Shepstone’s dark secret

2008-07-01 00:00

The 19th-century colonial administrator Theophilus Shepstone was reputedly a cold fish. A contemporary summed him up as “shrewd, observant, silent, self-controlled and immobile” — much like his statue that stands in Langalibalele Street.

Born in England in 1817, the three-year-old Shepstone and his missionary parents came to the eastern Cape with the 1820 settlers. Shepstone’s fluency in Xhosa smoothed his path into the colonial civil service and in 1835 he became a clerk to the agent dealing with African diplomacy on the frontier which was how he met Fynn, who had been a hunter-trader at Port Natal at the time of King Shaka kaSenzangakhona. “[Fynn] dealt in guns and liquor, and may have been involved in the slave trade,” say Etherington and Weir. “He is known to have had numerous liaisons with African women, including four recognised as wives, with whom he fathered several children.”

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