Ancestral Voices | The story of Bertie Ncaphayi


In its research for stories to be included in South Africa’s leading heritage series Our Story, which City Press has been running extracts from for the past few months, SA Heritage Publishers discovered a collection of writings that can only be described as a treasure trove of South African culture and history.

The collection is made up of 891 writings in seven indigenous languages – siSwati and isiNdebele were not written languages at the time the works were compiled – written between 1930 and 1950 by 187 writers in their mother tongues.

It is estimated that there are between 15 000 and 20 000 typewritten A4 pages in the collection.

The authors range from the well-known author and journalist RRR Dhlomo to a number of unknown South Africans.

Many were educators. All of them were obviously anxious to preserve the history and culture of their people for future generations. You, the reader, are but one of the generations for whom they wrote.


This history was written in March 1939 by DJ Mapekula, who was living in Middelburg at the time.

It is one of three different recently translated accounts that relate to the amaBhaca and neighbouring clans, and describes aspects of not only history, but also of culture, such as the incube tradition.

The amaBhaca are a nation that is between the Tina and Mzimvubu rivers, in the area around Mt Frere.

This nation originally comes from kwaZulu, near the Tukela River, from where it was scattered during the time of Tshaka.

The amaBhaca are now situated in the following areas: Tshungwane, Mount White, Colana, Mandilani and up until the Umzimkhulu River.

Under the great inkosi Ncaphayi, there was a war with the amaMpondo.

After a battle in which Ncaphayi was killed, the amaMpondo were eventually defeated near a great pool in the Umzimvubu River, called Nopoyi, where the amaMpondo died in their flight from the battle, with some climbing on others until there was a bridge made of people.

This battle was called the battle of noThintwa, in which men of the following houses of the Bhaca fought: the sons of Cobokana called the Nkomenopondo, and the Sondara the sons of Msezeli, and Weyi, and Mguzane, and Mabuye and other men of the Bhaca nation.

And then, with Makawula (Ncaphayi’s brother) ruling, there was peace.

The amaMpondo and the amaBhaca called a truce. And then, since there was this truce, the amaBhaca thereafter went to war with the amaLawu of Adam Kok. In this war, the amaBhaca underestimated the amaLawu completely.

They were defeated in this war.

So then, after these wars, the land was properly peaceful.

This continued clearly for some time, until it became somewhat strained on one side.

Nkosi Makawula had the good idea that we might say, if we were to look at it, was one that was sent by Thixo.

One day he called a gathering and said that the men should gather together some money, for he wanted to send men to obtain a priest from Rini (Grahamstown).

Two men were sent to obtain the priest for one gold sovereign, and truly those men walked the length of the land, travelling from Mount Frere to go to Rini, walking on foot, for the land was not then as it is now.

These men returned with the priest. He was installed at Tshungwane (Osborn).

Since then, to this day, Tshungwane has been at the forefront of things. Today there are two priests. There are more than 10 teachers at the day school.

Since the nations were then still benighted, there came into being the following practice: that when a person was smelled out by the amaxwele (witch doctors) he would flee to Tshungwana and would escape being put to death.

For there was no person who could take him away from there.

After these good works done by the good prince Silwanyana, for that is what people used to call him, Makawula was laid to rest in a grave.

He left behind many sons, among whom were the following: Bertie, Mngcisane, Mawula, Nohi, Roro, Kulangempondo, Tsiliyana, Ngogwana and others of the lesser houses.

It seems that Bertie should have taken his father’s place, but that is not how it worked out, for Bertie was living with the priest, the Rev Mr White.

His father, Nkosi Makawula, gave him to Rev White because he had no child of his own, and the priest was the one at Tshungwane at the time.

Bertie went off with the priest to stay at his home in England.

There Bertie eventually married one of the white ladies, and he was no longer called Bertie Ncaphayi, but rather Bertie White.

Bertie died at the beginning of 1938, and left behind two daughters who are there in England now.

As I have said, Bertie was not able to succeed to the position of his father, and it was apparent that Mngcisane, after a period when someone ruled as regent for him, should be the one to take over his father’s role, and truly he did succeed to his father’s position.

That, then, is the story of the nation and the traditions of the amaBhaca. They say when they praise this nation, “They are Zulu, Ntombela, Kalimeshe, Wabana, Didi, Vebi and Fisengafi.”

They say that they speak in the “tsitsiza” fashion.

  • The SA High Commission in the UK would like to acknowledge the efforts by SA Heritage Publishers on the initiative ‘Finding Ncaphayi’. We express our willingness to assist in getting more information about Bertie White Ncaphayi from archives in the UK.


isiXhosa () isiBhaca

Nditi (I say) Nditsi

indoda (man) indodza

indaba (news) indzaba

intombaza (girl) inhatanyana

umfazi (woman) umfati

intsimi (field) insimi

inkunzana (bull calf) inkuntana

Ndiyakuxelele (I’m telling you) Ndiyakutshena

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