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Published by HSRC Press
Private Bag X9182, Cape Town, 8000, South Africa

First published 2009

ISBN (soft cover) 978-0-7969-2233-5

ISBN (pdf) 978-0-7969-2248-9

© 2009 Human Sciences Research Council

The views expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not necessarily
reflect the views or policies of the Human Sciences Research Council (‘the Council’)
or indicate that the Council endorses the views of the author. In quoting from this publication,
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readers are advised to attribute the source of the information to the individual author concerned
and not to the Council.

Copyedited by Lee Smith

Typeset by Baseline Publishing Services
Cover by FUEL Design
Cover illustration from The Death of Hintsa by Hilary Graham, reproduced with kind permission
of the Albany Museum, Grahamstown

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For Kiera, to account for the absence;
Jaymathie and Jayantilal Lalu;
and Hansa Lalloo
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List of illustrations  viii

Acknowledgements  x

Introduction: thinking ahead  1

1 Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination  31
2 Mistaken identity  65
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3 The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt)  101
4 Reading ‘Xhosa’ historiography  141
5 The border and the body: post-phenomenological reflections
on the borders of apartheid  191
6 History after apartheid  219

Conclusion  253
Notes  270
Bibliography and archival sources  309
Index  329
List of illustrations

Figure 1 The cover of the Frederick I’Ons exhibition catalogue; there is little
clarity on whether the figure portrayed is Hintsa or Nqeno  71
Figure 2 Charles Michell’s cartographic representation of the landscape in
which Hintsa was killed, published in 1835  83
Figure 3 Flight of the Fingoes [sic], by Charles Michell, 1836  84
Figure 4 Warriors Fleeing Across a River/The Death of Hintsa, by
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Frederick I’Ons. n.d.  90

Figure 5a Portrait of Hintsa, by Charles Michell, 1835  98
Figure 5b Portrait of Hintsa, by George Pemba, 1937  98
Figure 6 The tragic death of Hintsa, triptych by Hilary Graham,
1990  222–223

Ah, Britain! Great Britain!
Great Britain of the endless sunshine!
You sent us truth, denied us the truth;
You sent us life, deprived us of life;
You sent us light, we sit in the dark,
Shivering, benighted in the bright noonday sun.
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SEK Mqhayi, on the visit of the Prince of Wales to

South Africa in 1925, translated by AC Jordan

History always tells how we die, never how we live.

Roland Barthes, Michelet, 104


Perhaps the most daunting task in completing this book is to recall the
many people who have had to endure its long incubation. If I mention
them by name, it is not so that they may be reminded of their complicity
in The Deaths of Hintsa but to thank them for their generosity, insight,
friendship and love over the years. To them I attribute my long-held desire
to substitute a politics of despair with a politics of setting to work on
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postcolonial futures.
My first foray into writing this book began under the watchful
eye of Allen Isaacman and Jean Allman at the University of Minnesota,
as a graduate student in African History and as a recipient of a MacArthur
Fellowship grant. The more detailed study of the story of Hintsa was initially
submitted as a doctoral dissertation under the title ‘In the Event of History’
to the University of Minnesota in 2003. Thanks to Allen Isaacman, Director
of the Interdisciplinary Centre for the Study of Global Change, I was granted
an opportunity to interact with a group of thought-provoking historians of
Africa including Maanda Mulaudzi, Peter Sekibakiba Lekgoathi, Marissa
Moorman, Jacob Tropp, Heidi Gengenbach, Derek Peterson, Ana Gomez,
Alda Saute, Helena Pohlandt McCormick and Jesse Buche.
While at the University of Minnesota, John Mowitt, Qadri Ismail,
Ajay Skaria, David Roediger, Lisa Disch and Bud Duvall provided many
new and exciting directions for developing my thoughts on colonialism,
apartheid and postapartheid South Africa. John Mowitt and Qadri Ismail
gave new meaning to the idea of academic exchange, with Qadri especially
responsible for teaching me a thing or two. The members of the postcolonial
reading group fostered friendships conducive to the exploration of ideas.
Monika Mehta (for teaching me how to cut), Andrew Kinkaid, Guang Lei,
Joel Wainwright and Adam Sitze (for teaching me how not to cut) have,
unbeknown to them, been present at every stage of the writing even as I

deposited myself far across the Atlantic Ocean in a little-known place called
the University of the Western Cape (UWC).
The History Department and the Centre for Humanities Research
(CHR) at UWC provided the most enabling environment for the development
of new ideas and critique. The staff and students of the History Department
offered unconditional support for my research through the years. Leslie Witz,
Ciraj Rassool, Patricia Hayes, Nicky Rousseau, Brent Harris, Gary Minkley
(now at Fort Hare University) and Andrew Bank made a special effort to read
my work and comment on it. I hope this book is an acceptable response to
their many questions and queries, and that will be seen as a contribution
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to the ongoing innovative research in UWC’s History Department. Thanks

are also due to Uma Mesthrie, Martin Legassick and Terri Barnes for
their encouragement over the years. The Centre for Humanities Research
South African Contemporary History and Humanities seminar provided a
privileged space for critical readings of my work. In the last years of writing,
I was encouraged by many first-year and honours history students who
took the time to engage with the ideas of this book. I would like to single
out Riedwaan Moosagee, Thozama April, Vuyani Booi, Peter Jon Grove,
Noel Solani, Virgil Slade, Maurits van Bever Donker, Shanaaz Galant and
Khayalethu Mdudumane for their interest in my work and for journeying
with me to the site of Hintsa’s killing on the Nqabara River. The fellows
in the Programme on the Study of the Humanities in Africa (PSHA) at
UWC were a source of encouragement in pressing me to substantiate my
argument for the need for a subaltern studies in South Africa. I would like
to thank specifically Paolo Israel, Annachiara Forte, Jade Gibson, Heidi
Grunebaum, Crystal Jannecke, Rachelle Chadwick, Annette Hoffman, Jill
Weintroub, Maurits van Bever Donker, Zulfa Abrahams, Mduduzi Xakaza,
Charles Kabwete, Lizzy Attree and Billiard Lishiko for their generosity and
friendship. Finally, Leslie Witz, Susan Newton-King and Andrew Bank
offered to take over my teaching to enable me to retreat for a sabbatical to
Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, where I put the finishing touches to
the book.

A fellowship at the Centre for the Study of Public Institutions
at Emory University provided the much-needed intellectual stimulus
for fine-tuning the formulations of the book. Ivan Karp and Cory Kratz
are responsible for more than they can imagine, including much of the
discussion on the discourse of anthropology in the eastern Cape. Both
offered encouragement, support and unconditional friendship at a very
crucial time in the making of the book. Helen Moffett provided me with
significant editorial comment and engaged with the text during my
fellowship at Emory. I would also like to thank Durba Mitra, Sunandan
Nedumpaly, Ajit Chittambalam, Shailaja Paik and Swargajyoti Gohain who
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invited me to be a participant in their Subaltern Studies class at Emory

University, and Clifton Crais and Pamela Scully for the many conversations.
The research for this book was supported by the National Research
Foundation-funded project on the Heritage Disciplines based at UWC. I
would like to thank Leslie Witz and Ciraj Rassool for finding a place for
my research in the overall project that they lead. The PSHA provided a
research platform for the development of the argument. Garry Rosenberg,
Utando Baduza, Mary Ralphs, Karen Bruns, Fairuz Parker and Lee Smith
at the HSRC Press gave me support and guidance in finalising this book. I
would also like to thank the many librarians and archivists both here and
in the United States for their generous assistance, especially Simphiwe
Yako, Graham Goddard and Mariki Victor (Mayibuye Centre, UWC);
Sandy Roweldt (formerly at the Cory Library and subsequently at the
African Studies Library at the University of Cape Town); Michelle Pickover
(William Cullen Church of the Province of SA Collection, University of
Witwatersrand); Zweli Vena, Victor Gacula and Sally Schramm (Cory
Library); friends at the District Six Museum and the staff at the Albany
Museum, Grahamstown, State Archives and Manuscripts Division; and the
South African Library in Cape Town (especially Najwa Hendrickse).
Early versions of Chapters 1 and 5 appeared in History and Theory, Vol.
39, No. 4, December 2000 and in the South African Historical Journal, 55,
2006 respectively. They are included with permission; and Hilary Graham,

Bobo Pemba and the staff of the Albany Museum (History) granted me
permission to reproduce the images that appear in the book.
Friendship is the basis for all writing and hospitality, its condition.
Unfortunately, writing may also inflict untold damage on friendships.
Vivienne Lalu endured most of the fallout of this project. I am truly sorry
for the harm it has caused but would like to acknowledge her steadfast
commitment over the years. Others who graciously suffered my writing and
obsessions along the way include Ajay, Kilpena, Nikhil and Rahoul Lalu,
Ameet, Nital, Meha and Amisha Lalloo, Deepak, Primal, Natver and Badresh
Patel, Jim Johnson, Latha Varadarajan, Noeleen Murray, Nic Shepherd,
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Abdullah Omar, William and Sophia Mentor, Manju Soni, Carolyn Hamilton,
Mxolisi Hintsa, Ramesh Bhikha, Dhiraj, Tara and Reshma Kassanjee, Ratilal,
Pushpa and Hansa Lalloo, Amy Bell-Mulaudzi, Suren Pillay, Kamal Bhagwan,
Saliem Patel, Fazel Ernest, Ruth Loewenthal and members of my extended
family. I am grateful for all they have done to support this book.
A book that is written over many years invariably leads to friendships
across continents and across urban and rural divides. Colleagues at the Basler
Afrika Bibliographien, Basel, Switzerland, especially Giorgio Miescher, Lorena
Rizzo, Patrick Harries and Dag Henrichson invited me to present some of the
arguments of the present book and encouraged me to think beyond borders
and boundaries. Similarly, I have made many friends in the Tsholora and
Mbhashe in the eastern Cape, amongst whom I wish to single out Kuzile Juza,
Sylvia Mahlala, Mda Mda, Nomathotho Njuqwana and Joe Savu. Mostly, the
residents who have won rights to the Dwesa Cwebe Reserve following a land
restitution process deserve my unconditional gratitude. I hope that our many
conversations, agreements and disagreements have helped to make sense of
the predicament of the rural eastern Cape.
This book is dedicated to Kiera Lalu. At the very least, I hope it
may serve to meaningfully account for my absence. As for answering her
searching question on whether this book will end up in a museum, we will
have to wait and see. It is also dedicated to Jaymathie Lalu, Hansa Lalloo, and
my father, Jayantilal Lalu, for all you have done and much, much more.

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Introduction: thinking ahead

Wherever colonisation is a fact, the indigenous culture begins to rot and among
the ruins something begins to be born which is condemned to exist on the margin
allowed it by the European culture.1
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Two years into the transition to democratic rule in South Africa, a

little-known healer–diviner, Nicholas Tilana Gcaleka, stumbled onto the
stage of history. On 29 February 1996, just over 160 years after the fateful
shooting of the Xhosa king, Hintsa, by British colonial forces on the banks of
the Nqabara River in the eastern Cape in southern Africa, local newspapers
reported widely on Nicholas Gcaleka’s return to South Africa with ‘Hintsa’s
skull’, which he had found in Scotland. Guided by a dream in which his
ancestors supposedly made an appearance in the form of a hurricane
spirit, Gcaleka had undertaken his mission with the hope that the return
of Hintsa’s skull would usher in an era of peace in a new democratic South
Africa. The rampant violence and corruption that plagued the new South
Africa, he proclaimed, was because the soul of Hintsa ‘was blowing all over
the world with no place to settle’.2
Judging from the responses to the alleged discovery of Hintsa’s skull,
it seemed highly unlikely that Gcaleka’s dream would be allowed to become a
reality. In newspaper accounts, some journalists used the opportunity offered
by the supposed discovery of Hintsa’s skull to cast light on the demand
for the repatriation of bodily remains taken in the period of European

colonisation more generally. The Irish Times noted that even ‘if Chief Gcaleka
is something of a showman, his search is part of a broader, more serious
movement [through which] indigenous people are increasingly clamoring
for the restoration of human relics removed from their country during the
colonial era’.3 Others resorted to descriptions, veiled in acerbic humour, of a
maverick power-hungry individual invoking a pre-modern register so as to
advance his own ambition and greed. Labelled ‘the chief of skullduggery’,
Gcaleka was accused of having a shrewd eye for publicity by his disgruntled
spokesperson, Robert Pringle, who went on to describe the mission to recover
Hintsa’s skull as a ‘hoax’. 4 The Mail & Guardian quoted Xhosa paramount
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Xoliliswe Sigcawu, who claimed that ‘the sangoma was a charlatan out
to make money and [a] reputation by playing on Xhosa sensitivities’.5 At a
meeting in Nqadu, Willowvale, in the eastern Cape in 2001, Sigcawu asked
the British High Commissioner to investigate how Gcaleka ‘had come to
possess a skull purportedly that of the late Xhosa hero, Chief Hintsa’.6
Mathatha Tsedu, then writing in the Cape Times, stressed Gcaleka’s lack
of success in proving the skull’s authenticity, although – as a member of
the fraternity of journalists – he wrote with a rare hint of sympathy for the
mission.7 Claiming that ‘the head of king Hintsa has been missing since it
was lopped off after he was killed resisting colonisation’, Tsedu added, ‘Chief
Nicholas Tilana Gcaleka has been waging a one-man war to trace the head
and bring it home for proper burial without success.’8
Gcaleka arrived back in South Africa amidst this far-reaching
public interest in his ancestral instruction. But once he set foot in South
Africa bearing a skull he claimed belonged to Hintsa, Sigcawu summoned
him to an imbizo (council) to establish the truth about his discovery. The
skull was confiscated,9 placed in the care of the police mortuary in Bisho,
King William’s Town, and subsequently handed over to GJ Knobel of the
department of forensic medicine at the University of Cape Town, VM Phillips
of the oral and dental teaching hospital at the University of Stellenbosch
and PV Tobias, the director of the Palaeo-Anthropology Research Unit at
the University of the Witwatersrand, for scientific investigation. In a press

2 the deaths of hintsa

release on 23 August 1996, the scientists commissioned to study the skull
concluded that:10
Although one could still argue that there is a remote possibility that
the skull could represent a male person with slight build and weak
musculature, and of mixed parentage, with a preponderance of
European features [Tobias], this skull belonged to a human female, of
European or Caucasoid descent, who at the time of death, was middle
aged. It can be stated, beyond reasonable doubt, that this skull is not
that of the late king Hintsa, who at the time of his death would have
been a middle-aged human male of unmixed African origin.11
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Quite clearly, the scientists who saw themselves as adjudicators in an

important matter of history were equipped with a rather dated vocabulary
of ‘race’ for talking about evidence. Even the deliberation of bare bones,
it seems from the pronouncements on the killing of Hintsa, had to be
enveloped in the primacy of skin. And as a consequence, a significant
incident in the colonial past was surrendered to the terms and categories
of a forensic procedure that reduced history to mere epidermal difference.
Matters, as it turns out, came to a head at the annual Anatomical Society of
Southern Africa Conference held at the University of Stellenbosch in 1997.
The scientists charged to study the skull submitted an abstract under the title
‘Hintsa’s Head or Phantom Skull?’ In it the authors note:
On 29 February, a Xhosa man, claiming to be a sangoma and calling
himself Chief Nicholas Gcaleka, disembarked at Port Elizabeth
airport with a cranium he had brought from Scotland. He had
apparently gone in quest of King Hintsa’s skull, guided, as he said,
by spirits which led him to Scotland. Holding the cranium aloft,
he pointed to a defect which he asserted was the mark of a bullet.
The legal representative of the Xhosa King and traditional leaders
disagreed, pointing out that the skull had disintegrated when Hintsa
was shot. . .The cranium was subsequently examined by VMP [VM
Phillips] and GJL [GJ Louw]. Both noted that, in respect of racially

Introduction: thinking ahead 3

and sexually diagnostic features, the findings were equivocal. They
detected no convincing features such as would have been expected in
a male person of indisputably African origin.12

Leaving aside for a moment the diagnostic procedures that ultimately

define ‘a Xhosa man’, the findings of the investigation into the skull
were presented to an auditorium made up of members of the scientific
community. Unbeknown to the participants, Nicholas Gcaleka had infiltrated
the meeting, like a phantom, where, according to newspaper reports, he
was treated to the chastisement of a scientific fraternity gathered under
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the banner of ‘Anatomy in Transition’. Demanding the return of his skull,

Gcaleka identified himself as the person who was being ridiculed and added
that he had no faith that the scientists commissioned to study the skull had
any interest in the ancestors of the Xhosa.
If Gcaleka was overstating the point, it was only because the
scientists recalled historical narrations of Hintsa’s death without explicitly
suggesting how the contestations and doubts surrounding these affected
their investigations. Knobel et al. cited ‘varied reports, [in which] it has been
claimed that the fatal short [sic] shattered Hintsa’s head, scattering his brain
and skull fragments, that [the shot] blew off the top of his head and that it
was apparently common practice for soldiers to decapitate victims and take
the heads as trophies’.13 The forensic procedure had to be supplemented by
historical evidence about the killing of Hintsa, but no indication either of the
source of the ‘reports’ or their claims to authority was required. As we shall
see, all these reports came from colonial officials who were implicated in the
killing of Hintsa.
It was not entirely coincidental that Gcaleka should be confronted
by the demand for forensic and historical evidence. The combination of the
two was in the process of being tested at the time in relation to the Truth
and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC was officially established
by the postapartheid 14 state to investigate and account for gross human
rights violations under apartheid. Initially, Nicholas Gcaleka’s quest was not

4 the deaths of hintsa

altogether out of place in an environment where the return and excavation
of dismembered bodies became a major national preoccupation through
the TRC process. It was not surprising that the dismembered bodies of the
colonial past were being recalled alongside the deliberations of the TRC.15
However, Gcaleka’s quest had, perhaps unintentionally, brought
the very foundational concepts of truth and reconciliation, upon which
the TRC process rested, into question by recalling an unresolved historical
controversy from the nineteenth century. While his lie was easily dismissed
in the public debates following his return to South Africa because it was
not forensically and historically verifiable, it proved more difficult to grasp
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the implications of his search for Hintsa’s skull. At one level, we might find
in Gcaleka’s lie more of the constellation of the regime of truth, and how it
functions, than is proclaimed through the juridical foundations of the TRC
itself. Luise White has proposed that lies, like secrets, are socially negotiated
realms of information.16 Good lies, she argues, are crafted, they have to be
negotiated with a specific audience, and they have to be made to stick – a lie,
a cover story, not only camouflages but explains. Lies, in this formulation, are
about excess that demands, inter alia, revised strategies of reading, different
from those that historians are accustomed to. For White, lies are not merely
inventions, but fabrications that rest at the very heart of society and its
histories. The intersection of lies and social life is, we may argue, one way of
perceiving of a narrative dimension that is central to the work of history. To
simply recognise lies as a condition of life is to neglect the structure of the
presumed lie that is so crucial to the functioning of social worlds. In other
words, it is to ignore the ways in which lies overlap with regimes of truth or,
more importantly, how regimes of truth are lodged in the articulation of what
are ultimately considered lies.
At another level, the allegations of the lie simply put into greater
doubt the very effects of a regime of truth which, while being mobilised to a
presumably noble end of national reconciliation, offered little hope of settling
the outstanding questions about the colonial past. In speaking of colonialism
I am aligning the concept with a suggestion by Nicholas Dirks, who argues

Introduction: thinking ahead 5

that colonialism is an important subject in its own right and a metaphor for
the subtle relationship between power and knowledge, culture and control.17
Rather than approaching colonialism in purely historicist terms as an
essential and necessary development, colonialism in Dirks’s view not only
had cultural effects too often ignored or displaced into the inexorable logics
of modernisation and world capitalism, but it was also a cultural project of
control.18 By focusing on the moral outrage against the lie, and by reducing
the basis of judgement to the fact that he lied, no one seemed to inquire
into whether raising the question of colonialism as integral to the search for
reconciliation constituted a valid historical pursuit.
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The point is perhaps rendered clearer if we remind ourselves of

responses to Gcaleka, who dared to speak what many considered to be a
lie in a period when South Africa’s democratic transition was increasingly
being defined by the terms of truth central to the work of the TRC. The TRC’s
concept of truth was entirely drawn from a juridical discourse that limited
the functions of truth to testimony and confession.19 The notion of gross
human rights violations therefore limited the scope of the investigations
of violence. In relation to the elevation of judicial and scientific concepts of
truth that assumed prominence in the TRC’s inquiry into gross human rights
violations under apartheid, Gcaleka was readily dismissed as a fraud and an
egotistical liar. The forensic evidence supported this conclusion, and Gcaleka
seemed to be making the error of conflating truth and reconciliation. His
claims were therefore easily relegated to the realms of fantasy and fraud.
The healer–diviner from the town of Butterworth in the eastern Cape was
laughed at because his fantasy was not one that fell within the rules of
the true instituted by, for example, the human rights violation inquiry of
the TRC.20
While Nicholas Gcaleka operated outside of the parameters of
the rules of the true, he nevertheless touched a raw nerve by invoking
the nineteenth-century story of the killing of Hintsa. Neither notions of
truth (in relation to the commission of inquiry into his death in 1836) nor
reconciliation (in relation to accusations that he was beheaded) applied to

6 the deaths of hintsa

the story of the killing of Hintsa in 1835. Gcaleka’s invocation of the colonial
past perhaps unwittingly called into question the dominant concepts of
history that were at work in the TRC, because it articulated the possibility
that the regime of truth functioned in accordance with modes of evidence
that regarded the archive as merely a storehouse of documents and not
an apparatus that produced and reproduced forms of subjection. The key
question was: how could a form of evidence once used to cover up acts
of violence be depended on to offer us an escape from the violence of the
apartheid past?
Nicholas Gcaleka’s fate depended as much on the coincidence
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between a regime of truth and the modes of evidence of the archive as it

did on the judgements rendered about his personality. Much was made
in the press of the fees he charged for interviews. He was widely accused
of fabricating history by distorting the account of Hintsa’s death for the
purposes of self-enrichment. The accusation of distortion, however, was
based on the very colonial record of the killing that had been doubted for
more than a century in South Africa. Indeed, the historian Jeff Peires refers
to the commission of inquiry into Hintsa’s death as a cover-up on the part
of colonial officials.21 Lost in the denunciations were the very traces of the
contestations that lie at the heart of South African history. At the height of
a moment of political transition endowed with historic achievement and
significance, there could be no room for doubt. The introduction of the
story of the killing of Hintsa was treated as a mere distraction in the overall
objectives of transition – from the apartheid to the postapartheid state – that
the TRC was instituted to oversee.

Hintsa, Gcaleka and history after apartheid

The quest for Hintsa’s head not only called into question the categories by
which the TRC functioned, but also seemed to inadvertently short-circuit
a discussion amongst South African historians after 1994 about the crisis
in history.22 This crisis has been variously represented as a drop in student

Introduction: thinking ahead 7

interest in the discipline, the disconnection between the economic demands
of the present versus the critical assessments of the past, and the forward-
looking imperatives of postapartheid South Africa. Gcaleka’s search for
evidence of South Africa’s colonial past, perhaps unwittingly, put a new
twist on the historians’ debate. His search for Hintsa’s skull enabled a
different question: what difference, if any, might the discourse of history
make in unravelling the legacies of authoritarianism? This problem arose
even as the political claims about narrating the present strategically, at
times selectively, reclaimed history in order to extract some meaning of
a nascent postapartheid society. History, it seems, was ever-present as a
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resource for determining which configurations of political struggle would

prevail as national historical narrative. But the appropriation of history to
re-envisioning nation and identity tended to emphasise, rather than displace,
the disciplinary reason that was the very modus operandi of apartheid. The
commitment to establishing alternative histories to apartheid was burdened
by the tendency to recycle well-worn modes of disciplinary inquiry (as if
these were neutral and timeless) in the interests of making a break from a
hideously violent and offensive past. What remained unclear, however, was
whether the task of re-narrating pasts could be effectively pursued through
the discourse of history. Was it, in other words, possible to elaborate a
concept of the postapartheid as a distinct ethico-political displacement of a
prior violence by way of the discourse of history?
Amidst the laughter and ridicule that surrounded Nicholas Gcaleka
in South Africa and in London, in academic conferences and township
meetings, the implication of history’s critical function in relation to
apartheid’s pasts was burdened by a nagging sense that history’s discourse
may offer little opportunity for thinking ahead. In a rare moment, replete
with public pronouncements about ‘miraculous social transformation’, a
healer–diviner brought an encounter between the colonial past and the
postapartheid present to the fore, in which it became not only possible but
imperative to inquire into history’s relation to the exercise of power. His
fate would be decided by the answer to that question. It is, I would argue,

8 the deaths of hintsa

necessary that the fate that awaited Gcaleka, as he recounted the story of the
killing of Hintsa, be tackled head on. Where there is mocking laughter there
is reason to suspect that a regime of truth is at work.
This book traces the effects of a regime of truth founded upon
colonial modes of evidence that engulfed two subjects who failed to make the
cut of history: a king who at the prime of his rule was killed and mutilated
by British forces in the early nineteenth century and a healer–diviner
who, towards the end of the twentieth century, two years into the birth
of a postapartheid democracy, recalled that king’s alleged decapitation.
Surrounding the king’s death in 1835, and the healer–diviner’s mission in
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1996, are lies alongside truths and histories presented as unproblematic

narratives of change. Beyond the specificities of the coincidence, this book
explores the role of history so that a postapartheid future need not fall back
on the very subjective strategies that marked the excessive disciplinary
violence of a highly racialised and stratified system of oppression. It clears
the ground for thinking ahead, after apartheid, through a series of reversals
and displacements of the techniques of subject formation generic to the
colonial archive and its modes of evidence. For this I propose that we allow
the misfits of the text 23 to lead the way – without, I should add, too much
expectation of where they might lead us.
The Deaths of Hintsa brings together two related themes. At one
level it brings the laughter surrounding Gcaleka’s mission to retrieve
Hintsa’s skull to bear on an investigation of the modes of evidence of the
colonial archive, so as to better understand the relationship between history
and power specific to the archive. Rather than join the frenzy of public
denouncement and ridicule, I wish to take seriously Gcaleka’s implicit
provocation that while the foundations of a postapartheid society were
being laid, the critique of apartheid’s colonial past was found wanting. The
deliberations surrounding Hintsa’s skull, specifically, provide us with an
opportunity for mulling over the proliferation of signs at a time, not too long
ago, when Nicholas Tilana Gcaleka encountered the history of colonialism.
In the turbulence that followed the encounter, he was not, as many suspect,

Introduction: thinking ahead 9

excluded from participating in history but perhaps unwittingly caught up
in the event of history, that is, in the enunciative modalities of history that
defined the difference between what could be said and what was actually said
about the killing of Hintsa. Rather than merely identifying an exclusion from
a regime of truth, this book asks how Nicholas Gcaleka, instead of being
regarded as a historian who had travelled far and wide in search of evidence
into the killing of Hintsa, became the object of the very discourse of history
that he had helped and hoped, in part, to articulate. It addresses that question
by returning to the archival fate that awaited Hintsa after he was killed on
the banks of the Nqabara River in 1835.
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At another level it examines how the transition from apartheid to

postapartheid bypassed the colonial archive and therefore failed to anticipate
the resilience of its modes of evidence. If history was given any role in
adjudicating in the matter of Nicholas Gcaleka, it was not to inquire into
the question of the meaning of colonialism, but rather to put Gcaleka in his
place, so to speak. By returning to South Africa, bearing evidence in the
form of the skull, the healer–diviner unwittingly solicited responses from
within a discourse of history, organised around competing constructions of
colonialism and anti-colonial nationalism, in which the culpability for the
killing of Hintsa was far from being settled. Overcoming apartheid required
coming to terms not only with the effects of history, but with the discourse of
history itself.

Evidence and imagination in narratives of the killing of Hintsa

As a specific field of intelligibility, South African history, insofar as it might be

viewed as a coherent research community, targeted and functioned in relation
to regulatory environments that we might call regimes of truth. Even the
most left-wing historiography turned to the archive to sustain its arguments,
and established its legitimacy via the protocols of proof and evidence. Along
the way it tended to elide the function of the imaginary structure – or what
Michel de Certeau calls ‘the historiographical operation’24 – that was, and is,

10 the deaths of hintsa

intrinsic to the discourse of history. The imaginary structure here does not
refer to the unreal but rather to that constitutive part of discourse resulting in
a crystallisation of a set of exchanges that, if left unchecked, would prevent
questioning the reality effect of a discipline like history. To look into that
crystal is to envisage how disciplines, which strive to achieve a reality effect,
end up producing a subaltern effect that reveals a fundamental continuity in
the functions of history as a statist discourse. As a consequence, the discourse
of history in South Africa frequently slips into regulatory systems that govern
the emergence of normative statements.
This is precisely the double bind in which Gcaleka arguably found
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himself. While the search for evidence was insufficient to meet the
expectations of history, his evoking of dreams and imagination was seen
as equally deficient in laying claim to reliably participating in the discourse
of history.25 Taken together, this was seemingly sufficient reason for his
disqualification. To simply cast Gcaleka aside for failing the rules of a regime
of truth, either in terms of the rules of evidence or in terms of recourse to
the imaginary structure, is to ignore how his quest foregrounds the work
of the imaginary structure in the discourse of history. After all, history,
as Hayden White has shown, necessarily relies on an imaginary structure
in the construction of its narratives.26 In history, the imaginary structure
is a necessary and complementary aspect of discourse. If we follow the
lead of De Certeau,27 we might say that the imaginary structure is not, as
White suggests, merely a structural condition of history, but ‘a restless
seeking after the self in the present underpinning the discourse of history’.
The disqualification of Gcaleka on the grounds of resorting to imaginary
structure thus thwarted a more sustained reflection on how history as a
discourse suppresses the function of the conditions of narrativity in its
discourse. Gcaleka, perhaps surreptitiously, renders the distinction between
evidence and imagination, or history and historiography, inoperable by
revealing their imbrications in the modes of evidence of the colonial archive.
This inoperability of a key distinction in historical discourse is a
recurrent theme in narratives on the killing of Hintsa. Consider, for example,

Introduction: thinking ahead 11

two slightly discrepant descriptions of Hintsa – and of the so-called cattle-
killing episode of 1856–57 – offered by Jeff Peires in his history The Dead
will Arise and Zakes Mda in his novel The Heart of Redness. Although Mda’s
novel draws extensively on Peires’s research as it sets out to explore the
cattle killing, it is infused in contemporary debates about rural development
and fictionalised around tourist development in Qolora, the setting of
Nongqawuse’s suicidal prophecy. Peires’s description of Hintsa’s death is
echoed in Mda’s text with slight but significant adjustment. Shortly before
telling us that Sarhili did not wish to invite upon himself the fate meted out
to his father, Hintsa, due to inaction, Peires recalls how:
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Sarhili [could not] forget that terrible day more than twenty years
previously (April 1835) when he had accompanied his father Hintsa
as he rode proudly into the camp of Governor D’Urban. Hintsa was
given assurances of his personal safety, but he was never to leave the
camp alive. D’Urban disarmed Hintsa’s retinue, placed the king under
heavy guard and threatened to hang him from the nearest tree. Hintsa
was held hostage for a ransom of 25 000 cattle and 500 horses, ‘war
damages’ owed to the colony. He tried to escape but was shot down,
and after he was dead his ears were cut off as military souvenirs.28

In adhering to the broad outlines of Peires’s account of the cattle killing, Mda
offers the following account of the circumstances in which Hintsa was killed.
Narrating the unfolding drama of the cattle killing, Mda reminds us of the
chasm between the administrative burden of the colonial archive and the
demands of anti-colonial memory:
The Otherworld where the ancestors lived had been caressed by the
shadow of King Hintsa. Even though almost twenty years had passed
since King Hintsa had been brutally murdered in 1835 by Governor Sir
Benjamin D’Urban, the amaXhosa people still remembered him with
great love. They had not forgotten how D’Urban had invited the king
to a meeting, promising him that he would be safe, only to cut his
ears as souvenirs and ship his head to Britain.29

12 the deaths of hintsa

The charge of murder in this narrative revision replaces the agency of
escaping, D’Urban is made responsible for the shooting rather than George
Southey whom the colonial archive identifies as having fired the shot and,
not only was the body mutilated but, according to Mda, the head was also
shipped to Britain. As the subjects of history emerge in the respective
narratives, the event of history recalls the difference between what can be
said and what is actually said about the killing of Hintsa, the historical
difference, that is, between history as a system of subjection, and history as a
system of production. Herein, I wish to argue, lies the fate, and perhaps the
salvation, of Nicholas Gcaleka.
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This is not to suggest that the poetic necessarily represents an

alternative to the colonising predicament of the archive. Rather than
subsuming the killing of Hintsa into a temporal context of colonial
conquest that can be adjudicated by way of methodological feat or by poetic
reinscription, which seemingly permits a perspective unfettered by the
archive, I wish to argue that the contested alignment of evidence, poetics and
the recovery of subjectivity in the narration of history posits an epistemic
limit in conceptualising a history after apartheid. That problem may be
discerned in what I am calling the fabrication of historical subjectivity –
the process by which the subject is necessarily cast as the very object of
historical discourse.

Raising the stakes in critiques of apartheid

The story of the killing of Hintsa cannot be told without blurring the
distinction between history and historiography. This is the premise of this
book, which endeavours to connect the modes of evidence of the colonial
archive with the imaginary structure that underlies its narrative possibilities.
In delineating the indistinction of the two in the story of the killing of
Hintsa, I hope also to outline a way to connect history and historiography so
as to activate a postcolonial critique of apartheid that would enable possible
new directions in the rewriting of South African history.

