Beneath the Surface: Historical Inconsistencies and Misrepresentations of Historical Specificities

Panashe Chigumadzi Receives A Lesson In South African History

By Dr Luvuyo Mthimkhulu Dondolo

This piece is a critique of the critique titled ‘ANC version of history overshadows the real story of resistance’ by Panashe Chigumadzi published in the Sunday Times newspaper dated 17 June 2018. Her intention was to highlight the falsification of history by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) through what I called, in a previous column published here, the craft of curating the nation by the state framed by the monolithic and hegemonic historical master narrative. This approach of presenting the past, both in public culture, scholarship and in re-writing of history is based on the ANC’s account of the South African history – particularly the struggle against apartheid.

The aforementioned piece by Chigumadzi, to a great extent managed to put the message across in as far as the interpretation and presentation of the past in the present, both in South Africa and in Zimbabwe. However, there are historical inaccuracies and misrepresentation of historical specificities in some aspects of her argument in the South African context.  This is apparent in at least four levels of her argument.

Makhanda ka Nxela Was A Xhosa Prophet, Warrior and an intergenerational symbol of resistance against colonialism and later apartheid. He was not a ‘king” of AmaXhosa

The first misrepresentation is a reference to Makhanda ka Nxela (also referred to as Makana/Nxele) as AmaXhosa ‘king’, based on her experience of the Robben Island Museum tourist gazes. According to Chigumadzi, ‘If the histories of other Robben Island prisoners, such as Xhosa King Makanda ka Nxele, or Autshumato, king of the Goringhaicona, or for that matter his niece Krotoa, were mentioned, I do not remember’ ( Chigumadzi, 17 June, 2018: 17). Makhanda was a Xhosa prophet, warrior and an intergenerational symbol of resistance against colonialism and later apartheid. Under the commander of Chief Ndlambe’s son, Mdushana, Makhanda led an attack against the British barracks at Grahamstown on 22 April 1819 to take back the land that was previously taken from them by the British settlers. His forces were overpowered by the British superior weapons. He subsequently surrendered in the interest of peace and was taken to Robben Island for banishment. It is because of this experience that amongst the IsiXhosa speaking people they refer to the Island as ‘Isiqithi sika Nxele’ (Nxele’s Island). Makhanda promised his people that he would return and urged them to continue the fight against white colonisers.

On 25 December 1820, he escaped from the Island with thirty other Khoikhoi and AmaXhosa leaders in three boats. But unfortunately, the boats capsized and while encouraging others to swim to the main land, he drowned. It is in this context that amongst AmaXhosa there is an idiom/legend that goes by the saying ‘Ukuza kuka Nxela’ (the return of Nxele/something impossible) surfaced. Because of his outstanding, militancy and resistance to colonisation Mkhanda earned himself the status of a ‘chief’.

It is historically incorrect and a falsification of history to give the impression that Makhanda was a ‘king’ of AmaXhosa. This also demonstrates a lack of historical consciousness, full comprehension of the AmaXhosa history and knowledge of AmaXhosa kingdoms. Here I use the term ‘AmaXhosa’ loosely to include all those who speak IsiXhosa and practice the culture, and those who sociologically and genealogically may not refer to them as such but under the colonial rule and apartheid regime were all classified under one ethnic, language group and nation – AmaXhosa.

Makhanda was a warrior and a trusted advisor to Chief Ndlambe of AmaNdlambe. Chief Ndlambe gave him an honourary status of a ‘chief’; not by birth as is common practice. Chief Ndlambe, who was the second son of Rharhabe after Mlawu, is part of AmaRharhabe House. When Rharhabe passed away and Mlawu was no more as he died at an early age, and Mlawu’s son Ngqika was young, Chief Ndlambe, the regent, led the nation until the former was old enough to lead the Rharhabe nation. Chief Ngqika’s children were Maqoma, Tyali and Sandile.

Chief Ndlambe’s children include Mdushana, Zethu, Mhala, Mxhamli, and Dyani. According to Mqhayi, ‘U Ndlambe naye uzelele kakhulu. Inzala yakhe ngezimini ingangengca le ubuninzi, kuba Imidushane le sisinqe sakhe, Imiqhayi leya nguye, ngumtyutyumezo ke lowo oye wema ngo Mbashe, ndiyishiye intlaninge le iko Mincotsho nozi Nxaruni’ (Mqhayi edited by Opland, 2009: 85). Loosely translated into English, it means Chief Ndlambe had many children in different areas of his territory.

Generally, AmaXhosa nation is made up of one Kingdom, AmaGcaleka. It’s worth noting that it is not part of this article to discuss the complexities and dynamics of the AmaXhosa Kingdom including the historical account of Cirha clan, but it is proper to state that in the current configuration, Gcaleka is the Great House of AmaXhosa nation. The AmaXhosa nation was last united (one nation) under King Phalo, the son of Tshiwo, the descendant ka Ngconde, ka Togu, ka Sikhomo, ka Ngcwangu, ka Tshawe, ka Nkosiyamntu – his sons Cirha, Jwarha and Tshawe-, ka Malanga ka Xhosa. King Phalo’s son, Rharhabe from the Right Hand House, later moved across the Kei River to settle on the western side of the river and the group of people he moved with were later referred to as AmaRharhabe. Some parts of this area later became known as Ciskei, under the creation of apartheid’s ‘homelands’/Bantustans system. Those who remained on the eastern side of the Kei River were later referred to as AmaGcaleka, named after King Phalo’s son – Gcaleka from the Great House. King Gcaleka’s descendants include Khawuta, Bhunu, Hintsa, Sarhile, etc. During the creation of Bantustans that area later became known as Transkei.

