To capture a king

2007-12-11 00:00

The aftershocks of the Bhambatha Rebellion of 1906 dragged on into 1907 with the Natal authorities using the military and legal machinery at their disposal to impose harsh punishment and deter further protest. The most prominent episode during this period was the arrest and trial, on charges centred on treason, of King Dinuzulu ka-Cetshwayo. The letters of a Natal Carbineer that have recently come to light provide a glimpse of events surrounding the king’s arrest.

Following his 1888 protest against British and colonial rule, and subsequent 10-year exile to St Helena, Dinuzulu had been “demoted” by the Natal government to the position of inkosi of his uSuthu chiefdom. The Natal government accused Dinuzulu of “aiding and abetting” the resistance of 1906, and, in particular, encouraging and providing refuge to its most famous figure, Bhambatha kaMancinza.

Action was not taken against him in 1906 lest such an action provoke further insurrection and in 1907 colonial officialdom remained concerned that his arrest would provide the spark for renewed unrest.

Martial Law was consequently declared on December 7 (remaining in force until August 1908), and military regiments such as the Natal Carbineers and Umvoti Mounted Rifles, which had seen extensive service during 1906, were reactivated on November 30, 1907, with the Carbineers themselves recalled to the field from December 1 to 24, 1907, to affect the apprehension of Dinuzulu. Thus it was that Herman Walter Payn enters this story. Payn had enrolled in E Squadron of the Natal Carbineers on July 14, 1903, at the age of 18. He is listed in the regiment’s enlistment register as a strapping lad of six foot two inches, and a farmer from Green Hill in the Richmond district. He had seen prior Rebellion service from February 9 to 31 March, and again from 16 June to August 3, 1906. He resigned from the Carbineers on April 13, 1910.

Natal Carbineer Lieutenant-Colonel John Weighton, who had presided over the contentious March 1906 Richmond court martial involving the Trewirgie incident in February that year, commanded an expedition to capture the Zulu monarch. On December 2 and 3, the column moved by rail to Gingindlovu and thence to the rail terminus at Somkele. On December 8 the troops reached the Magistracy at Hlabisa in the Zululand heartland and proceeded on to Nongoma Magistracy, where they arrived on December 10. Despite all this martial fuss, Dinuzulu had surrendered without incident on the evening of December 9 at his homestead at Nongoma. A formal ceremony followed the next day. He was lodged in the jail at Nongoma. The colonial column then departed a few days later for what appears to have been a secondary objective, Dinuzulu’s uSuthu ikanda. There were, however, no significant engagements for the colonial military forces.

Payn’s letters are written to Millicent Pigg of Verulam, whom he would later marry and whom he addresses by her second name, Ivine, or Ivy. The letters were donated by June Vincent, a granddaughter, to the Natal Carbineers Archive in September 2007. The letters reveal something of the jaunty camaraderie that accompanied what in military parlance would be termed “mopping up”, blended with an attitude to the subject black people, and towards Dinuzulu himself, that rings harsh and condescending to the modern ear. The letters, one of which is undated, both appear to postdate Dinuzulu’s surrender.

Letter (undated)

“We left here last night at 11 pm and marched until daybreak to surround the Royal Kraal and surprised the natives there, and we only found about 50 of them. Colonel McKenzie has given them until Sunday morning to bring in their guns, assegais etc, failing that we are to go again and shoot every one of them. He also told them that Dinuzulu is now a prisoner, and will be sent away and will never come back again. Also, one or two of his indunas will be sent to St Helena with him.

“Dinuzulu was given three days to surrender and he turned up at half past 12 on the last day, and when Colonel McK sent him to gaol he asked if he couldn’t have a room in the hotel, and Colonel McK had him shut up in a cell and has a guard over him every day. We had a good look over his kraal today — he has a piano, organ, two gramophones [and] a parrot like ours.”

Hlobane, December 21, 1907

“We were to wait here for a day to interview some natives and then move on to Vryheid for home, and in orders last night we were told we have to entrain on Monday for Colenso to tackle the Chief Silwan, who I hear has the largest tribe in Natal. So we may see a little fighting yet, but am afraid it will be the same as usual, just as we get there he will calmly walk in.”

Ironically, and to the embarrassment of the Natal government, Dinuzulu was found guilty on only a handful of the 23 charges that he had faced during a 73-day trial that lasted from November 1908 to March 1909, and which in turn followed a marathon prequel inquiry. He was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment and a £100 fine. In 1910 General Louis Botha, first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa, ordered his release and he was exiled to the then Transvaal.

• Illustrations prepared by Vaneda Sukhnunan, KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Museum Service.

• Mark Coghlan works for the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Museum Service and is the historian of the Natal Carbineers.

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