Introduction: thinking ahead 13

Nicholas Gcaleka’s mission was one instance where the writing
of South African history was opened up for deliberation. Gcaleka’s quest
brought to the fore the question of the killing of Hintsa in the nineteenth
century, which paradoxically led to his very own entanglement in the modes
of evidence of the colonial archive. It also had the unintended consequence
of generating a discussion about the rewriting of South African history after
apartheid. For example, the search for Hintsa’s skull was the inspiration
behind a lecture on the rewriting of South African history by eminent social
historian Shula Marks in Britain in 1996.30 Marks approached the topic of
the rewriting of South African history by discussing the recent retrieval
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of a skull – alleged to belong to Hintsa – by the healer–diviner Nicholas

Tilana Gcaleka. In a bid to interpret the quest for the skull and in light of the
failure to prove the skull’s authenticity once discovered, Marks declared that
Gcaleka was a man of his time.31 By this Marks meant that Gcaleka served as
evidence of an identity that mediates the economic difficulties accompanying
unfulfilled political promises in the post-apartheid period – the agent that
mediates, and perhaps represents, a social reality. Now a double victim of his
own truth game, Gcaleka was to be mobilised against the postmodernists
and postcolonialists – themselves agents supposedly seeking to undermine
the sacred domains of disciplinary history – as a sign of the legitimacy of
what Marks calls materialist history.
Mike Nicol similarly sees Nicholas Gcaleka as adding to the modern
noise of late capitalism by making claims on shaky historical foundations.
Ciraj Rassool, Gary Minkley and Leslie Witz all refer to the difficulty that
Gcaleka poses for social history when the evidence of human remains does
not fit the requirements of histories of social change. As Gcaleka slipped
into his new representative role as a sign of the times, he came to mark the
postapartheid present as an imperfect tense. In each case, I suggest, Gcaleka
must be seen to be creating the space for thinking about history’s relation
to power.
But Gcaleka simply did not seem to fit the roles ascribed to him from
high above. The misfit of the text often wreaks havoc with the prescriptions

14 the deaths of hintsa

of discipline, sometimes exceeding expectations and at others falling
hopelessly short thereof. If Gcaleka is indeed to offer a different reading
of the South African past, and help in unravelling the hegemony of the
colonial archive, then we might revalue his position in terms of the potential
ascribed to the subaltern subject in tandem with elevating the theme of
postcolonialism, discernible in earlier critiques of apartheid. To resurrect this
latent postcolonial theme is to ask that we attend to the colonial hangover in
the constitution of the subject of history. Any attempt to forge a history after
apartheid would in my view need to attend to the strands of postcolonialism
as a way to make explicit the relations between disciplinary knowledge and
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power. In the long run such an approach may help us better comprehend the
formation of subjectivity in South African history.
Today, in the aftermath of apartheid’s legal dissolution, it is also
necessary to reformulate the meaning of apartheid given the seemingly
entrenched legacies of authoritarianism that seem to persist in South African
society. The postcolonial critique of apartheid is a continuation of a strand
of critique that derives from a critical engagement with the intellectual
inheritance of Marxist scholarship of the 1970s, which investigated the
structural conditions of apartheid. The scholarship of the 1970s, especially
the formative debate involving Martin Legassick and Harold Wolpe, helped
to activate a revisionist understanding of race and class and to pave the
way for the agency rooted in the black experience of rural dispossession
and urban labour.32 The critique of apartheid, influenced to some extent
by the growth of underdevelopment theories, forged in the context of Latin
America, resulted in an analysis in which the concepts of race and class
critically interrupted each other. However, these arguments were later
appropriated into the narratives of the Cold War and resistance to apartheid
in South Africa, tending in the process to become somewhat fixed in
their meaning.33 One reason for this is, perhaps, that, in the discourses of
liberation movements, the notions of race and class became increasingly
regulated through programmatic statements such as ‘colonialism of a special
type’, which became the basis of analyses of apartheid within the African

Introduction: thinking ahead 15

National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP)
after 1962.34 Given the imbrication of concepts of race and class and also the
need to propose a concept of apartheid that allows us to properly formulate
a deeper meaning of the postapartheid, we may have to embark on what I
call a postcolonial critique of apartheid. This will require us to dehistoricise
the history of race and class by dissolving nostalgic formulations of
agency embedded in the willing subject, thereby enabling a relocation of
agency in the activating dynamic of discipline through which the subject
of contemporary politics is seemingly inaugurated.35 Most importantly, a
postcolonial critique of apartheid will ask whether the discourse of history
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is capable of initiating a different ethical relation to Nicholas Gcaleka by

contesting historicist formulations of colonialism.
The term ‘postcolonial’ perhaps invites us to explore the conditions
under which the colonised subject, even after the advent of anti-colonial
nationalism and, one might say, after the dissolution of legalised apartheid,
is returned to the position of subaltern. The term has gained such currency
in contemporary Africa as a designation of mere temporal distinction with
colonialism (a usage with which I remain uncomfortable) that its precise
deployment in respect of the interlocking stories of Gcaleka and Hintsa is in
need of elaboration. In my reading, the postcolonial offers a critical model of
disciplinarity that supplements the unravelling of apartheid in terms of race
and class. In a crudely composite sense, the term ‘postcolonial’ ultimately
leads us to a critical concept of the subjection of agency which brackets
nostalgic concepts of agency to one that takes seriously its disciplinary
conditions of possibility.
Occasionally, the term ‘postcolonial’ is greeted with some scepticism
amongst scholars whose arguments fall within the epistemic frameworks
staked out by an emergent but earlier critique of the underdevelopment
wrought by late capitalism. Largely basing their disagreements on a
temporal understanding of the postcolonial as temporally post-colonial,
Anne McClintock, Ella Shohat and Arif Dirlik, among others, early on
expressed wariness about the concept, which they believed proved inadequate

16 the deaths of hintsa

in confronting the effects of globalisation.36 At times the argument about
the term’s imprecision held that its targets were misplaced and that there
was scant regard for the post-colonial impulse of the 1970s that addressed
the problem of the development of underdevelopment accompanying late
capitalism. Dirlik in particular was concerned that the post-colonial was
needlessly underestimating the category of class and the mechanism of
capital in manufacturing its most recent installation in globalisation. For
Dirlik, the post-colonial grossly underplays capitalism’s structuring of the
modern world. McClintock, Shohat and also, in a slightly different polemic,
Aijaz Ahmad37 were concerned that the term ‘post-colonial’ unnecessarily
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abandoned the resources of history and yet-to-be-exhausted political

projects with which to confront globalisation. Together they bemoaned the
depoliticising effects of the post-colonial. Ahmad, for his part, entered into
a vitriolic critique of the post-colonial as a consequence of the first world
location of its intellectuals, amongst whom he singled out Edward Said.
Judging from Stuart Hall’s incisive reworking of the idea of the
postcolonial as an invitation to think at the limit, these problematisations of
the term by McClintock, Shohat and Dirlik were not without consequence.38
Hall, for example, takes Dirlik’s comments about the absence of any talk of
capitalism in the work of postcolonial scholars seriously, agreeing that the
elision is remarkable, but finds the subsequent conflation of postcoloniality
and late capitalism troubling, if not stunningly reductionist to material
context. For Hall, the rise of postcolonial criticism might more usefully be
seen as an ally in tackling the linear unidirectional narrative of globalisation
by posting ‘a critical interruption into that whole grand historiographical
narrative’.39 It therefore serves as a counterpoint to the history of globalisation
and its accompanying claim of a common humanity by revealing the
inheritance of the violent effects of a colonial modernity. In the process the
postcolonial also breaks down the inside/outside of the colonial system on
which, according to Hall, histories of imperialism have thrived. What I find
most enabling about Hall’s critique of McClintock, Shohat and Dirlik is his
insistence on the further problematisation and intensification of the term

Introduction: thinking ahead 17

‘postcolonial’ if it is to serve as a strategy to harness the discontents with
globalisation to political ends. It is not therefore surprising that he should
approach the postcolonial as an episteme in the making. If the postcolonial
is to serve as accomplice in constructing a history after apartheid by
constituting a different ethical and political relation to the subject, it would
prove necessary to forego a reliance on the temporal structure that separates
history and historiography.
Perhaps the best-known effort to test the implications of postcolonial
critique is that produced by the Subaltern Studies Collective (SSC) in South
Asia. The rise of the figure of the subaltern – a subject that is always also out
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of synch with the empty homogenous time of capital – has contributed to

unfolding a strategy of parabasis – being outside while at once inside the play
or argument of history. By putting the subaltern into play in the discourse of
history, SSC has also realigned the principal disciplinary distinction between
history and historiography that defines the historian’s craft. In so doing, it
has called into question unilinear temporal theories of change that dominate
the discourse of history and the political effects of the specific histories they
give rise to.
Let me draw out the productivity of the exchange more carefully so
as to emphasise its potential in working towards an epistemic rupture. It
is possible to discern in SSC not only an argument with British liberalism
in India but also a fundamental disagreement with Marx’s famous essay,
‘On Imperialism in India’, 40 in which he proposed that colonialism was
a troublesome but necessary event in the history of capital. Ssc draws out
the inadequacies of nationalist responses to this narrative of change by
implicating its disciplinary forms in the very colonial violence that it sets out
to oppose. As I prefer to think of the work undertaken by the collective, it did
not merely follow Marx in turning Hegel’s inversion of things right side up,
on their feet, as in the famous metaphor for the dialectical challenge posed
by the young left Hegelians, but opted to inquire into the failed promise of
its spirit that prompted none other than Marx to explore the necessary stage
of colonialism in world history. SSC did not merely seek to react in opposition

18 the deaths of hintsa

to Hegel’s model, but called into question the limits of dialectical thinking.
Writing on Hegel’s attempt to shield world historical deeds from criticism,
Ranajit Guha, one of the originators of the project, notes:
Our critique, which stands at the limit of World-history, has no
compunction whatsoever in ignoring this advice [from Hegel].
From the point of view of those left out of World-history this advice
amounts to condoning precisely such ‘world historical deeds’ – the
rape of continents, the destruction of cultures, the poisoning of the
environment – as helped ‘the great men who [were] the individuals
of world history’ to build empires and trap their subject populations
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in what the pseudo-historical language of imperialism could describe

as Prehistory. 41

This, however, was not merely to write a social history from below; one that
was additive of those who were cast as Europe’s people without history. The
elaboration of the concept ‘subaltern’ exposed something of a categorical
crisis when history’s relation to power was specifically refracted through the
prism of postcolonial criticism. As such, the subaltern marked a necessary
limit in the composition of power. This, as Gyan Prakash notes, means that
subalternity erupts within the system of dominance and marks its limits
from within, that its externality to dominant systems of knowledge and
power surfaces inside the system of dominance, but only as an intimation,
as a trace of that which eludes the dominant discourse. 42 Even as a ruse of
dominance, as a sign internal to a system or an impossible inadequation
in a sign system, the term ‘subaltern’ nevertheless conveys a sense of
categorical distinction. If Prakash’s formulation echoes my own reading of
Gcaleka, there is still some need to explain the shift proposed by subaltern
studies from the recuperative project surrounding the preordained subject
of history to a reading of the traces of subalternity in hegemonic discourses.
The question, it seems, is equally one about the concepts of difference that
subaltern studies entertains and whether these might help to activate a
postcolonial critique of apartheid.

Introduction: thinking ahead 19

In Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s argument about representation
and the subaltern in the essay ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ a strategic use
of essentialism in a politically scrupulous programme simultaneously
highlights the limits of identity politics in an environment overdetermined
by the interplay of disciplinary power and reason. 43 The operative phrase –
politically scrupulous programme – is of course crucial because in the
attempt to recover the subjectivity named by the place-keeper ‘subaltern’,
the historian invariably encounters the limits and complicities of her own
apparatus of reading. In the case of colonial India and its independence
struggle, that apparatus was deeply imbued with the shades of nationalism
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and Marxism, each promising a future that transcended a violent past but
becoming increasingly embroiled in the prescriptions of the Cold War. In
the SSC, the subaltern is inserted into the logic of these grand narratives, not
because it can be featured as an exemplar of historical consciousness, but
because it enables an investigation of the anatomy of failure to complete the
critique of colonialism in the discourses of nationalism and Marxism.
The work undertaken in the name of the SSC, itself a considerably
diverse research agenda bound together by a broad postcolonial intellectual
commitment, has resulted, in at least one sense, in a critical deconstruction
of historiography – both nationalist and Marxist. In the promise of transition
from colonial rule, the figure of the subaltern stood, hyperbolically perhaps,
as a demographic differential, to use Guha’s term, that interrupted the flows
of historiographical modalities of social change. If indeed that phrase has
proved successful in calling attention to failed promises, I want to argue that,
in a peculiar if not ironic sense, apartheid too could be seen as an instance
of demographic difference, especially if we consider its legislative tyranny of
separate development.
Yet, there is something more poignant than the reminder of
apartheid’s decree in the arguments of the SSC, especially in its attempt
to question the theories of change presented by nationalist and Marxist
historiography in respect of those whose consciousness needed to be
translated into respective metafictions. More crucial is the way in which the

20 the deaths of hintsa

SSC helps us to think of how nationalism resonates with the universalising
narrative of Marxism. Perhaps one way to name that productivity is through
the more deconstructive edge of the collective, which annotates its own
failure in recovering subaltern agency even as it makes possible a critique
of theories of change. The subaltern, to rephrase the collective’s initial
strategies, was always also placed under erasure as a result of the operation of
regimes of truth. As a consequence the project, for all intents and purposes,
is better understood as one aimed at deconstructing historiography. Dipesh
Chakrabarty provides us with a useful summary of how these strands came
together in the work of subaltern studies in India:
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With hindsight, it can be said that there were three broad areas
in which Subaltern Studies differed from the history-from-below
approach of Hobsbawm or Thompson (allowing for differences
between these two eminent historians of England and Europe).
Subaltern historiography necessarily entailed a relative separation
of the history of power from any universalist histories of capital,
a critique of the nation form, and an interrogation of the relation
between power and knowledge (hence of the archive itself and of
history as a form of knowledge). In these differences, I would argue,
lay the beginnings of a new way of theorizing the intellectual agenda
for postcolonial histories. 44

My engagement with the SSC is premised not so much on its notion of the
subaltern as demographic differential but rather on its interruptive strategy
for reading, as I have already suggested, the theories of change. I am not
necessarily interested in comparative histories in the social scientific sense
of that term or in the use of the term ‘subaltern’ to denote yet another subject
category in the pantheon of multiculturalism. I do not feel that the term
‘subaltern’ should limit us to a sense of categorical distinction. Mine is a
more selective advancement of the project of the SSC which stages an inquiry
about the theory of change in the transition from apartheid to postapartheid
South Africa, and allows us, as Hall would have it, to intensify postcolonial

Introduction: thinking ahead 21

criticism. 45 If histories of change are conventionally believed to be marked
by historiographical presuppositions, what specific theory of change guides
the shift towards the onset of the postapartheid? My own contribution to the
discourse of the SSC is to show how history works to put the subaltern in his
or her place by recourse to the modes of evidence that constitute the colonial
archive while offering the SSC some recourse to the watchword of apartheid.
The intellectual programme charted by the SSC serves as a strategic
interlocutor because it expands the sense of the critical work of history
in productive and consequential ways. The SSC, especially its more
deconstructive tendencies, has highlighted the discrepancy between the
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philosophical critique of humanism and the historical discourse on the

representation of the postcolonial subject. Recall here Frantz Fanon’s
rhetorical question which succinctly articulates the point I wish to
emphasise: ‘What is this Europe where they are never done talking about
man but go about killing men everywhere?’46 The resultant impasse, we
might say, that activates the programme of the SSC is aligned with the
critique of humanism that permeates the interventions of Fanon both
in terms of the problem of subject constitution and the irreducibility of
colonised subject in the discourse of Europe.
The dialogue with the SSC is aimed at unravelling the crisis of history
in a manner that clears the ground for the arrival of a postapartheid future.
By ‘postapartheid future’ I mean not only that legal rearrangement of society
that signifies a period after apartheid but also a discourse that activates a very
precise formulation of the postcolonial, which this book helps to elaborate.
What enables the dialogue, I believe, is the manner in which the term
‘subaltern’ indirectly allows for a conceptual correlation between subaltern
agency and the constraints of identity politics represented by apartheid.
This double bind of agency and constraint is consummately recorded in
the phrase ‘subjection of agency’ which, according to John Mowitt, opposes
notions of agency that lay claim to the will of the agent rather than viewing
the formation of the subject’s agency as a product of a long-drawn-out
discursive event. 47 If we are to think of this in relation to the position of

22 the deaths of hintsa

Nicholas Gcaleka’s quest for Hintsa’s skull, we might say that not making the
cut of history is the point at which the long-drawn-out collusion of archive
and history is revealed. Why the insistence of combining the term ‘subaltern’
with Mowitt’s formulation of the subjection of agency? Because, I argue, it
allows for distance between those forms of narration which seek to recover
subaltern agency at the expense of attending to how the reinscription of
the subject into the discourse of history produces repetition, not difference.
Coupled with the phrase ‘subjection of agency’, subaltern studies may be
thought of less as a project of recovery than of tracking subaltern effects
in discourse.
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To mark the important distinction that I am belabouring, it may

help to place the terms ‘subjection of agency’ and ‘subaltern’ alongside
the cryptic notion of ‘lines of flight’ that permeates the work of Gilles
Deleuze and Felix Guattari. They suggest that the line of flight ‘is a sort of
delirium’ not unlike that which marks the predicament of postcoloniality
and the effort to invalidate the binaries forged under the aegis of colonial
decree. 48 Underscoring a distinction between line of flight and escape,
Deleuze provides a qualification that we would do well to entertain if we
are to reformulate the productivity of the term ‘subaltern’ in the interests of
developing a postcolonial critique of apartheid:
even when a distinction is drawn between the flight and the voyage,
the flight still remains an ambiguous operation. What is it which tells
us that, on a line of flight, we will not rediscover everything we are
fleeing? In fleeing fascism, we rediscover fascist coagulations on the
line of flight. In fleeing everything, how can we avoid reconstituting
both our country of origin and our formation of power, our
intoxicants, our psychoanalyses and our mommies and daddies? How
can one avoid the line of flight’s becoming identical with a pure and
simple movement of self-destruction. . .? 49

Lines of flight allow us to relocate the force of agency in the very conditions
of constraint to which it is ultimately bound. It sheds light on the specific

Introduction: thinking ahead 23

relation between subalternity and subjection of agency so as to establish the
conditions for deliberating new meanings for postcolonial difference. One
way to proceed, it seems, is to understand apartheid’s relation to colonial
violence and its archive anew, in terms of the subjection of agency and its
related subaltern effects.
If the colonial archive not only preceded apartheid but defined it
discursively as a system of modernist tyranny, if it is the source of organising
the subjection of agency, then the question that this book poses is: how does
one establish a line of flight not only from the violence of colonialism, but
also from the tendency for the archive to regulate much of what can be said
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in its wake? Far from being akin to a superstructure, though, the colonial
archive is a reminder of the possibilities of power to code every emergent
relation in society, even the resistance to that power that I too ultimately seek
to establish through the process of writing this book.50
As theories of underdevelopment increasingly seeped into analyses
of apartheid through Marxist scholarship in the 1970s and 1980s, a more
discreet strand of postcolonial criticism inaugurated in part by the work
of Bernard Cohn and Edward Said simultaneously, but independently
of specifically Marxist framings, drew attention to the vast networks of
knowledge by which the colonial project created the conditions for the
exercise of power.51 That the critique of apartheid as a recognisable social
formation opted out of pursuing this latter postcolonial trajectory seems to
have stunted the possibilities of intensifying the critique of apartheid, in
ways that tackled the disciplinary conditions of apartheid’s exercise of power.
Taken together, Cohn and Said placed before us a radical revision of
the analysis presented in Michel Foucault’s Order of Things and Archeology
of Knowledge;52 theirs was not merely an echo of the trajectory charted in
Foucault’s early work. Their arguments on the making of the Orient as an
object of knowledge tended to diminish the distance between epistemic
formation (the arrangement in an episteme of rational elements and other
elements that are not rational) and discursive formation (the regularisation
of statements expressed through their positivity). Accordingly, Foucault’s

24 the deaths of hintsa

description of the classical, renaissance or modern episteme was propped
up by the vast edifice of Europe’s expansionist project.53 What Said in
particular achieved in his Orientalism, published in 1978, was to intensify the
implications of Foucault’s analysis of epistemes and discursive formations by
establishing a more definite connection between the disciplinary power and
the rise of academic disciplines. The resultant sense of disciplinary reason
which Foucault himself would uncover in his Discipline and Punish challenged
the very colonial logic and premise of the formation of the human sciences.54
The implicit argument of Orientalism, as I see it, is that any effort to oversee
the birth of the postcolonial must be accompanied by a commensurate rupture
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in the systems of knowledge that established the conditions of possibility

of colonialism in the first place. In returning to the themes developed in
Orientalism some years later, Said articulated this aspect of his quest in which
he situated his own return to the theme of humanism and the problem of a
universalising historicism:
Along with the greater capacity for dealing with – in Ernst Bloch’s
phrase – the non-synchronous experiences of Europe’s Other
has gone a fairly uniform avoidance of the relationship between
European imperialism and these variously constituted and articulated
knowledges. What has never taken place is an epistemological critique
of the connection between the development of a historicism which has
expanded and developed enough to include antithetical attitudes such as
ideologies of western imperialism and critiques of imperialism, on the one
hand, and, on the other, the actual practice of imperialism by which the
accumulation of territories and population, the control of economies, and
the incorporation and the homogenization of histories are maintained. . .
We must, I believe, think in both political and theoretical terms,
locating the main problems in what Frankfurt theory identified as
domination and division of labor. We must confront also the problem
of the absence of a theoretical, utopian, and libertarian dimension in
analysis. We cannot proceed unless we dissipate and redispose the
material historicism into radically different pursuits of knowledge,

Introduction: thinking ahead 25

and we cannot do that until we are aware that no new projects of
knowledge can be constituted unless they resist the dominance and
professionalized particularism of historicist systems and reductive,
pragmatic, or functionalist theories.55

This statement not only offers a way to ascertain the complicity of history
in sustaining forms of power, but also extends the critique to those
histories that present themselves as inclusive and radically opposed to
imperialism. The desire to seek an inclusionary narrative of world history
has relinquished the need for a critique of historicism which was part of the
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selective narrative, and its diabolical consequences, in the first place. More
importantly, Said is attempting to re-circuit knowledge that does not amount
to merely enacting earlier historicist reversals of anti-imperialist narratives
of change.
In seeking to revisit the relation between apartheid and colonialism,
I am suggesting that the search for the meaning of the postapartheid may
benefit from the postcolonial expectation of an epistemic rupture and that
the latter may be served by a deeper understanding of apartheid. Stated
differently, the possibility of a postapartheid that is geared at deepening
democracy is perhaps best dealt with by bringing a postcolonial critique
of apartheid to bear on it. This would entail bringing to an end historicist
constructions in which colonialism, apartheid and the postapartheid (or, in
this instance, the post-apartheid) are treated as merely temporally sequential
rather than connected through the techniques of disciplinary reason.
As the machinery of apartheid is dismantled and its components
placed on the proverbial dust heap of history, three very specific questions
that have not guided the critique of apartheid hitherto remain to be
answered: what kind of disciplinary power did apartheid represent, what kind
of normalising effects does it entertain and where would we mark the ends of
apartheid? These questions arise from a sense of difficulty in defining what
can be best described as the faltering narratives of transition from apartheid
to postapartheid.

26 the deaths of hintsa

Chapter outline

This book is organised roughly into two related sections. The first examines
colonial modes of evidence and the imaginary structure that define the
deliberations about the killing of Hintsa. The killing of Hintsa is filtered
through complex grids of intelligibility that not only constitute the modes of
evidence of the colonial archive but also result in the subjection of agency.
These colonial modes of evidence significantly organise the deliberations of
a settler public sphere and anti-colonial nationalist responses. In the second
section, I enact a strategic invalidation of reversals of the colonial archive by
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drawing on the resources of the Subaltern Studies project. In the process of

the exchange with Subaltern Studies, I suggest ways to think about a history
after apartheid that also alters our understanding of critical possibilities that
inhere in postcolonial histories.
A common structure in the argument in each chapter is to see how
a particular domain or discursive field emerges and/or is shaped by the
tensions or contradictions between other fields or forms. Each identifies a
particular constitutive tension. Following a critical reading of the archive
on the killing of Hintsa, I consider the internal dynamic of information and
aesthetics and landscape and ‘native–subject’. In the subsequent chapters
I reflect on the tensions of Empire between settler and colonial histories
that deal with the killing of Hintsa and on nationalist narrations that seek
to invalidate this inheritance by separating landscape and ‘native–subject’
and rewriting each in turn. In the case of nationalist narration, I argue that
it unwittingly perhaps finds itself caught up in the tensions of archive and
discipline, and also history and anthropology. The final chapters set to work
on unravelling historicist renderings of the relationship between colonialism
and apartheid so as to set the stage for a different relation between the
discourse of history and the subject of marginality.
Chapter 1, ‘Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of
domination’, returns to the story of the killing of Hintsa by British colonial
officials in 1835. The central argument of the chapter is that the colonial

Introduction: thinking ahead 27

discourses and their modes of forensic evidence framed and limited what
could be said about Hintsa. I argue that these modes of evidence, which until
Gcaleka’s mission tended to organise our reading of the events surrounding
Hintsa’s death, were deeply implicated in an act of violence. As such the
chapter is a critique of colonial archives and underscores the need for them
to be reread. This chapter sets Gcaleka’s claim against that of a colonial
interpretation while exploring his relation to earlier anti-colonial writers and
recent historiography. It documents the tensions that surface when attempts
are made to revise colonial representations of Hintsa.
More recent histories of colonialism have stressed the process by
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which the colonised subject is objectified. In contrast to the first chapter

which focuses primarily on forensic evidence, Chapter 2 argues that the
imagined worlds of colonial officials, settlers and missionaries also figured
prominently in the constructions of Hintsa and the justification of his
murder. The chapter focuses on the mistaken identity of Hintsa in colonial
portraiture and his centrality to the formation of a settler public sphere
in opposition to the colonial state. The chapter is organised around the
paintings of Frederick I’Ons, especially one which is shrouded in secrecy
titled The Death of Hintsa, and the practices of portraiture in the British
Empire. The story of the killing of Hintsa was not merely a product of
empirical fact, as it was claimed in the 1836 commission of inquiry into his
death, but also a product of the colonial imagination.56
The modes of evidence that were forged through the colonial archive
resurfaced with settler colonial histories. These histories have been largely
treated as symptomatic of the racialisation of South African society. In
Chapter 3, I argue that their significance does not only lie in their racial
investments but also in their form. I focus extensively on an account of the
war of 1834–35 by a journalist, Robert Godlonton, and on the six-volume
history produced by George Cory. If Godlonton takes up a position as witness,
historian and participant in an emergent public sphere in the eastern Cape,
Cory realigns this history to smooth over the tensions of Empire. Both
Godlonton and Cory, given their ultimate ideological claims, demand to be

28 the deaths of hintsa

read with a grain of salt if we are to discern the conditions of constraint that
each perpetuates through narrating the story of the killing of Hintsa. Hence
the chapter title ‘The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt)’.
Anti-colonial nationalism contested colonial constructions with the
founding of Lovedale Press in the eastern Cape in the 1930s and the rise of
what has sometimes been called ‘Xhosa’ historiography. Chapter 4 tracks the
figure of Hintsa in the writings of John Henderson Soga and SEK Mqhayi,
two major contributors to Xhosa historiography. While seeking to overcome
the limits of settler colonial histories of the killing of Hintsa, nationalist
history fails to displace the intellectual framework’s conditions of subjection.
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This is because, I argue, setting to work on a rearrangement of the imaginary

structure, the writings that belong to the corpus of Xhosa historiography fail
to attend to the disciplinary frameworks that authorise discourses on Hintsa.
Nevertheless, the attempt at strategic invalidation of colonial history posits a
disagreement at the centre of the discourse of history.
In Chapter 5, I propose to return to the scene of colonial annexation
of Gcalekaland in the nineteenth century by reading the spectral traces that
permeate the colonial archive and its modes of evidence. The chapter is
organised around the ways in which Hintsa’s ghost traverses the bureaucratic
finalisation of the borders that would many years later define apartheid’s
homeland system. Drawing on Ranajit Guha’s notion of the prose of counter-
insurgency, I point to a fundamental difficulty in distinguishing between the
reliability and liability of the colonial archive.
Chapter 6 continues the process of strategic invalidation of the reversal
of the colonial archive, this time by exploring the rearrangement of the story
of Hintsa in the space of museum exhibitions in South Africa that deal
with the story of colonisation. In critiquing the way difference is invoked in
the space of the museum exhibition of colonisation, I argue that we home
in on the interstitial space between what can be said according to the rules
of colonial modes of evidence and what is actually said on the basis of the
imaginary structure. This is a space opened up by Nicholas Gcaleka’s mission,
which prompts the desire to step out of the shadows of the colonial archive.

Introduction: thinking ahead 29

Taken together, these chapters call for a history that makes a
conceptual difference in the wake of apartheid, one that addresses itself to
the transition from the apartheid to the postapartheid era. This move has
to consist of an initial deconstruction of historiography and conceptual
ground clearing. Central to this deconstructive move, in my view, is a
problematisation of the notion of the colonial archive and its modes of
evidence. Historians who have been working with official documents and
colonial archives have mostly been aware of the fact that the colonial archive
is far from being a neutral storage place, but consists rather of rules of
formation which establish hierarchies, labels and categories. However, most
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historians fail to recognise that they are deeply implicated in this discursive
formation. The colonial archive constitutes a pervasive system of knowledge,
combining poetics and the exercise of power, which acts upon individuals
and regulates their statements. It is from this shadow that I argue we ought
to seek a line of flight. Perhaps such a move may enable a repetition of the
story of the killing of Hintsa which is different from that which it repeats.
Nicholas Gcaleka seemed to have highlighted the limits that
apartheid posed on the reworking of modernist concepts of nation and
identity. Stepping into the event of history he encountered a discourse that
was structured by the conflictual interplay of constraint and productivity.
Important to understanding this predicament, I ask that we attend to
the difference at the core of a system of representation as a step towards
ultimately radicalising the critique of apartheid. One way to accomplish this
would be to isolate the difference that is at the core of the discourse of history
by investigating how the subject is activated through the epistemic principles
of evidence, poetics and the recovery of subjectivity. By Gcaleka’s prompting
we are compelled to track the process by which a little-known healer–diviner,
in his encounter with the history of colonialism, became entangled in the
formation, regulation and transformation of historical statements relating
to the deaths of Hintsa. Thinking thus is to engage the possibilities of living
after colonialism, and indeed apartheid. ‘After History?’ – ‘History!’ writes
Joan Scott.57 And after apartheid?

30 the deaths of hintsa


Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination

Grammar is politics by other means.1

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In alternative accounts of the South African past – alternative, that is, to

the grids of colonial, liberal and apartheid thought through which the past has
been filtered – the particular story of the killing of Hintsa in 1835 is frequently,
and perhaps strategically, deferred to a third person narrator or represented in
the idiom of doubt. The habit seems to have been formed many years ago in
the literary and historical contributions of SEK Mqhayi and SM Molema during
the 1920s. Framed variously as a logical outcome of colonial advance, or in
terms of the predictability of colonial violence and the product of interpretation
by those complicit in the act of murder, both writers preface their references to
the event with a measure of doubt. Mqhayi, for example, in seeking desperately
to narrate the story of the killing in terms other than those prescribed by a
colonial archive, points out that while there is little doubt that Hintsa’s body
was mutilated and that his ear was cut off and sent to Grahamstown – home
to many settlers who arrived in 1820 – as a trophy, there is some doubt that
his head was cut off. Molema, having identified Hintsa as the moving spirit
behind the Sixth Xhosa War in his The Bantu Past and Present,2 repeats the
sequence of events that have come to be associated with Hintsa’s death:
escaped, pursued by Colonel Harry Smith and shot by Southey. Molema

deflects all responsibility for the story by introducing the sequence of events
with the phrase ‘it is said’. The story of the death of a ‘moving spirit’ is thereby
entrusted to an anonymous third person while the implicitly sarcastic gesture
implied by such a deflection conveys a sense of narrative impasse.
Symptomatic of the predicament that surrounds the indecision of
narrating the story of the killing of Hintsa is the problem of assigning
roles to the various actors in the narrative – the king, the British soldiers,
civilian conscripts, and the investigating subject. None of these
positions can be taken as given. One reason for this uncertainty is perhaps
that these subject positions are each products of an intricate and overlapping
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network of evidentiary and narrative techniques discernible at the levels

of grammar, circuits of information, cartography, a commission of inquiry
and history. Taking hold of the story, as I will show, necessarily involves
becoming entangled in these respective modes of evidence. The historian
seeking to make sense of the killing of Hintsa is compelled also to make
sense of the modes of evidence of the colonial archive. It may be useful to
consider how the conditions of speaking about the killing of Hintsa generate
a narrative that is circumscribed by the discourse of colonial officialdom.
The modes of evidence of the colonial archive do not necessarily provide
an understanding of the events leading up to the killing of Hintsa, but
rather help to define the limits of what can be said about the killing. Stated
differently, we might say that the modes of evidence of the colonial archive
are a form of rationalisation of the element of doubt that surrounds the
story of the killing of Hintsa. The slippage into a language that describes
the Xhosa as treacherous was a sign of incomprehensibility on the part
of colonial officials. An alternative anti-colonial nationalist history of the
event would fester in these spaces of uncertainty. In turn, the failure on the
part of the colonial forces to anticipate other responses and explanations
had far-reaching consequences for redefining the subjectivities of colonised
subjects, settlers and colonial officials. It also formed the basis on which
histories of the killing of Hintsa were built, demolished and rebuilt
over time.

32 the deaths of hintsa

In historiography of the 1970s and 1980s the story of the killing of
Hintsa is told with extraordinary brevity and with references that lead us
back to the colonial archive or through circuitous citations to the sources
of power. Upholding a commitment to history from the perspective of the
colonised, contemporary historians have signposted their use of colonial
documents, alerting the reader to the dangers of an unfamiliar and a
politically antagonistic descriptive vocabulary. Clifton Crais remarks, for
example, that there ‘is no need to go into great detail recounting the war [in
which Hintsa was killed]’.3 It has been well described, he adds, particularly
from the perspective of the colonists, by several authors. In proceeding, he
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stresses the emergence of conflict as a response to colonial expropriations of

land and concludes with a summary of the event by suggesting that Hintsa
attempted to negotiate with the colonial state and voluntarily entered the
British camp in his territory. Made a prisoner, Crais adds, he attempted to
escape, was hunted down, shot and mutilated.
In perhaps the most important contribution to the history of precolonial
society in the eastern Cape, Jeff Peires only manages a brief footnote in
his House of Phalo with the rider that the entire court record that serves as
historical evidence was extensively stage-managed by Colonel Harry Smith
and is of little relevance to the historian seeking to construct an alternative or
truthful account of events. As in a recent textbook of the southern African past
by Neil Parsons, 4 Peires only manages a few lines on the killing of Hintsa.
If the story of Hintsa was glossed over in the House of Phalo it was
because the subjectivity of Hintsa is overdetermined by colonial concerns
and administrative priorities or, to phrase it slightly differently, by a
combination of cadastral prose and the prose of counter-insurgency. The
memory of Hintsa is rather inserted into the 100 years of war that engulfed
the eastern Cape. In narrating the 1840s and 1850s, for example, the memory
of Hintsa serves as a prelude to reinterpreting the reign of Sarhili, Hintsa’s
son, primarily by adding a quality of resistance to the narrative of the cattle
killing in which many Xhosa embraced a catastrophic prophecy which
promised the resurrection of the dead. Thus, on the eve of the War of the Axe

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 33

in 1846–47, Peires emphasises how Sarhili recounted his first introduction to
his colonial neighbours, claiming that he never forgot and he never forgave.
‘Where is my father?’ he asked his councilors when the War of the Axe
broke out. ‘He is dead by the hands of these people. He was killed at
his own house. He died without fighting. . .Today we will fight.’5

In contrast to Crais, Parsons and Peires, Timothy Stapleton, a historian of

Rharhabe experience and resistance to nineteenth-century conquest, offers
a brief summary of the prehistory of the event – to borrow a phrase from
Shahid Amin.6 In Stapleton’s version, D’Urban crossed the Kei River on
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20 April 1835 and established a camp near the Wesleyan mission of

Butterworth. Under the guise of punishing Hintsa for encouraging the
attack on the colony by the amaRharhabe, a descendent Xhosa chieftaincy,
Stapleton claims that the governor declared war on the Gcaleka (an upper
house of the Xhosa chieftaincy from which Nicholas Gcaleka draws his
nom de plume). After a campaign of terror in which kraals were burnt
and cattle seized, Hintsa and 40 retainers, it is held, rode into D’Urban’s
camp to negotiate a settlement. The account then points out that they
were subsequently disarmed and taken prisoner. Hintsa was instructed to
surrender cattle and horses – alleged to have been stolen from settlers in and
around Grahamstown – to the colonial forces, and to accept responsibility
for Rharhabe hostilities. In turn, says Stapleton, Hintsa sent a message to
Chief Maqoma describing his capture and warning the regent not to trust
the Europeans. In concluding the story we are told that Hintsa was forced
to accompany Smith’s patrol on a mission to gather Gcaleka stock, and on
12 May he was shot through the head by colonial soldiers, who proceeded to
cut off his ears.7
Despite the f leeting attention paid to the killing of Hintsa in recent
historiographies on the eastern Cape, the story assumes a pivotal position in
earlier nationalist narration of the early twentieth century. The work of SEK
Mqhayi, John Henderson Soga and SM Molema attributes far greater signi-
ficance to the task of representing Hintsa in light of colonial constructions.