Khoikhoi Resistance Against Colonialism Did Not Start In 1510

The second level of misrepresentation is the suggestion of 1510 as the start and the point of reference of the Khoikhoi’s resistance to colonisation. This is incorrect and the suggestion lacks historical consciousness. The author penned: “Would the new history speak to resistance mounted by the Khoi as early as 1510, when the Khoikhoi killed explorer Francisco D’Almeeida and more than 50 of his men after they tried to kidnap their children and steal cattle?” (Chigumadzi, 17 June, 2018: 17).

Her account of resistance against colonialism excludes the first wave of colonialism by the Portuguese expedition which included the Vasco da Gama’s invasion in 1497 and 1502. The resistance by the Khoikhoi people proved to be strong for the Portuguese explorers. The earlier encounter between the Khoikhoi and the Portuguese explorers under Bartolomeu Dias at the present day town known as Mossel Bay also serves as reference. It is in the context of the first wave of colonialism that Alexandra argued that, in South Africa, the period of resistance can be said to start from that fateful day in the first week of February 1488 when the first Khoe herder threw the first stone at the Portuguese buccaneers by Bartolomeu Dias in the Bahia dos Vaqueiros (Alexandra, 2013: 3). Had the former succeeded, South Africa could have been colonised by the Portuguese.

Ignorance Of The Politics Of The Usage Of “Frontier Wars” Instead of “Wars of Land Dispossession”

Thirdly, the use of the term ‘frontier wars’ by the author who critiques the ANC’s narrative of the past is interesting in the context of the politics of naming, as she seems unaware of the erroneous usage of the term when she should have employed the label of “the wars of land dispossession” instead. In questioning the existing narrative and pondering on the content of the ‘new history’, she asked: ‘What about the Frontier War?’. She’s seemingly unaware of the politics of the use of the term in the South African historiography? The term triggers a number of questions. These include: What is a frontier? For whom and by whom? The use of the term is problematic in the South African context. There is a historical and political context that produced it which she seems unaware of. As a person who presents herself as clued up on South African history she would not have employed this term as it has its own sociology, connotations and tensions.

The Pan Africanist Congress of Azania Was Not Formed in 1958 But Rather On 6 April 1959

The last level at which the author’s main argument is challengeable is with regard to the year in which the Pan Africanist Congress of Azania (PAC) was formed. For her it was formed in 1958, which is not the case. She underscored: ‘That the anti-pass movement was led by Sobukwe and the newly formed Pan Africanist Congress is downplayed. So is the fact that the PAC were a group of Africanists who broke away from the ANC in 1958 for, among other reasons, the 1955 adoption of the Freedom Charter, seen at the time as the moderate alternative to the anti-pass movement’. It is incorrect to suggest that the PAC was formed in 1958. Rather, it was formed on 6 April 1959.

The Freedom Charter Was Not Seen As An Alternative To The Anti-Pass Movement

Further, the Freedom Charter was not seen as an alternative to the anti-pass movement as she claims. Instead, it was a departure, paradigm shift and an alternative to the African Claim of 1943 and the 1949 Programme of Action.

The dominant notion of the PAC, formed by the Africanists who broke away from the ANC, is economical with the truth. It is the ANC that made the paradigm shift from the Africanist orientation to a congress liberal politics and outlook. From its formation in 1912 – as they claim which is not the case as I argue in my other work- was founded based on Africanist orientation, through to the 1943 African Claim and 1949 Programme of Action. It later changed, with its adoption of the new constitution in the early 1950s and the 1953 Congress Alliance and the notion of multi-racialism; and the adoption of the Freedom Charter that was contrary to the spirit of the earlier strategic documents. They (ANC) kept the name, although ideologically they had moved away from the initial framework to congress liberal politics. In this regard, the author’s assertion feeds to the ANC mythology and the dominant narrative of the past.

The thesis of the critique of the ANC narrative of the past by Chigumadzi does not go beneath the surface. It lacks full comprehension of the South African history and also exposes her absence of historical awareness, as some points of her main argument are based on historical inconsistencies and misrepresentations of historical specificities. These uncovered her lack of depth and her limited comprehension of the South African history and the South African political geography.

Dr Luvuyo Mthimkhulu Dondolo is a historian, heritage studies specialist, museologist, the former Rockefeller Scholarship holder at Emory University (USA) and the former Fulbright Scholar at Cheyney University (USA). The former National Museum Chairperson, the former Council Member for the Gauteng Provincial Heritage Resources Agency and the former peer review editor for the international journal – Museological Review- in the field of museums and heritage studies (an on-line journal published annually by a community of PhD students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester in UK). He is the Director and Head of the Centre for Transdisciplinary Studies at the University of Fort Hare. He is writing on his personal capacity.


Alexandra N, (2013), Thoughts on the New South Africa, Jacana Media (Pty), Johannesburg.

Chigumadzi P, (17 June 2018), ANC Version of History Overshadows the Real Story of Resistance, Sunday Times Newspaper, Johannesburg.

Opland J, (2009), Abantu Besizwe: S.E.K. Mqhayi Historical and biographical Writings, 1902 -1944, Wits University Press, Johannesburg.

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