Memory and the past
Memory is a strange thing – elusive and slippery. Just when you think you have it in your grasp, it slips away, disappearing into some dark corner of your mind. Even people with wonderful memories forget things. Even they will tell you a different version of a story.
Think about something that happened to you recently. Do you think that every person involved will tell the same story? Of course they will not, and not because they are lying, but because we all remember things differently because we see things differently. Something that may be important to you may not be important to another person.
When it comes to remembering our past, it gets more complicated. Relying on memory alone can be a dangerous thing.
Do you know a storyteller who does not like to add a bit of drama to their tale?
A story also changes with each retelling, and with changes in storytellers. Each places the emphasis in different places, sometimes leaving out certain parts that seem unimportant or boring. In this way, the truth passes into legend and that becomes myth.
The aim of the Our Story series is to sift through what remains of the stories of old, that told of the deeds of the ancestors and the people who walked the lands of southern Africa aeons ago.
Of course, there is no person alive who can tell us what really happened, but there are stories that have been handed down, and some of these have been recorded. We gather the stories from as many different sources as we can, because we know that you should not rely on a single source of information about the past. In this way, we resurrect the stories and sing new life into the tales that are our heritage. Even so, each Our Story title cannot cover all of the information that is available, so we recommend that you also look at other sources if you are interested in the past of all South Africans.
When a story is well told, you feel it. It sings in your bones, settles into the very core of you. Sometimes, some of that story settles into your memory, almost as if you were part of it. You might find that you remember something of what it was like to wield a spear against the people who were taking your cattle, or to scratch in the dirt for grubs when a prophet had persuaded you to kill your herd.
This week, we have an extract from the third book on Maqoma, Warrior and Peacemaker. Read on, and put yourself in the picture as hero or villain, or as one who simply watches.
In this week’s extract from the must-have series of South African history books, Our Story, we continue retracing the life of Xhosa leader Maqoma, who becamea peacemaker as he grew older. In a land of strife between Xhosa clans, the British, the Boers and the missonaries, ending conflict would not prove easy
Maqoma 3: Warrior and Peacemaker
South African Heritage Publishers
48 pages, illustrated
Maqoma’s half-brother, Tyali, was ill with tuberculosis and was close to death. This situation gave Maqoma an opportunity to expand his power. If he could cast suspicion on Suthu, then Sandile would be weakened further. Tyali realised the intention of his half-brother and told Charles Stretch, but the diplomatic agent saw this as an internal family matter and did not want to get involved. Maqoma brought in a Fingo sangoma who worked for his friend Field Cornet Botha to visit Tyali’s kraal and expose the person responsible for bewitching Tyali.
As the family gathered around the dying chief, the sangoma pointed at Sandile’s mother and accused her of giving Tyali medicine from the sangoma. He also accused her of causing King Ngqika’s death. Not long after this, Tyali died. Suthu feared for her life, and in the subsequent confusion, she escaped from the kraal.
Suthu took refuge at the Burnshill mission station with Reverend Laing. Stretch informed Colonel Hare of the situation and a hundred additional infantrymen were sent to Fort Beaufort. He sent a message to Maqoma saying that should Suthu come to any harm, an immediate return to the patrol system would be introduced. Maqoma’s plan to usurp his physically challenged brother Sandile had failed.
Maqoma worked actively to maintain peace with the powerful Cape Colony and was quick to return any stolen colonial stock. His visits to Fort Beaufort increased and the stories of alcohol abuse continued. It may have been that the colonists were eager to give Maqoma alcohol to loosen his tongue and take advantage of him. But he held his ground and never allowed British officers to enter Xhosa territory. Maqoma never let the amaJingqi down and even successfully influenced Stretch to persuade the commander of Fort Beaufort to supply them with military rations. This would supplement the meagre diet of the amaJingqi in the ongoing drought.
Maqoma continued to try and discredit Sandile. He also retained his powerful authority among the Xhosa. Throughout 1842 and 1843, he ensured that all livestock and horses seized by the amaJingqi were returned to the colonists. For this purpose he spent most of his time at the canteen in Fort Beaufort having meetings with the British military and at the same time having a few drinks. At no time did he give up on the amaJingqi.
Sandile continued to be a weak leader and soon gave in to colonial demands. In 1843, he agreed to assist British troops in driving a young Xhosa leader, called Tola, east of the Keiskamma River. This infuriated Maqoma as it was a return to the old patrol system. The British military’s return to Xhosaland was a personal threat. Sandile informed Stretch that his older half-brother was planning to kill him. However, the amaJingqi chief was planning no such thing as he feared a Ngqika civil war.
Kona, Maqoma’s eldest son, was trying to create a semi-autonomous chiefdom before his younger brother Namba approached circumcision age. He, too, was against the colonial interference: he did not allow their disapproval to stop him from executing one of his villagers for witchcraft. Stretch was incensed. He complained to Maqoma, warning him that the settlers were dissatisfied and were demanding more land.
Maqoma replied to Stretch in these words: “Seeing the colonists have only taken half the treaties and they are beginning to break down the other half – I will not – nor do I agree with them. I will hold by [Sir Andries] Stockenström’s word until I die and my people will put me in the grave. If the treaties are forced from us, nothing can preserve us from war.”
Colonel Hare immediately demanded that Stretch get all the details from Maqoma of how the settlers had contravened half of the treaty. Within days, the leader of the amaJingqi sent a letter to Colonel Hare accusing the Europeans of causing skirmishes along the frontiers, as well as interfering in the internal affairs of the Xhosa chiefdoms.
During the whole of 1844, Maqoma kept his pledge to the amaJingqi by protecting those accused of stealing livestock from the colony and giving up quantities of cattle demanded by the settlers.
It was in March of 1844 that Sir Peregrine Maitland was made the new governor of the Cape Colony. He was a very authoritarian leader and sympathetic to the settlers’ demands for new border arrangements.
When a white frontier farmer was murdered, allegedly by Xhosa rustlers, Governor Maitland sailed to the Western Cape. He refused to meet with the Ngqika chiefs, which made Maqoma furious. Instead, he met with the Gqunukhwebe, Ndlambe and Mbalu chiefs at Fort Peddie. Maitland immediately announced the end of the Stockenström treaties and gave permission to soldiers and settlers alike to enter Xhosaland in search of stolen stock. In addition, amaXhosa living at mission stations would no longer fall under traditional law.
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