the horses and of course, dragging the three guns along - while they were obviously now clearly visible to anyone lurking in the bush on the dunes. It was low tide, so the going was good at first as the hard sand made things a little easier. The British also deployed a howitzer on a long boat from the Mazeppa which was how folks made difficult trip between ships at anchor in Durban Bay and across the dangerous sandbar to the beach. Smith was hoping that the longboat could row to the beach at high tide to offload the howitzer — but that was seven hours away. There were a lot of what if’s that dogged Smith’s plan as you can see. Pretorius had also given strict orders that no Boer should fire until the British troops were within 100 metres of the camp. The burghers waited until at Pretoriu’s command, five shots rang out. An ox at each of the three gun carriages was shot dead by the sharpshooters only a few metres away in the bush. That wasn’t all, Lieutenant Wyatt and a private of the Inniskilling regiment were both shot in the head and killed instantly. Pandemonium broke out in the British ranks. The surviving oxen panicked, but were now dragging the gun and a dead ox with them, while the canon were actually pointed away from the Boer laager so couldn’t even be brought to bear and fired. The British in their redcoats dived onto the sand, firing back into the darkness. The soldiers were caught in the full moon light which back in these days of zero light pollution, was like a flare in the sky. The English were in big trouble.
Episode 155 - The Eastern Cape economy surges and the Americans visit Port Natal as tension rises
27-01-2024
Episode 155 - The Eastern Cape economy surges and the Americans visit Port Natal as tension rises
Welcome back to the History of South Africa podcast with me your host, Des Latham - it’s episode 155 and the Cape economy is growing in leaps and bounds. The years between 1840 and 1843 were a fascinating mix of economic development and military endeavour. We will be returning to the arrival in Port Natal aka Durban of Captain Smith and his 263 men and unfortunately, there’s going to be fisticuffs, bullets, death and traitorous acts. But it is true that the most significant development in South Africa after 1835 was the expansion of agricultural production. Luckily for us, an organisation called eGSSA, founded in 2004, is the virtual branch of the Genealogical Society of South Africa, and provides a virtual home for everyone from the beginner to the most advanced family historian. And buried in their digital archives are digitalised copies of the Cape Frontier Times, a publication that began it’s life in Grahamstown in 1840. In between notices about births, marriages and deaths, that are known by old school editors as hatches, matches and dispatches, is a great deal of material about money, commodities, the economy. Americans had also just discovered what was known as Cape Gum. This weeps from a tree known as Acacia Karoo or the Karoo thorn, or if you’re into Latin, the Vachellia karroo. What was going on as well was the genesis of an African peasant producer of agricultural goods — and these producers of food would become very important as our story progresses through the 19th Century. Moving along. You heard last episode how Cape Governor, Sir George Napier, the one-armed veteran of the peninsular wars against Napoleon, had signed an order for Captain Thomas Smith and his 263 to march to Port Natal, and seize the valuable port for the British. That of course, was going to be opposed by the Boers. Adding fuel to the propaganda fire apart from the Volksraads decision in Pietermaritzburg to kick amaZulu out of southern Natal and the midlands, was the sudden an unexpected arrival in Port Natal of an American ship called the Levant.