34 the deaths of hintsa

In these nationalist narrations it is not merely the question of the truth
about what happened to Hintsa that is at issue, but also the reconfiguration
of a historical subject who enabled a recollection of precolonial social and
juridical relations. Such a reworking sought to connect earlier forms of
resistance to colonialism to later opposition to segregation and apartheid.
A nationalist narration of the killing of Hintsa reveals incommensurability
between evidence and epistemology, and the possibility under those
conditions for reworking subjectivity similar to that which organises
Stapleton’s account.
In anti-colonial nationalist narration, the story of Hintsa is located in
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an eighteenth century split in the House of Phalo into Rharhabe and Gcaleka
houses (discussed in more detail in Chapter 4), and colonial exploitation of
this social arrangement. The narrative is largely told in terms of patrimony
and chiefly authority organised around the emergence of two houses that
defined the precolonial Xhosa kingdom. Underlining the central distinction
between the Great House and the right-hand house, John Henderson Soga,
writing in the 1930s, noted:
By courtesy, matters affecting Xhosa customs might occasionally
be referred to a chief of the older branch [the Gcaleka branch]
especially when a precedent was involved, but this did not prevent
the Right-Hand House from following its own line of conduct,
irrespective of what that precedent might be, should it choose to do
so. Laws promulgated by the court of the Ngqika’s were not subject to
interference by the Gcaleka chief.8

Phalo, under whose rule the distinction between the two houses became
noticeably marked, died in 1775. His son, Gcaleka, ascended to the
paramountcy while Rharhabe emerged as the regent of the right-hand
house. Gcaleka died three years later, in 1788, and was succeeded by his
son Khawuta. Oral traditions present Khawuta as a very weak leader by
claiming that he did not strengthen the position of his rule, which lasted
until 1794. The Rharhabe house, under the leadership of Ndlambe and

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 35

Ngqika respectively, experienced a marked consolidation of its power by the
beginning of the nineteenth century through allying with the Cape Colony.
The Rharhabe chiefdom became so powerful that they attacked the Gcaleka
and drove them east of the Kei River near the modern town of Willowvale.
The Rharhabe settled to the west of the Kei River, near what is today
Stutterheim. After Khawuta’s death, Hintsa became the ruler of the Gcaleka
and the paramount king of all the Xhosa.
Hintsa, it is admitted in several nationalist texts, had a difficult
relationship with the son of Rharhabe, the young Ngqika, brought about
by the latter’s conflict with his uncle and proxy chief, Ndlambe. This was
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aggravated by the fact that Hintsa had given Ndlambe refuge at the time of a
leadership dispute in the Rharhabe house and that, for his part, Ngqika had
extended an alliance with the British against his uncle. When Ngqika died
in 1829, apparently of alcohol abuse, his son Maqoma fought a guerrilla-
styled war in the Amathole Mountains in which British forces suffered
considerable losses.9 The appointment of Benjamin D’Urban in 1834 and the
deployment of Colonel Harry Smith to arrange the defence of Grahamstown
where settlers had taken refuge, saw a change in tactics towards Maqoma.
The British colonial officials at the Cape chose to target the paramount king,
Hintsa, east of the Kei River in a town later renamed Butterworth for the
war being waged against the colony. They accused Hintsa of complicity in
Maqoma’s war and of harbouring cattle allegedly stolen from settlers along
the eastern Cape frontier. On a mission to the Mbashe River to retrieve
cattle, Hintsa was killed and his body mutilated and, some say, his head
was severed.
Narrative impasse stems from the manner in which the British
cleared the scene of the crime, removed traces that may have enabled an
alternative history and left in its place only one story: their own. It seems
ironic, though perfectly understandable, that alternative versions of the
South African past should defer the narration of this cowardly act, such a
crucial event in South African history, to the very perpetrators of murder.
More importantly, the deferrals and doubts that frame an alternative history

36 the deaths of hintsa

of the killing of Hintsa seem to suggest that colonial sources are useful
in describing everything around the event except the event itself. Phrased
differently, why are colonial sources seen as reliable for accessing some
aspects of Xhosa pasts but not others? And how do historians discriminate
between reliability and liability or source and discourse?
In this chapter, I explore the work that evidence performs (or does
not perform) for an alternative history of the event by unfolding the complex
web of techniques and procedures through which it is produced within the
logic of colonial domination. I am especially interested in how a primary
discourse – understood in this instance as a field of intelligibility that is
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more or less the product of colonial rule – emerges as a primary source –

understood as the raw material upon which the historian’s practice rests.
In other words, how is an institutionally bound discourse produced as an
indispensable resource in the story of the killing of Hintsa? To pose the
question along these lines is to ask that we attend to the very constitution of
evidence. Evidence, whether in the form of the colonial archive or an archive
of opposition, does not necessarily provide a window to some prior reality,
nor should we only evaluate it in terms of the categories of ‘objectivity’
and ‘bias’. Rather, I suggest that by apprehending the procedures through
which evidence is produced and the rules that inaugurate particular ways
of knowing, we may encounter an altogether different perspective on
This chapter explores the modes of a colonial information economy
which rested on the tactics of intelligence and surveillance as these relate
to the killing of Hintsa in 1835. My argument, briefly, is that the dismissal
of colonial records as biased limits the possibilities of understanding the
interior logic and effects of domination, and unnecessarily suggests the
possibility of an objective history of the episode in which Hintsa was killed.11
Colonial domination could not have proceeded without the accommodation
of the African in the narratives that it produced of the conquest of African
societies, even when the narrative was explicitly premised on the will of the
coloniser. The terms of that incorporation are crucial to an understanding

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 37

of the pervasive logic of domination in the writing of history. This chapter
asks us to pause at the question of the constitution of evidence and its
consequences for narrating the killing of Chief Hintsa along what came to
be called the eastern Cape frontier. The tactic may yield a story unimagined
and unanticipated by the perpetrators of this cruel act of violence – a story
in which we track the itinerary of the emergence of truth as ‘empirical’12
and the social process of the subjection of agency.13 We may have to think
accordingly of the ways in which agency is conditioned by the norms,
practices, institutions and discourses through which it is made available. In
this sense the question of agency may also be posed in terms of the practices
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and procedures of evidence making and the protocols of history – the social
process, in other words, of the subjection of agency.

The colonial archive and the subjection of agency

The colonial archive is not merely a condition for knowledge but an apparatus
that inaugurates a very specific form of the subjection of agency.14 Whereas
the colonial archive is usually read in relation to its exclusions, its function
in the process of subject constitution, its process of objectification in other
words, reveals the techniques of colonial governmentality interlaced with
the grammar of domination. The colonial archive thereby combines and
orders dispatches, cartographic representations, information and intelligence
reports, commissions of inquiry and the orders of language in a very specific
way to keep the subject in its place.15 Taken together, we may discern very
specific modes of evidence in the colonial archive as well as the effects of
such an assemblage of evidence.
Ultimately, these modes of evidence of the colonial archive operate
in a manner that organises our reading of its subjective effects. If we
consider the archive along a reformulated notion of agency that does not
merely hark back to nostalgic constructions, then we may have to attend
to the further question of the materialisation of subjectivity in the colonial
archive and the ways in which the latter is conditioned and sustained by

38 the deaths of hintsa

specific rules and fields of intelligibility. This line of inquiry demands that
we attend to the social process whereby agency is conflated with the agent –
defined variously as object, subject or mediator – by way of a study of the
agency entailed in an activating dynamic – institutions, practices, fields of
intelligibility, forms of governmentality and discourses of intellectuals. The
introduction of the activating dynamic into a study of history is an attempt
at radicalising the project of history so as to undercut the proliferation of
essentialist identity politics that seeks to appropriate the work performed in
terms of the recuperation of the marginal subject of history. In undercutting
identity politics, the demand here is to intensify our efforts by producing
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more history – histories of concepts, critical histories of historical practices,

histories that interrupt the discourse of capitalism and multiculturalism,
histories of the formation of objects and subjects, systems of knowledge and
the elaboration of discourses. In this way the possibility arises of forcing
identity politics, which relies so heavily on history for its legitimacy, into a
space of self-referentiality – where it must confront its limits and interests –
as it struggles strategically but in a scrupulously visible way. In the wake
of the ascendancy of identity politics, one task might be to consider what
possibilities – ethical and political – lie in the alternative and potentially
enabling practice of history as criticism.16
The question of agency as a sign of resistance that preoccupied an
earlier generation of social historians has been reformulated in more recent
historiographical interventions with a concept of agency as embedded in
narrative possibility. Luise White, for example, affords us a view of written
sources as a mode of narration that is constrained by oral narrative and
‘invaded’ (her word) by orality.17 She insists on not treating oral and written
sources as discrete narrative genres and thereby bypasses the objective/
biased opposition that often structures history as a discipline.18 The emphasis
on genre, mediation and narrative constraint relinquishes the burden of
authenticity implicit in an earlier promise of oral history. If, however, oral
history was the means through which an obscured African agency was
made visible, then how can we account for a concept of agency in what might

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 39

amount to a ‘blurring of genres’ of evidence?19 Without relinquishing White’s
innovative treatment of genre, we may pose the question of agency, it seems,
in ways other than in terms of the autonomous subject or authorial subject.20
The emphasis on autonomous or authorial subjects readily lends itself
to an identity politics that may potentially undermine the pursuit of
a postapartheid history. If agency serves alternative history and identity
politics equally, is it possible to recuperate a notion of agency without
surrendering ground to a politics which establishes identity as an end game?
To answer this question we may need to inquire into how, in the story of
the killing of Hintsa, the question of agency is tied into the discourse of the
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colonial archive.

The colonial archive and the killing of Hintsa

Fort Willshire offered a suitably safe venue to hear evidence about the
killing of Hintsa, especially when compared to the gruesome detail that
surfaced at the commission of inquiry convened in 1836. The metaphorical
resonances in the selection of the fort to conduct the investigation into
the death of Hintsa were not lost in the choice of venue. It was Colonel
Willshire, in whose honour the fort was named, who in 1819 had given
Hintsa the assurance that the ‘amaGcaleka would not in the slightest be
interfered with if the king complied with what was right and reasonable’.21
That warning seemed to confirm a long-standing belief that Hintsa
had been plotting against the British and that his death might be tracked
to the first indications and suspicions of treachery. The sense of suspicion
that dated back to the governorship of Lord Charles Somerset was
reaffirmed through the commission of inquiry into Hintsa’s death,
instituted by Sir Benjamin D’Urban in 1836. Through the investigation
of the commission of inquiry, Hintsa was blamed and held responsible
for his own death.
For scholars who stumble upon the military commission of inquiry
convened by an embattled governor, Benjamin D’Urban, a year after the

40 the deaths of hintsa

killing, there is reason to view the record with caution, if not suspicion,
that matches that which coloured colonial sentiments about Hintsa. Many
contemporary historians have understandably singled out the record of
the hearings as unreliable evidence about the killing of the king. The
argument, as one might imagine, is that this was an event managed, even
choreographed, to counter metropolitan criticism for an incident that most
settlers would have considered integral to the maintenance of the British
Empire. The story of the killing of Hintsa and the charges of mutilation of
his body by subjects of the British Crown after the fateful shot rang out in
the depths of the Nqabara River valley were, however, not as easily reduced
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to the cut-and-dried terms of evidence that the commission proposed.

The commission of inquiry in 1836 did not necessarily meet D’Urban’s
expectation of neutralising suspicions surrounding the killing. The reason
for suspecting that the commission of inquiry operated as mere stagecraft
is perhaps a result of the impossibility of disentangling evidence from the
grammar of domination.
The discipline of history generally approaches the colonial archive
with a measure of suspicion because of its supposedly inherent biases. This
attitude has merely called forth greater caution in extracting the ‘truth’
of the experience of the colonised, who are thought to be embedded, even
buried, in the bureaucratic procedures of documenting the work of Empire
in civilising, conquering and controlling.22 The complicity of the colonial
archive in justifying an act of violence, however, is not reducible merely to
the consciousness of its scribes. In the specific story of the killing of Hintsa,
efforts to narrate the killing in ways that depart from colonial constructions
and justifications are significantly constrained by the discourse of the
colonial archive. Notwithstanding this apparent difficulty confronting the
historian, the colonial archive has been subjected to numerous innovative
reading techniques that respectively work against or along the grain of
official pronouncements. Neither strategy, however, helps to answer the
recurring questions: how does the historian who suspects the colonial
archive of covering up the traces of complicity in violence distinguish

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 41

between the reliability and liability of the evidence? When can we extract
colonised agency, and when is such agency subject to the conditions
of hegemonic or discursive constraint? The impasse is not altogether
paralysing, especially since it alerts us to the possibility that the colonial
archive is itself an apparatus that has the potential to organise our reading.
The colonial archive approximates something like a dispositif or what I
prefer to call a mode of evidence that renders it indispensable to the exercise
of power.
The colonial archive should not, therefore, be approached as a
resource for the retrieval of the truth about the killing of Hintsa and its
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aftermath. As an apparatus, it does not readily lend itself to alternative

histories that mark a break with the repertoires of colonial and apartheid
narration. Neither is the colonial archive a storehouse of documents. It
should be approached, rather, as a mode of evidence in which one can
discern the social process for the subjection of agency. As an apparatus that
activates and assigns subjects, even fabricates these, the archive specifies
a level of facticity indistinguishable from an obscured, but necessary,
technique of narrativity. The colonial archive is thus not a documentary
collection but a technique of historical narrativisation – a distinguishable
archival genre with, I will show later, considerable implications for
imagining a postapartheid future. First, however, I propose that we consider
how the archive operates at the levels of facticity and narrativity in the
specific production of evidence about the killing of Hintsa.
In contrast to the brevity of contemporary historiographical accounts
of the killing of Hintsa, for the period from 1835 to 1836 the colonial record
consists of more than 500 official documents of correspondence and
reports on conditions in the eastern Cape, and 200 pages of military court
records pertaining to the death of Hintsa. Countless adventure novels,
diaries, memoirs, autobiographies and travelogues supplement this list.
At first glance, the size of the documentary expanse simply reaffirms our
general sense of the bureaucratic procedures upon which colonialism came
to depend. A close reading, however, suggests that the colonial archive is

42 the deaths of hintsa

designed around several technologies of evidence gathering and surveillance.
It relies on strategies of cartography, autopsy,23 on the building of alliances
with the Xhosa west of the Kei River, on missionaries’ and traders’ accounts,
travellers’ reports and information gathered from a scattering of settlers on
the frontier.
In these extensive – often arbitrary – networks of communication
that came to be associated with colonial rule, the name of Hintsa is often
mentioned alongside certain active verbs such as ‘contrive’, ‘instigate’,
‘plunder’ and ‘invade’, which emerge as stock phrases in dispatches from
the eastern Cape frontier to the administrative nerve centres of colonial rule
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in Grahamstown, Cape Town and London. These grammatical orderings

explain, to some extent, the subsequent manner in which Hintsa’s death
came to be described, understood and judged in colonial circles. In the
colonial context, these terms, which were reserved for the colonised,
were neither unusual nor surprising. They suited and indeed qualified
the object nouns of colonial rule – also known by the names ‘primitive’,
‘uncivilised’, ‘savage’ and ‘Caffre’. There was, however, a certain paradox in
the configuration of the colonised as both capable of acts of intrigue and as
objects of colonial rule. If the first of these conferred the possibility of agency
on the African subject, the second denied the same subject any semblance
of identity or agency of their own. Such a paradox militates, it seems, against
the view of those who see in colonial texts a deliberate attempt to deny
African subjects the capacity to act.24
It is striking that the deployment of these verbs and nouns was
neither random nor arbitrary. In fact, active verbs and object nouns were
always organised and perhaps ordered within an accepted system of
reportage common to colonial circuits of information and in relation to
specific events – such as the killing of Hintsa – which threatened the entire
colonial psyche and its moralising and civilising claims.
Colonial officials did more than invent a vocabulary through which
to describe the colonised as other. They also transformed themselves, in
every manner of speaking, into victims of ‘savage’ violence by surrendering

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 43

their position as primary referent. Thus, Governor D’Urban, in one of his
dispatches of missionary reports of the Xhosa, represented the latter as:
wolves (which in truth they resemble very much) which, if they be
caught young, may be brought to an appearance of tameness, but
which invariably throw it off, and appear in all their native fierceness
of the woods, as soon as the temptation of blood and ravage, which
never fail to elicit their natural ferocity, presents itself to their
instinctive thirst for it.25

If such statements were clearly motivated by colonial racism, they may also
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be said to allude to the way in which colonialists presented themselves as

victims rather than perpetrators – and this in spite of all their attempts at
civilising the Xhosa for what D’Urban thought to be ‘their own interests and
gratification in the matter’.26
Colonial officials achieved the reversal whereby they represented
themselves as victims rather than as perpetrators through two key
mechanisms. Firstly, by reversing the order of subject and object, the
Xhosa (and Hintsa in particular) were guaranteed a certain agency. Hintsa,
after all, could not be presented as a threat – as an instigator – if he had
been rendered incapable of acting. Secondly, the need to confer upon the
colonised subject an agency, without denying the British their belief in their
superiority or the very justification of colonial rule, depended on a repressive
tactic of colonial domination in which assumptions were transformed into
facts. This tactic was given the sophisticated and surreptitious name of
intelligence gathering.
The collection of dispatches and reports that makes up the bulk
of the archive pertains to the communications between frontier and
colonial headquarters in Grahamstown and Cape Town, between colony
and metropole and between traders, missionaries, colonial bureaucrats
and military officials situated in Xhosaland and along the frontier. Official
reports generally relate to military strategy, the positioning of British troops
and the costs – both financial and in terms of the loss of troops – of the

44 the deaths of hintsa

Sixth Frontier War. The letters of missionaries and traders based along the
Kei River were mostly concerned with informing the colonial officials of
the movements of the Xhosa along the frontier. Missionaries’ and traders’
reports were included as enclosures to support administrative reports
and decisions, and were at times used to show that those settlers who
lived amongst the Xhosa demanded more stringent measures than those
undertaken by the military. In his report to colonial officials in Britain,
Governor D’Urban cited the greater control demanded by the head of the
Wesleyan mission in the Cape, WJ Shrewsbury, who had ‘lived among the
Xhosa and was therefore as experienced in their character as in colonial
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frontier history’.27 Shrewsbury had written in January 1835 that ‘all Africans
should be registered – every man wearing on his neck a thin plate of tin
containing his name and the name of his chief – to identify offenders and
enable the British government to know the number and strength of frontier
tribes’.28 The claims of expertise and dominance were premised on a desire
to know. The correspondence that forms such a core component of the
colonial archive on the eastern Cape, however, may also be read in terms of
an inability to penetrate the veils of secrecy that so confounded British forces
during the period of the wars of conquest in the Cape. In a letter from the
trader John Rowles on 17 December 1834, for example, we find suggestions of
the limits of colonial knowledge. Rowles writes:
I can state, from my own knowledge, that Hintsa’s chief councellors
[sic] have been, for last six months, – that is to say, from the period
when Hintsa went to the upper country on the pretext of hunting –
in close communication with the frontier Caffers; – as soon as one
of them returned, another was despatched and this intercourse was
continued. Those councellors [sic] remained upward of a month before
they returned to Hintsa. I never knew this kind of intercourse to
subsist before between Hintsa and the Frontier Caffers. When I asked
them what they had been doing among the Frontier Tribes, they made
some trivial pretext, such as they went to get assegais, or some cattle
or to pay a visit.29

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 45

Notwithstanding these limits, the colonial archive is organised around these
fragmentary reports that came from informants located close to the centres
of Xhosa political power and from an expansive administrative and military
information economy. The traces of the diverse resources upon which
colonial knowledge was based may be gleaned from a report from Governor
Sir Benjamin D’Urban to the Secretary of State on conditions in the districts
of the Cape Colony on 19 March 1835. The report set out to identify the allies
and enemies of the British among the Xhosa, a task that proved immensely
important for British operations in the frontier zones. Towards the end of his
report D’Urban noted, with a hint of concern, that the strongest among the
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chiefs, Hintsa, seemed untrustworthy:

Hintsa, the most powerful of them all (and whose territory
extends from the mouth of the Kaie to its sources in the Stormberg
Mountains, and between it, eastwards, and the Bashee) has been
playing a double game. He has received the plundered cattle into
his territory, some of his people have even undoubtedly joined the
invaders, and his council (hemraaden) are decidedly hostile; but he
himself professes not to be so, and so far as I can discover, in some
communications which I have had with him during the last month,
he is very desirous of holding off, to await the result of our first
movements in advance, and then to act as may best suit his policy at
the moment. In this, he may go farther than may be for his advantage;
because, if he holds back from giving his essential assistance to the
other tribes in the outset, he will weaken them, and when they are
disposed of, will be left by himself to meet the ulterior proceedings
upon our part, which, if we shall find it expedient to adopt them, I
have little doubt we shall have discovered ample cause upon his, to
justify our adoption.30

The report appeared as a testament of the extent and importance of the

colonial information economy. Judging from the regularity of such reports
and the request for detail, the reports proved indispensable to supporters of

46 the deaths of hintsa

colonial rule who had the opportunity to influence the colonial process at a
distance. The suspicion of the double game, however, came largely from the
reports produced by missionaries such as Shrewsbury and traders such as
John Rowles. To consider the implications of this uncertainty, let us look at
a second report to the Secretary of State dated 19 June 1835 to gauge the full
consequences of the colonial information economy:
It may be in its proper place here to apprize your Lordship of my
having, as early as the month of February, ascertained beyond all
doubt that Hintsa (the chief of the country between the Kye and
the Bashee) had been, if not the original contriver and instigator of
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the combination among the chiefs of the savage tribes in western

Caffreland against the colony, very early referred to and consulted
by them therein; that he afforded them his countenance and advice;
received into his territory the plundered herds and effects sent thither
from the colony; permitted (if not directed) many of his own tribe to
join in the invasion; and that, consequently, the border tribes in all
their measures relied on his support, and upon the ultimate refuge
of his country in case of their failure. This certainty, afterwards still
more amply confirmed, had rendered it obviously at once just and
necessary that my operations should embrace the country of Hintsa
as their concluding stage, and dictated the general outline the plan
of them which I gave confidentially to the chief of my staff for his
information and guidance, and to which I had afterwards found it
necessary to add the postscript in consequence of intelligence then
received of a change in the movements of the border tribes.31

At a glance, there is very little discrepancy between the two reports. Both
point to the threat posed by Hintsa and to the possibilities open to the British
if this were to materialise. One small, though extremely significant exception
for my argument emerges upon a closer reading. This relates to the certainty
within which the second report is framed. If in the earlier report Hintsa’s
actions are presented in terms of possibilities, in the later report we learn

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 47

that Hintsa had been guilty of conspiring with neighbouring Xhosa against
the British ‘beyond all doubt’ and that there was a ‘certainty’ that the events
should end with the colonisation of Hintsa’s country. Between the doubt and
the certainty, another event would guarantee the British the conclusion that
they sought. That event was the killing of Chief Hintsa on 12 May 1835.
Much of the literature dealing with Hintsa’s death seems to suggest
that it was the ability of the British to remain a step ahead of the chief that
resulted in the colonisation of the region of the Kei River. To achieve this, the
British had to be fully aware of and knowledgeable about what was occurring
along the Cape frontier. However, it was not the certainties guaranteed by
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the information economy but rather that which was beyond colonial horizons
of comprehension – the movements, moods and political alliances that were
being forged outside of the purview of the colonial state and its information-
gathering apparatus – that prompted the British to colonise the land of the
Gcaleka and to kill Hintsa.
The unknowable – or, more appropriately, the unverifiable colonial
imaginary – was not only expressed in the period preceding the killing of
Hintsa (as demonstrated by the first report or in racially charged claims that
likened the Xhosa to untameable ‘wolves’ ready to prey on colonial society as
soon as the opportunity presented itself). If read closely, the unknowable may
be discerned from the very tone in which colonial officials such as D’Urban
described the event in its aftermath, as they set about telling their story of a
treacherous Hintsa who was responsible for his own downfall.
In D’Urban’s report to Lord Aberdeen in June 1835, the governor set
out to explain the circumstances surrounding Hintsa’s death. Hintsa, in this
version, entered D’Urban’s camp on 30 April 1835 to sign a peace treaty in
which he agreed to a British demand for the ‘return’ of 50 000 head of cattle
and 1 000 horses in exchange for a cessation of hostilities. Upon signing
the treaty, Hintsa apparently asked D’Urban for permission to remain at
the camp with his son Crieli (Sarhili) instead of returning to his residence.
Hintsa had offered himself as hostage to ensure that the British received the
cattle and horses, which they demanded as part of the settlement. Initially

48 the deaths of hintsa

this strange request was treated by D’Urban as a sign of goodwill but later, he
claims, he came to see that this move was motivated by Hintsa’s fear of being
accused of selling out the Xhosa by forcing them to surrender the cattle
and horses. By remaining a hostage at the camp, Hintsa could claim to be a
prisoner of the British, who was therefore forced to obey his captors’ orders.
But Hintsa, it was suspected, was conducting a war against the British and
their allies (the Mfengu in particular) from within enemy lines. This was
the double game alluded to in earlier reports. Hintsa, claimed the governor,
was directing the attacks of chiefs residing in the Amathole Mountains and
every message sent out in terms of the treaty was accompanied by another
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message – it was assumed – instructing a line of attack or a tactic to bewilder

colonial forces as to the whereabouts of the stock they sought. The messages
that were sent out to the Xhosa chiefs, Harry Smith would admit years later
in his autobiography, were always secretive.32 After five days, Hintsa himself
had asked to be taken to his people, accompanied by British troops, so that
he could attempt to convince them to surrender the remaining cattle. In this
instance, too, Hintsa proved tentative in notifying the British as to where he
was leading them. It was during that journey that Hintsa escaped and was
subsequently shot in the head and killed while attempting to hide along the
bank of the Nqabara River.
There are two instances in the report that may help to sustain
the claim that an unverifiable colonial imaginary played a crucial role
in the killing of Hintsa. In the paragraph where the single reference to
15 May is made – three days after the shooting of Hintsa – it is stated that
the extension of the colonial border had become not merely expedient but
absolutely and indispensably necessary and unavoidable. The statement
reads as follows:
The only measure that could promise to repay the expenses of the
war, which the colony had been most unwillingly compelled to wage
pro aris et focis, and place a defensible barrier between the heart of the
colony and the savage tribes of Central Africa, provide security for the
future, and a just indemnification for the past.33

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 49

This claim was not unusual. It bears all the characteristics of an expression
of colonial arrogance that could claim victory in the face of such brutal acts
against those it encountered as obstacles to its expansion. But it was really
in the elaboration of that place between the heart of the colony and what is
referred to as ‘Central Africa’ that we encounter an anxiety produced by the
unknown and the danger that was signalled by the failure to know. In the
very next paragraph to the one just cited, D’Urban claimed:
A brief reference to the public correspondence of the Colonial
Department with the successive governors of the colony for the
years past, indeed ever since it has belonged to the British Crown
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(and its previous history, as a colony of Holland, is the same), will

suffice to show that the main and insuperable impediment to its
growing prosperity, and the source of its greatest misfortunes, have
ever been the insecurity of its frontier, arising from the character of
the country through which the advancing boundary line has been
successfully traced; of this the two last extensions to the Fish River in
1812, and the Keishkamma and Chumie in 1819, are remarkable and
incontrovertible instances. Both of these lines are involved in tangled
jungles, impervious woody ravines, and in fact made by nature for
the preparatory lurking place of the savage, before he springs upon
his prey.34

Grappling with the insecurities of the frontier necessitated the successful

tracing of the boundary line – that is, a literal cartographic marking out of
a territory that had been annexed. Cartographic claims, however, did not
in and of themselves produce the desired securities.35 In February 1835,
D’Urban informed the Colonial Secretary that even though the Keishkamma
was mapped as belonging to Britain after the war of 1819, ‘Enno [Nqeno],
Bothman [possibly Bhotomane] and Dushanie’s [Mdushane]’ people had
concentrated forces in the country.36 D’Urban suspected that they had
concealed themselves there to await the advance of British troops or to trap
the troops ‘for the purposes of further ravages’.37 Each marking or tracing of

50 the deaths of hintsa

annexed land by colonial officials therefore demanded further annexation
and cautioned of the supposed dangers left in its wake. The extension of
the line to the Fish River, for example, also pointed to the Keishkamma and
Chumie (or Tyhume). In 1835 it pointed toward the Kei River. Given that
‘all manner of danger lurked in those unknown spaces’, the importance
of plotting – and extending the traced line – was the only guarantee of
The unknowable, in the case of Hintsa, was not merely that which
lay beyond the colonial gaze. Since Hintsa had located himself within the
British camp after 30 April 1835 and directed affairs with Tyalie (Tyhali) and
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Maqoma from behind enemy lines, colonial officials increasingly doubted the
reliability of their intelligence work. While they suspected that Hintsa was
organising an attack against the British, they were unable to decipher the
messages – conveyed either in code or in secrecy, according to D’Urban – that
Hintsa had dispatched to the outer reaches of the frontier. Hintsa was capable
of threatening the colonial project from both within and beyond colonial
spheres of control or surveillance. The sentiment of doubt expressed in the
first report that D’Urban sent to the Colonial Secretary was therefore resolved
through an act of violence in which those who threatened the extension
of a line on a map and the securities that attended to that cartographic
practice were killed and mutilated. Hintsa’s death was necessary for colonial
If cartographic representations were produced in relation to what
I have suggested were colonial insecurities and anxieties, how did these
simultaneously come to produce a sense of security and certainty? To
answer this question, we need to consider the way mapping worked and was
organised in the Cape. According to JS Bergh and JC Visagie’s cartographic
guide of the Cape frontier zone, two maps were central to the unfolding
drama in the region.39 The first 40 was drawn by surveyor-general CC Michell
and the second, 41 a sketch map, was, according to Bergh and Visagie, clearly
carried and used by Governor D’Urban to record landmarks and place names
as the invading force progressed. 42

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 51

Maps, as Thongchai Winichakul reminds us, anticipate a spatial
reality rather than serve as a scientific abstraction of reality. 43 Anticipation,
however, bears the signature of time so that maps pre-empt the configuration
of an encountered space. 44 Maps are therefore not merely representative but
also pre-emptive. The work performed by the map is that of displacement
and of negotiating the limits of the uncertain and the unknowable. Maps, we
may argue, are constitutive of the will to power.
If D’Urban’s sketch map constitutes the conditions of the
enhancement of power, then Michell’s map – which bears the marks of
the surveyor’s skill – fixes the conditions of preservation. In D’Urban’s
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map we have the replaying of the myth of the empty land. Xhosa polities
are isolated and are represented through a singular symbolic inscription.
No attempt is made to account for the expanse of Gcaleka, Ngqika,
Gqunukhwebe or Ndlambe settlements, nor are the interconnections
reflected in any way. Instead, we have a single symbol with the name
‘Hintsa’ inscribed below. Whereas D’Urban’s survey depicts the corresponding
locations and movements of the first, second, third and fourth divisions
of colonial troops, Michell’s map casts the territory as secure and is more
detailed, representing the extent of the various chieftaincies and the areas
of influence. If, then, D’Urban’s map anticipated a reality – casting its
gaze into a field of vision and opening it up so that possibilities become
apparent that may point the way to an enhancement of power45 – Michell’s
appropriated the anticipated reality and represented it in terms of a scientific
abstraction. Both power enhancement and power preservation belong to the
will to knowledge.
The convergence of the two operations can be gleaned from James
Edward Alexander’s Narrative of a Voyage. 46 Alexander had accompanied
the first division along with Michell and D’Urban. The colonial travel
account is presented in terms of the trope of adventure, where insecurity is
connected to a notion of heroism and bravery while facticity is represented as
accomplishment. Here I must limit my comments to two specific suggestions
that enable Alexander’s travel account.

52 the deaths of hintsa

Through cartographic practices, knowledge and colonial force
coalesced to produce security for colonial officials and possibilities for the
actual annexation of land. Actual annexation lay to rest the insecurities that
cartographic practices failed to alleviate. Cartography and colonisation, it may
be argued, were mutually reinforcing technologies of displacement, conquest
and murder.
Literature on colonial mapping underscores this argument. Simon
Ryan asserts that in the Australian case, new inscriptions are firstly
cartographical but also metaphorical of the transformation of the land by
colonisation – the cartographic inscriptions are not simply reflections of
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reality but organise and license the expropriation and exploitation of land. 47
Similarly, Thongchai Winichakul’s study of Siam and the mapping of what
he terms the geo-body frames the relationship between cartography and
conquest in terms that echo Ryan’s central argument and that are being
developed in this chapter:
Force defined the space. Mapping vindicated it. Without military
force, mapping alone was inadequate to claim a legitimate space. But
a map always substantiated the legitimation of the military presence.
Mapping and military became a single set of mutually re-inforcing
technologies to exercise power over space. 48

An understanding of the effects of cartographic inscriptions is crucial

to making sense of the concept of the frontier in South Africa. To date,
the historiographical tendency has been to pose the geographical (or
cartographic) and the social as competing categories through which to
describe the frontier. Hermann Giliomee, for example, nearly two decades
ago, proclaimed:
The frontier has not only a geographical but also a social dimension.
Unlike a boundary, which evokes the image of a line on a map and
demarcates spheres of political control, the frontier is an area where
colonisation is taking place. Here two or more ethnic communities
co-exist with conflicting claims to the land, and no authority is

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 53

recognized as legitimate by all the parties or is able to exercise
undisputed control over the area. 49

It is not certain that the Xhosa shared the conception of the frontier that is
suggested by Giliomee’s research on the Cape frontier from 1770 to 1812.
This is a point I shall return to in a later chapter. For the moment
I wish to pause and contemplate a different answer to Martin Legassick’s
suggestion that more attention be paid to the ‘frontier’ itself.50 Based on
the preceding discussion on the rules of the formation of evidence, the
frontier was also a conceptual or imaginary formation premised on the
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rules of an information economy, cartography, colonial myth models and

colonial anxiety that had devastating political consequences in the eastern
Cape. As in Ryan’s argument, cartography in the Cape licensed colonisation
because it demarcated certainty and uncertainty, fear and security, the
familiar and the unfamiliar. The colonial advance produced evidence in
as much as it depended on evidence to effect its advance against Xhosa
polities. The frontier, I suggest, is not to be understood only as a place
where social forces compete for claims to the land or authority. Rather, it
represented a conceptual limit, a mapped space, the formation of which had
fundamental political and economic consequences for those caught in the
way of its operation.
If, as John Comaroff has pointed out, there was a clash of three
models of colonialism in the specific instance of the missionary imagination
– a state model that emphasised trade and alliances with native chiefs, the
settler colonialism of the Boers that converted independent chiefdoms
into servile labour, and the civilising colonialism of the missionaries – then
perhaps it could be argued that these competing strands came together
in the production of evidence that was so central to the annexation of land
and so crucial to conceal that which was incomprehensible.51 Insofar as
each of these models contributed to knowledge of the Xhosa, and since they
were each marked by discrepant interests, the evidence was always partial
if not contingent.

