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In the East­ern Cape in 1880, there was an up­ris­ing against Bri­tish rule by the AmaQwati and AmaMpon­domise in Su­lenkama. In this week’s ex­tract from Our Story, the rich and di­verse book se­ries telling the his­tory of our coun­try, we meet Mhlontlo as he be­comes king of the amaMpon­domise and be­fore he meets his neme­sis, Hamil­ton Hope, the mag­is­trate ap­pointed by the govern­ment of the Cape Colony Hope’s War South African Her­itage Pub­lish­ers 48 pages R100

The first peo­ple to feel the sting of Mhlontlo’s prickly na­ture were the amaBhaca. When the young Mhlontlo ar­rived home in the care of his un­cle, Mbali, he found amaBhaca liv­ing there. Mhlontlo’s fa­ther, Mati­wane, had helped the amaBhaca to fight their wars. Mati­wane agreed that the amaMpon­domise would stay at Shaw­bury, and that the amaBhaca would move with Rev­erend Hul­ley to a new mis­sion sta­tion called Os­born. The Tsitsa River was sup­posed to be the bound­ary be­tween the two sides, but things did not work out. When Mbali had ar­rived at Shaw­bury with Mhlontlo and his mother, there were only about 30 peo­ple in their group. But when the scat­tered amaMpon­domise heard of the re­turn of their king, they came to join him, and the amaBhaca felt threat­ened by their in­creas­ing num­bers.

Ten­sion reached break­ing point while Mhlontlo was be­com­ing a man and was se­cluded in the cir­cum­ci­sion lodge. The amaBhaca ar­rived with a great army, sup­ported by seven other chiefs. They de­manded cat­tle from the amaMpon­domise. Mbali, the re­gent, was will­ing to pay the fine. Know­ing Mhlontlo’s ag­gres­sive na­ture, Mbali or­dered him to be tied up with a rope. But the age­mates in the cir­cum­ci­sion lodge re­leased Mhlontlo and se­cretly crossed the river into Bha­ca­land. Here they set fires, rais­ing smoke and dust. The Bhaca army in Mpon­domise­land were still gath­er­ing to­gether the cat­tle that had been sur­ren­dered by Mbali. They pan­icked when they saw their homes on fire and re­treated quickly. Mhlontlo saved the cat­tle of the Mpon­domise and added many cat­tle to their own herds. The re­gent, Mbali, had no choice but to step down, and Mhlontlo be­came king.

But Mhlontlo found himself sur­rounded by enemies, more dan­ger­ous even than the amaBhaca. To his south was the ter­ri­tory of Ndamase, the son of King Faku of the amaMpondo. Ndamase was a great war­rior. In his youth, he had per­son­ally fought against the Zulu in­vaders, and he had scars on his body from Shaka’s spears to prove it. Ndamase was such a great war­rior that even his own fa­ther, King Faku, was afraid of him and did not want him close to Qawukeni, the Mpondo cap­i­tal. King Faku said to his son, Ndamase, “Leave me alone on this side of the Mz­imvubu River, and you, Ndamase, cross over to the other side and build yourself a king­dom over there.”

And so, Ndamase crossed over the Mz­imvubu on a nyanda or raft, and es­tab­lished his cap­i­tal at Nyan­deni in the dis­trict of Li­bode. By the time Mhlontlo was a king, Ndamase was al­ready an old man. He was so old and sick that he could not walk and had to be car­ried around in a small ox wagon. Nev­er­the­less, Ndamase was pow­er­ful and raised big ar­mies to fight against the amaMpon­domise. It is said that the amaMpon­domise were so fierce in those days, that one Mpon­domise was equal in bat­tle to five amaMpondo. But there were so many amaMpondo – 10 amaMpondo for ev­ery one Mpon­domise – that they steadily moved onto the Mpon­domise ter­ri­tory.

North of Mhlontlo were the Drak­ens­berg moun­tains, which the amaMpon­domise had al­ways re­garded as their own ter­ri­tory. They kept it as a place for sum­mer graz­ing and a refuge in time of war. Sud­denly, how­ever, they found this re­gion in­vaded by peo­ple from Her­schel, amaHlubi and abeSotho un­der chiefs Zibi, Le­hana and Lebenya. They told Mhlontlo that they had been given these lands by the Bri­tish gov­er­nor, some­thing that Mhlontlo could not un­der­stand at all. For­tu­nately for Mhlontlo, the new­com­ers were di­vided among them­selves. He found an ally in Chief Le­hana, who had his own prob­lems with chiefs Lebenya and Zibi. There were good op­por­tu­ni­ties for cap­tur­ing cat­tle in this sit­u­a­tion; nev­er­the­less, it stretched Mhlontlo’s lim­ited mil­i­tary re­sources.

Even more se­ri­ous was the prob­lem­atic re­la­tion­ship be­tween Mhlontlo and his cousin, Mditshwa. The forces of Chief Diko, the fa­ther of Mditshwa, had killed Mhlontlo’s fa­ther, Mati­wane. Mditshwa was, like Mhlontlo, a strong-fight­ing man, and he bat­tled with the abaThembu just as Mhlontlo bat­tled with the amaMpondo. Mditshwa recog­nised the se­nior­ity of the house of Mhlontlo among the branches of the amaMpon­domise, but he oth­er­wise re­garded himself as an en­tirely in­de­pen­dent chief.

Prob­lems arose when a group of Mhlontlo’s peo­ple passed by the homestead of Phakana, a fol­lower of Mditshwa, and were at­tacked by Phakana’s dogs. They beat off Phakana’s dogs, but Phakana in­sulted them, hint­ing that Mhlontlo was only a small chief com­pared to his own chief, Mditshwa.

When Mhlontlo heard about this, he did not ap­proach Mditshwa for re­dress, but seized the cat­tle of Phakana himself. And, be­cause Mditshwa was in­deed a strong and pow­er­ful chief, he con­fronted Mhlontlo and a bit­ter war be­gan.

Mditshwa al­lied with Ndamase of the amaMpondo, who at­tacked Mhlontlo from the other side.

It was at this point that he made the big­gest mis­take of his life.

AN­GRY YOUNG MAN Mbali or­dered Mhlontlo to be tied up with rope, but his cir­cum­ci­sion lodge mates re­leased him

IN­SULT AND IN­JURY A group of Mhlontlo’s peo­ple were at­tacked by Phakana’s dogs

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