Why we should celebrate Grahamstown being renamed Makhanda

Grahamstown’s water supply is clean, writes the Makana Municipality’s Acting Municipal Manager. Photo: Tim Giddings (public domain, via Wikimedia)
Grahamstown’s water supply is clean, writes the Makana Municipality’s Acting Municipal Manager. Photo: Tim Giddings (public domain, via Wikimedia)

Glenn Bownes

I spent some of my happiest and most formative years in the town previously known as Grahamstown, at the university currently known as Rhodes.

Much of what I still believe today was developed in the academic and political melting pot of Grahamstown and the greater Eastern Cape of the mid-1980s.

But I have no love for the name Grahamstown.

The decision to rename the town Makhanda should be welcomed by all. Rather than being seen as merely an act of politics (which it most certainly is), it should be seen as a long overdue act of common decency.

John Graham was the soldier/thug who enforced Cape Colony Governor John Cradock's "proper degree of terror", as they forced the Xhosa from their land and into wage slavery.

Graham ruthlessly carried out Cradock’s order to expel the Xhosa from the Zuurveld between 1811 and 1812. His soldiers burnt their homes, destroyed their crops and killed anyone who resisted.

This is what Cradock meant by "a proper degree of terror".

Cradock was actually something of an expert in imposing “proper degrees of terror” on colonial subjects, having practiced in Ireland and India before getting his governor gig in Cape Town.

Makhanda (also known as Nxele) has been described as a Xhosa warrior, war doctor, philosopher and prophet. He led an attack against the British garrison at Grahamstown in April, 1819.

Makhanda and his Xhosa warriors were totally outnumbered and outgunned by the British soldiers and were defeated. Makhanda surrendered and was imprisoned on Robben Island. He drowned in an attempt to escape in December, 1820.

The journalist Ben Maclennan gives a gripping and very readable account of this history in his book A Proper Degree of Terror.

Another Cape Colony governor with blood on his hands is Harry Smith. One South African town has been named after him, and one after his wife.

Smith was responsible for the murder and dismembering of Xhosa King Hintsa in May, 1835.

Hintsa had been captured by Smith’s British forces and, when he attempted to escape, was gunned down and his ears were cut off as "trophies". His head was also chopped off and taken back to Britain.

Perhaps we could rename Harrismith after Hintsa.

And let’s rename Cradock after the Calata family who sacrificed so much for our country to be free.

While we are at it, there is a well known school in Cape Town named after a Nazi sympathiser and first prime minister of the apartheid regime.

Oh yes, and that university currently known as…

- Bownes is the chief sub at News24

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

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