Episode 154 - The Swellekamp grifter and Captain Smith marches from the Umgazi River to Port Natal
21-01-2024
Episode 154 - The Swellekamp grifter and Captain Smith marches from the Umgazi River to Port Natal
This is episode 154 and the amaBhaca people under chief Ncapayi have just raided the Boers along the upper Bushman’s river and near their new town of Weenen. Joining the Bhaca were the San raiders you heard about in episode 152. The area around the Umzimvubu River had been unstable ever since the amaBhaca fled to the region during Shaka’s time, and the amaBhaca now lived west of the amaPondo who were ruled by chief Faku ka Ngqungqushe. It’s important to note that both the amaMpondo and the amaBhaca used to live further north in Natal before Shaka’s fractious wars began and led to the movement of the people known as the Mfecane. The amaPondo did not trust the amaBhaca, calling them thieves. The arrival of the Boers in Natal meant they had a powerful new possible ally — but they quickly learned that the Boers were not to be trusted either as you’re going to hear in this episode. Faku regularly communicated with the Voortrekkers, and now that the amaBhaca had made the fatal decision to steal more than 700 head of cattle from the trekkers near Weenen, along with 50 horses, the Volksraad in Pietermaritzburg had had enough. They met in November and ordered Andries Pretorius and commandant Hendrik Stephanus Lombard to lead a commando of 260 Boers to extract maximum revenge from the amaBhaca. Chief Fodo of the Nlangwini who lived between the Bhaca and the Boers had also been raided, so he and about a hundred of the Nlangwini warriors joined the Boer commando seeking their own form of restitution. In the ensuing attack, 26 men, ten women and four children were killed, and the boers seized 3 000 cattle as well as 2 000 sheep. The numbers have been contested over the years, but the fact that women and children died was confirmed. However, it was their decision to seize at least 17 of the amaBhaca children they said had been orphaned in the attack that was going to lead to a great deal of interest by the anti-slavery lobby in the Cape — and in England. Chief Faku wrote a letter around this time to Governor Sir George Napier, expressing his fear that he would be next, that the Boers were seizing livestock and children willy nilly south of the Umzimvubu River, and that matters could not continue and begged to be placed under the protection of the British Government. on August 2nd 1841, the Raad took the rather unwise decision to force all these amaZulu squatters off the farms. It went further, ruling that none had any right to claim any part of Natal at all. They should be removed, resolved the Volksraad, to the tract of land between the Umtamvuna River and the Umzimvubu River. ON the surface, this appeared to be a reasonable suggestion, the land is excellent here, enough water and good soils. However, no-one had bothered to ask the local African clans what they thought of this basically, forced removal and furthermore, someone already lived there. On August 21st, Lord John Russell instructed the Governor to make arrangements for the reoccupying of Port Natal. This is where Captain Smith would make his appearance and the coming march overland to Port Natal was going to be arduous indeed.
Episode 153 - Dr Livingstone disembarks and Pretorius and Potgieter bury the hatchet
14-01-2024
Episode 153 - Dr Livingstone disembarks and Pretorius and Potgieter bury the hatchet
1840 was a leap year, and in November David Livingstone had left Britain for Africa. His story of exploration and commitment is extraordinary. While he would go on to become better known for his attempts at finding the source of the Nile River in east Africa, it was his formative phase of life at mission stations in southern Africa that we’re interested in. Born on 19 March 1813 in Blantyre, Scotland, he was the second of seven children and employed at the age of ten in the towns’ cotton mill. This was way before rules about these things, and this ten year-old worked twelve hours days as a piecer, who’s job it was to lay broken cotton threads on the spinning machines. He was drawn to the teachings of local evangelist, Thomas Burke. He studied medicine, and then was ordained as a minister of the church at the Charing Cross Medical School. A chance meeting with south African Scots missionary Robert Moffat in London was to change his life. Moffat was running the London Missionary Society’s station at Kuruman, and Livingstone asked him if he “would do for Africa” as in survive. “I said he would” Moffat wrote later, “if he would not go to an old station, but would advance to unoccupied ground, specifying the vast plain to the north where I had sometimes seen in the morning sun, the smoke of a thousand villages where no missionary had ever been…” Forgive my pathetic attempt at a Scots accent. Young David Livingstone was going to take that to heart over the next few decades and would become known as the greatest missionary in Africa, even though the truth is he converted only one person to Christianity. He left England for the Cape in November 1840, and spent most of his time on board studying Dutch and seTswana. Joining him on board was someone else we’re going to hear quite a bit about in coming episodes, another LMS missionary called William Ross. You know how everything connects one way or another. So we have Livingstone and Ross sailing to southern Africa - imbued with the concepts of evangelical christianity with it’s core message Influenced by revivalistic teachings in the United States, Livingstone entirely accepted the proposition put by Charles Finney, Professor of Theology at Oberlin College, Ohio, that "the Holy Spirit is open to all who ask it". For Livingstone, this meant a release from the fear of eternal damnation. And being an earnest young man, he felt that folks should hear about this. Initially he wanted to go to China, but the looming first Opium War led to the London Missionary Society directors deciding southern Africa was safer. Livingstone and Ross landed in Simon’s Bay in March 1841 after a stop off in Brazil. Livingstone stayed at Dr Philip’s home in Cape Town. Philip spoke quite a bit about how he believed in the policy that all people were equal before God and the law and Livingstone believed that too. Clearly then Livingstone was not going to be welcomed by the Boers and British settlers most of whom by now definitely did not believe this message. Livingstone sailed up the coast to Algoa Bay in May and then he took a two month ox-wagon trek along with William Ross to the Kuruman Mission. There he immersed himself in Tswana life and trekked more than a thousand kilometres to Mabotse in modern day Botswana which is near Zeerust. The Boers in Pietermaritzburg had gone through a combination of good and bad. In 1839 more than half a dozen people had died when a candle tipped over in one of the houses there, burning down 13. The blaze was made worse by the gunpowder stores in most of the houses, and the fire was so intense, it set fire to nearby wagons. Hendrick Potgieter based on the high veld had still not reconciled with Andries Pretorius - but things were about to change.
