CityPress - - Voices & Careers - Writ­ing the An­ces­tral River by Jack­lyn Cock Wits Uni­ver­sity Press, 2018 208 pages R350

Pro­fes­sor Jack­lyn Cock grew up be­liev­ing that her an­ces­tor Wil­liam Cock was a vi­sion­ary. But when she be­gan ex­plor­ing her fam­ily his­tory she dis­cov­ered quite the op­po­site. In this ex­tract from her new book she ex­plores the role he played in dis­pos­sess­ing the amaXhosa of land Re­vis­it­ing Our An­ces­tors

Re­vis­it­ing our an­ces­tors forces us to con­front how the rav­ages of the past are con­gealed in the present. My an­ces­tors em­i­grated from Bri­tain to what was known as the Zu­urveld, the land be­tween the Fish and the Sun­days rivers. This was the cru­cible of set­tler colo­nial­ism, the area where the colo­nial au­thor­i­ties first en­coun­tered the in­dige­nous peo­ples, par­tic­u­larly the amaXhosa, and in­cor­po­rated them into a new po­lit­i­cal or­der. Dur­ing 100 years of con­flict in the area, the amaXhosa were dis­pos­sessed of their land and liveli­hoods, de­feated and ab­sorbed into the set­tler colo­nial econ­omy as a source of cheap labour. To­day, more than a cen­tury later, this pat­tern con­tin­ues as the African pop­u­la­tion of the area still do not own the land on which they live, and are de­nied the re­sources nec­es­sary for a dig­ni­fied and pro­duc­tive life. The area of the Zu­urveld, now called Nd­lambe Mu­nic­i­pal­ity, is one of the poor­est parts of South Africa.

The Ex­pul­sion

The dis­pos­ses­sion of the amaXhosa in­volved the first mass re­moval or ‘land grab’ in our his­tory. At the time, the Cape was a Bri­tish colony. In 1811, the new Bri­tish gover­nor or­dered Lieu­tenant Colonel John Gra­ham to ex­pel all the amaXhosa liv­ing west of the Fish River in the Zu­urveld and to do so by in­still­ing in them a ‘proper de­gree of ter­ror’. Gra­ham him­self said: ‘My in­ten­tion is to attack the sav­ages in a way which I hope will leave a last­ing im­pres­sion on their mem­o­ries.’ He achieved this by what we could call a form of ‘eco­ci­dal geno­cide’, which in­volved set­ting fire to the amaXhosa sta­ple crops of sorghum, maize and pump­kin just as they were ripen­ing, seiz­ing their cat­tle and burn­ing their homes.

On Jan­uary 14 1812, some 20 000 Xhosa men, women and chil­dren made the long jour­ney to cross the Fish River, driv­ing their herds of cat­tle be­fore them, their few be­long­ings tied to the cat­tle’s horns. Strag­glers were shot. In this jour­ney many of them, in­clud­ing Chief Nd­lambe him­self, would have waded across the Kowie River, which ran through the cen­tre of the Zu­urveld.

One his­to­rian has de­scribed this as ‘a su­perbly ex­e­cuted cam­paign’. The Bri­tish scorched earth pol­icy, the burn­ing of crops and at­tacks on the roots of the amaXhosa econ­omy was a fea­ture of all sub­se­quent fron­tier wars. In one of the later wars it was even sug­gested that de­stroy­ing crops was not enough, it should also in­volve tar­get­ing the peo­ple re­spon­si­ble for cul­ti­va­tion. For ex­am­ple, ac­cord­ing to the rad­i­cal his­to­rian Martin Le­gas­sick ‘in 1851 the Colo­nial Sec­re­tary Sir Ge­orge Grey pro­posed that all Xhosa women (as the cul­ti­va­tors) should be rounded up and sent to the Cape as pris­on­ers’.

The 1812 ex­pul­sion was one fac­tor lead­ing up to the Bat­tle of Gra­ham­stown, af­ter which the colo­nial au­thor­i­ties ex­e­cuted a plan for 4 000 set­tlers from Bri­tain to be brought to con­sti­tute a buf­fer to sta­bilise the colo­nial fron­tier.