54 the deaths of hintsa

The dominant concept of evidence that suggests itself in explaining
the events leading up to the death of Hintsa is what we may call legitimation
through knowing. Such knowing is premised on a wide-ranging set of
techniques, from intelligence gathering to cartography to autopsy. Each of
these technologies also proves inadequate in representing its object, which
then establishes the limit to what is knowable. That which is unknowable
must be confronted with an act of aggression. The unknowable always
carries the potential to return and haunt those securities established by
neat lines on a map. Hintsa had shown how permeable those cartographic
securities were; and for demonstrating the provisionality of colonial evidence,
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he had to be destroyed. In ascribing motives for conquest, especially

explanations derived from the suggestions of studies of the political economy
of conquest, we would benefit, in my view, from considering this overlap of
evidence and colonisation.
The description of the events leading up to the killing of Hintsa
profoundly shaped and foretold the ways in which the actions of British
soldiers were justified in colonial circles. Such justification proved important
both in terms of the moral high ground that colonialism claimed for itself,
and in order to respond to accusations emerging from humanitarian groups
in the colonies and the metropole.52 On 15 July 1836, less than one year after
the killing of Hintsa, D’Urban instituted a military court of inquiry to
investigate and report upon the circumstances immediately preceding and
following the death of Hintsa, especially in the light of the charge that he had
been shot while begging for his life and the accusation that the dead chief’s
body had been mutilated after being shot. The military court established by
colonial officials was a response to public debate that raged in the pages of
the South African Commercial Advertiser and The Grahamstown Journal –
keenly followed by humanitarian campaigners in the metropole – on the
question of the mutilation of Hintsa’s body. The inquiry instituted by
D’Urban differed from a regular criminal court, as it was solely concerned
with verifying or refuting claims about mutilation, and not with establishing
guilt or innocence.53 Verification and refutation, I wish to suggest, were

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 55

forms of evidence that differed from earlier concepts of knowing that
impinged on the very notion of evidence. If knowing entailed a piecing
together of heterogeneous technologies through which information was
filtered in partial ways, verification and refutation demanded an exactitude
in which the larger context was temporarily suspended. This difference was
noticeable both in the kinds of questions posed by the commissioners and in
terms of the immediacy with which they came to perceive the event. Thus,
for example, the entire record is framed by questions such as: ‘What space
and time elapsed between the shot that killed Hintsa and your meeting
the Hottentots?’; ‘Was the time so short as to lead you to suppose that the
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Hottentots were present when the shot was fired that killed Hintsa?’;
‘Whom did you see on the spot when you came up to the body of Hintsa?’;
‘In what part of the body did he receive his mortal wound?’; ‘Did you think
the brains you saw was [sic] the consequence of the gun-shot wound?’ and
so forth.
In his study of the military court of inquiry records, the historian
JG Pretorius warns against too easy an acceptance of the explanation offered.
According to Pretorius, it is difficult to establish what exactly happened
after Hintsa arrived in the British camp, because of the lack of disinterested
evidence. Pretorius claims:
The official accounts – those of Harry Smith and D’Urban – were
written only after the chief’s death, and so were the accounts of
other eyewitnesses. Not much importance should be attached to
the depositions of chiefs and other persons collected by Smith
after Glenelg [Secretary of State for the Colonies] had censured the
D’Urban–Smith settlement. The whites among these persons, such
as the Wesleyan missionaries, were all friends of D’Urban and Smith,
while the Xhosa, such as Tyali and Maqoma, could have made their
depositions under pressure or by means of the question-and-answer
method, and made to say whatever Smith wanted. All this evidence
had the purpose of proving in retrospect certain things about Hintsa
and must therefore be treated with utmost care.54

56 the deaths of hintsa

There is good reason to acknowledge and to accept this caveat. The possibility
of extensive British annexation that followed the death of Hintsa, together
with the strong chance that various testimonies were solicited under
pressure, may have influenced testimony submitted to the commission.
Tyalie, one of Hintsa’s closest allies, claimed that his people were never so
happy since becoming British subjects and that Smith was their saviour and
‘father’.55 Such statements from a sworn enemy of the British must caution
against too ready an acceptance of the testimony.
The recuperation of a story in which agentiary possibilities may
be assigned to Hintsa is, however, constrained by the extensive way in
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which our encounter with the event is bound to confront colonial frames
of intelligibility. These frames are significant in identifying the limits of a
history that seeks to ascribe a place in the story for those formerly excluded,
or those who were victims of colonisation. Pretorius, however, ignores
the strategies through which these alternate possibilities are excluded. If
evidence, as Arnold Davidson has suggested in reference to historian Carlo
Ginzburg’s interventions in this regard, is mediated by codes, then we need
to ‘enter the codes of evidence’ in order to gauge how they come to privilege
certain claims against others.56 The point of ‘entering the codes of evidence’
is not to be seen as an attempt simply to detect interests and bias, but rather
to explore the distribution of techniques that produce a facticity that is the
foundation of evidence in service of a claim. At best, Pretorius offers us a
first-order reading of the court record that situates the text within a larger
cultural and political context – the extraneous conditions which accompanied
the text’s production.
A second-order reading may require us to focus on the evidentiary
strategies implicit in the text, which provide the basis for verification and
refutation. In this respect, I suggest that we read the record in such a way
that the story of Hintsa produced by colonial officials is also necessarily a
story that depends on the production of the subaltern as effect. In other
words, the story of Hintsa can only be told by recourse to the marginalisation
of those actors that offer any hope of an alternative narrativisation. Here we

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 57

must focus on the assignment in the narrative of Klaas (a member of
the Corp Guides, a regiment composed of soldiers co-opted from local
chiefdoms), the place of Hintsa, and those Xhosa along the banks of the
Nqabara River who may have witnessed the killing of Hintsa and the
subsequent mutilation of his body.
Two charges emerged as central to the court record. The first claimed
that Hintsa had been shot while asking to be taken prisoner; the second
claimed that Hintsa was mutilated after he had been shot. In his testimony
to the commission of inquiry, Dr Ambrose George Campbell claimed that
the mutilation of Hintsa’s body was proverbial and spoken of generally in
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Grahamstown as a trophy of some consequence.57 There appeared upon

the church door, claimed Campbell, a number of lines of poetry idolising
Southey (the soldier responsible for shooting Hintsa) as the saviour of
humankind; and part of Hintsa’s body, whether his ears or his beard, was
shown around Grahamstown as a mark of achievement.
Klaas, who was named by Campbell as one of his informants,
proclaimed that he was close enough to the actual shooting to have heard
the chief cry out ‘taru amapecati’ – a cry for mercy – before a second and
fatal shot was fired. Klaas also noted that Southey pursued Hintsa down
the banks of the river and that he was accompanied by two members of the
Cape Mounted Rifles called Windfogel Julie and Nicholaas Africa (identified
in the records as Hottentots). After the shooting had taken place, Klaas
(who is introduced as a Xhosa speaker) met Julie and Africa, who inquired
about the meaning of ‘taru’ – a claim that confirmed that they had heard
the chief’s plea for mercy and that George Southey’s failure to understand
it proved fateful. Finally, Klaas pointed out that Hintsa’s brain was exposed
by the gunshot wound, but that he could not tell for sure if the body had
been mutilated – perhaps because he did not remain with the body for any
significant length of time. Rather, the claim that Hintsa was mutilated
emerged from the testimony of Julie and Africa – and later Dr Laing of the
75th Regiment – who had heard that Southey cut off the ear both as trophy
and as proof of having killed Hintsa.

58 the deaths of hintsa

A crucial mechanism used by the court of inquiry to vindicate the
actions of Southey (and Colonel Smith under whose command the operation
was carried out) and to discredit the testimony of Campbell, Klaas, Julie and
Africa was to emphasise the importance of witnessing. Thus, in questioning
Julie and Africa, proximity to the actual shooting was emphasised over
claims made on the basis of that which was heard. Witnessing – or autopsy –
in this respect conveniently points to a more accepted and preferred form of
evidence. Klaas’s testimony is thus discredited because he was not a witness
to the event. The commission was determined then to show that Klaas’s
testimony was not to be trusted.
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Commissioner: Did you know whether Hintsa had attempted to resist

his pursuers in any manner?
Klaas: He threw an assegai.
Commissioner: When did he throw the assegai?
Klaas: I only heard that he had thrown an assegai at Colonel Smith.
Commissioner: Did you see Hintsa escape?
Klaas: I was not near enough to see Hintsa running.
Commissioner: If you were so far off as not to know who were
pursuing him, how did you know that it was Mr Southey who
shot him?
Klaas: I did not see him, I only heard so.58

Klaas’s testimony, as it appears in the process of archival rearrangement, is

important because it frames the rest of the questioning of the commissioners.
It might be argued that while the outcome was not surprising, the method by
which it was achieved was more important, especially since it depended on
the marginalisation of testimony that may have been crucial to an alternative
narrativisation of the event. In this respect it was not coincidental that the
testimony of Klaas is placed at the beginning of the record. The entire record
hinged on discrediting claims based on what was heard and on privileging that
which was witnessed.59 Autopsy helped to refute what may have been perceived
as second-hand knowledge and came to represent the only basis for verification.

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 59

In this sense, Klaas is rendered marginal to the unfolding commission of
inquiry. Klaas’s testimony – based as it was on what was heard – thus guided
the questions of the commission as a whole.
Autopsy, in the end, proved insufficient in establishing the colonial
charge that Hintsa be held responsible for his own death. Firstly, the charge
that Hintsa was involved in a conspiracy could not be proved through an
insistence on autopsy. Secondly, the repeated reference to the Xhosa who
followed events from the opposite banks of the river may have produced an
alternative version of the event that undermined colonial claims. Under these
conditions it became necessary to prove that Hintsa was plotting against the
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British while claiming to be at their service.

Verification, it seems, could not do without justification. The threat
that colonial officials speculated about in the period preceding Hintsa’s
killing emerged as an uncontested fact based on the testimony of chiefs
(both Hintsa’s allies and those co-opted by the British), missionaries and
traders. Following the testimonies of Campbell, Klaas, Julie, Africa and
Harry Smith (who provided the colonial justification for the killing of
Hintsa), the court record introduces more than 100 pages of letters from
traders, missionaries and military functionaries who had encountered the
Xhosa east of the Kei River before the killing. The letter by Rowles that had
suggested an inability to interpret the emergence of contact between the
Xhosa on the frontier and Hintsa was now deployed as a justification for the
shooting of Hintsa. Similarly, a letter dated 12 February 1835 from Captain
AB Strong to Smith, raising concern over Hintsa’s decision to move his
people a short distance from the frontier, was interpreted in 1836 as a plot
aimed at threatening the security of British settlers. Finally, John Ayliff – a
missionary based at Butterworth – whose letters had earlier complained of
Hintsa’s secret intentions which were unsettling the missionary station,
provided the court of inquiry with further evidence of a conspiracy. To
support the interpretation of this correspondence, the commission heard
the testimony of Xhosa chiefs who, as Pretorius has suggested, were used to
confirm Hintsa’s guilt. Chief Eno (Nqeno), a lesser chief in the Cape who had

60 the deaths of hintsa

supported Hintsa’s campaign against the British, stated that Hintsa, Tyalie
and Maqoma were in constant communication.60 This claim, which could
have been read as an indicator of the permeability of colonial boundaries,
now served the general case of the British who wished to establish the truth
about a conspiracy.
The cumulative effect of these testimonies – located in the larger
framework of the colonial archive – was to shift responsibility unequivocally
to Hintsa through the invocation of racist myth models frequently used to
characterise colonised subjects. In the case of the chief’s testimony, however,
it is possible to discern amidst the praises and gratitude for colonial rule the
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extent and limits of colonial intelligence gathering and knowledge.

I have already noted that Hintsa’s actions and behaviour invariably
bewildered colonial officials. No amount of translating of the movements
of the Xhosa through reports and dispatches clarified the chief’s position
vis-à-vis the expectations of the British. Similarly, Hintsa’s advice to Tyalie
and Maqoma, informing them of the movements of the British – what might
be called a counter-intelligence in the guise of surrender – hampered colonial
attempts at retrieving cattle so as to finance the war. The surreptitious
exchange was also a repeated source of doubt about the dangers that lurked
beyond the securities that colonial society had mapped out for itself. Most
importantly, though, the clearest indicator of the limits of colonial knowledge
was the inability to anticipate another story. We shall return to this point
later. Suffice it to say that in spite of all the collection of evidence – whether
through heterogeneous techniques of information gathering or through
processes of verification and refutation – the fear that counter-narratives
could possibly emerge in the interstices of the uncertainty of colonial
knowledge compelled the commission to summon Xhosa chiefs to declare
their allegiance to the British and to implicate Hintsa in a conspiracy against
those whom Tyalie called ‘British saviours’.
Outside of these institutional sanctions there were always other
stories to be told. Those stories would, unfortunately, bear the traces of
the massive colonial evidentiary base produced so as to defuse the tensions

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 61

of Empire. The alternative stories were, as we shall see, neither discrepant
nor blurred. Rather, they were woven in a limitless but generically
contradictory way so that the very concept of evidence was brought into
question. The colonial archive, therefore, can be thought of as a mode
of evidence that is distinguished by its ability to fabricate subjectivity.
It achieves this through the subjection of agency and by establishing a
difference between what can be said and what is actually said.
Contrary to the prevailing common sense that suspects the colonial
archive of an act of exclusion, the notion of the colonial archive as a mode
of evidence calls attention to the modalities of the inclusion of the subject
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as a subordinate proposition in discourse. It attends to the rules, language

games and discourses that produce the effects of the subjection of agency.
As a mode of evidence, the colonial archive invites examination of the
processes by which the subject of history is grounded and repeatedly
returned to the exercise of power as subaltern. Mostly, it allows us to track
the complicity of the discipline of history in this double move at the heart
of the colonial archive, even when work on the subject is conducted in the
name of resistance. My argument, as also stated elsewhere, is for reading the
colonial archive as complicit in the process of the social subjection of agency
and, as such, to view it as operating not as a source, but as a discourse – as a
specific mode of evidence. The colonial archive should not be seen merely as
composed of techniques of governmentality but as a narrative strategy in its
own right, one that is capable of organising our reading.
I believe that the challenge to historians reading the colonial archive
is to point out the inconsistencies (where it stutters in its articulation, as
Guha so eloquently puts it) in the story of colonialism and to mark them
as sites where another story may have taken place. To claim that subaltern
consciousness, voice or agency can be retrieved through colonial texts
is to ignore the organisation and representation of colonised subjects
as a subordinate proposition within primary discourses. While colonial
discourses are premised on a subordinate will – Foucault would say that
silence and marginality are constitutive of a discourse – that will is neither

62 the deaths of hintsa

representative of a subaltern collective consciousness nor independent of
the determinations of a colonial will. We might then seek to retain a sense
of the colonised as an unfathomable point of irreconcilability – what Spivak
calls ‘misfits of the text’ – in dominant frames of intelligibility. To claim that
colonial texts unwittingly permit a recuperation of the subaltern is to declare
a premature victory, one that may well surrender the consciousness or will of
subaltern subjects to the workings of colonial domination.
We need perhaps to approach that which is often mistakenly read as
subaltern consciousness in colonial records as an effect of domination rather
than as representative of the consciousness of the underclasses. What we are
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treated to in colonial texts is not necessarily the presence of the subaltern,

but the mechanics of Europe producing itself as sovereign subject through
its other. One cannot hope to retrieve a silence(d) subject (as has been
suggested in some recent historiography) by way of the colonial archive.
Reading against the grain, a tactic whereby the colonial archive is mined for
subaltern agency,61 is perhaps more usefully deployed, I would argue, as a
practice of criticism and not for the aims of alternative representations. As I
suggested in this chapter, agency has already been organised in relation to a
condition of domination. We may then read the colonial archive in terms of a
practice of criticism which, according to Ranajit Guha, begins by examining
the components of a discourse, the vehicle of all ideology, for the manner in
which these might have described any particular figure of speech.62

Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination 63

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the deaths of hintsa

Mistaken identity

but oh the white man peering slit-eyed,

hiding a musket under his arm.1
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How is it that a figure as prominent in South African history as Hintsa

is so consistently a subject of mistaken and conflicted identity in historical
representations of the colonial past? Writing in the aftermath of the shooting,
Colonel Harry Smith described the persistent doubt about the king’s
commitment to return cattle alleged to have been stolen from the colony.
Smith recalled that on the journey to retrieve the cattle, Hintsa behaved in
a manner that repeatedly prompted the British forces to suspect the king of
duplicity. He is said to have procrastinated and prepared a necklace made
of grass, probably as a token of luck for the deception he had planned ahead
of time. Colonel Smith claims to have warned Hintsa against harbouring
thoughts of escaping as they ascended the banks of the Nqabara River. The
preparation of the token and the supposedly cunning smile offered by Hintsa
as a response to hearing Smith’s warning all seemed to fall into place after
the fact of the killing. The cause for suspicion was apparently confirmed for
Smith as the news of Hintsa’s death emerged from the depths of the valley in
which the Nqabara River flowed and as the danger lurking in the landscape
blurred into the events surrounding the killing. These recollections combined
to forge an image of the king in the aftermath of the killing.

The killing of Hintsa was rapidly absorbed into the deliberations
of a settler public sphere in Grahamstown. This sphere represented the
contestations emanating from the war of 1834–35 in which Hintsa was
killed and connected the relatively isolated settler society in and around
Grahamstown to a larger framework of Empire.2 A settler community,
locked away in the far reaches of the eastern Cape frontier zones, could not
merely rely on conventional forms of communication to establish its place
in the world of the nineteenth-century bourgeoisie. The debates that raged
in the pages of The Grahamstown Journal and the South African Commercial
Advertiser during the 1830s between humanitarian liberals and settler
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conservatives, which Andrew Bank persuasively marks as an inaugural

moment of South African historiography, were not sufficient for constituting
a settler public sphere.3 Equally important was the work of representing the
frontier to metropolitan audiences and winning their sympathies for the
struggles being waged on the edges of Empire.
Settler sentiment momentarily merged with this official colonial
stance on the war. The governor of the Cape Colony, Benjamin D’Urban,
used the war of 1834–35 as a pretext for initially mobilising colonial sentiment
in favour of a policy of expansion. The killing of Hintsa in 1835, however,
exposed the fragile basis of the alliance between settlers in the eastern Cape
and colonial officials, especially around the office of the Secretary of State for
the Colonies in London. The fragility of the alliance between settler society
and colonial officialdom was exposed by the interventions of an emergent
humanitarian lobby in Britain, and an expanding oppositional voice in
the Cape Colony aggrieved at the ill-treatment of ‘British subjects’ at the
hands of the settlers. The killing of Hintsa became another example of a
growing problem of Empire, which was made up of competing interests and
investments in the colonial project and increasingly defined by the tensions
of Empire. 4 News of the demise of the king spread far and wide, serving in
turn to forge the beginnings of a settler public sphere in Grahamstown pitted
against the views gathering force in the office of the Colonial Secretary in
London. It also served the course of the humanitarians as word of the killing

66 the deaths of hintsa

reached Thomas Fowell Buxton in the House of Commons in London, who
in turn referred to the incident to bolster the standing of those arguing
against the ill-treatment meted out to subjects in Britain’s colonies.
In the euphoria that ensued in Grahamstown following the
king’s demise, his name was inserted into tensions involving a fledgling
settler public sphere, a discordant Cape colonial officialdom and a
largely metropolitan lobby constituted under the banner of a liberal
humanitarianism. If the humanitarians found sources of inspiration in the
British anti-slavery movement, the fledgling settler public along the eastern
Cape frontier resorted to talk about the killing of Hintsa and the threat
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posed by the Xhosa to the settlement of Grahamstown to stake a claim in the

broader politics of Empire. This they did in part by implicating Hintsa in the
practices of slavery, thereby hoping to win greater support in the midst of a
burgeoning anti-slavery movement. The formation of a settler public sphere
in Grahamstown, in other words, benefited from the publicity generated
by Hintsa’s killing. Given that it was in part sustained by an act of colonial
violence, the deliberations of the settler public sphere allow us to review the
civility generally accorded to the deliberative aspects of the bourgeois public
sphere by critical scholars such as Jurgen Habermas.5 The point is not merely
to pit bourgeois sensibility against colonial culture but also to probe how the
colonial archive impinges on an imagined settler public sphere.
Ultimately, the very perspectivalism that punctuated the proceedings
of the commission of inquiry in 1836, replete, as shown in the previous
chapter, with references to the distance from the scene of the killing and the
privileging of the scopic over the sonoric, produced a surplus of words and
images that seeped into the deliberations of the settler public sphere. As
the deliberations between settlers and colonial officials intensified around
the outcomes of the war of 1834–35, the need to contain the proliferation
and circulation of the name of Hintsa resulted in an attempt at what I call
a ‘grounding’ of the subject. By this I mean specifically the way words and
images combined to constitute the subject, not only for the purposes of
colonial governmentality but also as the subject that most cogently mediated

mistaken identity 67
and served the emergent interests of a settler public sphere. I want to refer to
this excess as an imaginary structure, in part because it continues the process
of the interpellation of the subject begun by the colonial archive as it also
seeks to limit the scope of enunciation to the dominant interests of settler
society. This overlap of elements of the imaginary structure consequently
produced a subject of mistaken identity, as the memory of the king was both
literally and figuratively pinned to the metonymic grounds of his killing.
The deliberations surrounding Hintsa in London and Grahamstown
not only reveal how public spheres constitute subjectivities; they also allow us
to track the function of the imaginary structure in producing the subaltern
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as a subject effect. Thinking ahead to 1996, this relationship between

enunciation in the public sphere and the grounding of the subject in colonial
discourse was perhaps what was also elided in the many responses to
Nicholas Gcaleka. In thinking about the imaginary structure that is elided in
the public responses to Gcaleka’s dream, we might begin by first considering
the place that Hintsa occupied in the discourse of a fledgling settler public
sphere in the early nineteenth century. To fully understand this process
I want to turn to the textual productions of Hintsa in portraits, diaries,
travel writing and art to explore how the subjection of agency was rendered
complete in the aftermath of the king’s killing. The subjection of agency, I
argue, is achieved by relating the colonised subject to the landscape or what I
call the process of grounding Hintsa.

A case of mistaken identity

The image of Hintsa that today features in museums, popular histories and
academic texts belongs to the colonial archive and an emergent settler public
sphere on the far reaches of the eastern Cape frontier zones in the 1830s.
Images of unreliable and treacherous Xhosa chiefs characteristically mediated
the formation of a settler identity on the eastern Cape frontier during the
nineteenth century. Specifically, the most persistent image of a cunning,
untrustworthy and treacherous chief was that associated with a portrait of

68 the deaths of hintsa

Hintsa produced in the 1830s by the surveyor-general, Charles Cornwallis
Michell. Michell’s portrait served as an accompaniment to his cartographic
representation of the landscape in which the saga of the death – as opposed
to killing – of Hintsa unfolded, and as such was an indispensable prop in
understanding the narrative of the war of 1834–35.6 (See Figure 2 on p. 83
and Figure 5a on p. 98). The surveyor-general was part of the entourage
that set off with Hintsa to the Mbashe River in search of the allegedly stolen
cattle. Produced in the nineteenth century, the portrait by Michell may be
explained in terms of a rapid rise in the demand among British military
officials for portraits of Xhosa chiefs and studies of African people.7 To
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explain this demand for images of ‘the enemy’, Lucy Alexander, curator of the
Frederick I’Ons retrospective exhibition in 1990, suggests that they served
as souvenirs and ‘that it was the expression of admiration for the opponent
not unlike that of the trophy hunter’.8 For Alexander, the portraits refer to the
‘ultimate exorcism of the enemy, exceeded only by the physical mutilation – as
in the case of Hintsa – of the bodies of the enemy’.9 An aesthetic practice
originally directed at the ceremonial presentation of the bourgeois self in
industrial Europe was adapted for purposes of casting a formidable enemy
and exaggerating the bravery of British military personnel along the eastern
frontier of the Cape Colony.10
The portrait of Hintsa returns us to the place of the subject of violence
in the colonial lexicon. In the space of colonial enunciation Hintsa would
forever be consigned to the status of subordination – that place in the colonial
statement reserved for those intransigent opponents of colonial advance.
Hintsa, it seems, emerged as a figure of speech, a supplement of the desire
to ground and govern the colonised subject as the war of 1834–35 approached.
The story of the killing of Hintsa, especially when later told in the register
of anti-colonial resistance, would often encounter this location of the proper
name of Hintsa in colonial discourse as a specific limit. This was also the
case when efforts were made to narrate the event as part of a larger story of
colonial excess and violence, of objectification and the loss of subjectivity.
What remained intact was the symbolic status accorded to the name of

mistaken identity 69
Hintsa by colonial officials. While the regime of truth reminds us of the
status of Hintsa as object of colonial discourse, the imaginary structure of
colonial enunciation reminds us why the truth about the killing of Hintsa is
anything but self-evident.
Lucy Alexander’s retrospective exhibition on I’Ons is critical for
precisely this reason. It draws us into a strategy of reading that compels us
to confront the referential illusion of portraiture with the accompanying
demand for exploring the subject’s position in the grammar of domination
that supports and sustains it. She encourages us not to think of portraiture
as a series of objective representations, a point supported by the confusion
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that surrounds the image of Hintsa. In the catalogue to the retrospective

exhibition held in 1990, Alexander expressed some doubt that Frederick
I’Ons, who had arrived in Grahamstown in November 1834, would have
produced a portrait of Hintsa. I’Ons was one of the leading producers of
portraits on the eastern Cape frontier zones in the 1800s. He was responsible
for producing a range of portraits of Xhosa chiefs such as Maqoma, Sarhili
and Sandile, amongst others. Despite his reputation as a portraitist of Xhosa
chiefs, Alexander notes that an oil painting assumed to be of Hintsa may in
fact be of a lesser chief, Nqeno (see Figure 1).
This seems to be the same chief depicted in a portrait in the 1820
Settlers Museum in Grahamstown (SM 2527) which is labelled as Eno
[Nqeno]. The label (alluding to Hintsa) handwritten by John Levison
Gower is contemporary. Hintsa died aged 46 in 1835: this looks like an
older man. I’Ons may have seen Hintsa in captivity but he certainly
met Nqeno. The dignified calm in the chief’s pose seems unlikely to
be that of the captive Hintsa.11

Far from being objective portrayals, Alexander suggests that many portraitists
subsumed the colonised subject into the genre of nineteenth-century
English artistic traditions, especially the picturesque – a distinct product of
the nineteenth-century Romantic imagination. In the case of the portrait of
Nqeno probably mistaken by its present owner as Hintsa, Alexander tells us

70 the deaths of hintsa

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Figure 1: The cover of the Frederick I’Ons exhibition

catalogue; there is little clarity on whether the figure
portrayed is Hintsa or Nqeno.

that the depiction is not devoid of colonial desire. In her reading of the case of
mistaken identity, she suggests that the elegant pose of the subject resting on
a rock signifies possession of land and its underutilisation – the issue allegedly
around which the Sixth Frontier War was fought. For Alexander, it is the
landscape that invites interpretation of the portrait. Another way of stating this
is that the work of interpretation is a necessary condition for understanding
portraiture because, even in this most literal sense of grounding, the subject
of the portrait is meaningful only insofar as it is related to the circumstances

mistaken identity 71
of its production.12 If reading the portraits of Xhosa chiefs produced in the
1830s can only be made sense of through the circumstances of their making,
we might suggest that it was not to the English picturesque that Alexander
should have turned to provide a reading of the portraits of Xhosa chiefs, but
rather to more localised settler productions of history.

The settler audience of colonial narration

In the years following the conclusion of the Sixth Frontier War in 1834–35, the
genocidal attitudes of settlers on the eastern Cape frontier became increasingly
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apparent, especially in response to the failure of the colonial government to

compensate those subjects of the British Crown who claimed to have lost their
livelihoods in the war. A growing sense of disgruntlement, if not anger,
amongst settlers in the eastern Cape towards the colonial government can be
traced in the letters that circulated amongst those who experienced, directly or
indirectly, the war of 1834–35. This was a battle between political missionaries –
as some aggrieved settlers labelled the officials seeking treaties with the
Xhosa chiefdoms – and land speculators, comprising settlers and their local
representatives, which continued well beyond the events of 1835.13
These letters articulated views that were often echoed in the public
outcry about the war of 1834–35. For the settlers on the eastern Cape
frontier, the recalling of Benjamin D’Urban from the position as governor
and the return of the ceded territory to its original inhabitants were
construed as acts of betrayal on the part of the colonial office in London.
Adding insult to injury, Secretary of State for the Colonies Lord Glenelg’s
insistence on the institution of a commission of inquiry into the death of
Hintsa clearly angered settlers in the eastern Cape. The local press was
increasingly filled with outraged responses at what was seen as a sleight
of hand on the part of Glenelg. In the settler mindset, and even more so
after official decrees against settler society as a whole in the eastern Cape,
the memory of Hintsa could not be erased because it defined the political
contests between settlers and metropolitan policy in the 1830s. The memory

72 the deaths of hintsa

of the king therefore punctuated the settler imagination throughout the
nineteenth century.
Later, with the stirrings of the 1850s, we learn from the letters that
these sentiments had crystallised into demands for the extermination of
the Xhosa. In a letter from Harry Smith to Caesar Andrews – secretary to
burgher forces in 1835 – during the War of Mlanjeni in 1851, for example,
the gallantry of battalions marching to the Mbashe River in the 1830s was
recollected nostalgically, if not chillingly:
If I had but the two battalions some of whom were with us over the
Bashee and a few more such I would make quick work with those
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villainous Gaika’s. I wish the Boers would come into the Amatholes in
straggling parties. They have my permission for extermination, it is now
the only word and principle to guide us. I have named General Somerset
Commandant General but I should be glad if the Boers would name their
own Commandant. Under him they may go on their way and shoot as
they like so that they add their force to the general cause. This is a war of
Black against White and the White must combine or lose all.14

By limiting claims for compensation to burgher forces that incurred losses

while on duty, the colonial government had seemingly alienated large numbers
of settlers. The Methodist missionary John Ayliff complained bitterly to
Godlonton in 1850 of the loss of his horses in the war of 1834–35, for which he
had not been compensated.15 William Southey, Holden Bowker – a commando
during the Sixth Frontier War – and others lodged similar claims.16 Repeated
calls for the ‘extermination of the native’, subduing the Xhosa and confiscating
their land accompanied the sense of bitterness and betrayal. The failure of
ever realising these outcomes – of pursuing a programme of genocide and
unlocking potential sources of black labour – re-established a certain currency
in the story of the killing of Hintsa. In 1865, the battle at Thaba Bosigo, for
example, was accompanied by comparisons of the Basotho king, Moshoeshoe,
with Hintsa. William Southey noted on that occasion that, like Hintsa,
Moshoeshoe ‘does not relish to pay for the terrible depredations committed by

mistaken identity 73
his people in the Free State’.17 Many settlers in the eastern Cape, in keeping
with the vilification of Hintsa, sought to continue the process of expropriation
of land despite the reluctance of the colonial state, which had returned land in
the ceded territory that had initially been expropriated from the Xhosa after the
Battle of Amalinde in 1819 involving Ngqika.
Settler interests in the eastern Cape mediated the tensions that
surfaced in a discourse that designated the rules of the true following the
commission of inquiry into Hintsa’s death. They achieved this mediation
partly by rearranging and redeploying the referent ‘Hintsa’ in colonial
discourse. The desire to colonise land occupied by Xhosa chiefs had as its
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correlate the radical rearrangement of the colonised subject in colonial

discourse. To explore the politics of this rearrangement, we may have to
consider the difference revealed in the modalities of colonial enunciation,
especially as these narratives approach the specific story of the killing
of Hintsa. Critical to the formation of a settler public sphere was the
mobilisation of sentiment around the war of 1834–35 in letters, diaries and
autobiographies – documents with a private aura but a public intent.
The resilience of the connection between a settler identity and the
story of the killing of Hintsa was proved in 1877, some 42 years after his
death, when Hintsa made a dramatic reappearance on the stage of colonial
advance and its history. The spectre, it seems, was provoked by the pending
resurgence of tensions along the frontier. Hintsa’s resurrection was primarily
motivated by the trouble that colonialists attributed to the chief’s son, Sarhili,
around 1877.18 But colonial officials also alluded to rumours of the ghost of
Hintsa circulating amongst the Xhosa, and used the spectre as a warning of
pending warfare.19 Knowledge of these rumours served as confirmation for
those residing on the frontier that the killing of Hintsa had undermined the
position of the settlers in respect of the attitude of their own colonial office.
The resultant bitterness was recalled in several diaries and autobiographies
of civilians who claimed immediate experience of the war of 1834–35.
Caesar Andrews’s Reminiscences of the Kaffir War 1834–1835 was one
example of this recurring theme linking the memory of Hintsa to the threat

74 the deaths of hintsa

of war. The presentation of the diary for publication in 1877 coincided with the
presumed threat of a Gcaleka uprising under the leadership of Sarhili. By the
author’s own admission, the supposed threat posed by Sarhili necessitated a
recollection of the war of 1834–35 in which the latter’s father was a prominent
figure. Andrews’s account of the war was not merely aimed at emphasising
the victory of the British over the Gcaleka in 1835, nor did it only strive to draw
equivalence between Hintsa and Sarhili – although traces of both are readily
available in the text. Rather, Andrews was determined to establish pathways to
the truth supposedly shorn of the official colonial determinations that governed
the narration of the settler experience. Early in his publication, he confesses:
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It is not necessary for me to make any apology for submitting to those,

who may feel interested in the subject, some notes of the events of
the war of 1834–1835. I may at once state that I make no pretensions
whatever to write in a style intended to produce any other feelings
than that of perfect reliance on the part of the reader that what I
write in the plainest language is true [emphasis in Andrews] and is
compiled from notes made daily during that war, when the writer
served as Secretary to the Burgher forces under Colonel Smith,
Chief of Staff, afterwards Sir Harry Smith, the hero of Aliwal. I have
considered it best to sketch the daily incidents from my diary as they
occurred after my duties as Secretary were complete, for, being a
tyro in the art of writing, I have feared to lose in accuracy through
attempting to gain in style.20

In the tensions of Empire, plain language supposedly promised truth as

it addressed a community of settlers whose interests often diverged from
the perspectives of the colonial office. Andrews’s plain language makes a
concerted effort to link the events of 1834–35 and 1877 as a general strategy
of bypassing the territorial policies of colonial officialdom. I shall return
in Chapter 5 to the eruption of hostilities in 1877 which the diary narrates.
Here it serves to illustrate how the colonial imaginary worked to organise the
discourse surrounding Hintsa. The first effect of Andrews’s plain language,

mistaken identity 75
already mentioned, is contained in the introduction to the diary when he
connects Hintsa to Sarhili, and by extension insinuates a continuity of
characterological traits. The second example is by way of a parenthetical entry
to a description of the events following the killing of Hintsa. The entry reads:
Taking his son Kreli [Sarhili] with us, we pursued the spoor of cattle
towards the Bashee and came in sight of them before sunset. We
observed vast herds being driven off in all directions on the opposite
mountain range (Bomvanaland in 1877, where Kreli has recently done
the same – repeating history).21
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What we encounter in a reading of this diary is a certain substitution of

proper names with what is taken to be the general pattern of settler–Xhosa
relations. Hence, in Andrews’s parenthetical detail it is a case of history
repeating itself. That repetition, however, did not apply to the reproduction
of the diary. The two versions of the diary, that written in 1835 and the
subsequent one presented for publication, contain a notable discrepancy in
the respective accounts of the death of Hintsa. In the original field notes
from which the reworked version was drawn, there is no suggestion that
Southey was in any way threatened and that his shot was in response to the
threat posed by a fleeing Hintsa.22
The diary reproduces its own authority by being framed by the aura
of privacy and secrecy. Its public appearance therefore often conveys a sense
of authenticity, if not immediacy. Yet, in every manner of their crafting and
choice of subject matter, diaries are extremely public documents. There is
an expectation that the text would be read at some point. Andrews’s diary
was no exception, caught as it was in the hurly-burly of tensions between
the colonial office in England and the settlers on the eastern Cape frontier.
In the aftermath of the killing of Hintsa, the Colonial Secretary responded
by removing Governor D’Urban from office, demanding the institution of a
commission of inquiry and insisting on the return of land, which had been
earmarked for settlement, to the Xhosa. The uncertainty and acrimony
in relations between metropolitan officials and settlers after the killing of

