Dispatches From The Past Relevant To The Present.

Zazi Foundation-Heritage Writes:

(He hid in the kitchen after losing a war caused by his abuse of women in 1872)

When nicely concluding her chapter on Chiefly Women And Women's Leadership, Jennifer Weir states that 'Chiefly women were not subordinates of male dictators...it is quiet clear that certain women possessed real political, economic and ritual power in the pre-colonial period' (N. Gasa, 2007). In echoing Weir this essay seeks to demonstrate disgust that Africans had against women abuse and to correct the misrepresentation  of the role of women in indigenous African societies by misinformed feminist zealots and Afro-phobic individuals. 

Let me start by painting a picture of state of affairs in the Eastern Cape before the irruption of conflict between AmaXhosa and AbaThembu in 1872 because of women abuse. The main protagonists and role players in this conflict were King Sarhili of AmaXhosa (Son of King Hintsa), King Ngangelizwe of AbaThembu (Son of King Mthikrakra) and colonial officials based at Clarkebury Missionary Station. The Xhosa had not recovered from the murder of King Hintsa by Harry Smith and Benjamin D'urban during the Sixth War Of Dispossession(1834-5). I consider it an insult that in post apartheid South Africa we still have towns that proudly carry the names murderers of King Hintsa. The Xhosa were also still recovering from the effects of the Seventh War Of Dispossession (The War Of The Axe 1846-47), the Eight War Of Dispossession(The War Of Mlanjeni: 1850-53) and the Nongqawuse Cattle-killing catastrophe(1856-7). As a character, King Ngangelizwe of AbaThembu was ' in every deed a brute in human form, incapable of controlling his temper, ready to take offense on the slightest provocation' (J.H. Soga, 1928). King Ngangelizwe took over the reigns of the AbaThembu monarchy in 1863 and married Princess Novili, King Sarhili's daughter as his great-wife in 1866. It was custom that Thembu kings take their great-wives from AmaXhosa and vice versa. Nelson Mandela as one of AbaThembu royals is a descendant of King Ngangelizwe. 
The trouble started in 1870 when King Ngangelizwe brutally assaulted Novili leaving her with severe injuries. It seems as if this 1870 incident was never reported to King Sarhili. There is a Xhosa idiom that states that , "isiqhelo siyayoyisa ingqondo" (A habit overcomes one's judgement).King Ngangelizwe repeated his bad habit in 1872, severely beating Novili to the extent that she had to flee to her father's great place.To the Xhosa, this was the declaration of war because women abuse was an intolerable offense, let alone that of a princess from the ruling Tshawe dynasty. Xhosa philosophy on marriage states that; "Intonga ayiwakhi umzi / intonga ayinamzi"(Women abuse does not build a house-hold). I think this philosophy is still relevant today even though some women have been reported to be abusive to their husbands. Having heard that the Xhosa are preparing for battle, King Ngangelizwe approached the British for their protection promising to even cede his territory to them and become a British subject. It is quiet funny that most men who abuse their women are always scared to face other men and I did not realize that this also applies to kings. The British advised King Ngangelizwe to to pay a fine of cattle as as way of appeasing King Sarhili. The Xhosa were not satisfied with the outcome of the British intervention because they went ahead with the battle. It is said that 'Sarhili's forces routed the Thembu.....Ngangelizwe himself reportedly fled in a most undignified fashion....he sought sanctuary at Clarkebury mission, where he hid out in the kitchen' (H. Crampton, 2004). Ayesab' amagwala!!!. Is it not funny and ironic that a women abuser would take refugee into a kitchen, a place that till recently was regarded as a preserve and turf of women only.      

As already stated, a habit does overcome one's judgement on issues. In 1875 King Ngangelizwe assaulted a woman called Nongxokozelo and had her killed by one of his aides. There are conflicting reports about the status of Nongxokozelo. Some historians state that she was an attendant of Novili and a niece of King Sarhili while others claim that she was a mistress of King Ngangelizwe. King Sarhili's response after hearing about Nongxokozelo's mistreatment and subsequent murder suggests that she was a relative of the Xhosa monarchy. I am pretty sure that King Sarhili must have thought that he was having a dejavu and he started preparing for another battle. Another interesting irony is that those who considered themselves enlightened and more civilized than the indigenes came to the rescue of King Ngangelizwe again. According to J.H. Soga, a court case was convened and presided over by two colonial officials and 'Ngangelizwe was again found guilty and condemned to two hundred cattle and one hundred pounds' . Crampton further states that as a result of fear for another battle, King Ngangelizwe 'consequently...reopened negotiations with the British and ...ceded his territory to them in 1875'. He did not only lose his dignity because of women abuse, but he also lost his land and became a British subject. Nelson Mandela restored the dignity of AbaThembu in 1996 when he signed into law a constitution that is totally against women abuse.    

As already implied in the opening paragraph, it is my belief that African history and culture is often misrepresented as only patriarchal when mostly looked through the post-modernist-western and sometimes white-ethnic-racist lenses. There is enough historical evidence that demonstrates the important role and respect that African women were accorded both as members of the community and as leaders. It is interesting to note that most African names or references to God were gender-less or above gender. The names Qamatha or Nkulunkulu have no gender connotation as compared to God the Father or God the Son in Christian spirituality. I am even tempted to suggest that male chauvinism as know it today is a result of the western-biblical narratives that are male dominated.

Phumelele Zonela-kaMoti
"A wretched of the earth"
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