Imvubu Newsletter


© Hirst, M. 2004 Imvubu 16: 1, 1-8.

Xhoxho (fl. 1815-1878) was a minor son of Ngqika (c. 1775-1829), Paramount chief or king of the amaNgqika chiefdom.

He was defiantly pasturing the cattle of his half brother, chief Tyhali (d. 1842), in the Mancazana valley, the so-called Ceded Territory between the Fish and Keiskamma rivers in which Xhosa settlement had been prohibited as a result of two successive agreements wrung by the British from a reluctant Ngqika, who was the Great Son and heir of Rharhabe (d. 1782), the Right Hand Son of Phalo (d. 1775), whose descendants are collectively referred to as amaRharhabe, after the eponymous founder. Firstly, Lord Charles Somerset’s treaty of 1819 and secondly, Sir Rufane Donkin’s of 1821. In the first treaty the Ceded Territory was to be settled and patrolled only by the military. In the second, however, it was to be opened up for white settlement. In return the British recognised Ngqika’s paramountcy over his rival chiefs and his claim to a tract of land along the Tyhume River. A British military patrol, consisting of a sergeant and twelve CMR, under the command of Lt. William Sutton, 75th Regt., was dispatched from Fort Beaufort to expel a party of Tyhali’s followers from a homestead, recently erected on the ridge between the Mancazana and Gaga rivers in the so called Ceded Territory, and to obtain compensation for horses, which had been stolen from the fort and traced to the settlement. On the 10 December 1834, after the patrol burnt the huts and seized some oxen belonging to Tyhali, Lt. Sutton informed the party of Xhosa that the cattle would be kept until the stolen horses were surrendered. In the ensuing skirmish between the troops and the Xhosa tlinethat took place near Fort Beaufort, Xhoxho was grazed by a musket ball and received a slight head wound, an event provoking the outbreak of the so-called ‘War of Hintsa’ (1834-5). As the amaNtinde Chief, Dyani (Jan) Tshatshu, explained afterwards: “Every [Xhosa] who saw Xhoxho’s wound … took his [spears] and shield, and set out to fight.”

The Ngqika undoubtedly used the incident as an excuse for the attacks that gave rise to the ‘War of Hintsa’, culminating in the tragic shooting of Hintsa, the Paramount chief or king of the amaGcaleka, at the Nqabarha River after he tried to escape from the custody of Col. Harry Smith, to which the hapless chief had voluntarily surrendered himself several days earlier, on 12 May 1835. Although the Western Xhosa chiefs, such as Maqoma, Tshatshu and others, made much of Xhoxho’s wounding particularly in regard to the inviolability of the person of even a minor chief, their predecessors had hardly paid lip service to the notion in their own internecine conflicts with neighbouring Cape Nguni chiefdoms. For example, during the latter half of the eighteenth century, Rharhabe and his firstborn son Mlawu were both killed in fighting with the Thembu, events which in no way impugned the high esteem in which the Thembu were regarded by the Xhosa and perhaps merely endorsed it. Nevertheless, in the light of ensuing historical events particularly as regards the killing of Hintsa, the claims of the Western Xhosa chiefs of unwarranted brutality on the part of the British military were undoubtedly well-founded and justified. The expulsion of Ngqika’s Right Hand Son, Maqoma, and his followers from the Kat River at gunpoint in May 1834 was a rankling sore point and hostilities with the British had been simmering since the start of the drought in August 1834. Indeed, it is unfortunate that apart from J. B. Peires’ House of Phalo (1981), modern historians have given little attention to the ever-present details of climate, rainfall, the availability of land and grazing and the social, economic, religious and cultural significance of cattle herding in framing and generating the various skirmishes, cattle raids, counter-raids and conflicts between the Xhosa and the successive Cape colonial governments of the Dutch and the British on the western frontier. Fracases and frays on the frontier were as recursive as drought and subsequently historians, perhaps erroneously and exaggeratedly, came to describe these events as ‘frontier wars,’ a designation that seemed appropriate to a growing sense of romantic heroism and idealism associated with colonial military history in an increasingly divided apartheid South Africa.

On the death of his half brother Tyhali in May 1842, Xhoxho became regent of the Ngcangatelo in place of Tyhali’s minor sons, Oba and Feni. However, by September 1845 Sandile and Maqoma had deposed Xhoxho as regent owing to his cruel and inhuman treatment of Bashe, a councillor (iphakathi) who had fallen into his disfavour. The regency of the Ngcangatelo was subsequently taken over by Tyhali’s widows. British officials, such as Henry Calderwood, Charles Brownlee and Captain John Maclean, who were well acquainted with Xhoxho, did not have a good word to say for him and described him as sly and unattractive, a view to some extent contradicted by the early portrait of him by F. T. I’Ons in the collection of MuseumAfrica. From April to November 1846, during the so called ‘War of the Axe’ (1846-7), Xhoxho was in arms against the Colony. Although he took an oath of allegiance to the British sovereign in January 1848, he was again in arms against the British during the ‘War of Mlanjeni’ (1850-53). On the outbreak of the so called Cattle Killing Movement (1856-7) Xhoxho killed all his own cattle and supported Maqoma to bring pressure to bear on Sandile, who at first wavered, to join the movement. It is estimated that Xhoxho, Sandile and Feni, together with their supporters, were responsible for slaughtering 58 000 head of cattle in the first months of the movement. Early in January 1858 Xhoxho was arrested for being in possession of stolen horses. The colonial government, which was attempting to discourage stock theft, made an example of him and sentenced him to fourteen years imprisonment. Although Xhoxho escaped, he was re-arrested on 31 March 1858 and a further seven years was added to his sentence. He was subsequently sent to Robben Island and released, along with Maqoma and Seyolo, in 1869. In 1878, during the ‘War of Ngcayechibi’ (1877-8), Xhoxho could not resist the call to arms and went with his sons in support of Sandile. He ultimately shared the same fate as Sandile and Seyolo and died a patriot in defence of his fatherland.

PHOTO CAPTION: The early portrait of Xhoxho by F. T. I’Ons. The original is held at MuseumAfrica, Johannesburg.