Celebrating Nkosi Jongumsobomvu Maqoma

By Vuyo Fani

We are now once again in the month of September – a month which has been earmarked, since the advent of the democratic dispensation, for the celebration of our rich South African heritage. It is for this reason that we as Nkosi Jongumsobomvu Maqoma Foundation are duty bound to celebrate among others,  the following:

  • 41st anniversary of the repatriation of the remains of Nkosi Jongumsobomvu Maqoma from Robben Island
  • their subsequent reburial on 3rd of August 1978 at Ntaba Ka ndoda near King William’s town, and
  • lastly, 146th anniversary of his death on Robben Island on 9th of September 1873.

In embarking on this task we will outline briefly who Maqoma was, what were his achievements and the relevance of his legacy to the socio- economic conditions of South Africa today. This, after all, is the reason, purpose and the mandate for which the Foundation was established – to advance, protect and preserve the legacy of this great son of the soil.

It is the view of the Foundation that in this crisis of leadership we are grappling with today and the painful and persistent national cry for equitable redistribution of land, the legacy of Nkosi Jongumsobomvu Maqma looms large in the horizon. It is imperative that it should be a national subject of a healthy discourse, interpretation and application.

Nkosi Jongumsobomvu Maqoma was the first born child of King Ngqika who ruled Amarhrhabe Xhosa from 1778-1829. Maqoma featured prominently in the turbulent, political, social and economic conditions which prevailed in the 19th century. This was a period when the forces of colonisation and imperialism were at the peak of their power, firing on all cylinders, galavanting from Cape to Cairo swallowing land like a hungry whale devouring plankton.

It took the Xhosas nine bloody and brutal wars spanning a period of over 100 years to fight forces of imperialism and to stem that tide. Maqoma featured in three of those wars as a capable military leader. For the sake of brevity I will refer only to one – the Eighth Frontier War (Imfazwe ka Mlanjeni) fought from 1850-1853. This is the longest war ever fought between the British military machine and any indigenous peoples of Africa. If anything it is the war that should be celebrated with pride by the entire continent, in our view.

There were more than twelve encounters made by British against Maqoma during this war and in all of them the British were convincingly outclassed and comprehensively defeated. In the conduct of this war Maqoma applied his famous guerrilla tactics of ambush and hit-and-run which made the use of cannons ineffective. This stunned and frustrated experienced and well trained British officers.The British soldiers at some stage were so demoralised to the extent that they mutinied and refused to fight saying “we won’t go up that mountain again only to be slaughtered by that Barbarian Maqoma”. Their Commander in Chief General Sir Harry Smith, a highly decorated veteran of Napoleonic Wars, was recalled as a result. He was replaced by General Sir George Cathcart. During this war the famous Colonel Thomas Fordyce, who led on the ground the 74th Highlanders was killed and Colonel Somerset, who had fought alongside Fordyce, retreated with his tail between his legs. As a result of this incident Maqoma was referred to in his praise songs by Dr. W. B. Rubusana in his book Zemk’iikomo magwala ndini as “Ingwe ka Fuldayisi Emthontsi.”

It is a matter of public record that Maqoma is regarded by both black and white military historians (these include Soga, Rubusana, Mqhayi, Milton, Mostert and Stapleton) variously as a bold and a daring leader, a military genius, a brilliant strategist and a master tactician in the field of war. Maqoma was as resolute in war as he was principled. This is confirmed by the fact that when he attacked the British soldiers between the town of Alice and Hogsback Mountains during the eighth frontier war and destroyed the military villages of Auckland, Worburn and Ely he killed men but saved women and children and allowed them a safe passage to Fort Hare which was then a military establishment. This was in accordance with a well renowned Xhosa tradition of not molesting women and children during the time of peace and war even if they are your enemies but to protect them. This is a custom that has been totally forgotten today given the disgusting statistics of violence against women and children.

After the eighth frontier war Maqoma was arrested and imprisoned on Robben Island where he died and was buried in an unmarked grave as an attempt to obliterate the memory of Maqoma and his brave deeds in the minds of his people for obvious purposes.

In 1978 after a long search, his grave was located with the aid of a woman Seer by the name of Nomantombi Charity Sonandi. This remarkable achievement enabled his remains to be repatriated and reburied in Ntaba Ka Ndoda near King William‘s Town. The Foundation is now involved in a project with Elundini Local Municipality and the Department of Arts Sports and Culture to remember Nomatombi Charity Sonandi by erecting a memorial in her honour at the place of her birth in Ugie where she lies buried without accolades testifying to her great achievement.

Maqoma was in the 19th century what Mandela was in the 20th century .He was a prominent leader of his people who did not hesitate to sacrifice his life in fighting selflessly for the rights and freedom of his countrymen against terrible odds. It is worth noting that Maqoma was imprisoned twice on Robben Island and on both occasions the cause he was fighting for was the protection of the independence, dignity and the rights of his people to land which were being violated by the British expansionist and imperialists. His people rallied around him and were inspired by his resolve and commitment to a noble cause. A lot can be learned from his leadership which was characterised by humility, justice and undying love of his country. We as the Foundation are proud to be associated with his legacy. It is a mandate we shall carryout with dignity, honour and humility befitting the character of Nkosi Jongumsobomvu Maqoma.

Vuyo Fani is The Chief Executive Officer Nkosi Jongumsobomvu Maqoma Foundation


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