Great People

Grahamstown Was Recently Named Makhanda – Who Is This Hero?

By Dr Luvuyo Mthimkhulu Dondolo

This an excerpt taken from an article written by Dr Dondolo: Beneath the Surface: Historical Inconsistencies and Misrepresentations of Historical Specificities

Makhanda ka Nxele 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’.

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.

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