76 the deaths of hintsa

Hintsa meant that settler recollections would seek to establish a unified
settler identity and response by controlling the narrative of the killing.
Andrews’s diary expressed that sense of control over the narration of
the killing of Hintsa. It was also a crucial element in negotiating a unified
settler identity because in it author, experience, and casting of a moral
subject were conflated as a code that unified settler society. Andrews makes a
concerted effort to remind the reader that he had accompanied Smith on his
expedition against the Gcaleka in the 1830s. He had also testified in favour
of the innocence of Smith at the inquiry following Hintsa’s killing. The diary
sets out to verify the version of Smith that was presented to the court of inquiry
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albeit independently, according to Andrews, of access to the record generated

by the commission of inquiry. Regretting not having found ‘any record of the
evidence in the court of enquiry’, Andrews’s narrative nevertheless supports
Smith’s actions in much the same way as the court record does.23 References
to Hintsa appear in the midst of the enunciation of settler interests set against
metropolitan hegemony over the colonial enterprise.
The autobiography of Harry Smith, published in 1901, consolidates
this ambition by elevating the settler as unified subject at the expense of the
diminishing agency of Hintsa. It proceeds by distinguishing between the
subject of history and the subject with history. Having described his journey
to the Cape and his first months there, Smith turns to the beginning of
D’Urban’s role as governor in 1834. D’Urban’s ascendancy was accompanied
by the decision to dispatch Smith to the frontier to deal with the Xhosa, who
at the beginning of Chapter 33 of the autobiography ‘burst into the Colony,
carrying with them fire, sword, devastation, and cold-blooded murder and
spoiling the fertile estates and farms like a mountain avalanche’.24 Smith’s
entire narrative is built around the adventures of the journey east from
Cape Town. Interspersed in the telling there are extensive references to
James Edward Alexander’s writings, especially his Narrative of a Voyage
of Observation. We are referred to Alexander’s texts for descriptions of
particular events, such as those of 9 March when the Boer Commandant
Rademeyer is said to have evacuated a large number of Xhosa from the

mistaken identity 77
once impenetrable Fish River, or to verify D’Urban’s positive impressions
of Smith’s actions.25 Cross-referencing offers more than simply a device
for filling narrative gaps. It also gestures, I would argue, towards a secular
knowledge that is indispensable for determining the subject of history
through the method of proof. The properly historical subject, moreover, is
one that separates pleasure from mission, that possesses a consciousness of
the importance of pastness, especially those aspects of the past which define
the destiny of the self-proclaimed hero.
Let us join Smith’s story at the point at which he provides justification
for his mission to the Kei River to retrieve what he calls ‘colonial cattle’.
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Crossing the bed of the Tsomo, Smith describes his ‘most precipitate march
on Hintsa’s kraal’.26 Not finding him there, Smith set about burning the
kraal. This provocation, it is claimed, brought Hintsa into the British camp
in an ‘undaunted manner’.27 It is at this point in the narrative that Smith
places before us the weight of secularity, mobilising it against the inveterate
weakness of desire:
(The poor savage always buries the past in oblivion, and regards the
present only. He has not the most distant idea of right or wrong as
regards his line of conduct. Self-interest is his controlling impulse,
and desire stands for law and rectitude).28

Smith’s statement separates the historical from the presumably ahistorical

subject in a manner where the former is cast as the agent of the march of
progress. Locked away in parentheses and followed by a description of the
grievances against Hintsa that were recorded in writing by D’Urban, Smith’s
narrative is not only an account of the triumph of the hagiographic figure of
history – it is also a narrative of the triumph of those who possess the spirit
of history. In short, history, in this account, belongs to victory in much the
same way as it guarantees it.
Such untimely subjects as Hintsa were prone to the negative
stereotype of colonial discourse. Not too long after the description of the
untimeliness of Hintsa, Smith describes the circumstances leading up to the

78 the deaths of hintsa

killing of Hintsa. For all intents and purposes, the narrative is predictable
and well rehearsed. The usual binaries apply: the supposed savagery of
Hintsa metaphorised through the slaughter of a beast, described in chilling
detail, on the eve before the entourage set out to retrieve the stolen cattle,
compared to the remorse felt by Smith following the allegedly unintentional
shooting of the king. Slightly removed from the actual scene of the killing,
Smith claims to have heard of the outcome of Hintsa’s failed attempt at
escape from Southey minutes after the shooting – with, he later added,
a sense of melancholy. As may be expected of a discourse of virtues so
common to autobiography, no mention is made of the mutilation of the body –
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its dismemberment – for that act was cast as a product of the imagination of
those opposed to progress.
The negative stereotype that founds the settler public sphere faced
one major difficulty. The subject, Hintsa, refused to acknowledge Southey’s
hailing as he scurried down the slope of the Nqabara River. He refused to
heed Smith’s and Southey’s call to halt and he did not turn in recognition of
the source of the hail. This double failure meant that the negative stereotype
would be entirely given over to the task of grounding Hintsa. This was
achieved by ensuring that the Hintsa who emerged as a figure of speech
of the diary and autobiography was repeatedly and necessarily processed
through the relations established between landscape and portraiture.

Travel writing

On its own, Michell’s portrait of Hintsa had little meaning until placed
in a larger textual network. Shortly after the commission of inquiry into
Hintsa’s death, its meaning was genealogically altered when it was included
in the travel writing of James Edward Alexander, a member of the Royal
Geographic Society, in the 1830s. Alexander’s An Expedition of Discovery
into the Interior of Africa professed a strong desire to discover some of the
secrets of ‘the great and mysterious continent of Africa while consenting
to exchange civilized for savage life’, a view that was not too far from the

mistaken identity 79
prevailing views of most of the inhabitants of Grahamstown.29 Desire
and discovery, secrecy and mystery belonged to the ongoing saga of the
competitive spirit of being the first to find, enter or discover areas unknown
to Europeans – Gordon in 1777, Patterson in 1778, Le Valliant in 1781, Barrow
in 1797, Truter and Somerville in 1801, Lichtenstein in 1805, Burchell in 1809,
Campbell in 1813, Thompson in 1827, Hume in 1834 and perhaps Alexander
in 1838. So powerful was the desire to be part of the list of firsts that from the
seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries, no less than 175 names of travellers
and explorers, including that of Alexander, were carved into the walls of the
Heerenlogement Cave in the north-western Karoo in the hope of posterity.30
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To have his name included in this list, Alexander had set his sights on the
area between the 21st and 24th parallels – the area he identified as being
inhabited by the Damaras. His arrival at the Cape early in 1835, sponsored by
the Royal Geographic Society, unfortunately coincided with a South Africa
that he would later describe as being ‘in a state of commotion’. As Alexander
notes, ‘tensions between the Amakosa and the Cape colony meant that it
was evidently not the time for geographical research’.31 Instead, he opted for
military service and became an aide-de-camp and private secretary to the
governor, D’Urban, in 1835.
The interruption profoundly affected relations between explorer and
sponsor, so much so that in its recollection of the period in the centenary
commemorative history of the Royal Geographic Society, Hugh Robert Mill
(the Society’s president in 1930) alluded to the tensions that emerged around
Alexander’s expedition. Alexander, it appears, was thought of as a promising
traveller who would contribute significantly to the map collection in the
Society’s library. Given limited financial resources, the Society, according to
Mill, made arrangements for Alexander to travel as ‘a man of war and the
Government’.32 Effectively, this entailed a nondescript passage, the benefits
of which could be shared by settler society and the colonial government. The
uncertainty surrounding the terms of contract, then, may have been at the
core of the tensions that would engulf Alexander’s mission to the Cape. Mill
writes of this tension as follows:

80 the deaths of hintsa

Before 1834, [Alexander] was on his way. The work went on year after
year, and every Council meeting had to consider letters, sometimes
several letters, from [Alexander], explaining delays, always asking
for more money, and sometimes reporting results obtained which
were communicated to the evening meetings. There was trouble in
getting Government grants; there was even more trouble in getting
replies from Alexander when asked for details and justification for
his expenses. This led to threats of a suspension of supplies, and
warnings that the society’s credit must not be further pledged.33
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As for the gains for geography – as Mill put it with a tone of disappointment,
partly at the losses incurred by the Society – the Delagoa Bay expedition was
terminated and instead excursions were undertaken across the Orange River
into Damara and Namaqua lands, reaching Walvis Bay on the West Coast.
To salvage something of this generally described failure, Mill notes that
Alexander enjoyed much big-game shooting and rendered good services to
the Cape government, for which he was knighted. Similarly, he is recognised
for having gone on to fight in the Crimea and in New Zealand and for rising
to the rank of General, until his death in 1885.
Alexander’s oeuvre, consisting of five book-length accounts of his
travels and experiences, defies the general assessment of failure offered by
Mill in 1930. Neither simply a representative oeuvre of colonial mindsets nor
merely a window to a colonial context, Alexander’s writing permits us to
explore the relationship between discourse and narrative and to investigate
the way an imaginary structure is folded into the operation of a system
of knowledge. It also reveals what knowledge and the limits of knowledge
meant for the colonial enterprise.
The war of 1835 that interrupted Alexander’s geographical research
and, consequently, the Royal Geographic Society’s ambition of cartographic
procurement, was later incorporated into a book on travel writing entitled
Narrative of a Voyage of Observation, published in 1837. Chapter 23, which
is dedicated to the events that make up the reason for the supposed

mistaken identity 81
interruption, begins with a cartographical sketch of the Gnanabaka
(Nqabara) River. The sketch, produced by the surveyor Charles Cornwallis
Michell, was first made available as an accompaniment to the record of the
inquiry compiled in the aftermath of the events of 12 May 1835. Michell’s
map, appropriately titled Plan of the Ground where Hintsa attempted his Escape,
and was killed, featured a representation of the four miles over which the
action in which Hintsa was killed occurred (see Figure 2). A distance of one
mile was covered in the approach of Hintsa and his escort of British forces
as they reached the Nqabara River from the direction of the Guada River (‘a’
to ‘h’ on the map). The second mile started at the point at which the Nqabara
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River was crossed and illustrates, by way of a perforated line, the decision to
follow the cattle trail to the right. The third mile (marked ‘a’ to ‘b’) indicates
the distance covered by Hintsa as he tried to escape from Smith’s escort, the
chase by Smith and the eventual dislodging of Hintsa from his horse. From
the letter marked ‘b’ to an almost undecipherable ‘e’ placed in the Nqabara
River, we have the distance covered by Hintsa as he is dislodged from his
horse, pursued by Southey and Lieutenant Balfour and eventually shot and
killed. The fourth mile brings into view a kraal to which Hintsa was allegedly
heading before Smith stopped him. Two further points are ‘f’ and ‘g’, which
respectively position Umtini (Hintsa’s councillor) – who had earlier left the
party escorting Hintsa and who observed the events – and the other spoor of
cattle to the left, which Hintsa dissuaded Smith from pursuing.
Like the sketch, the summary of topics that precedes Alexander’s
account in Narrative of a Voyage repeats a familiar story of the event. Phrases
like ‘The General Proclaims the Kye to be a new Boundary – A Short Review
of a Change in Sir Benjamin D’Urban’s sentiments – His Declaration to
Hintsa – The Policy of Extending the Colony – Duplicity of Hintsa – Return
of Colonel Smith’s Corps – Death of Hintsa’ all work to conjure up the
terms of a familiar story. One consequential exception relates to the alleged
treachery of Hintsa who had set a trap in advance of the British forces.
While there is significant repetition of the plot of the story about
the killing of Hintsa in Alexander’s travel account, there is also a unique

82 the deaths of hintsa

Collection: South African Library, Cape Town
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Figure 2: Charles Michell’s cartographic representation of the landscape in which

Hintsa was killed, published in 1835.

interplay of illustration and narrative – at least when compared to the

commission of inquiry into the killing of Hintsa. ‘On the 7th of May,’
Alexander writes, ‘I witnessed a most interesting sight, and one which
causes this day to be of great importance in the annals of South Africa.’34
The statement is followed by an illustration by Michell depicting the
migration of ‘Fingoes’ and alluding to the catalyst for the events that are
to follow (see Figure 3 on page 84). Illustration is here elevated to underline
the importance of the visual and to lay the groundwork for a story in
which the idea of a treacherous Hintsa and a dangerous landscape could
be invoked as interchangeable signifiers. The slippage between sign systems
is best demonstrated later in the narrative where treachery and danger
are collapsed:

mistaken identity 83
It has thus been seen that, during the whole course of the negotiations
and transactions with this savage chief, he never acted otherwise
than with the greatest duplicity and bad faith; and only in the single
instance of his stopping the massacre of the Fingoes, when under
the influence of fear for the consequences to himself, did he ever act
otherwise: but the day of retribution was at hand.35

In the very next paragraph, Alexander writes of the landscape:

On leaving the bed of the Kye [Kei] we discovered, rather late, the
dangerous situation in which we had been. There is a blaau tulp or
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pale blue moroea, which grows there in considerable abundance; and

this, when other vegetation is scanty, the cattle devour, with fatal
effect to themselves. As we ascended the heights, we passed ox after
ox in the agonies of death; and we lost by the poison plant, which
inflamed and swelled their insides, at least a hundred head of cattle.
Some Fingoes also died from eating the tainted flesh.36
After JE Alexander, Excursions in western Africa

Figure 3: Flight of the Fingoes [sic], by Charles Michell, 1836.

84 the deaths of hintsa

We should perhaps read this interchange as expressing the possibilities of
violence (a point developed in the previous chapter) and the fragmentation
of a conception of the territory beyond the Kei River into the realms of
the informational and the aesthetic. Michell’s work as a surveyor and his
attention to detail were indispensable in defining a sense of the territory.
The attention to detail, mediated as such by way of the visualisation of the
landscape, served two interrelated functions. On the one hand, it helped to
infuse actual danger in the landscape with associations with Hintsa and
vice versa. On the other hand, it demarcated the informational and aesthetic
within the broader logic of territorial conquest, thereby connecting an
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empirical description of the landscape in a way that validates the sense of

danger represented by both.
The dislocative gesture hinted at here has the added effect of
duplicating the specific division between the real and the imaginary. This
work of division was arguably crucial to the reconfiguration of the concept
of space in the colonial imaginary. An informational logic was guaranteed
by counterposing vision to imagination, the real to the aesthetic and order
to chaos. By privileging the informational over the sentimental, and to
circumvent the threat posed by language to their realist outlooks, travel
writers like Alexander invented the category of the real danger wherein
the imminence of danger was linked to an event that was marked as real.
In effect, what seemed to be conveyed is a notion of landscape – to borrow
liberally from Michael Taussig – as a space of death ‘the breadth of which
offers positions of advance as well as of extinction’.37
Alexander, for example, tells us how together with Lt. Col. Robert
Thompson of the Royal Engineers, and Major Charles Michell, the first
surveyor-general of the Cape Colony, he was commissioned to establish
the first military post of occupation so as to ‘secure possession of the new
territory’.38 The area chosen for what was later called Smith’s Tower was
selected for ‘its fine commanding site’ about ‘5 or 6 miles from the Kye’.39
As described by Alexander, the building conveyed a sense of order imposed
on an aesthetically appealing but nevertheless unassuming landscape.

mistaken identity 85
Consider, for instance, ‘a square redoubt of sixty yards each face, enclosing
a circular cattle kraal for forty horses, with a ditch and abattoir outside,
and the fence fifty yards distant, out of assegai range, all speedily traced,
and with jackets off and working parties of pick, shovel and hatchet men
set to vigorously complete the work’, 40 as opposed to ‘the banks of a small
stream called the Impotshana, near a ravine three hundred feet deep, with
precipitous sides which almost approached each other, throwing the bottom
filled with trees, into deep gloom, becoming a valley of death’. 41 The story
of colonial advance and the tone in which the death of Hintsa was to be
narrativised privileged order and reality over a sentimental attachment to the
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landscape. In Alexander’s text, the actual event of 12 May is explained over six
pages, with little if any digression from the script that was performed in the
preceding commission of inquiry in 1836. However, colonialism was not only
a story of advance but also of retreat, repetition and loss.
Alexander’s entry on 13 May, the day after the killing of Hintsa,
tells a different story. It warns that the conceptualisation of space
emphasising the importance of surveying – the desire to capture, describe
and inhabit – was never beyond the spectre of danger. The day is marked
in colonial memory by the calamity that befell Major TC White – the
assistant Quartermaster General of the burgher force. White, regarded
in colonial circles as an excellent scholar and surveyor, was anxious to
add ‘to his carefully constructed map of the country through which the
troops had passed since the commencement of the war’. 42 Having ignored
the dissuasion of Captain Ross and Caesar Andrews, it is believed White
proceeded to a hill above the camp where he was attacked and killed. The
mourning of the death of White pointed to a double tragedy, for in the event
that saw the demise of White, his vast cartographic output, sophisticated
equipment and intricate sketches had also disappeared – lost, as it were, to
history. Alexander quotes the three troopers who had accompanied White, to
narrate the story:
The major had placed [them] at different points of observation; and
with the corporal beside him, and his surveying table before him, he

86 the deaths of hintsa

was looking down a krantz, or precipice; when a dozen Kaffirs crept
on him from the bush and long grass, threw an assegai from behind
through his back, and ran up and finished their work. They also
stabbed the corporal through the heart; and then collected the horses.
The three videttes, unable to render any assistance, fired off their
pieces and retreated. 43

The bodies were discovered, we are told, stripped and bloody, and the
double-barrelled guns, the major’s gold chronometer, surveying instruments
and map carried off. The mourning implicit in Alexander’s writing of the
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event conscientiously claimed it as a sign of the revenge effected by ‘Hintsa’s

people for the loss of their great chief  ’, 44 and not as an attack on the systems
of knowledge which inaugurated such violence. The decision to interpret the
killing of White as a consequence of revenge for the death of Hintsa perhaps
confirms the sense of security provided by the forms of colonial knowledge.
Read as metaphor, however, the killing of White served as a warning that
the secular was no guarantee of security or, perhaps, that insecurity had
penetrated and infected the domains that colonial officials thought of in
terms of their gift to colonised subjects.
Two deaths dotted the colonial landscape: one, Hintsa’s, which was the
result of colonial advance; the other, White’s, which placed before the secular
project of which surveying and cartography were such crucial components,
the image of extinction and loss. In the end, the secularisation of knowledge
that supported colonial advance and its justification was little more than a
position from which to control realms originally perceived to be obstacles
in the story of Europe. Europe emerged as the only story worth telling and,
indeed, worth remembering.
Both Michell’s map of the scene of Hintsa’s killing (Figure 2) and
his portrait of the king (Figure 5a), appeared in the second volume of
Alexander’s travel narrative. In that textual setting the portrait highlights
the idiosyncrasies of character much like the relief lines sketch the contours
of the landscape. Alongside the cartographic survey of the area in which

mistaken identity 87
Hintsa was killed, Michell’s portrait conveys an impression of Hintsa, his
downward gaze conveying a sense of cunning and intrigue, his mouth and
ears shadowed so as to portray a sense of hidden intent. Both portrait and
cartographic inscription reflect a sense of betrayal by the landscape which
Alexander had previously anticipated as tameable and inhabitable. There is
an attempt to associate difficult terrain and impervious country with Hintsa.
The convergence that results from the textual network that operates
in Alexander’s travelogue and the conjuring of a sense of danger might be
explained by the inability of the British intelligence apparatus to anticipate
competing linguistic registers through which the landscape was mediated.
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Displaying a specific linguistic incompetence in anything not English,

Smith’s forces were unable to decipher the geography signalled in the name
Nqabara given to the river they had crossed on 12 May 1835. Translated
from Xhosa into English, nqaba at best designated a difficult, impregnable
and inaccessible place – a place that was literally fortified. One wonders
whether Hintsa read this linguistic incompetence, this oversight, as a
general weakness on the part of the British before deciding to escape from
his captors – if indeed we assume that he did make such a decision at all.
Alexander’s travelogue, however, suggests that Hintsa was implicated in a
specific reading of the landscape.
When confronted with other modes of colonial expression, such
as the diary and the autobiography, the solidity of the travelogue with its
accompanying portraits and maps resembled the information economy
of the colonial archive more than the deliberative aspects of the settler
public sphere. The homology that emerges from reading Alexander’s travel
writing in which the dangerous and impervious country is conflated with
the image of Hintsa reaches something of an impasse in the logic of colonial
expansion when considered in relation to the demands of the settler public
sphere. This impasse relates to the conflicting demands made on the
subjectivity of the king by the different genres of narration. In the diary
and autobiography there is a necessity to complicate the relationship
between landscape and colonised subject to support a stereotypical

88 the deaths of hintsa

representation of the Xhosa as aggressors. Alexander’s writing, in contrast,
followed the institutional prerogatives of the Royal Geographic Society,
especially the cartographic imperative to map the world. 45 Cartographic
practice in the nineteenth century tended to fix the landscape. The subject
that is the effect of this genre of writing mirrors the topography of the
landscape. By contrast, in the autobiography of Smith or the diary of
Caesar Andrews or, as I will show, in the painting by Frederick I’Ons,
the process of colonial expansion required a more discerning and
selective application of the tropes of recognition and misrecognition. In
this respect the negative stereotype, premised on a representation of the
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landscape, proved insufficient to the demands of a settler public sphere in

Grahamstown. If the diary, autobiography and travelogue circumscribed
what could be said about the killing of Hintsa, each genre’s writing of the
event contributed in differing ways to the deliberations of a settler public
sphere in the eastern Cape. What the settler public sphere demanded was
not only the authority enabled by the colonial archive, but also an unmooring
of the subject that it might be re-grounded in colonial discourse. The effects
of that re-grounding and the consequences of its temporary unmooring
from the strictures of surveying for subsequent narrations of Hintsa may be
explored in a painting depicting the killing of Hintsa, in an instance when
the image exceeds words.

Images that exceed words: the limits of the settler public sphere

Frederick I’Ons undertook the rearrangement of this discursive field in an

early nineteenth-century painting which, in 1958, while in the possession
of the I’Ons family, gained the title The Death of Hintsa (see Figure 4 on
page 90). According to Michael Stevenson, who conducted extensive research
on the painting in preparation for its sale at a Sotheby’s auction in the
1990s, there are no markers indicating the title or the year in which it was
completed. 46 In both the list of illustrations and in a reproduction of the
painting, John Redgrave and Edna Bradlow title the painting Warriors Fleeing

mistaken identity 89
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Collection: Private

Figure 4: Warriors Fleeing Across a River/The Death of Hintsa, by Frederick I’Ons n.d.

Across a River, although this might be an error of listing. 47 Only once the
painting was included in the inventory of I’Ons’s collection in the possession
of a descendent, Douglas Galpin, does the title The Death of Hintsa appear.
Some art historians’ interpretations of the painting support this naming.
In her analysis of I’Ons’s painting, Marijke Cosser proceeds by placing
I’Ons in the turmoil of the 1830s in the eastern Cape when he first arrived
and then by alluding to the possibility – based on family accounts and on
the fact that I’Ons had supposedly served in the Grahamstown Mounted
Volunteers – that the artist had witnessed the event of the killing of Hintsa.
Cosser also notes that the painting of the demise of Hintsa was, by I’Ons’s
own admission, thought to be one of his best. Cosser tells us the painting

90 the deaths of hintsa

was the only one that depicted ‘outright violence’. This, combined with the
fact that the painting was never publicly exhibited, leads her to conclude that
the depiction represented a potential danger. According to Cosser, ‘I’Ons
decreed that the painting was never to leave the confines of the family [and]
suggests also the politically sensitive nature of this account.’48 She speculates
that one reason for this may be that the depiction contradicted official
versions produced by, for example, historians such as George Cory, the early
twentieth-century historian who ultimately used the discord surrounding
the killing of Hintsa to produce a synthesis of settler and colonial history.
Political sensitivity presumably derived from the depiction of Hintsa
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receiving a shot from Southey ‘who is shadowed behind a rock to the left of
the painting’. 49 This, we are told, contradicted official versions that held that
British soldiers killed Hintsa in self-defence.
I’Ons’s painting engages a spatial slice in time in the composite
sequence we have come to call the killing of Hintsa. It is a slice that
positions four subjects viewed, it seems, from a position further
downstream. On the left bank we have a subject who has fired his rifle
(whom Cosser names Southey with the help of the archive); in the centre
of the river we have another subject with rifle aimed at a fleeing figure.
Wedged between the two we have an injured subject, blood oozing out
of a wound to the right side of the body, and perhaps penetrated by another
bullet from the fired gun on the left. A fallen assegai lies to the right,
its pointed edge directed towards the placidly flowing water, as if to
underline an intention to use the weapon. On the opposite bank we see
another subject in the motion of escape with his back turned to the observer
of the painting.
The colonial archive provides a necessary index to the portrayal of
the unfolding saga in the painting. As such, the work of art becomes, in this
reading, a mere illustration of the archive or one amongst several expressions
of witnessing. Viewing the painting as a supplement to the archive may
derive from the burden of the title that the work acquired in 1958. In some
sense then, the title commits us to a reading of the painting that foregrounds

mistaken identity 91
the action associated with the killing of Hintsa. Read under its former
(presumably incorrect) title, Warriors Fleeing Across a River requires a
closer, if not different, reading and analysis of the painting. Here the
landscape takes precedence over the space of death. However, neither
approach, in my view, is adequate because both fail to come to terms
with the painting’s categorisation as an example of historical painting.
Nineteenth-century artistic taste, we are told by some art
historians, held the historical painting in considerably high regard.
The historical painting took the production of the significant moment
seriously, even though its concept of event was only one element of
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a larger composition.50 Analyses of I’Ons’s The Death of Hintsa often

neglect the fact that there is more to the historical painting than
simply conveying the impression of documenting an event, although
we must acknowledge that this was the impression created by the
form. The Death of Hintsa places the observer at the limit of the
historical and the aesthetic, between image and word, demanding to
be read in the encounter with this limit.
In relation to the depth and vastness of the landscape, painted
with astonishing detail and with an abundance of the eastern Cape’s
signature aloes, the killing is an enticing foreground to what had
hitherto remained unspoken in the archive of the killing of Hintsa –
that the king had in fact been shot in the back.51 The painting made
possible a sense that the king was neither escaping nor attacking
his pursuer. The overlap with the minority humanitarian view in
Grahamstown might explain why I’Ons refused to allow it to be
publicly displayed, given that it ran counter to the general tenor of
the settler public sphere which implicated Hintsa in his own death.
In I’Ons’s painting, landscape and danger once again merge but
with danger represented by the figure of Southey, not Hintsa. This
dramatic reversal in the narrative of the killing has implications for
the archival reading of the story of Hintsa. By following the narrative
in the space of death, the eye is also drawn towards the immense

92 the deaths of hintsa

intricacy of the landscape.52 It is at this point that the image exceeds that
which is said about the killing of Hintsa and where colonialism’s other
histories may be contemplated.
The Death of Hintsa – or the work that now goes by that name – was not a
commissioned work. The painting, we could argue, does not merely supplement
the archive, as some art historians have suggested, but significantly calls
attention to a discursive rearrangement of landscapes and bodies by demanding
that the viewer relate to its often competing historical and aesthetic claims.
In connecting violence and vision, I’Ons substantially revised the terms of
the official archive by reconfiguring the techniques of observation from those
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preferred by travel writers, diarists and autobiographers through making the

aesthetic an indispensable factor in the macabre story of the killing of Hintsa.

Insight/oversight: renegotiating the postapartheid public sphere

through images and sound

When Nicholas Gcaleka set off in search of Hintsa’s skull, there was a general
feeling that this was an expression of someone whose speech fell outside of
the norms of an emergent public sphere in democratic South Africa. Yet, as
publicity and indeed curiosity increased about the search for Hintsa’s skull,
there was a need for the public sphere to ground the subject. Left to his
own fantasies, Nicholas Gcaleka was seen as a threat for having introduced
a sense of incoherence to an already fractured public sphere. In arriving at
such a hasty conclusion, the question of how the public sphere deals with
that which is incommensurate was left unattended. In short, this meant
that any response to Gcaleka in the public sphere would be measured by the
violence that marked the emergence of that sphere at a point of departure
in nineteenth-century colonialism. Rather than his claim leading to the
formation of a subaltern counterpublic,53 Gcaleka emerged as a subaltern
effect in the sanctioned narrative of postapartheid South Africa.
The subaltern entry into the realm of the public sphere, insofar as it
fails the requirements of property, publicity and rationality, registers a failure

mistaken identity 93
that is not only constitutive but also a prerequisite for the functioning of
that public sphere. It is for this reason that a public sphere would seemingly
expend its resources and energies on deliberating the highly unlikely claims
of someone who professed to speak and act on behalf of the ancestors. I want
to propose that the entry of the subaltern into the historical formations of the
bourgeois public sphere is enabled by the grounding of the colonised subject
and sustained by the repetition of the subaltern effect.54
If we were to set this against the expansive publicity that surrounded
Nicholas Gcaleka’s search for Hintsa’s skull, we might inquire into how
potentially effective the notion of a subaltern public sphere is in diminishing the
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hegemony of the bourgeois public sphere. If Gcaleka’s mission is anything to go

by, then we might say that the search for Hintsa’s skull lent itself to bolstering the
liberal rationalist alignments of the public sphere drawn from the colonial past.
The publicity surrounding Gcaleka’s mission had effects that
corresponded with the publicity generated by the killing of Hintsa in 1835.
Both revealed a logic of domination that accompanies the rise of the public
sphere rooted in hegemonic discourse; and in both instances the ruse of
mistaken and conflicted identity lent itself to shaping the deliberations of a
public sphere which reinscribes their respective subordinate positions.
If in his search for a meaningful Hintsa, Nicholas Gcaleka was
represented as something of a trickster in the media, it was only because
he adopted the very strategies of make-believe that defined colonialism.
Many of the colonial modes of evidence that organised the archive on the
killing of Hintsa, we will recall, called into play the figure of the witness
as an authenticating device of a regime of truth. The sonoric resonance of
Southey hailing Hintsa to stop before the fateful shooting, and which served
as a justification for an act of violence, was significantly diminished in the
colonial account. As in the commission of inquiry, the demand for seeing
leaves little room for undercutting the dehumanising trajectories of colonial
discourse premised on the primacy of vision. The world filtered through the
colonial retina is often the condition of possibility for history and, it might be
safe to argue, colonial hegemony privileges such a visual economy.

94 the deaths of hintsa

As the search for Hintsa’s skull unfolded in the local and
international press, a deafening noise was readily audible in the nascent
postapartheid public sphere. Gcaleka’s quest generated so much public
interest that it prompted Brett Bailey, in the play iMumbo Jumbo which deals
with the healer–diviner’s dream, to dedicate an entire scene to the media
interest surrounding the mission. In a related comment on this media
frenzy, Mike Nicol bemoaned the ways in which transnational corporate
interests appropriated the search for the skull, reducing it to spectacle and
entertainment.55 For Nicol, when Gcaleka’s request for funding landed on the
desks of public-relations divisions of Coca-Cola and South African Breweries
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‘they must have thought it was a gift from the gods’.

Here was a below-the-line project that was good for major media
coverage not only in South Africa but in Britain too. It tapped a historic
resonance that bound the two countries. It was dramatic. It involved a
skull, a sangoma, leopard skins, traditional weapons and some catchy
lines. That the project was based on shaky historical foundations
was clearly of no concern. This was free advertising. What’s more,
the copy wrote itself and the photo opportunities were endless: chief
brandishing his cultural weapons bound in airline tape; chief being led
through the streets of London by a po-faced bobby; chief getting into
large black car; and finally, chief holding skull. This was made for the
media: A novelty, a distraction, something more to add to what author
Saul Bellow calls the modern noise.56

By extending Nicol’s critique of the crass logic of accumulation, we might

say that Nicholas Gcaleka represented for the end of the twentieth century
what Sarah Baartman was for the beginning of the nineteenth – with, it
could be argued, one small exception. Holding aloft the alleged skull of
Hintsa for all to see, Gcaleka’s entanglement in the scopic economy called
forth a discrepancy between seeing and believing. Leaving aside Bellow’s
own disparaging comment on the absence of a creative genius of the calibre
of Proust amongst the Zulu,57 Nicol’s interpretation of the corporatist logic

mistaken identity 95
undermines the theoretical potential of his own claim. To treat this search
for the skull as part of a corporatist plot was to lose sight of the tropes that
allowed for this slippage. Let me return to this oversight in Nicol by exploring,
once again, what we are made to understand by seeing and believing.
Ordinarily, the importance of seeing is ascribed to its immediacy,
a point I argued in the previous chapter. But it may also be explained
in terms of its relation to consciousness, the process of its filtering. The
retina, as Marx claimed in ‘The German Ideology’,58 conveys the clarity of
consciousness. The name for this relation is ideology and if, as Marx informs
us, ‘in all ideology men and their circumstances appear upside-down as in a
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camera obscura, this phenomenon arises just as much from their historical
life processes as the inversion of objects on the retina does from their
physical life processes’.59 Wendy Brown has offered a provocative rereading
of this argument, suggesting that for Marx the remedy to the inversion of
reality in consciousness ‘may be corrected as completely as the brain corrects
the inversion of images on the retina’.60
The eye, Lacan would later claim – as if implicitly revising Marx’s earlier
formulation – is a rather discerning organ, endowed with the fatal power to
separate between a visual grammar on the one hand and, on the other, relating
to the gaze which establishes the subject’s position in this grammar. If anything,
the subject’s position in this grammar is a matter of instability, as in the case
where the subject does not fit the language of original conceptualisation.
Clearly, the Lacanian refinement contributed significantly to the model of
interpellation that inspired Althusser’s forays into the operation of ideology.
But the overemphasis on the scopic has left much of the discussion of ideology
somewhat deficient in explaining the instability that attends to the subject.
This is where Nicol’s reading of Nicholas Gcaleka’s mission is most
thought-provoking. In the midst of the imagery of Gcaleka bearing a skull,
Nicol recalls the cacophony that engulfs the subject.61 This combining of the
scopic and the sonoric helps us to conceptualise the subject as more than just
that which is seen, but also how it is made to resonate in the public sphere. The
coincidence of the scopic and sonoric I call the act of communicability through

96 the deaths of hintsa

which the subaltern subject is forged. Gcaleka, it could be argued, is similarly
a product of the interplay of interpellation and enunciation. Noise has a way of
engulfing truth, as in the case when an emergent settler public sphere gathered
around the ear of Hintsa in Grahamstown to celebrate his fall.62 The noise
that engulfed Gcaleka may have been mistaken for a recent phase of capitalist
modernity but, I would argue, it is perhaps better understood as the noise that
accompanies the grounding of the subaltern subject in the public sphere.
When it became clear that Gcaleka’s claim would not survive the test
of scholarly and scientific scrutiny, the portrait of the late king assumed
a prominence as a more truthful representation. Traces of Hintsa’s reign
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are scattered across the eastern Cape. In Butterworth, the site that marks
the Great Place63 is identifiable by rusted and wrangled street markings. A
tombstone erected by Xoliliswe Sigcawu in 1985, on the banks of the Nqabara
River, marks the site of the killing. Similarly, the image of Hintsa found in
Museum Africa in Johannesburg, in the Albany Museum in Grahamstown, in
Jeff Peires’s The House of Phalo and as the frontispiece of a conference held at
the University of Cape Town in 2002 titled ‘Memory and forgetting in the life
of the nation’ attests to the continued significance of the killing of the king.
All these representations currently in circulation, I wish to argue, belie the
controversy surrounding the image of Hintsa. Portraiture, it seems, should be
read within the terms of enunciation that seek to ground the subject and limit
the realm of the sayable. A focus on colonial interpellation and enunciation
opposes the current practice of public representations of Hintsa, which
circulate as mere illustration and as inconsequential to the larger historical
narrative through which the contemporary South African nation imagines
itself. If colonial portraiture is taken as merely an objective representation,
there is little possibility of making sense of later nationalist substitution.
Let me draw this chapter to a close with a comment why seeing is not
necessarily to be equated with believing. The file containing some of George
Pemba’s sketches at Cory Library in Grahamstown includes a portrait of
Hintsa with initials ‘GMP’ (see Figure 5b on page 98). My forays into the
portrait of Hintsa led me to believe that the image that was in circulation

mistaken identity 97
had been produced by Pemba, probably in the 1930s. But one nagging
question remained. On what did Pemba base his portrait of the king?
Mda Mda, a prominent lawyer in Butterworth who introduced me to sites
related to Hintsa, suggested that Pemba’s image was largely drawn from the
descriptions of the king in the opening lines of a commemorative poem by
SEK Mqhayi, written at the time of the hundredth anniversary of the killing.
Mda’s lead made sense in terms of my estimated dating of Pemba’s portrait
to the 1930s. I assumed that in versions of the portrait in circulation, the
name of the artist had simply and perhaps unfortunately been removed.
Two weeks before Pemba passed away, I travelled to his house in
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Motherwell in the eastern Cape to conduct an interview on history of

the portrait. Having suffered several strokes by then, Pemba was not very
lucid and barely managed a few recollections about his artistic creations.
Midway through our discussion, I presented him with a programme from a
conference held at the University of Cape Town in 2002, on which a sketch
of Hintsa was featured. At first, Pemba looked at the sketch and asked why
his work was being used without his permission and without payment.
After JE Alexander, Excursions in western Africa

Collection: Cory Library, Grahamstown

Figure 5a: Portrait of Hintsa, by Figure 5b: Portrait of Hintsa, by

Charles Michell, 1835. George Pemba, 1937.

