A series that seeks to tell the story of the South Africa in some depth. Presented by experienced broadcaster/podcaster Des Latham and updated weekly, the episodes will take a listener through the various epochs that have made up the story of South Africa.
Episode 85– Honey birds, leopards, gardens of cattle and a bloody ochre harvest
This is episode 85 and as we’ve heard, the English settlers have just arrived in the Albany district – the year is 1820.
It had taken three months and now all 5000 new settlers were ensconced on their land. For these settlers, it was an epic of pathetic naiveté and makeshift survival. They would need to adapt or disappear.
It was bewildering to most, they originated from England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, survived the landing at Algoa Bay, and then they’d been driven to their farms on the frontier by ox wagon where they were left without so much as a helping hand.
No effort was made to offer advice, and they were forbidden to approach the amaXhosa or Khoekhoe for help. Their sons were going to herd the livestock and till the fields, unlike the Boers who used Khoehoe and mixed race men and women to do their hard work.
This landscape appeared perverse, waterless and yet vegetated. The wildlife was breathtaking, elephants would roam about beside thorn fences hastily erected. Thomas Pringle’s party had arrived at Bruintje’s Hoogte when after a few days, their first lion began to roar at midnight.
The Scots poet and humanitarian Thomas Pringle who was shocked by how the Boers treated their Khoekhoe slaves initially, then seemed to approach the matter of race relations in a more philosophical bent. This is where Miles Bowker, remember the man descended from Elizabeth Bouchier who married Oliver Cromwell, this is where his family began to excel. The Bowkers turned rather rapidly into what some called “a tough lot…” survivors of the first order remoulding themselves into Africans.
Episode 84 – The 1820 Settlers ramble among Algoa Bay shrubbery
Between December 1819 and the first quarter of 1820, 21 ships left England and Ireland bound for the Cape carrying five thousand men, women and children.
The ships docked at Cape Town after weeks at sea to take on food and water, and for officials to come aboard. Settlers were not allowed to leave the ships, which then sailed onwards to anchor in Algoa Bay starting in April 1820. The rest would follow through to the end of July, the mid-winter in South Africa, and not the best time to land a ship on the coast.
You can imagine the immigrants shock as they looked out over the bay from these vessels, because there was nothing in the way of settlements, just bush, and the landscape was alien – at least at first.
The Eastern Cape is a remarkably beautiful area, but its rugged, full of succulants, dry, but when it rains, seemingly covered in vegetation.
Who were these people, these 1820 settlers? The Colonial Office initially had instituted rigid conditions to ensure that those of sound character were shipped out. But these rules were broken almost immediately.
Some were parties under the leadership of men of means and ability as you’ve heard, those who could take indentured servants, labourers and mechanics. The Colonial Office’s original idea of taking only agricultural men and women who’d been dispossessed of their land in Britain was poorly instituted.
IT appeared that many of these farmers were not farmers at all, but artisans, tradesmen and mechanics, who’d changed CVs so to speak, they pretended to be men of the earth when they were really men of settlements. They had grand dreams of paradise, after all the Times and other newspapers had published glowing reports of this new land of milk and honey and would do anything to get out of Britain. Some parishes sought to unload their less productive citizens and falsified their skills on the resumes.
Why did so many people want to escape from England at this time? Basically, it was hell back home. Riots, uprisings, land theft, economic decline, government oppression, it all tore at the fabric of British society and for many of these people escape to South Africa – or virtually anywhere for that matter – was better than staying at home. Ironic then that in the 21st Century, Africans are trying to make the reverse trip.
Episode 83 – The amakhosikazi sipper of Cobra venom and the 1820 Settlers
This is episode 83 and Ndwandwe chief Zwide is on the run, being hunted down by Shaka after the defeat on the Mhlathuze.
Zwide was sitting at his mother’s umuzi called eziKwitshini during the battle, awaiting word. And when it came it was not what he was expecting. As you heard in episode 82, the dust cloud signalling approaching warriors were not his victorious Ndwandwe, they were the revengeful Zulu Mbelebele ibutho seeking to take full toll on Zwide for his decades long attacks south.
Zwide managed to escape out of a door at the back of the isigodlo, and the Zulu impi rolled over the hill into his mother’s umuzi. There is a story about what they found inside the home of Ntombaze, a macabre jumble of things.
First were the rings of brass and the brushes, then hanging on pegs at the back of her hut were human heads, ready for muti. IT shocked even the hardened Zulu warriors who set fire to her hut and the entire umuzi – but then they went further.
IT is said that these men impaled all the children on posts, but were still not satiated. They wanted Zwide dead and tracked him north across the Black Mfolozi, but the trail went cold so the impi turned back. They seized all the cattle they could find and warned all Zwide’s Ndwandwe to throw down their spears and shields or be killed on the spot. Most obeyed and were immediately inducted into Shaka’s army, they had fought well he said.
Shaka reinforced tradition after defeating Zwide by appointing what were known as the grand old ladies, amakhosikazi, to oversee the affairs of the amakhanda. The homes. They ordered men and women about, as the amakhosikazi still do.
They were in charge of the women of the izigodlo and had to be convinced of matters before change was instituted. They were powerful figures who ensured the various rituals were followed, no taboos broken, marriage alliances were properly structured, food and other provisions were stored or collected.
Shaka’s paternal Aunt springs to mind, Mnkabayi kaJama. She was instrumental in bringing Shaka to power, tall and imposing, she was called “the great she-elephant” or an isitubesikazi, a weighty woman who was actually literally a weighty woman. Not obese, but folks would call her bulky.
