Unknown arm of the Shepstone bloodline

2015-09-26 09:29
Gibson Makhaye stands before the grave of Sir Theophilus Shepstone, whom he believes is his great-great grandfather.

Gibson Makhaye stands before the grave of Sir Theophilus Shepstone, whom he believes is his great-great grandfather. (Ian Carbutt, The Witness)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Pietermaritzburg - Could there be a secret line of mixed-race children carrying the bloodline of KwaZulu-Natal’s colonial fathers, the Shepstones?

Certain information that was recently uncovered by Weekend Witness suggests that Sir Theophilus Shepstone and another male Shepstone may have a line of unknown mixed-race children around the province.

The story begins with Gibson Makhaye (78), who was spotted by a Weekend Witness reporter in the Commercial Road Cemetery.

Makhaye, bent over a walking stick, approached the reporter and asked for help finding the grave of Sir Theophilus Shepstone.

Makhaye said he had travelled all the way from Camperdown to search for the grave of Sir Theophilus Shepstone, his great-great grandfather.

Upon engaging Makhaye it was discovered that while Sir Theophilus was not directly linked to Makhaye, either Shepstone’s son Henrique Charles Shepstone or his nephew Percy William Shepstone may well have fathered Makhaye’s great grandfather.

He said he had always been told his great-great grandfather was a white man by the name of Wohlo, which is the name for the sound of bones rubbing together.

“Recently I found out that he was actually called ‘Somtseu’ and he was the father of my great grandfather, Mdingi Makhaye.”

Sir Theophilus Shepstone was nicknamed “Somtseu” and, in the book Shepstone by Ruth Gordon, the author says Percy and Henrique were the only other Shepstones to be called “Somtseu” as a courtesy.

“The people named him Wohlo because he was skinny,” said Makhaye.

“I do not know where my great-great grandmother met him but I think they met in Stanger. I was told that ‘Somtseu’ used to frequent Stanger. I was told he was a pastor and/or a judge.”

Makhaye said the story of the family lineage was carried down in the oral tradition through the generations.

Henrique served as a magistrate in Harding for four years, but not much is known about Percy.

In 2008, a chapter in the book Orb and Sceptre: Studies on British Imperialism and its Legacies suggests that Shepstone had an affair with a woman of mixed race named “Meeta” and suggests she bore Shepstone’s child.

The chapter, called Shepstone in Love and co-authored by Jennifer Weir and Norman Etherington, quotes a letter written by the 19-year-old Shepstone to the 33-year-old Henry Francis Fynn in 1836.

“As to Meeta, I am glad to hear she is getting on so well.

“I can assure you I have been as virtuous as the newborn babe ever since I have been in this horrible Town. I should be delighted to see her again, but am afraid of the burden you speak of. I shall send her something by the first conveyance of wagons I meet with and shall direct it to you.

“Please tell her and let her kiss the seal three times — as I have done. Oh what a foolish fellow I am, this is my weak point, pray excuse me. I know you will — tell me if she does — destroy this letter.”

A 2008 article written by former Witness reporter Stephen Coan said as Meeta is spoken of in familiar tones, it suggests she is of mixed race.

Coan’s article goes on to say there is little doubt regarding Shepstone’s relationship with Meeta.

The phrase “newborn babe” and workds “I should be delighted to see her again, but am afraid of the burden you speak of” seem to suggest a pregnancy for which Shepstone feels responsible, as he offers to “send her something by the first conveyance of wagons”.

An extract from Theophilus Shepstone and the Forging of Natal: African Autonomy and Settler Colonialism in the Making of Traditional Authority by the late Jeff Guy speaks of Henry Francis Fynn and his relationship with African women.

“Shepstone had lived in King William’s Town, in the company of Henry Francis Fynn, the pioneer settler at Port Natal, now a minor Cape official. He found Fynn, father of a number of children still living with their African mothers in Natal, a liberating companion, not only from the censorious piety of the Wesleyan communities in which he had grown up, but also in his youthful relations with women.”

Shepstone’s subsequent letters from Grahamstown to Fynn stand out in the surviving correspondence for their rude formality, even a touch of moral recklessness and one has to suspect that this is the reason Fynn preserved them.

GREAT-GREAT grandson to Shepstone and Durban resident John Shepstone relayed in an interview this week that he had an unusual encounter with a man 15 years ago that forms a link in the chain to Etherington and Weir’s theory.

Shepstone said he was near Craddock, driving back from the Eastern Cape when he stopped on the side of the road to eat his lunch.

He said he had unwittingly stopped near a graveyard and as he began eating, a man in his 50s pulled up next to him and started a conversation.

After discovering who John was, the man exclaimed: “Did you know that your great-great grandfather sold one of his sons to my family?”

John said he was completely taken aback by this remark and asked for the man’s details which he later misplaced.

“I find it extremely interesting and I wish I had not lost that man’s details so I could learn more about this mystery,” said John.

John said they did not speak more about the “selling” of Theophilus’s son and therefore he did not know whether the son was illegitimate and/or of mixed race. He said through research of his own, he had found that many illegitimate, mixed-race children had been born during those times and were often “taken in and fostered” by other families and given work.

While Makhaye may not be linked directly to Theophilus, there may very well be an unknown arm of the Shepstone bloodline of mixed-race living somewhere in the country.

SIR Theophilus Shepstone is deeply entrenched in the history of KwaZulu-Natal and was given the name “Somtseu” by the African people of KZN when he was 18, although it is not clear why the name was bestowed upon him.

Etherington and Weir’s chapter on Shepstone said during his life in KZN, most white settlers “denounced him as the man who had locked up the land and the African labour they coveted.

“Most, though not all, missionaries opposed his toleration of African customs such as polygamy, bride wealth and beer brewing.”

University of KwaZulu-Natal Zulu cultural expert Sihawu Ngubane said it was “Somtseu” who had said that in marriage, the groom’s family should pay 10 cows for his future wife, and 11 cows if the bride was still a virgin. “At the beginning, lobola negotiations were not about what you are going to get. The important thing was to build relationships between the two families. You cannot tell me that you are building a relationship if you are going to put a price tag on it,” said Ngubane.

Ngubane said the groom’s family would bring gifts to thank the parents of the bride for raising her.

“They would harvest pumpkins and present them to their in-laws. After some time, people started giving cows as well, but there was no set number. It could be one or four.

“It also depended on how many cows the groom’s family had,” he said. “At that time ‘Somtseu’ had so much influence in the province.”

In the time since Shepstone died in 1893, Ngubane said things had gotten worse in the lobola negotiations.

“People are now asking for tablets and other gadgets,” he said

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  heritage

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

Inside News24

Financial advisors – Do you need one and should you get one?

The good, the bad, and everything else you need to know when considering hiring a financial advisor.


Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.