Life of resistance leader Maqoma: Illuminating book sees second edition

What began as an African history doctoral thesis at Dalhousie University in Canada by academic and author Timothy J Stapleton in the early 1990s, has seen the birth of one of the most informative reads about the life and times of renowned 19th century Xhosa warrior, Chief Jongumsobomvu Maqoma.

Maqoma was one of Africa’s greatest resistance leaders during the colonial period.

The book, first published in South Africa in 1994 during the country’s transition to democracy, had its second publication recently by Amava Heritage Publishing, which is a division of African Brand Mzansi.

The author, Stapleton, who has had history lecturing stints at both Rhodes University and Fort Hare, certainly seems to have conducted some serious research in his bid to bring a better understanding of the goings-on during the bloody and deadly Cape-Xhosa wars fought over colonial land dispossessions.

The book takes us through most of the nine wars of resistance that rocked this part of the world when colonial rule escalated their efforts to gain control of most of the amaXhosa land, livestock and most importantly, their freedom and sense of being.

This beautifully crafted and narrated book also highlights the bravery and commitment of some of those who were defending what they knew as the land of their forefathers, as well as their autonomy and independence.

It focuses mostly on the amaRharhabe Kingdom of, which the great Maqoma is a direct descendant.

Maqoma led three of the nine wars of resistance that took place around the then Cape Colony, now the Eastern Cape province, in the 19th century when colonialists forcefully occupied some of the areas in the Rharhabe Kingdom’s jurisdiction.

Born in 1798, he was the right-hand son of King Ngqika, ruler of the amaRharhabe Kingdom of the Xhosa nation. His mother was Nothonto, Ngqika’s right-hand wife.

According to information on the www.chiefmaqoma.co.za website, oral traditions and colonial and missionary documents reveal a man of considerable intellect and eloquence, striving to maintain traditional social structures and the power of Xhosa aristocracy in the face of colonial depredations and dispossession.

The statue of Chief Jongumsobomvu Maqoma stands in the centre of the Ntaba KaNdoda monument Picture: MICHAEL PINYANA

Throughout his life, Maqoma was opposed to his father’s strategy of ceding land to the Cape Colony, and as a result, in 1822, he went back into the Neutral Zone at the banks of the Kat River, near Hogsback, in order to establish his own chiefdom.

However, like his father, Maqoma, who earned the evocative royal salute of Jongumsobomvu during his initiation to manhood, put up many a brave fight against colonialists in defence of his people’s land, livestock and independence.

Stapleton takes us through this legendary warrior’s trials and tribulations, both within royal family politics and his brave physical encounters with white armed forces who were hell-bent on taking full control of his people’s land and wealth.

It also takes us through the period between 1834 and 1836, when Maqoma, together with his half-brother Chief Tyhali, led hundreds of amaXhosa armies in the sixth war of resistance, commonly known as the Hintsa War, during which King Hintsa was killed in coldblood by the British forces.

The book also gives insight into the eighth war of resistance, the war of Mlanjeni between 1850 to 1853, during which amaNgqika sustained their longest and most concentrated resistance to colonisers.

This was the war during which British Colonel John Fordyce was among those killed.

In that battle, Maqoma’s guerilla campaign in the mountains, forests and valleys of the Waterkloof, land between the Fish and Keiskamma rivers, frustrated even the most skilled British officers until war-induced famine, aggravated by a colonial scorched-earth policy, forced both Sandile and Maqoma to abandon their strongholds and submit to European domination.

The last war of resistance that Maqoma was instrumental in was the Ngcayechibi War between 1877 and 1878, fought at Ntaba kaNdoda near the Upper Mngqesha administrative area.

Following the famous cattle-killing spree of 1856 to 1857, the author also tells the reader about Maqoma’s incarceration on Robben Island Prison for allegedly receiving stolen cattle and other goods.

Released in 1869, Chief Maqoma is said to have attempted to settle on his alleged stolen land near the Keiskamma River, a move that led to him being re-banished to the infamous Cape Town island prison, where he eventually died in 1873.

The book also shows Maqoma as a diplomat, an excellent negotiator who went the extra mile trying to forge broad alliances, even with the white missionaries whom most of his people regarded as architects of colonialism in this part of the world.

This week, the Saturday Dispatch briefly visited Ntaba kaNdoda, where the ninth war of resistance was fought and where Maqoma was reburied in 1978, and his life-size monument is located.

The Ntaba KaNdoda National Monument was opened on August 14 1981 near the Upper Mngqesha administrative area by former Ciskei homeland ruler, the late Lennox Sebe.

This was after 1978, when Maqoma’s remains were exhumed, repatriated from Robben Island, and reburied in Ntaba KaNdoda.

According to history, the name of the monument is derived from the Khoi chief Ndoda, who is said to have lived there in the 18th century.

Ndoda was said to have been killed by the amaXhosa. From 1981, when Ciskei gained independence and throughout Sebe’s reign thereafter, those living in the Ciskei region would be transported in busloads to the monument to feast and celebrate their traditional leaders, as well as their independence.

The Maqoma memorial site was also created with the aim of remembering those who died in the clashes with white colonisers in conflicts over land.

The memorial, located not too far from Bhisho, the seat of the provincial government, also celebrates the lives of six Ciskei police who died while on duty in the early 1980s.

Today, however, the monument, which overlooks many villages, including nearby Dimbaza township, is in derelict state.

It has turned into an informal livestock kraal. There’s no fencing and doors and other valuable memorabilia have been stolen.

History remembers Maqoma for his extraordinary tenacity, flexibility, political and battle skills, who tragically became the victim of an advancing colonial juggernaut.

Unfortunately, according to the book, the names of Maqoma’s many wives and daughters were not recorded by European observers who considered them insignificant. — asandan@dispatch.co.za/additional reporting by Bongani Fuzile.

lMaqoma: The Legend of a Great Xhosa Warrior, 1798-1873 is published by Amava Heritage Publishing.

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