Episode 152 - The amaTola San raiders of the Drakensberg: Horses, plant meds and the Chacma Baboon
07-01-2024
Episode 152 - The amaTola San raiders of the Drakensberg: Horses, plant meds and the Chacma Baboon
This is episode 152, we’re going to dig into a story that is not often told — the amaTola San raiders of the Drakensberg. They emerged by the end of the third decade of the 19th Century as a result of a mish-mash of forces at play on the veld. And what a remarkable story this is so hold onto your horses! Literally as it would appear. What has been re-discovered recently is the identification of a plethora of mounted frontier raiding groups and how these had impacted the interior of Southern Africa, and in particular, the mountains north-east of the Cape Colony. Certain frontier raiding groups often referred to simply as ‘Bushmen’ were really comprised of members from many formerly distinct ethnicities, and included the progeny from subsequent inter-marriage. Cultural and ethnic mixing, the advent of the horse, the increased access to guns and ammunition, and the need for identity to adapt to these changes, resulted in a volatile mix indeed. There were freed slaves, Khoesan, San, and English soldiers who’d gone AWOL, as well as descendants of former VOC soldiers who were Swedish, German, Swiss, and Dutch. There’s a correlation here with the American Frontier experience, where men and sometimes women, armed with muskets, bows, and spears, wearing feathered headgear or wide-brimmed trekboer hats and riding horses, raided their neighbours for cattle and horses or exchanged these valuable resources for corn, tobacco, dogs and alcohol, much like other nineteenth century frontiers. There the roaming bandits were the Jumanos, the Lakota, the Metis, all became seminal in the B-grade Western movies of the 1950s. South Africa’s bandits and raiders were arraigned across a large area, but perhaps the most interesting were those living in the amaTola mountains, a mixture of people who were on the fringes of society. Because horses were only introduced to the Drakensberg in the 1830s and production of hunter-gatherer rock art in that region had almost entirely ceased by the 1880s, horse paintings are comparatively tightly pinpointed in time, unlike virtually all other categories of images in southern African rock art. San paintings of this time reveal quite an astonishing fact, these people had a mixed material culture, the paintings who San and others who were not San working together, carrying firearms, riding horses with their dogs running alongside, carrying spears and bows, and importantly, dancing their trance dances. The area I’m addressing lies between the Mzimvubu River and the Tina River, across the central Drakensburg in other words, across both sides of the escarpment, stretching from Giants Castle in modern Kwa-Zulu Natal to Mount Fletcher in the Eastern Cape and Matsaile inside Lesotho. Glancing at a map, and tracing folks living in this area in 1840 you’d find the Voortrekkers arraigned inland from Port Natal, around Pietermaritzburg, and up to the headwaters of the Umgeni, the Mooi River and Bushman’s River just below Giant’s Castle. From here the San Raiders controlled the landscape, along the ridges of the Drakensberg south westerly to Mount Fletcher, in the slopes above the Senqu River or the headwaters of the Orange Riverif you prefer. This overlooked where the Bhaca lived, south east of them, the amaMpondo, further south the Mpondomise, then further the amaThembu, to their east and south the amaXhosa could be found and to their south, the English settlers in Albany. I hope you can feel the proximity of these amaTola raiders because everyone in these areas were somewhat fearful of the gangs of men on horses. The San raiders were based in that mountain redoubt between Giant’s Castle and Mount Fletcher and they were surrounded by enemies but also prospective allies. This mountain redoubt was getting a bad name, and soon would be identified on maps from the 1840s onwards as nomansland.