98 the deaths of hintsa

Then, dropping the programme on the table, he proclaimed with a certainty
that had been missing for much of our conversation that the drawing was
not his work. He pointed out that it was very much like a sketch that he had
found at Rhodes University in the 1930s when he was a student, and which
he reworked for the purposes of illustrating Mqhayi’s publication poem,
UmHlekazi uHintsa, published in 1937. The sketch that Pemba had based his
work on turned out to be the drawing by Michell (Figure 5a opposite).
Something happens when the two portraits are placed alongside each
other. Pemba’s reworking becomes apparent, especially in relation to the eyes
and other facial features of the king. But to discern the subjective envisioning
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of nationalist representation, one will have to echo the cry of George Southey
as he set off in pursuit of the king down the banks of the Nqabara River,
‘Stop! Or I’ll Shoot!’ It is only in listening that deception and nobility are
recognisable in the portraits, and through which the attributes of treachery
and bravery are discernible. The very contingency that followed from reading
the colonial portrait was the cue for impeding the effort to construct a settler
public sphere through recourse to the colonial story of the killing of Hintsa.
The name of that intervention was anti-colonial nationalism. However,
to accomplish its task of interfering with colonial narratives, anti-colonial
nationalist narration had first to overcome the historical and aesthetic
foundations of a settler public sphere in which the story of Hintsa featured
so prominently. That historiographical encounter is the subject of the next
two chapters. For now, we must conclude that the portrait of Hintsa offers
the outlines of colonial interpellation and enunciation as it participates in the
formation of a settler public sphere that is aligned to colonial hegemony.

mistaken identity 99
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the deaths of hintsa

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt)

The military operation involved in deconstruction therefore is in one respect an

attack on a party of colonialists who have tried to make the land and its inhabitants
over into a realization of their plans, an attack in turn partly to release prisoners
and partly to free land held forcibly.1
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In Grahamstown and London, news of the demise of Hintsa was the

source of a mixture of disquiet and jubilation, controversy and fierce public
debate. These sentiments filtered through newspapers, public meetings,
street protests and parliamentary debates. The publicity surrounding the
circumstances in which the king was killed ultimately exposed the often
acute tensions of Empire.2 To complicate matters for the British colonial
authorities, the killing occurred at a time of ascendancy of humanitarian
liberalism – with all its attendant paternalism towards the native races of
Empire – which was increasingly gaining ground in the bourgeois public
sphere in Britain. News of Hintsa’s slaying was greeted with protest and,
in one instance, the effigy of George Southey (who had shot Hintsa) was
reportedly burnt in the streets of London. The Edinburgh Review of January
1836 said of the killing of Hintsa: ‘Here the wounded man, up to the
waist in water, leaned against a rock for support, and begged for mercy;
the Hottentots [sic] heard his prayer and spared him; but a British officer,
climbing the rock above him, shot the unfortunate chief.’3 The killing of
Hintsa marked a sporadic spiking in the tensions of Empire, pitting colonial
official against metropolitan humanitarian and both against a settler society

struggling to come into its own at the expense of the Xhosa. Symptomatic
of these tensions was the often rancorous public debate in the newspapers
of Grahamstown, the Cape Colony and Britain involving representatives of
settler opinion and humanitarian sentiment.
Given these tensions of Empire, and the animosity that defined the
relations between colonial officials and settlers in the eastern Cape, how
is it even possible to conceptualise a version of the South African past as
settler colonial historiography?4 Most responses to this question tend to
be caught in the impasse of the race versus class debate in South African
historiography. Very little, if any, attention is paid to the epistemological form
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of settler colonial history which also, I suggest in the next chapter, enables
and posits unfortunate limits for anti-colonial nationalist history.5 As a result
of the tendency for historiography to be treated as a system of classification,
settler histories are generally identified by the categories that define them, by
their place in the ideological spectrum, and not by their form. Alan Lester,
for example, tells us how identities were forged in relation to the spaces of
colonial violence along the eastern Cape frontier.6 While the elements of
a settler public sphere are discernible in Lester’s work, he unfortunately
does not follow through with a textual deconstruction of the mediating
apparatus that leads to subject formation. This oversight results in a rather
disappointing conclusion rooted in identity and a view of subjectivity that
sees the colonial archive as a resource rather than an alibi for violence.
The story of the killing of Hintsa offers much more to work with
than merely the resonant traces of identity. The emphasis on the form of
settler history is equally critical to understanding the modes of evidence
of the colonial archive and the emergence of a nationalist response. Too
often, settler histories are thought of as merely racially exclusive histories
of whiteness. Such views are at best tautological because, in approaching the
question from the standpoint of racial exclusion, they neglect to address
the forms of subjection and their articulations that are necessary for settler
histories. Diminishing our sense of the processes of subjection in settler
histories undermines the possibilities of understanding what we mean

102 the deaths of hintsa

by colonialism. In this chapter I wish to return to the question of settler
histories by re-examining what is specifically colonial about them. In other
words, I wish to avoid a racial reductionism common in attitudes towards
settler history because such a move entails an unfortunate return of the
same charge of racial categorisation. Settler histories are distinguished not
by their whiteness but by their form, by what I call the modes of evidence
of the colonial archive and its resultant subjection of agency. It was this
subjection of agency that ultimately enabled settler pasts, which were initially
distinctly at odds with colonial officialdom and the burgeoning humanitarian
movement in Britain, to become not merely a (largely discredited) version
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of what happened, but actually sustained settler colonial historiography.

This chapter proposes to disable historicist constructions of colonialism by
unravelling the making of a settler colonial history. I propose to read neither
against the grain nor with the grain but, as Marx once suggested, ‘with a
grain of salt’ so as to invalidate colonialism’s temporalities in the interests of
making apparent my concern with the processes of subjection.
Such a move towards the textuality is intended to overcome an
impasse in South African historiography which tends to treat colonialism in
purely historicist terms. In South African historiography, colonialism is often
thought of as a point of assemblage of the racial foundations for later forms
of segregation, apartheid and capitalist accumulation. It is often construed
in public discourse and scholarship as a stepping stone to more recent
installations of systems of oppression. Colonialism appears as an absent
cause in the later development of capitalist relations of exchange, extraction
and production. In South Africa, the history of colonialism as a specific
technology of power, as opposed to the basis for later economic development,
was perhaps prematurely terminated by historians such as
CW de Kiewiet who were interested in defining the specific factors that
shaped a local system of capitalist accumulation.7 For example, De Kiewiet,
a leading historian of his time, argued that the greatest social fact of the
century was neither gold nor diamond mining, nor even agriculture, but the
universal dependence on black labour. For him, acknowledgement of this fact

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 103
significantly affected the approaches adopted, presumably by historians, to
colonialism and to South African history more generally. As he wrote in the
1930s, perhaps anticipating the restrictive anti-colonial nationalist narrative
of colonial dispossession:
Out of the heaving and thrusting of the nineteenth-century there
has emerged no romantic tradition comparable with the literature
of adventure in which the North American Redskins [sic] were the
heroes. The explanation is at least partly to be found in the different
social and political position of the descendents of Pontiac, Sitting
Bull, or Osceola in the forgotten and inoffensive Indian reservations
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of modern America, and the descendents of Hintsa, Chaka, and

Sekukuni in the packed and controversial reserves, in the compounds
of industrial towns and in European kitchens. In the inglorious
change from an enemy to a servile proletariat there is little room for
romance. South African schoolboys play at Cowboys and Indians,
not at Boers and Zulus; for Zulus, Basuto and Bechuana are too
manifestly an unheroic and desperate social problem.8

The capitalist outcomes of colonial conquest, in De Kiewiet’s formulation

of South Africa significantly affect the games we play; even the
historiographical ones. Subsuming the historiographical question of
colonialism into the general question of capitalist accumulation and
transition – whether in notions of colonialism of a special type or in notions
of racial capitalism – has had, in my view, serious consequences for the
critique of colonialism and apartheid. In some respects the critique of the
forms of capitalist accumulation has obscured – and perhaps rendered
inconsequential – the critique of colonialism as a condition of power in
its own right. In South African historiography, the critique of colonialism
therefore assumed a secondary status and the forms of articulation of
colonial hegemony were generally surrendered to the larger conclusions of
a racially defined system of capitalist accumulation. At best, when histories
of colonialism emerged they contained an anticipatory narrative of what

104 the deaths of hintsa

was to follow. This might explain why colonialism is so removed from our
discussions on the postapartheid.
De Kiewiet’s insistence on addressing the problem of black labour
was tempered only later by the work of Jeff Peires, who seemed to be
arguing that the transition to capitalism in the eastern Cape was not a
foregone conclusion. Rather, capitalism was the product of an often violent
engagement with pre-existing social formations that had their own histories.
In The House of Phalo, Peires targeted the complexity of the precolonial Xhosa
social formation – the history, as he put it, of the Xhosa in the days of their
independence. The history depends in large measure on oral traditions and
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a very crucial set of interviews with Mda Mda, a lawyer based in Butterworth
who is often seen by scholars as an important resource for oral accounts
of the eastern Cape. In his study, Peires finds that cattle were central to
demarcating class boundaries between chiefs and commoners so that the
struggle between these two groups, he argues, took the form of a struggle for
cattle. Since cattle were the primary means of reproduction, Peires points out
it was also the means of controlling subjects who depended on cattle.
Peires emphasises the blurring of the realms of political control and
economic organisation in precolonial societies. In this respect he draws
a distinction between ownership and possession where the latter was the
reward of the commoner and the former the means through which the chief
expressed power over his subjects. Evidence for this analysis is drawn from
both oral histories and accounts of settlers and officials such as W Shaw and
Andrew Smith. Cattle were the sign of obligation and exchange, of control
and reproduction.
In distinguishing between ownership and possession, Peires draws
an analogy between the position of the serf in the Middle Ages in western
Europe and the Xhosa commoner, both of whom had access to the means of
production even when it was owned by the lord or chief respectively. Peires’s
House of Phalo is dedicated to the confrontations that undermined Xhosa
feudal relations and paved the way for emergent, if not truncated, capitalist
social relations. The task, however, was also to prove the distinctness of

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 105
precolonial social formations. Here he invoked the homestead principle
which, he argued, coexisted with a royal ideology to define Xhosa political
and social formations.
Clifton Crais’s study of the making of a colonial order in the
nineteenth-century eastern Cape, published almost five decades after
De Kiewiet’s Imperial Factor, expresses the ambition of exploring the
emergence of the combinatory formation he calls ‘racial capitalism’.9
Crais sees the colonial order that emerged in the eastern Cape as paradoxical,
formed out of discrepancies of colonial culture between metropolitan
control and settler capitalist ethos. It is then the working out of this paradox
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through redefining power and profit in dominant discourse that produced

the conditions for the emergence of a racialised capitalism and a system of
forced labour. Crais, for example, writes:
But could ‘barbarism’ become a legitimate basis of ‘civilization’?
The British believed in varying degrees, in the capacity of Africans
for ‘progress’, but many Africans were not particularly interested in
becoming the docile and deferential laborers the elite so desired. In
the opinion of many humanitarians, only the ‘worthless’ African
would ‘abandon his liberty for the bondage’ of laboring for white
settlers in the colony. What became increasingly clear to both the
British colonial elite and a rising number of bureaucrats was that
economic growth in the colony would ultimately rest not on free labor,
but on its opposite. Counter to their most cherished ideals, economic
growth and human progress depended on subjection and the violence
which accompanied the denial of freedom.10

Whereas De Kiewiet argued in terms of the necessity of black labour for the
South African social formation, Crais articulates the concomitant force of
culture and limits of power that accompanied the making of a servile black
labour force. Crais marks the process of servility as uneven and haphazard –
thereby wedging a space in De Kiewiet’s story for an African agency and
resistance – so that it deepens the incidental nature in which black labour is

106 the deaths of hintsa

invoked in an earlier historiography. The attempts to connect materiality of
power to modes of accumulation, however, result in an impasse that inhibits
the theorisation of that connection. That functionalism is particularly evident
in the claim that:
The manner by which white settlers ‘comprehended’ the ‘black’
ultimately legitimated imperial expansion and the development
of a racial capitalism in South Africa which rested on massive
state coercion.11

Or in reverse:
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It was the development of agrarian capitalism and the protracted struggle

over land and labor which accompanied it which initiated a fundamental
change in the perception of the African in the colonial eye.12

If we were cryptically and perhaps somewhat unfairly to caricature these

different arguments, we might say that whereas De Kiewiet worked towards
seeing colonialism as an absent cause in the development of capitalism
in South Africa, Peires and Crais have called attention to the competing
nationalist and anti-capitalist potential that arises from critical histories of
colonialism. Yet, it is the incommensurability between the positions of Peires
(who picks up on an earlier intellectual tradition initiated by SEK Mqhayi,
JH Soga and WB Rubusana, amongst others) and Crais (who stakes out a
critique of racial formations based on the cultural conditions of the rise of
racial capitalism) that strikes me as crucial and that prompts me to return
to the discourse of colonialism in the eastern Cape.13 I wish to argue that
the discord is not necessarily a product of a transcendent political choice but
rather inheres in the very narrative dynamics and textual forms that underlie
settler, colonial and even nationalist discourses.
One reason why colonialism is such an unstable category in
the discipline of history, I would argue, is that it is prone to historicist
constructions. This historicist tendency emerges because colonialism takes
the shape of a stage in historical development that precedes the critique

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 107
encountered in nationalist narration. The convergence of a developmentalist
conception of history and nineteenth-century colonialism, however,
facilitated the assignment of subject positions and also later enabled a
nationalist response by making available the techniques of subjection
necessary for the functioning of power.14 As competing and complementary
forms of social subjection, apartheid and colonialism may be differentiated
systemically even though they are essentially cut of the same epistemic
cloth. This is not to conflate nineteenth-century colonialism and twentieth-
century apartheid but to explore their shared expressions in determining
the conditions of possibility for the production of subalternity, which is a
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major feature of postcolonial subjectivity. The mission to retrieve Hintsa’s

skull is in this sense critical for debates about postapartheid South Africa
because it calls attention to how difficult it would prove, under conditions
of this colonial inheritance, to walk out of the narrative of power in which
the subject is returned, again and again, to the position of mere supplement
of power.

What is called a settler history?

In settler historical narratives, the story of the killing of Hintsa proceeds

with the onset of war in 1834–35, which provides a contextual rationalisation
for the British pursuit of Hintsa some 300 kilometres from the scenes of
confrontation and hostilities. The mathematics of losses supposedly suffered
by British colonists was a product of a politically expedient process of
calculation, tabulation and recording.15 In terms of the general list of losses
for the 1834–35 war, it was claimed by British officials that 111 418 cattle and
5 438 horses had been lost. The cumulative loss in monetary terms totalled
288 625 pounds. The demand for cattle communicated to Hintsa was
presumably part of this larger total, since it was alleged that he received the
largest share of cattle taken by the Rharhabe from the colony. Clothes, guns,
tools, bedding, books, crops, furniture, saddles, soap, corn, wheat and butter
are also listed as losses in the record.

108 the deaths of hintsa

Among the families that supposedly suffered the greatest loss, by
their own admission, was the Southey family – the same family to which
George Southey, the person responsible for shooting Hintsa, belonged. In
the chronological list of losses for the period after 9 July 1835, 600 cattle
were reported stolen from the Southey’s farm alone. The entry is for the
period of the immediate aftermath of the killing of Hintsa.16 In the general
list of losses for the duration of the war, we are informed that the Southey
family lost 40 horses, 610 cattle and 1 060 goats, all valued at a total of 3 010
pounds.17 While the discrepancy for cattle lost by the Southeys in the two
reports is minimal, it is not certain how the general losses were incorporated
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into later demands made by D’Urban to Hintsa. In all likelihood, the

recording of losses was geared towards a confrontation with the Xhosa.
Colonial officials tried to bolster their claims as much as possible in order to
secure a moral high ground. Like mapping, it was part of a general strategy
of colonial conquest, not simply an instance of ‘bias’.
Settlers, too, used the opportunity presented by official reports of
cattle theft to exploit the situation. The compiler of the statistics warned of
the general unreliability of the figures received from settlers reporting losses.
In what appears to be a preface to the list of losses sustained during the war,
the archival record is preceded with the following caution:
The total number of claimants will be nearly 3 000 as some
statements contain 10–15 names. I do not vouch for this account being
exact as the state of many of the documents prevent the amount
of losses being ascertained with any degree of accuracy. Whenever
the parties undergo a strict examination as to the correctness of
their statements and the balance of the property very considerable
reductions will take place.18

One reason for this uncertainty was that claims were being submitted
on behalf of family members who resided at a distance. The possible
exaggeration of losses may similarly have proved beneficial in justifying
colonial encroachment but it also placed strain on colonial officials to meet

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 109
the reparation demands of claimants, especially after the war. The ‘facts’
pertaining to losses sustained are therefore complicated by the ways in which
the archive records and presents its figures.
It is this interplay of calculation and miscalculation, of doubt
expressed as numbers, that enters the field of history, first as a factual basis
for D’Urban’s demand to Hintsa for the return of the cattle and other items
and then as factual pretexts ‘that were always [also] becoming texts’.19 Alex
Wilmot’s biography of Richard Southey, published in 1904, went on to draw
on this factual base to come close to hinting at revenge as a reason for killing
Hintsa. Wilmot writes:
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The Southey’s had lost their all – stock, house and furniture.
They were left destitute in consequence of a totally unprovoked
irruption of savages, and were aware of cold-blooded and brutal
murders of white men and women. No wonder that they and the other
settlers felt their blood boil in the veins when charges were hurled
against them. Their losses during the war consisted of about 800
head of cattle, 1 000 sheep and goats, as well as 50 horses and all
their household effects.20

Once again the discrepancy is only slight and since Wilmot avoids the
academic protocols of referencing in this instance, it is difficult to ascertain
from where he derives his figures. Crucial for the purposes of the discussion
here, however, is the way in which the ledger of losses seeped into a settler
history and a biography as the basis of fact. There were, however, other
consequences. If, as I argued earlier, the conditions of knowledge, and
indeed the settler public sphere, always also articulated with the conditions
of violence, then we may have to inquire into the specific forms of historical
knowledge about the Xhosa produced as a result of this coincidence. My
initial suggestion is that the histories of the killing of Hintsa were products
of discrepant ways of knowing. In this respect, the ethnographic concerns of
Colonel Collins in the early nineteenth century combined with a more open
contest about who earned the right to be called victims of the war of 1834–35.

110 the deaths of hintsa

The story of the killing of Hintsa was one instance amongst several others
where such a crucial dilemma was worked over.

Knowledge of the Xhosa

In his ethnographic survey of Hintsa’s polity, Colonel Collins noted the

following in his journal of ‘a tour’ to the Storm Mountains in 1809:
Not many years since [1780], Hinsa’s [sic] people resided on the
right bank of the Kyba, where traces of his kraals still exist. An
unsuccessful war with Gyka forced him to abandon that country;
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which he now only uses for hunting. The country now occupied by
Hinsa’s people, is situated near the sea, between the Kyba and the
Bassee, rivers of equal magnitude, and distant about forty miles
from each other. In addition to the Gooa several more small streams
serpentise through this fine tract, among which the Koho at a short
distance east of Hinsa’s residence, which is situated in the middle of
his territory, and the Juguga, a few miles beyond the Koho, are most
deserving of notice. As the Kaffirs are themselves unacquainted with their
population, it is impossible for a stranger to know it. We guessed, however,
that this tribe might consist altogether of about 10 000 souls. They are all
under the absolute control of Hinsa, but divided among a number of
subordinate chiefs. It is not less difficult to form an estimate of the
numbers of their cattle, than respecting their population. I think it
probable that they may exceed 20 000.21

The report is significant for at least two reasons. Firstly, all the proper names
relating to the Xhosa underwent significant orthographic alteration in
subsequent years. Thus, Hinsa would later be written in the colonial archive
as either Hintsa or Hinza, Gyka would become Nqika and later Ngqika,
and Bassee would be rendered as Bashee and later Mbhashe. What might
be too easily dismissed as inconsequential relates to a second aspect of the
excerpt, namely the desire to ‘know the population’.22 Knowing the population

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 111
in this ethnographic exercise pointed to something other than its cultural
formation or its orthographic inscription. It also pointed to the demand for
a census – a counting – of people and cattle. Shortly after Collins estimated
the size of Hintsa’s polity, he turned his attention to a breed of cattle, observed
in the different kraals, that had ‘colonial marks’ and to Hintsa’s two horses,
thought to be of colonial stock. Avoiding the consequences of unsubstantiated
accusation, Collins issued a friendly caution to Hintsa, informing the
latter that he understood the cattle to have been stolen from colonists and
then exchanged for others ‘in order that the proprietors should not be
enabled to discover them’.23 Collins promised ‘advantageous bargains’ if the
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chief desisted from the temptation to participate in exchanges of this kind in

the future.
Early travellers such as Colonel Collins made every effort to deploy
the voice of the ‘informant’ as integral to the knowledge that was produced
in order to subject ‘the Xhosa’ to ethnographic scrutiny. Judging from
the presentation of the report and its subsequent reproduction in Donald
Moodie’s The Record, Collins gave an account of his travels based on
interviews with leading Xhosa chiefs such as ‘Hinsa’ and ‘Gayka’. One
result of these conversations was detail relating to the everyday life of the
amaXhosa: the division of labour, rituals around marriage and, more
importantly, what was described as differences between the Gcaleka and
Rharhabe houses. In almost every consideration of the detail, the centrality
of cattle as cultural symbol was identified. In Collins’s account of his journey,
this knowledge supposedly acquired through the medium of orality was
further substantiated by the practice of observation that distinguished travel
writing from other forms of narration.
Travel ethnography was an interested enterprise on at least two levels.
Firstly, Collins used the acquired knowledge – ethnographic snapshots – to
define the relationships that were desired by settler society with the Xhosa.
In other words, by narrating difference, Collins tried to insert settler society
into perceived and prevailing social relations without disturbing prefigured
cultural distinctions between colonist and Xhosa. His mission was to

112 the deaths of hintsa

convince Xhosa chiefs not to enter settler spheres of control for the purposes
of ‘begging’ and simultaneously to encourage trade as the proper realm of
contact. Thus Collins writes:
I had been further directed to inform him [Hintsa], that as soon as the
differences between the Kaffer people had been terminated, and they
were all peaceably residing as formerly beyond the Great Fish River,
it was the intention of the colonial government to give directions for
their being annually supplied with such things as they might want in
exchange for cattle and ivory, and I pointed out the great advantage
they would derive from afterwards sending those things to more
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distant countries.24

The demand for a relationship based on trade is premised on a hope

for a common understanding of property as a basis of exchange. The
presupposition that supported this contract was that property was
exchangeable and that it ideally belonged to the realm of economic relations.
Secondly, to draw the Xhosa into an agreement on trade relations,
and to ensure that the settlers remained the central beneficiaries of the
economic equation, it proved necessary to elevate certain Xhosa to a
recognisable and distinct authority, indeed to affirm their position as
chiefs. This was accomplished primarily through the work of knowledge
of an ethnographic kind. Collins instructed – and in fact begged – both
Hintsa and Ngqika to engage in legitimate commerce around cattle, which
was to emerge as the interchangeable signifier of property. To Ngqika,
who had been desperately trying to secure cattle to pay for bride wealth,
Collins offered the advice that ‘the more elevated his station, the more
necessary was it for him to give the example of propriety’.25 Such advice
pointed in every manner to the necessity to retain the semblance of Xhosa
culture as a discreet social category. Without this level of separation, a
concept of property as a specifically European invention could not function.
Yet, cattle, status and property were concepts with discrepant meanings,
even amongst settlers and colonial officials. Collins’s resolution to this

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 113
discrepancy was to collapse notions of cattle as property – the basis for
settler relations with the Xhosa – and cattle as the distinguishing referent
of Xhosa culture.
The recommendations that followed Collins’s ethnographic
conclusions were implemented by the British governor at the Cape, Lord
Charles Somerset, before 1820. If we are to extend the general argument
of a recent history of the frontier by Tim Keegan,26 we might say that the
implementation of policy based on Collins’s report resulted in the area
between the Fish and the Kei Rivers being declared neutral and ceded
territory after the battle of Ndlambe in 1818–19. The result was a marked
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separation between Xhosa and colonist. By the late 1820s, however, Collins’s
ethnography was proving contradictory and unreliable. In the 1830s,
Keegan points out, the ivory frontier had receded, and increasingly Africans
were becoming dependent on the sale of livestock, animal products and
agricultural produce for access to British manufactured products. This shift
in trade, Keegan suggests, significantly undermined self-sufficiency and
drained cattle resources among the Xhosa. It also demanded new relations
with the Xhosa and with this came the demand for new ways of knowing the
Xhosa – ways of knowing that did not exclusively operate on the premise of
difference established by way of ethnography.
In the face of mounting pressure from metropolitan interests,
the settler public sphere drew on a concept of history to shift the claims
about difference to a more fundamental distinction based on a formulaic
understanding of the stages of economic development. Such arguments
would also need to take account of the discrepancies at the level of social
organisation and the principle of property that was at the heart of difference
in the levels of development. The first move, it seems, entailed inscribing
the Xhosa as antecedent of a settler concept of history – a concept that
became especially discernible with the end of slavery in 1834. The second
move – not necessarily separable from the first – was to highlight difference
in understanding the meaning of property. The first move would ensure that
settler versions of property would win out in the second.

114 the deaths of hintsa

In this respect, D’Urban indirectly posited the necessity for a uniform
concept of property which, in his view, also necessitated colonisation. We
might argue further that in D’Urban’s estimation such a concept could not
rely on the colonisation of land alone but had to work at appropriating cattle
to the rules of property. When, therefore, D’Urban asked his translator,
Theophilus Shepstone, to translate the conditions for a ceasefire for Hintsa’s
benefit at their meeting outside of Butterworth in 1835, he was asking for
more than a literal translation of the terms of the agreement. He was also
asking Shepstone to inform the king that cattle now belonged to the realms
of exchange value. In so doing, the concept of value in cattle was expanded
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upon so that it now circulated in the realms of private ownership, money

and trade and also, in the case of an infringement of the rules of property,
of punishment.
A concept of property in cattle therefore connected the Xhosa to
the realms of settler accumulation and simultaneously produced the
Xhosa as an uneven factor in the paradigm of European development.
The war of 1834–35 may be considered as an attempt to risk a decision
that would clarify the form of subjection of the Xhosa. But a conception
of difference premised on race presumably proved highly contentious
under conditions of changing trade relations. Here Glenelg’s response to
D’Urban’s expansionist policy and his desire for normalised trade relations
simultaneously illustrates the demand for representations of the Xhosa
as worthy of being trading partners. In December 1835, Glenelg, who
eventually went on to reverse D’Urban’s expansionist policy following the
war of 1834–35, refuted the latter’s characterisation of the Xhosa as
‘irreclaimable savages’ on several counts. Most important for our purposes
was Glenelg’s argument about the inappropriateness of applying the label
of ‘irreclaimable savages’ to natives with whom a trade amounting to about
‘30 000l per annum in the purchase of European commodities had been
established on the frontier’.27 In addition, ‘as many as 200 British traders
were living far beyond the boundaries of the colony, protected only by the
integrity and humanity of the uncivilized natives. . .To such a people,’

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 115
Glenelg added, ‘the character of “irreclaimable savages” cannot with
justice be assigned’.28 The self/other distinction, we could say, proved to
be inadequate when considered in relation to the emergent demands of
trade on the frontier. The respective positions of Glenelg and D’Urban
reflected a larger metropolitan debate about pursuing a policy of either
free trade or colonisation. But in reversing D’Urban’s expansionist
policies, Glenelg had effectively bypassed settler interests and structures
of accumulation on the one hand, and settler constructions of race-based
difference on the other.
In the midst of this controversy between the government and a settler
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public sphere, however, a new history would be forged to legitimise the

claims of those subjects of the British Crown who lived in the eastern Cape.
Robert Godlonton, a journalist and vocal proponent of settler interests, would
contribute significantly to what I shall call settler history.

Settler history

One of the foundational texts of settler collective memory and history was, as
Alan Lester has suggested, Robert Godlonton’s A Narrative of the Irruption of
the Kafir Hordes published in 1836 in the immediate aftermath of the Sixth
Frontier War in which Hintsa was killed.29 Godlonton’s narrative was aimed at
the reconstruction of the settler’s past, an analysis of the present predicament
of the colonists and a defence of their activities.30 In Lester’s assessment,
Godlonton’s text pointed to the demands for a specifically settler identity that
promoted unity and cut across class, gender and political divides. Godlonton’s
text, in this reading, was aimed at narrating the cause and course of the Sixth
Frontier War and sought to win favour with metropolitan audiences who may
otherwise have sided with humanitarian propaganda about the extreme forms
of settler violence against colonised peoples.
Irruption is a text that leads us towards an understanding of how the
Xhosa came to be known, defined and colonised. We could argue that the text
is invariably, if not specifically, about the Xhosa even though it is often seen

116 the deaths of hintsa

as a text of settler history. At the level of plot, Godlonton’s narrative depicts a
persecuted settler community, misunderstood by metropolitan adherents of
humanitarian ideology and defending itself against the intolerable pressures
of the Xhosa. It is a story of reasonableness versus tyranny, of patient settlers
against persistent Xhosa. Compiled from journalistic extracts drawn from
The Grahamstown Journal, of which he was editor, and official documents
generated by the war of 1834–35, Godlonton’s account might be read as
assembling the prose of cadastral domination for narrowly settler interests.
According to Arjun Appadurai, this is a prose composed partly of rules,
partly of orders, partly of appendices, and partly of letters and petitions,
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which must be read together.31 Cadastral prose, in other words, is made up

of administrative records pertaining to colonial governmentality. Rather
than simply refining a rationalist empiricism, Godlonton’s deployment of
cadastral prose is best understood when placed in the service of a narrative
of the stages of development in which the Xhosa were produced as an
antecedent of history.
The prose of cadastral domination had uses beyond simply supporting
a general story of progress. Its target was John Philips’s Researches in South
Africa, which was seen to be at the heart of instigation of metropolitan
criticism of settlers.32 Philips had scoured the Dutch and British archives
from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries to prove his argument
of widespread violence against indigenous populations by colonial
officials and settlers. As a member of the London Missionary Society,
Philips’s work had serious consequences for metropolitan policies,
including being particularly influential in shaping Glenelg’s views on
the unjust treatment of colonial subjects. To counteract this, the likes
of Donald Moodie and Robert Godlonton set about constructing
histories that supported local colonial interests over those of metropolitan
lobbyists. Unlike Moodie’s The Record, Godlonton’s history was specifically
presented in the form of an eyewitness account. Godlonton assembled
a vast array of official documents, weaving these together with personal
observations and journalism to portray the war of 1834–35 and the

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 117
circumstances that led to the killing of Hintsa through a mixture of
journalism and history.
The benefit of the use of journalism as a strategy in this context was
that it produced a totalised sense of process composed of the movements
captured in unfolding events and the development of history. These two
complementary temporalities not only reveal the text’s operation but also
point to the totalising claims of settler histories. The movement of unfolding
events, of the everyday in other words, I will call for the purposes of the
argument ‘movement in the first degree’; larger-scale movements of society
I will refer to as ‘movement in the second degree’.33 Such a metaphorical
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distinction is intended to help us understand the intersection between

knowledge production and the conditions of war.
Movement in the first degree began by presenting the Xhosa as
perpetrators of acts of aggression against settlers and missionaries. The
torching of the Methodist Mission Station in Butterworth in 1827, the
destruction of the London Missionary Society Station under Reverend
Brownlee along the Buffalo River, the desperate escape of Reverend Ayliff
northwards to the safety of the Clarkebury Station, and the capture and
torture of traders such as Eccles and Horton who operated in Hintsa’s
territory are incidents reported to illustrate the social conditions that
preceded hostilities. For this Godlonton relied extensively on descriptions
by Reverend John Ayliff, who in his own narrative presented a picture of
intrigue and suspicion. Ayliff, for example, writes:
Late at night, the manse door was opened, and Nonsa [sic], the great
wife of Hintsa, and whom Mrs. Ayliff had nursed through a dangerous
illness, entered, and fearing that some one might be listening to what
she had to say, whispered, ‘Sing some of your hymns’. During the
singing, Nomsa said, ‘There is a snake in the grass, and you will not
see it until you tread on it. Take warning and go.’34

Combined with this, we are treated to the story of the advance of colonial
forces under Somerset into what was considered neutral and later ceded

118 the deaths of hintsa

territory. The aim of movement in the first degree was the simple one of
reversing the criticism of settlers as oppressors contained in, amongst
others, the campaigns of John Philips and his humanitarian lobbyists.
Godlonton notes:
Whilst on the one hand the character of the Kaffir has been placed
in the most favourable light, on the other, the Frontier Inhabitants
have been held up to the scorn and abhorrence of the English public
as the systematic oppressors of the poor and the defenceless. Their
struggles to defend their homes and their families against the
continued invasions of the natives have been stigmatised as
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wanton aggressions, and their attempt to recover their property from

the hands of the active despoilers who are incessantly plundering
them, as unjustifiable inroads upon a quiet and comparatively
inoffensive people.35

Cadastral prose served movement in the first degree well because, firstly,
it highlighted, as I suggested earlier, the agency of the Xhosa and opposed
their characterisation in humanitarian discourse as victims of settler
excesses. Secondly, it narrated events in such a way as to demonstrate a unity
of purpose on the frontier, especially when this concerned relations between
the British and Dutch farmers. Godlonton, for example, emphasised the
fact that:
several of the most gallant affairs which took place during the war
were those in which the Dutch farmers particularly distinguished
themselves. It is pleasing as it is just to accord this need of
praise. Much has been done to excite between the English and
Dutch inhabitants a suspicious jealousy; but we are happy to
say that late events have discovered the injustice of the attempt;
and it may be confidently expected that the only rivalry between
them in future will be a generous emulation as to who shall
most efficiently advance the true interests of this land of their
joint adoption.36

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 119
Finally, cadastral prose served movement in the first degree insofar as it
tabulated the extent of losses of cattle, horses, sheep and other commodities.
Drawing on the ledgers of reported losses and the general calculations
produced to cost military operations, Godlonton’s narrative of atrocities
produces a corresponding number to substantiate his elaboration of an
argument in favour of those he thought to be ‘true sufferers’ – those
incidentally vilified in humanitarian propaganda.
Movement in the first degree would end with a quarrel, a set of
demands and a killing – a kind of synthesis aimed at turning the accusation
of the humanitarians on its head. In the quest for reversing blame, the
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narrative outlines Hintsa’s evasion of colonial attempts to negotiate the

return of cattle thought to be in possession of the paramount. One example
of such negotiation relates to the apparent mission undertaken by Field-
Commandant Van Wyk who, according to Godlonton, was dispatched to
warn Hintsa that the latter would be treated as an enemy to the colony unless
he ceased to ‘countenance the hostile chiefs; neither affording them harbor,
residence or protection’.37 Hintsa, we are told, declined the interview.
Matters apparently came to a head when missionaries and traders
in ‘Tambookie country’ were increasingly threatened and when on 21 April
a British settler, Armstrong, was killed.38 On 24 April, we are told, the
governor decided to record the causes for quarrel in writing for Hintsa’s
attention. These are given as:
1st – for the causes already set forth by the Commandant Van Wyk
(relating to coalition with hostile chiefs and receiving a large share of
the cattle plundered from the colony), no satisfaction thereon having
been given.
2nd – because in the month of July last, a subject of his Britannic Majesty
(William Purcell) living within the territory of Chief Hintsa, (indeed
not far from the chief’s residence at the time) under the chief’s sanction
and permission to trade with his people, was deliberately murdered at
his own door by a Kafir of the tribe of Hintsa, or by a Fingo servant. . .
for which no atonement has yet been made; and though this atrocious

120 the deaths of hintsa

and unwarrantable act that was then duly made known to Hintsa, no
effectual steps have ever been taken for the punishment of the murderer.
3rd – for the recent murder of Armstrong, a British subject, by
which also Hintsa’s people broke the conditions of my truce, and
commenced hostilities.
4th – for the violence, rapine and ill-treatment practices against the
British missionaries at Butterworth.
5th – for the violence, rapine and outrages committed also upon the
British traders.39
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Five days later, on 29 April, the quarrel was translated into demands, which
were not only written but also translated into Xhosa by Shepstone for the
benefit of Hintsa.
1st – I demand from Chief Hintsa the restoration of 50 000 head
of cattle, and of 1 000 horses. 25 000 head of cattle and 500
horses immediately, as hostilities will continue till they are
delivered, and 25 000 head of cattle and 500 horses in one year
from this day.
2nd – I demand that Hintsa, as the acknowledged chief of western
Xhosaland, shall lay his imperative commands, and cause them to be
obeyed, upon his chiefs of the tribes Tyali, Macomo, Eno, Bothma,
Dushani, T’slambie, Umhala, and their dependents, instantly to
cease hostilities, and send in, and give up to me, all the fire-arms
which they may possess.
3rd – I demand that the murderer of William Purcell be immediately
brought to the condign punishment of death by the Kafir authorities,
and in the presence of Commissioners, whom I shall appoint to
witness the execution and to whom the Chief Hintsa will cause to
be delivered 300 head of good cattle for the benefit of the widow and
family of the murdered man.
4th – I demand, that the same atonement be made for the murder of
Armstrong, as that demanded for the murder of Purcell.

