IT IS 7am on Thursday in Bloubergstrand, Cape Town. The chill of the previous night’s cold front is hard to bear as a group of about 80 Eastern Cape residents chant on the beach.

They are descendants of Chief Makhanda Nxele, who have travelled to the Western Cape for a ceremony to retrieve and repatriate his spirit.

Makhanda drowned on December 25 1820 while attempting to escape from Robben Island 193 years ago and his remains have never been recovered.

He had been heading in the direction of Bloubergstrand a few kilometres from the island when the boat he was on capsized.

According to Sibongiseni Mkhize, chief executive of the Robben Island Museum, numerous attempts were made to locate Makhanda’s remains but were unsuccessful.

The Makhanda family, together with members of the Eastern Cape provincial and local government, the National Heritage Council (NHC), Robben Island Museum and traditional leaders are here to witness the retrieval of Makhanda’s spirit.

This will be South Africa’s first official underwater repatriation. Leading the retrieval is Notaka Mjuza, an Eastern Cape- born sangoma, who is also an eighth-generation descendant of Makhanda.

Her mission is to perform an Ukubuyiswa, a process of retrieving someone’s spirit, placing it in a coffin and taking it back to the ancestral home for burial.

The event has been long overdue and Mjuza chants and introduces herself to the ancestors.

Minutes pass and the sangoma indicates a successful retrieval. She shows this by throwing a handful of silver coins into the sea. The crowd is jubilant, some sing and others dance.

About two hours later a crowd of about 200 guests, who had been waiting at the main auditorium of the National Heritage Council, rise as the coffin carrying the spirit of Makhanda is brought in.

Speaker after speaker tells tales of the brave Xhosa warrior who led the first round of anti- colonialism resistance.

Prince Sivile Mabandla, a member of the Contralesa youth body in the province, said: “We cannot celebrate the generation of Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Chris Hani and Oliver Tambo and exclude their predecessor, Chief Makhanda”.

An executive from the Robben Island Museum said Makhanda’s bravery had inspired the struggle in the late 19th century and early 20th century.

NHC chief executive Sonwabile Mancotywa said Makhanda was one of Africa’ s great sons .

“He needs to be celebrated and our history must be rewritten,” Mancotywa said.

Makhanda’s coffin was flown to East London yesterday and received by members of the South African Defence Force before being taken to the morgue.

It is due to be buried today in Tshabo village near King William’s Town.

Event organiser Judy Ngoloyi of the Amathole District Municipality said thousands of people, including Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, were expected to attend. —

Chief Makhanda’s spirit finally laid to rest in EC


THE spirit of Chief Makhanda Nxele was laid to rest in Tshabo village near King William’s Town on Saturday.

More than 1000 people attended the ceremony in the village, and only a select few male members of the family were able to witness his coffin being entombed in a burial chamber at the graveyard.

According to Xhosa tradition, female members of the family are prohibited from going to the gravesite if the death is as a result of an accident.

Makhanda, a renowned anti-colonial fighter, drowned in 1820 while attempting to flee from his captors in Robben Island.

Former Umkhonto weSizwe soldiers carried Makhanda’s coffin to its final resting place. Notaka Mjuza, the female sangoma who had earlier recaptured Makhanda’s spirit in Bloubergstraand, Cape Town, led the proceedings in the graveyard.

Chanting, she said: “Makhanda the Great we have brought you back home from Cape Town. You will now be su rrounded by your descendants and you can now rest.

“You have paved a way for us, our country is what it is today because of you and we are very proud of you.”

Back in the village, a crowd of about 1500 people joined in singing the infamous and now banned “Dubula iBhunu” struggle song led by the chief executive of the National Heritage Council Sonwabile Mangcotywa.

“This song reminds us of who we are and where we come from. If we banish these songs our children will never know where we are coming from,” Mangcotywa later told the crowd.

The crowd also listened in to a speech delivered by Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, who was guest of honour given her strong ties with the province.

She spoke out against laziness and cowardness and encouraged villagers to stand for what they believed in saying that history was only made by brave people.

Mapisa-Nqakula also lambasted youths who were taking the country’s freedom for granted saying they expected everything to be handed to them on a silver platter.

She said Makhanda was a sacrificial lamb having given up his life . —

Brave chief drowned in 1819


CHIEF Makhanda Nxele who drowned while trying to escape from Robben Island on December 25 1819 was a Xhosa warrior and a prophet.

The charismatic giant also known as “the left handed” or “Makhanda” the prophet, led an attack against British colonial troops in Grahamstown in 1819.

Makhanda was born near the coast in Uitenhage.

During his youth Makhanda had a strong interest in Christianity combining it with elements of ancient Xhosa beliefs.

His powerful oratory skills attracted people in their thousands and earned him the status of chief and military advisor to Xhosa Chief Ndlambe.

Makhanda was one of 20000 Xhosas forced from their land by the British.

The flamboyant warrior led a combined Xhosa force against Chief Ngqika who was seen to be selling out his people in return for personal gain as an ally of the British Empire.

When the British seized 23000 head of cattle from Ndlambe’s people in retaliation, Makhanda urged the Xhosa to unite and try to drive the colonisers out once and for all.

Makhanda advised Ndlambe that the gods would be on their side if they chose to strike at the British at Grahamstown, and promised that the British bullets would “turn to water”.

Ndlambe took Makhanda ’s advice, and on April 22 1819 Makhanda (with Ndlambe as his patron) attacked Grahamstown in broad daylight with a force of about 6000 men.

They were accompanied by women and children, fully prepared to occupy their former land. However, about 350 British troops repulsed the attack.

After accepting defeat by the superior British firepower, Makhanda surrendered in the interests of promoting peace and the British imprisoned him on Robben Island, but treated him with respect .

On December 25 1819, Makhanda escaped along with 30 other prisoners, mostly Xhosa and Koisan rebels from the Eastern frontier districts.

Although several survived, Makhanda drowned.

Since he had promised his people he would never abandon them, they continued to hope for his return for another 50 years before funeral rites were observed.

Makhanda’s dedication to uniting the Xhosas in their struggle against the British Empire and the sacrifice of his own life in its pursuit led 20th century prisoners on Robben Island, including former President Nelson Mandela, to call for the island to be renamed Makhanda.

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