Episode 151 - The polymath Sir John Herschel, his free school system and other 1840 interconnections
31-12-2023
Episode 151 - The polymath Sir John Herschel, his free school system and other 1840 interconnections
Episode 151 and we’re into the 1840s - and its time to analyse some issues. One is education, the other, roads. Given our crisis in education these days, its perhaps another of our historical ironies that state funded schooling was offered by 1839 and 1840 in the Cape, something that was unparalleled at the time except for Prussia and a handful of New England states in America. No-where else in the world at the time could state funded free education be found. Yes, you heard that right, South Africa was an early adopter of free education. Another growing phenomenon at this moment was the building of roads, something that was sorely required in a region as vas as southern Africa. After the Sixth Frontier war of 1834-5, municipal government began to develop, and a new Legislative Council was struggling to make sense of the existing political system. All members of the council were appointed by the Governor, and only gained the right to alter the Charters of Justice, or the law, in 1844. Christoffel Brand, editor of die Zuid Afrikaan, and Robert Godlonton editor of the Grahamstown journal, both talked of an elective assembly. Godlonton added that he preferred to see the Eastern Cape achieve independence from the Cape. These erstwhile journalists were merely repeating conversations that were taking place across the British Empire in the fourth decade of the 19th Century. In Australia for example, the 1840s were years of conflict, as British settlers increasingly moved out away from towns seeking new farmland, First Nations fought back and resisted this expansion. Violence ensued. Squatters, who leased large pastoral lands from the colonial governments in New South Wales, Tasmania, Victoria and into Queensland and South Australia, increasingly gained political and economic influence. They became wealthy off the land leased at low rates, stocking them with thousands of sheep, with their fleeces sold into the British market. Many squatters, with time and money, stood for election to parliament to set the laws and rules in their favour. Wool was also going to become the Cape’s main resource shortly. The gloom of the trekkers leaving the province had been replaced by an economic upturn — the Cape Colony finances were in a much healthier condition than they had been ten years earlier. Governor D’Urban, who’d left for home, had earlier launched a campaign to simplify the fiscal system and by 1840 the campaign had begun to bear fruit. The collection of taxes by Colonial Secretary John Montagu resulted in the Cape finally wiping off its public debt and re-paying the British government in full. Customs revenues were rising, the slave compensation fund had helped, and the delivery of stores during the Sixth Frontier war bolstered imports, while exports grew. Wine farms had experienced a drop in sales starting in 1825, but wool had largely replaced this commodity. Merino sheep had been acclimatised in Albany district around Grahamstown just before the war of 1834, and suddenly there was a lot of money to be made farming these animals for their wool. Within ten years, by the 1850s, wool would outstrip all other Cape exports put together. Just like in Australia. To his credit, Sir George Napier wanted to improve this situation and following a report prepared by Colonial Secretary John Bell for his predecessor D’Urban, Napier turned to a fascinating man called Sir John Herschel. He was a famous astronomer, who was collaborating with Thomas Maclear, the Cape Astronomer Royal at the private observatory at Claremont near Cape Town. And this of course, is why we call Observatory Observatory. Loved by the students, loathed by their parents, a place of excellent entertainment to this day, Obs is a seminal party centre, characterised by the smell of cannabis on Lower Main Street. Sir John Herschel had a cunning plan. He began to develop a system that bore his name, whereby two classes of schools were recognised.
Episode 150 - Dingana assassinated near Ghost Mountain and the cultural appropriation tale of the toyi-toyi
24-12-2023
Episode 150 - Dingana assassinated near Ghost Mountain and the cultural appropriation tale of the toyi-toyi
For those who’ve lasted the journey thus far, thank you for listening. The number of downloads is approaching 1 and a quarter million, which by itself is quite a shock. Adding to the selfserving histrionics, Episode one of this series has just made to Spotify’s fourth most listened to podcast in South Africa for 2023. More gasps of disbelief. When I began this enterprise in February 2021 it was a giant leap into a possible abyss, a leap into the unknown, and possibly a foray into catastrophe. One person’s historian is another person’s spin doctor you could say. As 2024 beckons, I need to mention that my site, desmondlatham.blog has a donation panel. The hosting services are not free and so far I’ve tried to avoid mentioning moolah — its base and depraved. However, debasing and depraving is required as the cost of all of this has to be covered some how. So you’ll see a donate button on desmondlatham.blog, click on there and there’s a Paypal QR code on the page. If you’d prefer to EFT or something, send me an email at desmondlatham@gmail.com. With that slightly odious begging bowl moment out of the way, back to our tale. We’re going to hear about Dingana’s death, It’s late January 1840, and word reached the Voortrekker BeesKommando that Dingana had been defeated at amaQongqo, he was on the run. Although commandant Andries Pretorius believed this was true, the Boers wanted to follow up on the amaZulu King’s defeat to deal with the remnants of his army. AS you know, Ndlela kaSompiti the general had paid for the defeat with his life, Dingana had him killed but the surviving army was still out there, on the flat lands west of the Lebombo Mountains. But by throwing Ndlela’s body out for the wild dogs, the jackals, the hyenas and the vultures, Dingana had broken the tradition of burying respected elders and royalty. Many