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 121
5th – I demand that for the due and full execution of the above
conditions, the Chief Hintsa shall deliver into my hands here, on the
spot, and immediately, two hostages, to be chosen by me from among
the chief persons about him. 40

The act of writing and translation was more than a summary of the
grievances held by colonists against the Xhosa. It was also the culmination
of a general belief in what colonial officials thought to be their moral right
and legitimate purpose. It was a right demanded on the basis of prefigured
notions of private property and justice – the foundational concepts of an
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order fundamental to settler ideology – and accentuated by movement in the

first degree.
However, concepts of private property and justice, so crucial in
movement in the first degree, could not exist without movement in the
second degree – that is, movements ascribed to society on a larger scale.
In Godlonton’s narrative, movement in the second degree is introduced by
way of a digression in the plot – by the happenings of 17 April 1835, when the
Mfengu were said to have approached the colonists for protection against
their Xhosa overlords.
Taking advantage of the anti-slavery sentiments in the metropole,
Godlonton describes the life of the Mfengu as a dislocated and enslaved
population. The term ‘Fingo’, Godlonton noted, ‘is not their national
appellation, but a reproachful epithet, denoting extreme poverty and
misery, – a person having no claim to justice, mercy or even life.’41
Having been dispersed by Shaka, the Mfengu had fled westward and
there, Godlonton claims, they were received by Hintsa and his people
and rendered entirely dependent. 42 In fact, they were thought to have
suffered in the ‘tenure of the most abject slavery’. Their general tasks,
we are told, were herding cattle, hewing wood, drawing water and
cultivating the ground for their supposedly cruel taskmasters. But that
was not all. As if to recognise the injustices of serfdom and slavery,
Godlonton pointed out that:

122 the deaths of hintsa

when, by extraordinary exertion, the Mfengu had obtained, by the
sale of any little surplus produce beyond that required for their own
use, a few head of cattle, they were either forcibly taken from them, or
they were charged with the crime of witchcraft, their bodies put to the
torture, and their property confiscated. 43

More damning was the information gathered from Reverend John Ayliff,
who had spent five years as a missionary near Hintsa’s residence, and the
researches of Reverend Kay regarding the capture of female children from
the Mfengu for the ‘most odious purposes’. 44
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The nuanced distinctions between possession and ownership that

we have encountered in Peires’s attempts to construct a history of the
Xhosa in the days of their independence were of course lost on Godlonton.
Rather, he focused on the apparent centralisation of ownership and control
by Hintsa, a strategy that was in keeping with settler designs on expansion.
Coincidentally, such a course of centralisation, premised on the will of the
paramount, was reminiscent of the account of the feudal relations out of
which the British bourgeoisie had emerged.
Far from being invested in minority histories, Godlonton’s description
of the Mfengu represents an attempt to characterise Xhosa social relations in
terms of a framework of feudalism and also to prove the practice of slavery.
The settlers, in his characterisation, had sought to liberate the Mfengu and
their property from the precarious tenure of the supposedly ‘capricious, cruel
and avaricious task-masters’. 45 In this sense the defeat of the Xhosa – or the
supposed liberation of the Mfengu – was integral to the story of progress and
in keeping with the march against preceding feudal social relations.
The conceptual underpinnings of cadastral prose, then, encountered
their logical outcomes in the larger story of the development of society.
Cadastral prose and the story of progress were constitutive elements of an
anticipatory structure of time, narrative and subjectivity. In Godlonton’s
hands, this was a resolution posited in the general direction of settlement
rather than solely modelled on the possibilities of ongoing trade. In this

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 123
sense it was a truly colonial history because it promoted progress at all costs –
a progress guaranteed by force and not, as in the missionary constructions of
humanitarian lobbyists, by gradual conversion and improvement. Ultimately,
in Godlonton’s depiction of the war of 1834–35, the difference between the
settlers and the Xhosa was increasingly defined in terms of a combination of
movement in the first degree and movement in the second degree.

Beyond the ideology of settler histories

There is a tendency to see settler histories as merely biased, an idea that

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has also framed nationalist constructions of colonial history. Unfortunately,

to reduce settler histories to a methodological aberration is to ignore the
complex weaving together of the subject of history through its narration
and constructions of historical time. One example must suffice, since it also
features prominently in the list of demands for reparation put to Hintsa
that Godlonton outlined. In his History of the Abambo, John Ayliff tells the
story of the killing of the English trader, Purcell, near Butterworth. Purcell
is said to have beaten one of Hintsa’s subjects who had behaved ‘insolently’
in his trading store. According to Ayliff, Hintsa ordered Purcell to pay a fine
for the blows, which the trader refused unless the alleged offender also be
made to pay. In Ayliff’s description of the killing of Purcell there is no doubt
that his provocation was the reason for his death. The refusal to pay the fine,
according to Ayliff, roused the anger of Hintsa and cost Purcell his life. The
killing is set forth as follows:
On the Sabbath morning, in the middle of July, a Native came to
Purcell with two horns which he wanted to sell. Purcell was at
breakfast, and through the open window, he called out that he did
not trade on Sunday. The Gcaleka then said he would leave the horns
and come on Monday to trade, and asked Purcell to come out and take
them. Purcell went out, was immediately stabbed in the right breast,
and dropped down dead. There is reason to believe that his murder
was committed at the command of Hintsa. 46

124 the deaths of hintsa

We are left at a loss as to the reason for believing that Hintsa condoned the
killing of Purcell. One reason may have been Purcell’s provocation and his
subsequent refusal to pay the fine. The connection, judging from Ayliff’s
description, lay in a more complex passage of historical narration that gave
rise to the exercise of colonial power. The conditions that made it possible
to forge a settler history depended on the way the colonised subject was
situated in a larger prefigured temporal framework of history. Godlonton’s
history was similarly not merely biased or a product of a deeply entrenched
perspective that emerged from within a settler-dominated public sphere; it
was also a necessary step in returning to the subject of colonial discourse.
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A settler history would not be adequate if it did not return to the subject both
in terms of an agency tasked with the possibilities of change and one whose
subjection was necessary for such change to occur.
In Godlonton’s narrative, the elevation of the concepts of progress,
justice and property significantly elided the reliance on a constitutive
imaginary structure. He was, after all, a journalist. Godlonton’s was
an account of the war of 1834–35 that had seemingly been necessitated
by the outcry amongst a small but vocal humanitarian lobby about the
killing of Hintsa. The anthropological presuppositions that gave rise to a
colonial imaginary structure, which I called attention to in the discussion
of grounding Hintsa in the previous chapter, would resurface later to
undermine the counter-claims about the killing of Hintsa and the distinct
possibility of an alternative history that emerged from within a fractured
public sphere.
The fracture was formed around a vocal liberal campaign that
charged the settlers with abuse of local populations without, we should note,
surrendering the story of the master journeymen of the British Empire
leading the way to progress and civilisation. The pronouncements that
sparked the crisis in Grahamstown were made by humanitarian liberals and
organised around the reports of Reverend John Philips. Philips provided
the humanitarians with the basis for arriving at competing versions of what
happened to Hintsa, which detracted from the official version that surfaced

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 125
in the commission of inquiry in 1836 and instigated a deliberation that
was indispensable to the formation of a settler public sphere. Much of this
deliberation was carried out in the pages of the South African Commercial
Advertiser, a newspaper that professed the humanitarian course and that
itself prompted the journalist Robert Godlonton to offer his history of the
war of 1834–35.
Based on the report of the commission of inquiry in 1836 – which
became the official statement on the killing of Hintsa – and the defensive
stance adopted by Godlonton and others in Grahamstown towards the much
smaller, yet vocal lobby of the humanitarians, the story of the killing of
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Hintsa affirmed the modes of evidence of the colonial archive and supported
the process of the subjection of agency. However, for all their expressions
of the higher pursuits of property and progress, settler historical narratives
could not escape the effects of the imaginary structure, discussed in the
previous chapter, upon which they were founded in the first place.
Godlonton’s record of the events of 1834–35 expresses a commitment
to applying universalising concepts of progress and property drawn from
nineteenth-century bourgeois economics to a notion of history that privileges
proximity to the events recounted. It has pretensions of an objective history
by connecting things as they appear in ideas to things as they really are.
In a Marxist reading, it would qualify for the pejorative charge of being
ideological because of an inversion of the concept of property at work in its
narration. In other words, Godlonton needed to distort the representation
of cattle in Xhosa society in order for his notion of progress to work.
The underlying distortion has resonances with Marx’s discussion of the
universalising claims of bourgeois economics in his study ‘The German
Ideology’. There Marx notes:
Although it is true that the categories of bourgeois economics
possess a truth for all other forms of society, this is to be taken
only with a grain of salt. They can contain them in a developed,
or stunted, or caricatured form, but always with an essential
difference. 47

126 the deaths of hintsa

One way to read with a grain of salt, as Marx proposes in relation to his
account in ‘The German Ideology’, is to set the record straight by correcting
the distortion that was at the very core of a settler historical narrative. This
sense of setting the record straight, I will argue in the following chapter, was
a project that consumed the energies of an anti-colonial nationalist response
to colonialism and, more specifically, an event such as the killing of Hintsa.
However, I want to argue that the demand for reading with a grain of salt
might be more usefully directed at those concepts, metaphors and utopian
ideals that prompted settler histories. This is crucial for reorienting the
critique of colonialism and extending an anti-colonial argument beyond the
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requirement of limiting critical history to serve as a corrective of that which

precedes it as a form of history. The challenge, it seems, is to overcome the
limitations of ideology.
In a significant reorientation of ideological critique, Paul Ricoeur
points out that Marx resorts to a metaphor of the inverted image found
in a camera or in the retina to elaborate a concept of ideology. Ricoeur
argues that the ‘essential difference’ that is invoked in Marx’s rendering
of the universalising claims of bourgeois economics need not be thought
of entirely in terms of later formulations of base and superstructure.
Rather, he calls for much closer attention to connect the notion of ideology
to an imaginary structure, or utopian impulse, if we are to take seriously
the call for an epistemological break. 48 As I see it, Ricoeur seeks to pry
open a space in the model of overdetermination proposed by Althusser to
name ‘the simultaneous action of infrastructure and superstructure’ for a
reconsideration of what I have been calling the subjection of agency. In the
context of the present argument, this would amount to an understanding
of how Hintsa became the subject of settler history and how settler history
came into being in part by assembling narratives of the killing of the king.
A settler history was not merely a product of placing the colonised subject
in a particular relation to settler interests. It was also a product of broadly
prescribing to the modes of evidence of the archive. As a result, the subject
of official discourse usually reappears in settler history to legitimise acts

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 127
of violence and to justify these actions by linking progress and property to
presupposed bonds amongst settlers, colonial officials and metropolitan
Contemporary historiographical evaluations of settler history tend
to emphasise the ways in which these histories are produced in the
cleavages of the public sphere or they tend to construe settler histories
as purveyors of racial ideology. These arguments are of course crucial
in the political positions adopted by the discipline of history to oppose
apartheid, although these very epistemological choices remain aloof of the
Mannheimian paradox in which the charge of ideology boils down to yet
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another ideological claim. Perhaps by alternatively setting our sights on the

potential for an epistemic rupture we may begin to unravel the workings
of ideology through annotating its relation to the question of colonial
subjectivity in history. This might require, as I stated earlier, tracking
the points at which history elides its imaginary structure, if only that it
might offer us a way of stepping out of the shadows of the colonial archive.
If, however, the specific utopian form of the imaginary structure that
Ricoeur promotes in his understanding of the concept of ideology offers
us one possible pathway out of the shadows of the colonial archive, it is
equally crucial to understand how deeply it might be imbricated in the
process of the subjection of agency. The previous chapter was dedicated to
outlining this level of complicity. The entanglement, moreover, may incite
us to single out how the imaginary structure is deployed in the operation
of settler historiography which combines the cadastral prose of officialdom
with a settler public discourse to produce a coherent settler colonial
historiography. In the tensions of Empire we should consider how the
subaltern is frequently conscripted to produce hegemonic histories. One such
moment may be discerned in the early twentieth century, when George Cory,
an amateur historian and professor of chemistry based at Rhodes University,
set out to forge a synthesis of the South African past from the fragments of
the colonial archive.

128 the deaths of hintsa

George Cory and the making of settler colonial historiography

In the early twentieth century, George Cory combined extensive oral

interviews with ‘old people’ and archival research in the records of the Civil
Commissioner’s Office in Grahamstown as part of his effort to produce a
new synthesis of the South African past. Judging from the publication of the
six-volume The Rise of South Africa, the research was aimed at reconciling
the histories formed in the settler public sphere and colonial administrations
in order to form the outlines of a settler colonial historiography. What is
striking is how this reconciliation was achieved through reference to and the
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mobilisation of the figure of Hintsa and the story of his demise.

The research undertaken by Cory was indeed extensive. He made an
effort to interview descendants of Hintsa, even though he tended to privilege
the documentary records of colonial administration and settler narratives.
At a magistrate’s court in Willowvale in 1910, Cory interviewed Hintsa’s son,
Lindinxuwa, as part of his ongoing research. Lindinxuwa contradicted settler
characterisations of Hintsa, who like Hintsa’s father, Kauta, was described
by Lindinxuwa as ‘a peaceful man [who] did not make war on adjacent tribes
[sic]’. 49 As for the charge of being treacherous, Lindinxuwa characterised
Hintsa as someone with a strong sense of loyalty. Referring in particular
to the tensions between Hintsa and Ngqika (of the Rharhabe branch of the
family), he pointed out that even though Ngqika betrayed Hintsa in the battle
of Amalinde, the latter ‘would not succumb to English demands for cattle
stolen by Ngqika since he did not think it proper to betray his relative’.50
In short, Lindinxuwa refused to surrender Hintsa to the colonial officials’
descriptive vocabulary reserved for intransigent enemies.
Yet, The Rise of South Africa made no specific mention of the
testimony offered by Hintsa’s descendant. The reason appears to have been
Cory’s judgement of Hintsa:
Hintsa was richly endowed with all the vices of the savage, cruelty,
treachery, avarice, and the deepest cunning, all of which had actuated
him during the last few days of his life. But he had over-reached

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 129
himself on this occasion, and was caught in the trap he had set for
others. It was but too clear why the troops had been led into that wild
region, and also what would have been the fate of a small force had it
accompanied him; for the hills and the immediate surroundings were
crowded with his people. And there had been wanting, any further
evidence of the mischief premeditated by Hintsa, it was supplied by
the presence of Umtini and the servant with the fresh horse which
had been sent so mysteriously from the camp and which was there
in readiness for the chief. Hintsa got no more than the reward for
his perfidy.51
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How did Cory arrive at such a characterisation of Hintsa, especially after all
his effort to interview a descendant of the king? Cory’s perspective had to be
supported by a particular organisation of the narrative of the killing which
corresponded to the modes of evidence of the colonial archive described in
Chapter 1 of this book. Interspersed in the six volumes of The Rise of South
Africa, Cory engages a portrait of Hintsa that serves to repeat not only the
content of the colonial archive but also its form. Some of this content is
derived from Lindinxuwa; the remainder is derived from the visit by Colonel
Collins to the Great Place between the Kei and Mbashe Rivers in 1809. In the
nearly 100 years that passed following the encounters between Collins and
Hintsa on the one hand, and Cory and Lindinxuwa on the other, the marks
of uncertainty in the original report from Collins to Lord Caledon, colonial
governor in the early 1800s, were noticeably erased.
Cory made an appearance in Willowvale on 28 January 1910
specifically to meet Lindinxuwa but was disappointed to find that the chief
was not there; he had, Cory learnt, travelled some 20 miles to sort out a land
dispute. Hargraves, the resident magistrate, sent a messenger to request
Lindinxuwa to return as soon as possible. The interview commenced on
29 January in the courthouse. ‘I was furnished with a table,’ noted Cory,
‘below the magistrates desk.’52 The description of the setting of the interview
was not inconsequential, as I will show.

130 the deaths of hintsa

The old man with his chief councillor, Gosani sat in chairs at
one end, the Court interpreter Pamla next to me. A number
of natives interested in the proceedings sat in the court, while
others blocked up the windows. Lindinxura [sic] is a fine looking
fellow – about six feet tall and stout in proportion – he was slightly
bent with age, tho [sic] he is only about 75, his hair was almost white,
short beard and whiskers. Both he and Gosani were in European
costumes. Gosani had a rather sinister appearance, but Lindinxura
had a somewhat royal bearing. Having seated himself my mission
was explained to him.53
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The historian’s description of the setting replays the themes of doubt and
certainty – expressed through descriptions of Lindinxuwa and Gosani – that
marked the strategies generic to the colonial archive for narrating Hintsa’s
killing. Cory’s meticulous recording of the circumstances and the content
of the interview was not merely a product of the standard of historical
methodology. It plotted in detail what would be Cory’s conclusion about
the character of Hintsa. After a familiar outline of family genealogy and
geography by way of the indexicality of graves of his ancestors, Lindinxuwa
proceeded to narrate the story of the killing of Hintsa, with a few twists to
the official tale. Cory’s account selectively drew on this narrative, especially
by taking seriously Lindinxuwa’s insistence that Hintsa had lost his temper
and decided to escape. While latching onto the affirmation of Hintsa’s escape,
he ignored suggestions of the king as a prisoner. He also tended to ignore
Lindinxuwa’s response to the question about the mutilation of the body.
Asking him about the mutilation of Hintsa’s body, he said it is true –
Hintsa’s head was cut off. It is a disgraceful thing to say that thing
[i.e. to talk about it]. All the Gcalekas say that Hintsa’s head was cut
off. That is why Kreli never had any peace of mind with the Europeans
until his death and ever since we have been fighting with the white
people until now, on account of that thing. Hintsa was buried at
Nqabara by his chief councillor, Ncoko.54

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 131
Quite clearly, Lindinxuwa’s testimony was beginning to show signs of the
nationalist retrievals of the story of the killing of Hintsa, especially with the
probable threats of land dispossession on the horizon at the beginning of
the twentieth century. There was, however, another more telling reason for
ignoring the bulk of the account supplied by Hintsa’s son. Midway through
the interview, the chief explained that he was thirsty because of all the
talking. Gosani, according to Cory’s notes, concurred. With the permission
of the magistrate, a permit was issued for Cory to purchase a bottle of brandy
which, we are told, Lindinxuwa and Gosani took neat, before proceeding to
speak about the beheading of Hintsa.
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Cory may have been encouraged to complete the portrait of Hintsa

as a treacherous and unreliable king after hearing the account given by the
supposedly inebriated Lindinxuwa, in spite of what the chief communicated
to him about the killing of Hintsa before taking a swig of brandy. That view
would, however, have to take into account his more accommodating stance on
John Philips or his later invitation to poet and writer SEK Mqhayi to produce
what Cory called ‘a native version’ of the killing of Hintsa. On Philips’s
humanitarian pursuits, Cory suggests that future students of African
history may find in the personal papers of John Philips, unavailable to him
at the time, that ‘all the dispatches of Governors, statements of Judges and
officials are unworthy of credit’.55 This attitude sits uncomfortably with his
dismissive or at best selective treatment of Lindinxuwa’s comments in 1910.56
The dismissive attitude towards the content of the interview was not merely a
question of bias on the part of Cory or his distrust of what might be said after
half the bottle of brandy was drunk neat, as he tells us. What we have here is
a relation to the archive that bears heavily on the effort to produce coherence
in the nineteenth-century settler narrative. Cory ought to be read seriously,
not only because his is a corpus that can be cast as an example of settler
colonial history, but also for allowing a glimpse into how settler history
is made out of disparate strands of official and public deliberation and, of
course, reliant on the accretion of narrative and discourse through which
Hintsa’s killing is mediated. Cory’s history is responsible for reconciling

132 the deaths of hintsa

and smoothing over the disparities between settler and official colonial
contests. This is the production not of a settler history but of a settler colonial
history that is both sustained by and committed to the modes of evidence of
the archive.
Cory’s depiction of Hintsa begins with Colonel Collins’s visit to
the Kei in 1809. He tells us that when Collins arrived at the Great Place,
Hintsa was away, supposedly hunting. The reason for the visit to Hintsa
was to gauge how many ‘white people, fugitives from law and justice,
were taking refuge in these parts’.57 While waiting for Hintsa, Collins and
the young Andries Stockenström who had accompanied him discovered
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Henry MacDaniel, a deserter from the Cape Colony, a ‘boer refugee’ called
Lochenberg and some runaway slaves who explained their presence in
Gcalekaland by way of the cruelty of their former masters. All, we are told,
refused the offer to return to the Cape Colony. The meeting, as Cory seems
to suggest, proved rather meaningless in comparison to the effort Collins
made to reach the Great Place. Hintsa, he claims, ‘manifested a friendliness
towards the Colony; he promised to assist both in sending back exiles and in
preventing others from entering and taking refuge in his country’.58 Nowhere
in this narrative do we find explicit reference to the concern with concepts
of property and progress that were so prominent in the nineteenth-century
account of Godlonton. Also erased is the caution presented to Hintsa about
harbouring stolen cattle. By the time Cory was constructing his history in
the 1920s, the Union of South Africa had set in place the notions of rights
to property and ownership, so that concepts of property and progress must
have appeared as a fait accompli and therefore unnecessary to return to.
This is perhaps what differentiates the history produced by Cory from that of
Godlonton. Instead, Cory’s account of the journey of Colonel Collins makes
available the tropes of the empty land and the necessary racial markers that
would qualify it as a settler colonial history.
The racial markers went directly to the character of the Xhosa chiefs.
Collins’s earlier visit to Hintsa’s brother, Buru, ends in a very specific
description of the chief. Little is mentioned of the conversation other

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 133
than the fact that Buru was unwilling to discuss matters related to
Hintsa or the ‘tribes’ that fell under him.59 Yet, Cory provides a detailed
description of Buru as being of ‘about twenty-four years of age; his
countenance was rendered interesting by a good-humored smile and a
very fine set of teeth; his figure was tall and elegant, but, as well as his
face was rendered more like that of a Hottentot than a Kaffir by being all
over smeared with ochre’.60 About Hintsa, Cory cites the degrading analogy
found in the autobiography of Harry Smith in which it is claimed that the
king was ‘a very good-looking fellow, his face though black the very image
of poor dear George IV’.61
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In narrating the story of the killing of Hintsa, Cory was faced with a
major problem. If he was to resort to constructing Hintsa as a treacherous
king, who, it could be proven, was leading the British troops into a trap,
and if this testimony had been recorded as part of D’Urban’s commission
of inquiry in 1836, then the killing of the king would have amounted to
an assassination and an act of premeditated murder. The historian had to
transform the earlier forms of reasonable doubt into a sense of reasonable
suspicion and spontaneity – without of course implicating those who killed
Hintsa in an act of murder.
Cory’s depiction of the killing of Hintsa does not depart from the
version of events that surfaced in the 1836 commission. Large parts of the
testimony are reproduced in his history, and there is an unquestioning
acceptance of the explanations given by British soldiers. To support this
alignment with the commission of inquiry, Cory negotiates the uncertainty
of that record in ways that deepen the suspicion surrounding Hintsa, and
which ultimately, in the eyes of the British soldiers and later Glenelg himself,
made him responsible for his own death. Not only did the alignment combine
with presuppositions of property, progress and justice generic to Godlonton’s
narrative but also with the properties of facts folded into the colonial
imaginary. Taken together, I suggest, these formed what I call settler history.
Two examples may help to highlight this crucial point of convergence
in settler colonial history. The first relates to the meeting between D’Urban

134 the deaths of hintsa

and Hintsa shortly before Hintsa’s fateful journey. The meeting is shrouded
in contradiction and Cory negotiates this difficulty by recourse to the
subjectivity of Hintsa himself. As might be expected, the discussion of the
meeting is preceded by the communication of a set of demands to Hintsa:
His Excellency recounted to him the wrongs of which he was accused
and formulated the terms on which hostilities would cease. These
terms were, that 50 000 cattle and 1 000 horses were to be restored to
the Colony. Of these, one-half was to be forthcoming immediately or
as soon as they could be collected, and the remainder was to be sent in
a year’s time; that Hintsa, being the paramount chief of the whole of
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Kafirland [sic], was to command Tyali, Maqoma, Nqeno, Bottoman and

the other chiefs to cease hostilities and to deliver up to the Governor
all the fire-arms they possessed; that for each of the murders of the
trader Purcell and the settler Armstrong, 300 head of good cattle were
to be given to the relatives of those unfortunate men; and finally that
two approved hostages were to be left with the Governor for the due
fulfillment of all of this.62

Notwithstanding the similarity in recording the demands as Godlonton

had done, Cory also includes a further statement about Hintsa’s response
to the requirement that he meet the demands in 48 hours. Hintsa, on
hearing the demands, ‘sighed, apparently despondent, gave his head a toss,
and said he would consider it’.63 The reference to the gestures leads one to
a heightened sense of anticipation. To illustrate the accompanying surprise
that followed Hintsa’s decision to abide by D’Urban’s stipulations, Cory
invokes the theatrical manner of Colonel Smith’s announcement: ‘Now let it
be proclaimed far and near that the great Chief Hintsa has concluded peace
with the king of England, and let the canon fire,’ whereupon three loud
reports from the field-pieces half-deafened all and reverberated among the
distant hills.64
Following an exchange of gifts with Hintsa and his wife Nomsa and
the appearance of his son, Sarhili, at the camp, the king supposedly offered

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 135
himself and his son as hostages. They were, however, assured that they were
not prisoners and free to leave when they chose. At this gesture, we are told,
the governor was ‘disarmed of suspicion’ towards the king. Cory does not
tell us here what the cause for suspicion was in the first place. That much
must be inferred because it cannot be corroborated. This is precisely where
the imaginary structure is called into play in the work of history, often
organised around those who fail to function by the rules governing the true.
Once again, a subaltern effect reveals the compromise between a regime
of truth and the imaginary structure that constitutes the colonial archive.
Settler colonial history therefore demands a reading in reverse or, as Marx
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put it in ‘The German Ideology’, with a grain of salt. Such a reading grasps
the consolidation of modes of evidence at the point at which settler colonial
history presents itself as an ideological claim.
Thus, the second point of convergence in settler colonial history
relates to making sense of the suspicion surrounding Hintsa’s decision to
adhere to D’Urban’s demands. Everywhere, says Cory of the atmosphere
that prevailed on the eve of the war of 1834–35, there were signs, though
perhaps indistinct, of a coming storm.65 How does the historian deal with
this level of suspicion or that which is anticipated? Cory traces the sources
of suspicion in those subjects who do not make the cut of the true, yet are
critical to delineating a line of action. He finds a perfect possibility in the
‘rascal’ Hermanus. On the eve of the war of 1834–35, Cory’s narrative turns to
the figure of Hermanus or Xogomesh, the supposedly ‘dangerous rascal’ who
had spied on Maqoma for the British.66 Generally, Hermanus is lambasted
as the scourge of Albany and accused of theft and leading a rebellion to
attack Fort Beaufort later in 1851. Hermanus seemed to have exploited
the conditions of quiet ferment which threatened the Colony late in 1833.
Tucked away in a footnote, Cory offers us an assessment of the role played by
Hermanus leading up to the outbreak of hostilities in the 1830s:
History repeated itself in the career of this man. . .he was a Gaika
and a man of considerable ability; spoke Dutch as well as his
own language and also understood English; he thus became very

136 the deaths of hintsa

useful in the many negotiations which subsequently took place
between the Government and the Kaffirs. Like Makana he had
acquired considerable information and knowledge on a variety of
matters not usually possessed by those who had the disadvantage
of his surroundings. ‘His ideas of religion were whimsical and
extraordinary. He believed in a Supreme Being, and an Evil One,
but allotted more power to the latter than to the former – that creed
suited him best. “As to de oder people”, meaning the other Persons
of Trinity, he said “he knew notin at all about dem”. Intelligent and
acute on most points, yet he was as much the victim of superstition
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as the most untutored savage of his tribe.’ – (Biography of the Rebel

Hermanus, Godlonton and Irving’s Kaffir War, p. 144). Shortly after
these times he gave great offence to his compatriots by disclosing to
the Government some conspiracies which came to his knowledge, and
as, in consequence, his life was not safe in Kafirland [sic].67

As in the case of Nicholas Gcaleka, charges of lies are lodged in a regime of

truth, in this case one that leads to an explanation of the violence that befell
Hintsa by ratifying its official documentary trace. The speech of Hermanus –
‘he knew notin at all about dem’ – and the ridicule of his dubious religious
beliefs are uncomfortably placed alongside the reliability of the information
he supposedly provided about Hintsa’s plot against the British. In the end,
Hermanus is the place keeper of suspicion that would allow for a justification
of the killing of Hintsa and coherence in settler history which cemented
over the cracks that the killing produced in an emergent public sphere in
South Africa. The story of the killing of Hintsa, with the attendant doubt
created by the ‘rascal’ Hermanus, supplements and links the elements
of cadastral prose to produce a measure of coherence in settler colonial
history. The problem here is not merely one of representation but one of the
catalytic function that the trope of suspicion performs in the larger story
of the killing of Hintsa. At one level, it conveys a sense of why it was that
Hintsa was suspected, on the basis of intelligence gathered from Hermanus,

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 137
of leading the British troops into a trap. At another level, this information
derived from a ‘rascal’ such as Hermanus served to anticipate but did
not determine British actions. This is why the intelligence provided by
Hermanus did not feature in the commission of inquiry convened in 1836.
Yet, it was critical to the justification for the killing of Hintsa in the context
of the public sphere.
What Cory’s voluminous history of the rise of South Africa achieved
in respect of the story of the killing of Hintsa was to realign the fissures and
discordant elements that had appeared between the settler public sphere and
the colonial government. Such a history functioned to undermine the liberal
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humanitarian appeals that drew on acts of colonial violence such as that

related to the killing of Hintsa. To achieve this, Cory was compelled to justify
the killing of Hintsa by making an ideological choice. In the process, he drew
on narrative elements that fell outside of official records, but nevertheless
were known in the public sphere, to produce a syncretic tradition of
historiography that folded an imaginary structure expressed through the
sentiment of suspicion into a documentary trace that, together, brought
about the coherence of an ideology of settler colonial history.