In July 1819 the British House of Commons voted to sponsor a huge emigration scheme with the vast sum of 50 000 pounds. The idea was for one thousand families to be sent to the Cape – or to the Albany district of the Cape to be more accurate.
It was a miserable time in England, these 1819 and 20s. The industrial revolution was in a transitional phase, men and women who’d expected better had found things worse. Lancashire had almost turned into another country, openly hostile to government and the upper classes, while the aged king George was slipping away in his chamber above the north terrace at Windsor. His imminent death representing the mood of the time.
Episode 82 – Shaka outfoxes Zwide at the Mhlathuze River
This is episode 82 and we’re picking up the story from where we left off last Episode the Ndwandwe were chasing the AmaZulu down the Mhlathuze Valley, just north of the modern town of Eshowe, just south of Melmoth. And for those geopolitical folks, that’s just down the drag from Nkhandla.
Most historians believe this battle took place in 1819, but some also think it may have been a year later. But the exact year is not as important than what this battle would herald.
Zwide’s Ndwandwe were on the rampage, he’d sent his warriors from his main umuzi Ndweneni and they’d overrun the Zulu Centres of Mbelebeleni and esiKlebheni, and then driven the Zulu before them. The established Ndwandwe leader was sick and tired of this young upstart called Shaka of the little clan called the Zulu and was trying to teach him a lesson.
Shaka had ample warning about this attack and moved his people before the NDwandwe arrived, then led his enemy on a wild goose chase to the south. The storytellers say that he ordered his warriors to create the impression that his main force was where it wasn’t – so to speak.
There are stories that Shaka created the chest and horns attacking formation, but we know that Dingiswayo and even Senzangakhona used the direct attack followed by an outflanking technique. While much has been written and many many scribes have fallen over themselves talking about this chest and horns genius, Shaka only really used this horns and chest double flanking manoevre once in his entire history of battles and fights – and that was in 1826 in the Sikhunyane battle, which ended without a clear victor anyway. Once again, the real story is much more interesting and much more complex.
Episode 81 – Shaka orders ladders, Dingiswayo dies and Mzilikazi emerges
This is episode 81 and we’re following the story of the AmaZulu, the Qwabe, the Mkhize, the Ndwandwe and the Mthethwa circa 1819.
By this time, the Mkhize and the Qwabe along with many other smaller groups and clans had been pushed southwards by the aggression of the Ndwandwe, and troubles in the Swaziland area. Zihlando was already the Mkhize chieftan when Shaka took control of the Zulu and their relationship would continue until Shaka was assassinated in 1828 – and Shaka referred to Zihlando as his younger brother his mnawe wami.
Zihlando khonza’d Shaka, then was directed to fight Mtsholoza of the Nxamalala people, a small clan of folks who’d splintered and headed south. But the big fish awaited, Zwide’s Ndwandwe and Shaka knew that to take on such a powerful foe, he’d needed to build his forces carefully.
I’ve mentioned that Dingiswayo’s death led to the severe instability across northern Zululand and its now time to get down amongst the weeds, to probe this era more comprehensively.
Each month and each moment from now on has a bearing on the two centuries afterwards, as bizarre as this sounds. We live with the ramifications to this day in southern Africa and I’m going to explain why.
Episode 80 – Sambela the Mkhize psychopath and the Zulu cadet system evolves
Last episode we heard how the Xhosa wardoctor had failed in his attempt at chasing the colonials out of his territory – the Albany region, and now return to significant events in the north east – Zululand.
By 1819 Shaka and Dingiswayo were holding sway in an area from the Thukela to the Black Mfolozi in Zululand, but Zwide of the Ndwandwe still controlled the land between the Mfolozi and the Phongola Rivers.
The landscape had changed radically over the past three hundred years as farmers cut and burned their way across the rolling hills and mountains. Vast tracts of forest and thornveld had been converted to grassland, altering the land to what it looks like today, although there was more bush around, particularly along the river valleys.
But the point is human activity on the landscape had already mutated the veld, and yet there were still elephants around and other wild animals.
The region from Phongola to the Thukela was criss-crossed and patched with human influences, scarred and thinned out from the axe-blade, the hoof, and the farm yard. This was a century before colonials arrived to farm the area. But the people of this land lived with and through nature in a manner that changed with the coming of commercial farming and the heavy use of firearms.
Everything depended on the leaders’ capacity to feed and feed off cattle, wildlife and crops. The vegetation and terrain were paramount to everyone’s lives, the ideology and military system and marriage rituals were all shackled to the most important thing – the ability to generate enough food.
We also hear about Sambela of the Mkhize who is described as an albino, and was quite small but made up for what were seen as deficiencies by his compatriots by being particularly wild and was feared as a fighter.
There seems to have been something unhinged about Sambela, when he had his first teenage emission which indicates a boy has turned into a man, we would call this a wet dream I guess, he headed off with a gang of Mkhize youths and killed and ate 20 goats. Stories abound of this man breaking things, throwing around the pottery, and was called Uhlanya – ungovernable.
Amazing and detailed episode. Thank you Des
I am thrilled to have found this podcast — I access it through Spotify in San Francisco. Desmond answers so many questions on South African history and his delivery is engaging and often amusing. The research is stellar. Thank you so much for this.
I’m so happy I found this!
What a wonderful way to get to know this country I now call home.