of his own followers took exception to this act and realised that his behaviour belied his weakness, so more decided to throw in their lot with Mpande kaSenzangkhona. On 3rd February, 220 Boers detached from the BeesKommando for a quick recon towards the Pongolo river after being informed that Dingana’s general Nongalaza was chasing Ndlela’s shattered impi south. Maybe they’d catch these warriors in a pincer, there were reportedly around 3000 still alive and unhurt — at least 2000 others had either died or were wounded and no longer a threat. Hundreds of warriors were indeed in the vicinity, heading back home towards the Mfolozi from the Pongola River, but this was summer and summers are often characterised by thick mist in the valleys. It was under cover of this mist belt that that warriors managed to avoid the Boers, hiding in the kloofs and caves and inside the dense riverine bush. A small group of men and women were caught in a cave, the men were killed, the women seized. Then 250 burghers were mounted up in a larger commando and headed north east from the White Mfolozi to the Pongola river to join up with Nongalaza’s amaZulu. They met up with Nongalaza on the 5th February, who told them that Dingana had made it across the Pongola River and was fleeing into amaSwazi country with a few close adherents and his mother and some sisters. He was headed towards the Lubombo Mountains. Now anyone who has travelled here will know of the Ghost mountain, the combination of blunt hills and thick sub-tropical bush, the sandy trails and possibly, the ghostly stories. When he realised that Nongalaza’s men had turned around, he stopped with his retinue at a small hilll south of the Lubombo Mountains called Hlathikhulu. Peering at these mountains in February 1840 was Dingana, who took stock as he settled in to a makeshift royal residence on the forested slopes. His isigodlo was put in place and he named this eSankoleni, a place of seclusion, the secluded spot. This was his last place, and instead of seclusion, it was going to be a place of execution.
Episode 149 - Mpande defeats Dingana at the Battle of amaQongqo and Bhibhi the beautiful is killed
17-12-2023
Episode 149 - Mpande defeats Dingana at the Battle of amaQongqo and Bhibhi the beautiful is killed
This is episode 149 and Mpande kaSenzangakhona and the Boers are going after Dingana. We’re entering the 1840s where momentous events would continue to shape South Africa’s future. After Shaka’s death in 1828 his half-brother and murderer, Dingana, was supposed to usher in stability. Instead, Dingana embroiled the AmaZulu in one war after another, trying to defeat Mzilikazi of the amaNdebele, fightign the baTlokwa, the amaSwazi, the Boers, and now, his own Royal line. By ordering Mpande’s assassination, he had set off a chain of events that was going to boomerang on him and the coming Zulu Civil War had been in the offing for some time. He’d also set off his own demise by failing to kill Mpande, who then fled across the Thukela River with over 17 000 adherents and about 35 000 cattle. Mpande had met Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius and negotiated with the Voortrekkers as the man they now called “The Reigning Prince of the Emigrant Zulus”. A Boer deputation of 28 men under the leadership of F Roos had visited him at his homestead not far from Port Natal in October 1839, where he offered to pay them the cattle owed by Dingana, over 19 300, and ceded the bay of St Lucia to the Boers. Mpande also promised not to undertake any military activity without Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius’ knowledge. Then as if to reinforce his power, he turned a blind eye to the killing of a much feared induna called Mpangazitha kaMncumbatha who was of the amaNdwandwe. Zwide’s people. Mpangazitha had become an influential and brutal induna operating alongside Dingana, and one day he was killed in full view of the trekkers. This shocked the visiting Boers, who watched as the induna was dragged, then beaten by successive men armed with fighting sticks, his blue robe spattered with blood as he was bludgeoned to death. Mpande later said he didn’t order this killing, Mpangazitha had brought it on himself by his bullyboy tactics — the other induna just had enough of this egotistical man who’d committed a long list of human rights abuses against other people’s over the past decade. Live by the sword, die by the knobkerrie I guess. By Christmas, however, the British were gone from the garrison at Port Natal, Captain Jervis had sailed away with the British administration now mistakenly of the belief that the violence in Natal had dissipated. Then Dingana sent a famous message to the Boers in Pietermaritzburg by the end of 1839, trying to discredit Mpande. “He is not a man…” the messengers said “…he has turned away his face, he is a woman. He was useless to Dingana his master, and he will be of no use to you. Do not trust him, for his face may turn again…” Coming from a man as pernicious as Dingana was rather hypocritical. Ndlela’s impi on paper at least, looked the better of the two. Dingana had pulled together the top notch amabutho, the iziNyosi, the uDlambedlu, the imVoko which had remnants of the umKulutshane regiment. They’d been joined by the uKhokhoti, who’d also been at the Battle of Blood River/Ncome. Mpande’s general Nongalaza led amabutho like the imiHaye who’d joined up with remnants of the imVoko who’d switched sides as well as the uZwangendaba who were a bit like a mercenary division drawn from the homesteads called the umLambongwenya, uDukuza and isiKlebhe. Mpande’s army included the veterans iziMpohlo, formed during Shaka’s time, these were older men, scarred in battle and seeking one more victory before they’d retire to their imizi. Not only were Mpande’s men feeling more optimistic, they knew that somewhere to their west the Voortrekkers were heading their way. Between these two organisations, most warriors fighting for Mpande were convinced they were going to win. The canny Mpande had pulled off a diplomatic move of note. Had he waited for the Boers to arrive, he would have lost face — by striking first he was waging war without the muskets and the horses.
