Chief Langalibalele – one of the first activists to be imprisoned on Robben Island – a Century before Mandela

As part of our series on Today In History, one of our readers Devine Hadebe reminded us of one of South Africa’s early revolutionaries. Chief Langalibalele.


Monday 9 February 1874: The Rebellion of Langalibalele

Langalibalele (isiHlubi: The sun is boiling hot), also known as Mtetwa (c1814 – 1889), was king of the amaHlubi, a Bantu tribe in what is the modern-day province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Again the facts are varied and they stand as a stark reminder that Africans must write their own stories.

Chief Langalibalele was born on the eve of the arrival of European settlers in the province. After conflict with the Zulu King Mpande, he fled with his people to the Colony of Natal in 1848. During the diamond rush of the 1870s, many of his young men worked on the mines in Kimberley where they acquired guns.

In 1873 the colonial authorities of Natal demanded that the guns be registered, Langalibalele refused. AmaHlubi had received these firearms as a form of payment from the owners of diamond mines.

A stand-off then ensued, resulting in a violent skirmish in which European troopers were killed. Langalibalele fled across the mountains into Basutoland, but was captured and  tried in a Kangaroo court.

Lieutenant-Governor Sir Benjamin Pine punished amaHlubi by breaking up their location, confiscating their cattle, and imprisoning Langalibalele on Robben Island.

He eventually returned to his home, but remained under house arrest.

His imprisonment split the colonial population of Natal and was a watershed in South African political history.

Langalibalele was therefore one of the first activists to be banished to Robben Island, nearly a century before Nelson Mandela and numerous other activists were imprisoned there.

Sources: Wikipedia and SA History


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