The Har­bour

One of the 1820 set­tlers was my great-great grand­fa­ther, Wil­liam Cock. Through de­vel­op­ing a har­bour at the mouth of the Kowie River and sup­ply­ing the Bri­tish mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment, he helped to con­sol­i­date colo­nial power and fa­cil­i­tated the fur­ther dis­pos­ses­sion of the amaXhosa of their land. Not only did Cock sup­ply the Bri­tish mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment, as a mem­ber of the leg­isla­tive coun­cil he was in­volved in the colo­nial ad­min­is­tra­tion and was a war­mon­ger in his pro­mo­tion of vi­o­lent, colo­nial ex­pan­sion. For ex­am­ple, in 1847, he con­vened a public meet­ing in which res­o­lu­tions were unan­i­mously passed ex­press­ing heart­felt ap­proval of the gover­nor’s fur­ther an­nex­a­tion of Xhosa ter­ri­tory. Ac­cord­ing to the 1820 set­tler Thomas Stubbs, the en­tire Gra­ham­stown mer­chant class, of which Cock was a mem­ber, were war prof­i­teers as well as war­mon­gers. This is a far cry from the view of Wil­liam Cock, which has fo­cused on the de­vel­op­ment of a har­bour at the mouth of the Kowie River and has praised him for his ‘fore­sight, pri­vate en­ter­prise and in­domitable per­se­ver­ance’. Through these ac­tiv­i­ties he pro­moted a new form of ac­cu­mu­la­tion, ‘set­tler cap­i­tal­ism’.

Set­tler Cap­i­tal­ism

‘Set­tler cap­i­tal­ism’ de­scribes a form of ac­cu­mu­la­tion based on the mil­i­tarised vi­o­lence of colo­nial dis­pos­ses­sion, a vir­u­lent racism and the re­duc­tion of the amaXhosa to wage labour­ers. Cap­i­tal­ism broadly rests on the dis­pos­ses­sion of the means of pro­duc­tion (ini­tially of land through the process of ‘prim­i­tive ac­cu­mu­la­tion’ or ‘ac­cu­mu­la­tion by dis­pos­ses­sion’) and the cre­ation of ‘free’ labour, in the sense of the dis­pos­sessed hav­ing to sell their labour power to sur­vive. In other words, it in­volves the process whereby both the means of pro­duc­tion and labour be­come com­modi­ties. While the dis­pos­ses­sion was driven by colo­nial­ism, the process of com­modi­ti­sa­tion was driven by set­tler cap­i­tal­ism. This means that long be­fore in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion and the dis­cov­ery of gold and di­a­monds, the process of prim­i­tive ac­cu­mu­la­tion was oc­cur­ring, first in the East­ern Cape, driven by a lo­cal set­tler elite who were con­sol­i­dat­ing their po­si­tion at the ex­pense of the in­dige­nous peo­ple.

In most of the his­tor­i­cal ac­counts, Cock is hero­ised and much praised for his en­ergy and vi­sion. So I found it deeply shock­ing in later life to re­alise that he was a war prof­i­teer and war­mon­ger who con­trib­uted to the con­sol­i­da­tion of set­tler colo­nial­ism and was an ex­em­plar of set­tler cap­i­tal­ism. Ac­knowl­edg­ing our past, and the in­ter-gen­er­a­tional, racialised priv­i­leges, dam­ages and de­nials it es­tab­lished and per­pet­u­ates, is very nec­es­sary for any just and shared fu­ture. That ac­knowl­edge­ment is espe­cially im­por­tant at this time of in­tense con­tes­ta­tion of the land is­sue. As Glen Coulthard re­minds us in Red Skins, White Masks, strug­gles around land

are ‘strug­gles for land not only in the ma­te­rial sense, but also deeply in­formed by what the land as a sys­tem of re­cip­ro­cal re­la­tions and obli­ga­tions can teach us about liv­ing our lives in re­la­tion to one an­other and the nat­u­ral world in non­dom­i­nat­ing and non­ex­ploita­tive terms …’


CON­TESTED LAND The Kowie River makes a horse­shoe bend be­tween Port Al­fred and Bathurst in the Waters Meet­ing Na­ture Re­serve (so-called be­cause that is where the salt water from the Kowie River mouth meets the up­stream fresh water)


WAR­RIOR Por­trait be­lieved to be of the Xhosa war­rior, prophet and philoso­pher Makhanda/Makana/Nx­ele who led his troops against the Bri­tish army in the Bat­tle of Gra­ham­stown in 1819. Paint­ing by Fred­er­ick Timp­son I’Ons (1835)


WAR­MON­GER Wil­liam Cock (1793–1876) the author's great-great­grand­fa­ther, seen here in 1864, was prin­ci­pally re­spon­si­ble for the de­vel­op­ment of the har­bour at the mouth of the Kowie River, be­gin­ning in 1838

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