Episode 148 - The AmaZulu routed by amaSwazi Widow Bird warriors and Mpande’s exodus
07-12-2023
Episode 148 - The AmaZulu routed by amaSwazi Widow Bird warriors and Mpande’s exodus
This is episode 148 and there’re negotiations afoot between Dingana and the Voortrekkers, at the behest of Captain Henry Jervis who led the small detachment of British troops based at Port Natal. Their role was to stabilise the Natal region after a year of extreme violence, the Voortrekkers and the AmaZulu king Dingana were fighting tooth and nail. Jervis as you heard was one of the characters in our history that crop up here and there and are able to act as neutral arbitrators between different factions. Gambusha the trusted inceku sent by Dinanga had arrived at the British camp on 23 February 1839 and said that the AmaZulu were on the brink of ruin and would accept any terms that Jervis would propose. Gambusha also asked for the British to consider allying themselves with the AmaZulu to oppose the Voortrekker expansion, Dingana wanted British protection. Jervis could not do this, saying that his role was to act as a go-between and could not take sides. Gambusha took that message back to the Zulu king. On the 23rd March two inceku called Gikwana and Gungwana returned to Port Natal with 300 of the Boer horses they had captured in the year of fighting as a sign of good faith. Voortrekker leader Andries Pretorius then arrived as you heard, calling himself the “Grand Commandant of the Right Worshipful the representative assembly of the South African Society at Natal.” Had business cards been a thing back in 1839 that title wouldn’t fit on one side. Nevertheless, peace talks were now underway. Eventually the terms were agreed — that Dingana would return all the muskets, horses, sheep and 19,300 cattle he’d taken from the trekkers and allow them to live unmolested south of the Thukela River. IN turn, the Boers would assist the Zulu should they come under attack. It was also agreed that from now on, all AmaZulu emissaries who crossed the Thukela River should carry a white flag indicating who they were, and that those found without this pass would be shot on sight. Pretorius also demanded that Dingana should send a messenger directly to him in Pietermaritzburg when they were ready to hand over the cattle and other goods. The British were to be left out of future meetings. The problem for Dingana, is that he was now trying to carve out new territory that was in the name of the Swazi king Sobhuza the First. And the reason why it was a problem was the Swazi could fight like the amaZulu. And yet, Dingana was also using Pretorius’ final demand as part of his political strategy, because when men married, they would have to be given land for their homesteads. By occupying vast tracts of Swazi land, Dingana would also be reinforcing his own political power, colonising new vistas for the Zulu. There was another reason why Dingana was focusing on the amaSwazi, a people whom the AmaZulu looked down on. Attacking them would be part of an ihlambo, a washing of the spears, a purification ceremony bathed in blood marking the end of the period of mourning set off by the humiliation of being defeated by the Boers. This washing of the spears would mean the evil spirits that caused the defeat, the umnyama, the evil influence, would be pushed away into the territory of the foe.The Swazi now faced a amaZulu invasion which began in the winter of 1839, a far more threatening action than any of the previous raids. This was an attack of colonial occupation by four Amabutho, the umBelebele, the uNomdayana, umKulutshane and the imVoko. Klwana kaNgqengele led these regiments, a man from one of the most powerful chiefly houses, the Buthelezi. It was Mpande kaSenzangakhona who was going to change the equation. Dingana’s half-brother had been in hiding after another attempt on his life by the capricious Zulu king, and in September 1839 he had fled across the Thukela River with 17 000 people, and 25 000 head of cattle.