April 22 marks the bi-centenary of the attack on the British garrison in Grahamstown, led by warrior-prophet, Makhanda, in whose honour the town has now been renamed. The attack was an early phase of the century-long Xhosa struggle to hold onto their lands in the face of colonial encroachment. This article was originally written in Pretoria Local Prison as part of a clandestine collection to mark what the ANC declared the Year of the Spear in 1979, a century after the Zulu defeat of the British at Isandlwana.
This article was first published by New Frame.
In 1819, Makhanda, the Xhosa warrior-prophet, united a large body of the western Xhosa to expel the British who had recently invaded their territory and caused much misery.
By the beginning of the 19th century the Xhosa had split into a number of separate chiefdoms. While Hintsa, the Gcaleka chief (and a direct descendant of Xhosa and Mnguni, the earliest ancestors) might have been consulted on matters of custom, for all practical purposes, the separate chiefdoms were quite independent of one another.
The tendency towards fission -- to break up into segments -- is connected to the polygynous marriage system. While the eldest son...