Settler colonial history

The imaginary structure of colonial rule conveyed a sense of a contradictory

impulse at the core of the narratives of Empire. Much of this impulse was
a product of attempts to justify acts of colonial violence. In the case of the
killing of Hintsa, the trope of suspicion is one which casts some doubt on the
story of the perpetrators of the act of violence. Nevertheless, it also conveys
a sense of justification for the killing. For this reason, it is not sufficient to
identify the racial histories attributed to settler historiography. The work of
settler historiography is not merely categorical but also conceptual. In this
chapter I have argued that the conceptual work that emerges in relation
to the narration of the killing of Hintsa relates to the manner in which it
seamlessly links ideas of property, justice and progress as indispensable

138 the deaths of hintsa

to colonial hegemony. They are interdependent of the very temporalities of
settler historiography.
Such a historiographical crafting smoothed over the cracks that
had appeared in the public sphere in Grahamstown as a result of the war
of 1834–35 and the killing of Hintsa. If Godlonton’s journalism established
the basis for later productions of a more coherent settler historiography,
Cory’s is symptomatic of a history founded on the terms of cadastral prose of
domination. Rather than reduce such history to an ideological identity, I have
argued that we may have to attend to its form. In Cory’s The Rise of South
Africa I see a conservative realignment of the public discourse of Godlonton
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with the official version that emerged from the colonial commission of
inquiry into Hintsa’s death and the liberal public sphere.
Critical to understanding the form of settler colonial historiography,
I would argue, is how it is intimately dependent on the production of the
subaltern effect. The trope of suspicion introduced through the footnoted
character of Hermanus and the general unreliability of his information
helps to connect conservative elements of the public sphere with an official
evidentiary mode of subjection. Suspicion is the tissue of such a connection
and the subaltern subject its unreliable mediator. The manner in which
Hermanus is entered into Cory’s narrative recasts the motive for killing
Hintsa. Therefore, it is perhaps useful to treat settler historiographies not
as merely racial histories but as a form of history that helps to secure the
subjection of agency. The advantage gained by reading settler histories with
a grain of salt is that we are able to view this historiographical production as
deeply implicated in subjection, but necessarily through a process that also
leads to the production of the subject of history in the service of a reconciled
settler colonial history.

The properties of facts (or how to read with a grain of salt) 139
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the deaths of hintsa

Reading ‘Xhosa’ historiography

. . .who would not drink nectar but from the skulls of the slain.1
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If the story of the killing of Hintsa is embedded in the modular form of

the colonial archive, the question, to paraphrase Partha Chatterjee, is: what
is left to the alternative imagination of anti-colonial nationalists? Benedict
Anderson, in his Imagined Communities,2 would have responded that there
was very little alternative. In his Nationalist Thought and the Colonial World,
Chatterjee responds to Anderson’s notion of the modular form of the west
as follows:
If nationalisms in the rest of the world have to choose their
imagined communities from certain ‘modular’ forms already
made available to them by Europe and the Americas, what do they
have left to imagine? History, it would seem, has decreed that we
in the postcolonial shall only be perpetual consumers of modernity.
Europe and the Americas, the only subjects of history, have thought
out on our behalf not only the script of colonial enlightenment
and exploitation, but also that of our anticolonial resistance
and postcolonial misery. Even our imaginations must remain
forever colonised.3

The attempt to dislodge the monopoly of the colonial archive in talking about
the history of the eastern Cape resonates with Chatterjee’s concern that
opposition to colonialism may turn out to be merely, or simply, derivative.
If we were to rephrase Chatterjee’s question slightly, we might ask what
the utopian underpinnings of nationalist history were and to what extent
these formative conditions of opposing colonialism allowed it to extricate
itself sufficiently from the prescriptions of colonial history. More succinctly,
we might revitalise a phrase coined by Shula Marks several years ago in
her discussion of the ‘ambiguities of dependence’ to capture the sense of
entanglement mentioned by Chatterjee. 4 One of the sources of nationalist
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ambiguity, according to Marks, is that it was staffed by ‘men of two worlds’.5

The constraints imposed on nationalist imagination are not unrelated to
an intelligentsia caught between the conceptions of a precolonial social
order, Christianity and a more ruthless and exploitative system of modern
governmentality. The very access to the English language and literacy
brought by the missionaries made possible the ‘new imagined political
community’6 implied by nationalism. However, the question of nationalist
ambiguity might be posed not merely as a historical question but also as a
historiographical one.
The relationship of the discipline of history to nationalist
historiography is a source of considerable discomfort in contemporary
southern Africa. In an article on Zimbabwe, for example, Terrence Ranger
made a plea to distinguish between nationalist historiography and patriotic
history, given the way history has served as an alibi for the bolstering of a
Zanu PF version of the past.7 Elsewhere, there has been more vehement
critique of nationalist historiography on the basis of its hagiographic and
biographic form which promotes elite projects by way of a monolithic and
undifferentiated category of the people. Ciraj Rassool, for example, has
criticised the biographic complex in South Africa, but as a strategy aimed
at reviving and animating the contestations at the heart of an emergent
democratic public sphere.8 But, having noted the discomfort with nationalist
historiography, what do we make of nationalism’s political critique of

142 the deaths of hintsa

colonialism? The difficulty in locating the source of the ambiguity of
nationalism calls for revisiting nationalist historiography as a textual
network. Rather than only emphasising the limits of nationalism, we may
have to place nationalist historiography in a particular relation to the colonial
archive and disciplinary formations so as to understand better its ambiguity.
Nationalist historiography ought to be read as texts of opposition that
coincidentally lend themselves to an elaboration of disciplinary reason.9
In the specific case of the story of Hintsa, nationalist historiography
is primarily discernible by its critique of settler colonial historiography.
However, somewhat unwittingly, the work produced by nationalist writers,
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mainly in the first half of the twentieth century, was increasingly sustained
by the changes taking place in the disciplines of history and anthropology
in South Africa. With the rise of segregation and later, after 1948, apartheid,
disciplines such as history and anthropology underwent significant shifts,
especially as a result of their encounter with the pervasive, if not elusive,
‘native question’.10 In most instances, this was a product of changing
institutions, international influences following the defeat of fascism in
Europe, which impacted on scholarship locally, and a reorientation of the
very objects of disciplinary inquiry in South African scholarship.
At stake in this fissure was an effort to extend disciplinary knowledge
to the social problem of the ‘native’ that would, in some instances at
least, result in a concept of pluralism to counter the racial segregationism
propounded by the state. Paul Rich gives some indication that the overlap
of terms between liberal pluralists and state was deliberate. He informs us
that the philosopher RFA Hoernle, and AW Hoernle, a social anthropologist
at the University of the Witwatersrand, helped to direct liberal thought
towards ‘establish[ing] a dialogue with the segregationist state’ because of
its importance as a political position which South African liberals had to
adopt.11 At the same time, there was growing dissent at the static cultural
objects of humanist disciplines that neglected the prospects of social change
as a condition for knowledge. Amongst these dissenters were historians
such as WH MacMillan and CW de Kiewiet and anthropologists such as

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 143

Max Gluckman. While MacMillan and De Kiewiet emphasised the role of
industrialisation in their respective studies, Gluckman set about challenging
the foundations of social anthropology by arguing that the focus on culture
resulted in a functionalism that thwarted scholarly attention to social change,
even when it professed to analyse such change.
The ‘native question’ was the source of considerable disciplinary
upheaval. Quite clearly the problem could not, it seems, be solved in the
frameworks of history and anthropology without producing narrowly defined
empirical specialities. Paul Cocks has shown that MacMillan objected to
the empiricism of cultural anthropology, arguing that the localised study,
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presumably overwritten with notions of experience, did not allow for an

understanding of the interdependence of cultures, nor did it lead to an
understanding of how adaptable Africans were to the forces of modernity.12
Segregationist policies had revealed the deep complicities that ‘culture’ as an
object of knowledge shared with the exercise of power in South Africa.
The attempts to rework disciplinary knowledge, however, brought
the disciplines of history and anthropology into greater antagonism, while
simultaneously deepening the divide between liberal discourses of progress
and social criticism of the racial logic of accumulation in South Africa.13
In the light of segregationist policies of land expropriation, the intellectual
frameworks were torn between concepts of pluralism and the notion of South
Africa as a single social field which linked political actors.14
In the midst of this acrimony, a vocal strand of scholarship argued for
a deeper understanding of the interdisciplinary possibilities if the insights
of history and anthropology were combined. Max Gluckman’s critique of
Bronislaw Malinowski, especially the latter’s virulent anti-historical position
in favour of functionalist anthropology, pointed out that while it might be
possible to understand the effects of the Glen Grey Act of 1899, it offered
nothing in the way of altering the land policy in South Africa.15 Gluckman
argued for closer attention to history and noted the limits of anthropology
when he curtly argued: ‘A government unmoved by the sufferings of
thousands of people is not likely to be moved by the pretty chart of an

144 the deaths of hintsa

anthropologist. Knowledge alone cannot make a moral policy; it can as easily
serve an immoral one.’16
In 1975, Jeff Peires presented a critique of the failure to dislodge
the pluralist agenda in anthropology that had subsequently emerged as
indistinguishable from the justifications for the homeland system dividing
the Ciskei and the Transkei in the eastern Cape.17 Peires argued vehemently
against the anthropological studies of WD Hammond-Tooke, especially his
aetiological errors of reading the present into the past and thereby providing
justification for apartheid social engineering. Peires complained that the
conclusions drawn by Hammond-Tooke were founded on the forms of evidence
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collected amongst mission-trained western Xhosa, which emphasised the

independence of the right-hand house, located west of the Kei River, in relation
to Hintsa’s Gcaleka east of the Kei River. In other instances, the conclusions
relied on deliberately distorted colonial administrative accounts. The problem
for Peires lay in the sources of Xhosa history and the ahistorical approach of
anthropologists’ understanding of the right-hand house.
The ambiguities of nationalism presumably lie in attempts to
construct a history of Xhosa society in opposition to that described through
the colonial archive but ultimately understood through the frameworks of
disciplinary knowledge. Filtered through the disciplinary grids of knowledge,
nationalist historiography was reductively read as ‘cultural history’. The
implicit refusal to abide by the terms of the colonial archive in the former was
mobilised in support of a disciplinary response to segregation in the case of the
latter, at times to reinforce the very segregationism that was the object of critique.
Nationalist historiography was understood as supplementing disciplinary
disagreements, debates and contests that were either explicitly or implicitly cross-
referenced. At times, it rejected ethnic signifiers tout court in exchange for more
universal categories of class and progress. At other times, it recuperated ethnic
signifiers only to attempt to exceed the limitations posed by those very categories
in a period of segregation. In this, nationalist historiography was often appended
to the competing configurations of historicism and culturalism that marked
disciplinary debates. Given that some of the foremost contributors to writing in

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 145

isiXhosa were members of the South African Native Congress (the precursor
to the ANC), in the early 1900s the shift from nationalist historiography to
cultural studies, at the very least, worked to reorient significantly the political
force of knowledge to normative and accepted disciplinary study.18
In this chapter I want to examine the shift from Xhosa historiography
(which I will show was an expression of nationalist historiography)
to its more reductive rendering as cultural studies. I am interested in
what happens to nationalist narration of the killing of Hintsa when it is
connected to the reorientations of historical and anthropological knowledge
that serve as responses to a state-sponsored and -defined concept of the
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‘native question’ in an environment of rapid industrialisation and social

dislocation. In short, what happens to nationalist narration when it is read
simultaneously in relation to the claims of the colonial archive and Bantu
Studies, that disciplinary formation that emerged in the midst of the
intensification of segregationist policies in South Africa in the first half
of the twentieth century? I will focus on three texts that, taken together,
might enable a different approach to the ambiguities of nationalism. These
include John Henderson Soga’s The South-Eastern Bantu and SEK Mqhayi’s
Ityala Lamawele (The Trial of the Twins) and his commemorative poem
‘UmHlekazi uHintsa’ (Hintsa, The Great).19 All three texts specifically set
out to reverse colonial representations of Hintsa, while keeping apace with
academic disciplines reorganised around the ‘native question’. Nationalism’s
ambiguity, to anticipate the argument briefly, lies in its unfortunate inability
to outwit the interwoven historicist and culturalist tendencies of colonial
discourses and academic disciplines. Yet, in thinking about its entanglement
and its symptomatic knots, we may create the conditions for reconsidering
what is entailed in writing history after apartheid.

Strategic invalidation

A common criticism of anti-colonial nationalism suggests that it merely

substitutes the rule of the colonist with the rule of the indigenous elite.

146 the deaths of hintsa

The standard version of this argument goes along the lines of an indigenous
elite taking over the reins of power by assuming control of the economic
means of society. Contrary to this view, the writings of Soga and Mqhayi
point to its inherent oversimplification. By challenging the foundations of
colonial history, both Soga and Mqhayi located the force of colonialism in its
historical and cultural presuppositions. Soga was seemingly moved to offer
a reinterpretation of the history of the amaXhosa by the de-peasantisation
that was under way after 1913 while Mqhayi, judging from the emphasis
of his writing, was concerned with the erosion of the juridical basis of
precolonial society with an encroaching system of resident magistracies in
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the eastern Cape.

John Henderson Soga’s South-Eastern Bantu was published in 1930
by the editorial committee of the journal Bantu Studies at the University
of Witwatersrand Press after repeated failure to have it published in Xhosa
through Lovedale Press following a dispute over the use of old orthography.
The text appears to be organised around a fundamental contradiction
in official state renderings of the history of the Xhosa, especially the
appropriation of the history of division in the House of Phalo. In an
assessment of the original Xhosa text, Jeff Peires praised the work as the
greatest historical work produced in the Xhosa language.20 However, he
also hinted that Soga’s narrative tended to support the conclusions of
anthropologists such as Hammond-Tooke, who emphasise the relative
independence of the right-hand house in relation to the overriding
power of Hintsa’s Gcaleka house. This view, Peires argues, seeped into
anthropological writings on the Xhosa and later became the foundation
of the policies of segregation and apartheid homelands.21 Let us set aside
momentarily the insinuation that Soga was partly and perhaps indirectly
contributing to Hammond-Tooke’s anthropological studies and consider the
connection that Peires alludes to more carefully. Peires’s major criticism
of Soga’s work relates to its claims of being representative of all Xhosa
historiography. In cautioning against an unquestioning acceptance of Soga’s
history, he notes:

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 147

The western Xhosa were the first to be incorporated into the Colony,
and the first to get a western education and to write things down.
Except for two Thembu, all the important Xhosa writers have been
western Xhosa. The eastern Xhosa were incorporated only in 1885
and have contributed little to the written record. J.H. Soga, whose
compendious works written in the late 1920s are still our basic source
for Xhosa history and customs, was the grandson and great-grandson
of councillors of the amaNgqika chiefs. The emphasis which he
placed on the independent position of the right-hand house ought not
therefore to be accepted without reservation.22
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Peires is clearly referring to Soga’s repeated appeals to the division in the

House of Phalo that led to the formation of two autonomous political units
around 1750, a view that tacitly, according to Peires, filtered into the later
anthropology of Hammond-Tooke. According to this reconstruction, the
Xhosa house was split into two units organised around the sons of Phalo –
Gcaleka and Rharhabe. Soga adds that the division was a product of the
attempts by Gcaleka to seize control of the reins of government from his
father, apparently long before it was his legitimate right to do so. The result
was the movement of the Gcaleka across the Kei River, initially to a place
called Komgha and later, in 1790, under the leadership of Gcaleka’s son
Khawuta, to Gcuwa (later Butterworth). Soga provides a much more critical
representation of Gcaleka, going so far as to invoke the burdens of being a
‘witch-doctor’ and having a mother who was a ‘termagent [sic]’ and ‘given to
reviling everybody in her tantrums’.23 Khawuta, who rose to power in 1792,
was said to have brought peace to this sorry state of affairs and paved the
way for the rise of Hintsa who, it is claimed, had the same temperament and
sense of justice as his father.
However, Soga’s text is not merely a precursor to anthropology but
a postscript to settler colonial history. The story of the House of Phalo
that Soga initiates assumes a significantly different meaning when placed
alongside earlier official British representations. He for example stressed

148 the deaths of hintsa

that one of the fundamental flaws in British characterisations of the Xhosa
they encountered was the view that the Xhosa represented a cohesive and
undifferentiated political unit. They also misunderstood the nature of the
division. At times such characterisations were especially expedient since
they identified a centralised core through which demands and disagreements
could be mediated. At other times, these characterisations facilitated and
expedited systems of reportage since they reduced the complexities of
the frontier to a common denominator and cause. Soga writes to remind
us that the British were not always completely ignorant of the lines of
descent and the locations of power in Xhosa society. Thus, for example,
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Lord Charles Somerset, the governor who preceded D’Urban, deliberately

played off divisions between the amaRharhabe and the amaGcaleka in the
period preceding the Sixth Frontier War. Soga noted that in 1817 Somerset
acquired land from Gaika (Ngqika). Since Gaika was not the sovereign chief
of the Xhosa, Soga argued, he had ‘no authority to alienate their land’.24
Similarly, D’Urban quite strategically targeted Hintsa as the paramount
chief to articulate demands for the return of cattle supposedly belonging
to colonists in order to advance the limits of the colonial frontier.25 Yet, in
Soga’s estimation, Hintsa was uninterested in the tensions between colonist
and amaRharhabe and only got involved upon the provocation of the British.
Representations of the Xhosa as a divided house were therefore exploited by
British officials for narrow political reasons, not least to extend the frontier
by expropriating land belonging to the Xhosa. Recognition of authority was
determined by prior design on the acquisition of land or strengthening the
political position of the colonists.
The reference to the split in the House of Phalo was therefore also
one that attempted to revise the basis of Hintsa’s involvement in the war
of 1834–35. The first element of nationalist strategic invalidation available
in Soga’s text is an effort to change the dominant signifier by translating
cultural traits assigned by colonial discourse into legitimate history. It is
worth quoting Soga’s text at length to grasp the tenor of this process of
translation from culture to history:

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 149

Hintsa was the eldest son of Kawuta, and Nobuto was his mother.
His mother is said to have been the daughter of Tshatshu, whose
father was Xoba and grandfather was Tukwa of Tembuland. The first
wife of Hintsa was Nomsa, mother of Kreli [Sarili], and his wife of
the Right Hand was Notonto, mother of Chief Ncapayi. . .As a lad
Hintsa was placed in charge of the herdsmen of the royal herds of
Kawuta, at Ndlambe’s feed-kraals. The battle of Amalinde was fought
when he was a young man. We meet Hintsa again as a nominal
commander-in-chief of the forces of the Gcaleka in 1834, the fighting
general being the Regent, Nqoko. In the following year he was made
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particeps criminis in the war against the AmaRarabe [sic], in other

words, against the Gaika’s, which was afterwards designated ‘the
War of Hintsa.’ The Qauka, and the Ntshinga, the two divisions into
which the Gcalekas were divided for war, had not been called on,
nor had the Ama-Velelo and the Tsonyana sharpened their assegais,
for Hintsa, the chief, had declared himself neutral. The war started,
or was hatched, in the territory adjacent to the Fish River. In the
official reports it was described as the Sixth Kafir War. In the chapter
referring to Maqoma, we made mention of a standing grievance
which irritated the Xhosa’s, viz., the alienation to the Europeans,
with Gaika’s consent, of the territory lying between the Keiskama
and Fish Rivers.
This gave rise to border reprisals in which cattle were extensively
plundered by both sides. While this was happening, word came to
the effect that the land between the Keiskama and Tyumie was to be
handed over to the Xhosas by the Government. Whether this was an
official pronouncement or not, is not clear, but the historian Theal
says of it that Dr. Philip was the bearer of this news to the Kafirs. But
in whatever manner the report came, it had the effect of appeasing
the ferment in the Xhosa mind for the space of two months. But when
the promise was not fulfilled trouble again arose. The Xhosa hosts of
Maqoma and Tyali got moving, crossed the Fish River and entered into

150 the deaths of hintsa

European Territory. The lesser, semi-independent tribes also crossed
at several points, extending from the neighbourhood of the Nkonkobe
(Great Winterberg) to the sea, and the war fluctuated between the
combatants, both sides encountering successes and defeats. At length
the ama-Xhosa army was forced back to the Amathole Forests and the
Fish River by Lieut. Col. Henry Somerset, and was hemmed in there
by the European forces, under command of Colonel England, with
two thousand men. While it was thus surrounded, the Governor (Sir
Benjamin D’Urban) set out for Gcalekaland with a large force under
Sir Harry Smith and thus carried the war into Gcalekaland, Hintsa’s
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By changing the key referent in the story of colonisation, by tampering with

signification, Soga had of course enabled a rereading of the justification for
colonisation – movement in the first degree – presented by Godlonton and
other settler sympathisers. Hintsa is a factor in the war of 1834–35, but in the
last instance. His role as a co-conspirator in initiating hostilities is completely
denied in this rendering of the onset of the war. On Van Wyk’s earlier
mission to restore branded cattle to the colonists, Hintsa, we are told, was
similarly ignorant of what was being asked of him. The location of Hintsa in
this narrative reversal helps to clear the space for a complete overhaul of the
story of the Sixth Frontier War. If in colonial history D’Urban had targeted
Hintsa as the main instigator in the war, Soga offered to change the subject
by recasting the Mfengu as the catalyst to the war. The change was not
simply a categorical shift in subject but a reappraisal of the motive sought by
the British to act against an unwitting Hintsa.
For Soga, colonial misrepresentation of Xhosa history was intrinsically
bound to the unfolding saga of colonial conquest in the nineteenth century.
In his handling of the story, the two operations – colonial history and
conquest – are inseparable. He pondered at length how it was that D’Urban
came to insist that the Mfengu were the slaves of the Xhosa. ‘My object,’ Soga
exclaimed, ‘is to ascertain the reason which led Sir Benjamin D’Urban to

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 151

the belief that the Fingoes were held in slavery by the Gcaleka’s.’27 To this he
gave a simple answer. He argued that D’Urban had been so genuinely moved
by the abolition of slavery that he translated local conditions on the frontier
in terms of the politics of the metropole. Thus, the Mfengu would inevitably
come to be represented as slaves under the tutelage of the Xhosa and this in
turn would become the primary motive for war against the paramount chief.
A crucial part of the argument that followed depended on the way
the British had thought of the Mfengu as slaves. At one point, Soga states
that ‘for ninety-three years – from the time of the date of Hintsa’s death to
1928 – the condition of the Fingoes who sought sanctuary in Gcalekaland
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has been falsely represented as slavery’.28 Colonial historians, he argued,

had been content to accept the misrepresentation as fact. Soga’s point was
not a minor one. The entire historical foundation upon which the history of
colonialism was premised was questionable, especially since it was largely
formed by the archive that itself was created to justify acts of violence and
Soga’s argument depended on the example of misrepresentation of
the Mfengu. His aim was to dispel conceptions of a lagging Xhosa economic
formation supposedly dependent on serfdom and slavery. As in settler
colonial accounts, Soga too proceeds with the displacement wrought by the
mfecane.29 This was a familiar story of the southward migration of destitute,
famine-stricken and helpless subjects who entered Hintsa’s country. Hintsa’s
response, according to Soga, was to welcome the newcomers, to grant them
land and to place them under their own chiefs – the latter highlighting their
semi-independent condition. So Soga’s answer to the question ‘Were the
Fingoes really slaves under Hintsa?’ was a categorical denial. ‘Fingoes,’ he
argued, ‘were in no sense slaves under Hintsa.’30
The idea of the Mfengu as slaves of the Xhosa is attributed to the
missionaries (especially Ayliff, who was noted to have been on unfriendly
terms with Hintsa) and traders who resided amongst the Xhosa. In addition
to this, Soga bemoaned the absence of the private correspondence of
D’Urban, which he believed might hold the key to conferring upon the

152 the deaths of hintsa

Mfengu the status of slaves. As for proof of his own assertions, Soga referred
to ‘those who knew by personal experience’31 (including a Hlubi family in his
own neighbourhood) and who affirm that there was nothing in the nature of
slavery during the reign of Hintsa.
Even by the scholarly standards of definitions of a slave, the Mfengu
did not qualify as slaves. If, in terms of these definitions, slaves
are individuals who are not free agents, who are bought and sold
for the material profit of their owners and who have no property
which they can claim as their own, the Mfengu would be disqualified
on each count. The Mfengu enjoyed the right to mobility, they
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were not subjected to the trafficking in human cattle and when

they arrived in Hintsa’s country in 1828, they were given land.
More importantly, though they arrived in Hintsa’s country as
paupers, when they departed Gcalekaland for Peddie in 1835,
they took with them 22 000 head of cattle – an average of 11 head
for every Mfengu male.32

Finally, Soga quotes Samuel Mqhayi’s Ityala Lamawele as a description

of the methods and customs observed by the courts of the Gcaleka with
regard to the ill-treatment of any Mfengu. In other words, the Mfengu had
their individual liberty protected by law and therefore, by definition, did not
qualify as slaves.
Soga pointed to a fundamental conceptual confusion that emanated
from settler colonial history, one brought about by the conflation of the
terms ‘serfdom’ and ‘slavery’. Serfdom underscored a sense of obligation
rather than bondage. But to collapse the terms of serfdom with the
metaphor of slavery, as colonial historians such as Godlonton had done,
was simultaneously to expose not only ignorance but also a propagandistic
intention. This was precisely what Soga alluded to when he reverted to the
story of serfdom to contest the arguments of colonial historians.
In drawing attention to a misrepresentation of social relations in
Gcalekaland in the 1830s, Soga was likewise questioning the judgements

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 153

made in colonial history and the conclusions that were drawn. His main
contention, it seems, was that the history of the Xhosa was being constructed
from the time of colonialism rather than from precolonial precedents
that pre-dated colonialism. The time of colonialism was, we might say,
out of synch with the time of precolonial Xhosa society. A fundamental
misrepresentation was at the heart of the motivation of the colonists to act.
Such a misrepresentation could only be understood if the subject of the
story were the Mfengu and not Hintsa and if the time of history was one that
favoured the colonial project.
Finally, the shifts enabled by strategically invalidating the founding
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assumptions in colonial discourse prompted Soga to set about altering the

position of Hintsa in the overall narrative. Soga posited a different causality
for the onset of the war of 1834–35. He turned to the figure of Maqoma, a
descendant of Ngqika, who had opposed the ceding of the territory between
the Fish and Keiskamma Rivers to the British. Again, we may read this as
an effort to shield Hintsa against colonial accusations and blame. ‘Around
December 1834,’ Soga argues:
Maqoma’s army crossed the Ncwenxa below Fort Beaufort, Tyali’s
impi sprang north; Mhalla, Nqeno, Siyolo and Botoman, together with
the AmaGqunukwebe, crossed the Fish River by several drifts. All
wars have some starting point, even when they have been hatched and
prepared. In this war it was the head of Xoxo, son of a lesser house of
Gaika. It happened in this way. A small patrol of soldiers, commanded
by William Sutton, was sent out to destroy a new kraal which was
being erected by some of Tyali’s people, the ImiNgcangatelo, on a
ridge between the Gaga and the Mankazana. Arrived there, they burnt
the huts, and seized sundry cattle, which as it happened, belonged to
Tyali. The soldiers were followed by Tyali’s younger brother, Xoxo. On
his coming up with them, shots were immediately exchanged. It was
here that Xoxo was wounded in the head, although not seriously; but
because the blood of a chief had been spilt, the war cry resounded on
all sides.33

154 the deaths of hintsa

The return to the causes of the war amongst the amaRharhabe does not
appear to be coincidental, though. By freeing Hintsa of any responsibility and
restating the role of Maqoma in the war, Soga is clearly attempting to assert
the major issue of the war to have been fought over the question of land. He
redirects the story of the killing of Hintsa towards understanding the ways
in which colonial history presented itself as a story of progress as opposed to
a story of displacement and violence by reading the history of the nineteenth
century in the frameworks of the land question that dominated black politics in
the early twentieth century. The attempt may be viewed, at least provisionally,
in terms of not surrendering the grounds of history to the inevitable
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justifications of colonial discourse. The rearrangement of the narrative of the

war of 1834–35 amounted to a battle over control of the Xhosa past.
Writing in the aftermath of the 1913 Land Act, which saw the massive
relocation of African peasants and tenant farmers from the land which
they had previously farmed and inhabited, Soga proceeded by meticulously
defining his concept of colonisation. The primary motive behind
colonisation, he argued, was a struggle over land. His analysis of the war
of 1834–35 was first and foremost represented as a struggle over the ceded
territory between the Keiskamma and Fish Rivers. In the process, the entire
basis of cadastral prose, which apportioned blame by foregrounding Xhosa
atrocities and theft of cattle, is reversed by way of a redistribution of blame:
‘This gave rise to border reprisals in which cattle were extensively plundered
by both sides.’34
Yet, Soga’s corrective of colonial history seems somewhat deficient of
a statement about the fate of the subject, Hintsa, who had become entangled
in the apparatus of colonial governmentality. Soga makes no such effort at
recuperating Hintsa specifically, opting to work strictly within the structure
of historical discourse to invalidate colonial explanations. Unfortunately,
the focus on the misrepresentations of settler colonial history which helped
to align colonialism with land dispossession fell short of tackling what I
call the subjection of agency that ensued from the operation of colonial
modes of evidence. Soga’s alternative history, as a history aimed at strategic

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 155

invalidation of settler colonial histories, did not sufficiently account for the
work of the imaginary structure that helped to ground the subject of colonial
discourse. That task depended on the possibility of refiguring Hintsa.
Nevertheless, by changing the key referent in the story of colonisation, by
tampering with signification, Soga had of course enabled a rereading of
the other justification for colonisation – movement in the second degree –
which, like movement in the first degree, was the cornerstone of the history
produced by Godlonton and taken up later by historians such as George Cory.
Rather than engaging in a formulaic reduction of nationalism
to elitism, we might consider the reconstitution of the object of colonial
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knowledge in nationalist discourse. Such a move mostly begins with the

notion of misrepresentation as a basis for contesting the knowledge that
sustained colonial intrusion in the eastern Cape. The process of disruption
and dissolution wrought by colonialism in the nineteenth century allowed
for a recodification of precolonial relations as positive and recoverable – a
politics, in other words, of hope(fulness) that emerged in the midst of the
process of further land expropriation in the 1930s in South Africa.35
Contrary to Godlonton’s earlier assurance that the disagreement with
Hintsa was legitimised by cadastral prose, Soga suggests that it was largely
a product of colonial designs on acquiring the land that formerly qualified
as ceded territory. D’Urban’s attitude was to be viewed as little more than
an act of provocation. This is not all. Soga also gives us Hintsa’s responses
to the demands that emanated from the initial exchange. Responding to
colonial demands that he hand over ‘the enemy’ who had taken refuge in his
country, Hintsa is said to have replied: ‘If your children were being punished
by me, and ran to you, their father, and I followed them up, and said to you:
Hand over your children so that I may again chastise them, would you be
Soga’s entire ambition was to point to misrepresentation in both the
motives for war and the understanding of the political structure of Xhosa
society. The war against Hintsa was therefore, in his estimation, engineered
by D’Urban, but premised on flawed knowledge of Xhosa precolonial society.

156 the deaths of hintsa

By misrepresenting the relations between Rharhabe and Gcaleka, D’Urban
also sought to undermine the basis of an independent Xhosa kingdom. At
least in one version of the history of precolonial Xhosa society, history was
deeply complicit in colonial conquest.
What Peires later found to be troubling in his assessment of Soga’s
writing was perhaps that the tendency to demand a corrective of colonial
misrepresentations did not go nearly as far in overturning the logic of the
reserve policies of the twentieth century. The strategy of invalidating settler
colonial history seemed unnecessarily to recast the divisions between Rharhabe
and Gcaleka as a long-standing feature of precolonial society. Soga’s reversal
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of settler colonial narratives is for all intents and purposes commensurable

to the anthropology of Hammond-Tooke, which served as the basis of the
reserve policy that divided the eastern Cape into the Ciskei and the Transkei.
This de-historicised anthropology of Hammond-Tooke, backed by the
corrective offered by writers like Soga, perhaps unwittingly converged to
justify the reserve system and later apartheid’s homeland system in the eastern
Cape. It is for this reason that Peires argues that a perspective developed in
relation to the western Xhosa should not be accepted without reservation. His
suggestion for dealing with the inadequacy is to encourage more work on the
eastern Xhosa. Perhaps he is alluding to a domain of history that had somehow
escaped the attention of the British colonial apparatus; a different imaginary
structure, less tainted by colonial administrative decree and more reliable as a
source to describe precolonial social relations. Peires did not reckon with the
extent to which the nationalist imaginary had been marked by the operations of
colonial domination, missionary education and anthropology more generally.

Nationalist narration, history by numbers and the aesthetics of

historical reconstruction

That Soga’s history allegedly overlapped with the anthropological

foundations of the segregationist state in the eastern Cape in the twentieth
century should not, however, diminish our sense of his critique of the

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 157

presuppositions that operated in settler colonial historiography. Beyond the
ideological tussles entailed in the writing of history, the question of whether
a focus on the eastern Xhosa would result in different conclusions remained
to be answered. The question may be considered in relation to SEK Mqhayi’s
‘native version’ of the death of Hintsa in the third edition of his Ityala
Lamawele, written at the prompting of George Cory. While allied to Soga’s
disqualification of colonial history, Mqhayi’s writing offered a different way
to conceive of nationalist narration as historical criticism.
Mqhayi’s account of the killing of Hintsa challenges Cory’s
characterisation of Hintsa as treacherous and conniving, while also
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contesting the foundations of colonial history in empirical fact and universal

concepts of law.37 This is where Mqhayi effectively mounts his critique of
colonial history. ‘The beginning,’ Mqhayi writes, ‘of this thing [the death
of Hintsa] was on account of cattle and horses asserted to have been stolen
by Ama-Xhosa from the white farmers, the spoor thereof being said to have
traced across the Chumie [sic] River; the shooting promiscuously of any first
Xhosa come in contact with.’38 At the beginning of the story of the killing
of Hintsa, it seems, is the very standard of proof that upheld settler colonial
history. Mqhayi claimed that the charges against Hintsa were ‘asserted’
and ‘never substantiated’. This assertion, according to Mqhayi, was again
repeated when D’Urban presented Hintsa with a list of demands upon
entering the English camp. Hintsa, we are told by Mqhayi, was expected
to pay:
50 000 cattle and 1 000 horses with a further fine of 600 head as the
price of two white men who died while trading in Hintsa’s territory.
Of all this, the half must be paid forthwith; the other half in the
course of six months. Beyond the above was demanded an additional
50 000 cattle as compensation for expenses of this expedition.39

In Mqhayi’s account of the ‘death’ of Hintsa, the level of the fact is treated
as an extension of the act of colonial violence. The facts of history are
surrendered to the actions and demands of colonial forces, dislodged from

158 the deaths of hintsa

their objectivist renderings and marked, in turn, as subjective claims. In this
manner, the differential dynamics of Xhosa politics in relation to colonial
operations are specifically highlighted. Mqhayi, for example, reflects on the
tactical differences between Maqoma and Tyali on the one hand and Hintsa
on the other. Maqoma and Tyali are referred to as tsha-ntliziyo (heart burners)
for their determination to fight on the grounds that it was better to die in the
veld than to be murdered in their houses – a tactical discrepancy completely
missed by colonial officials. Hintsa is represented in this account as
preferring a more diplomatic approach, declaring his reluctance to fight. The
king, supposedly, remained innocent of the charges of theft and aggression
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that D’Urban had concocted in the attempt to establish that Hintsa was
playing a ‘double game’. For Mqhayi, Hintsa’s diplomacy while in the British
camp with Buru and his son, Sarhili, was met with threat and intimidation.
Demanding that Hintsa issue a law that would prevent his people from
interfering with the Fingoes (Mfengu), D’Urban threatened to hang Hintsa
if he used the opportunity to send through ‘underhand’ messages to his
people to engage in warfare. Later the king was threatened with banishment
to the island of Nxele (commonly also known as Robben Island) or with
being shot. 40
Faced, we are told, with these pressures, Hintsa was compelled to
escort the British to retrieve the cattle that had been demanded. This was
later ‘construed’ by the British as a plan to escape which ‘meant the war
would be heavier than it otherwise would be’. 41 In Mqhayi’s qualification
we have an implicit indication of the motive for the killing of Hintsa. In its
careful phrasing, the statement alludes to a further threat by D’Urban to
banish Hintsa to the island while being concerned with the implications of
an escape for the British more generally.
The figure of Hintsa that was crafted in this short counter-narrative
is intricate, especially when considered in relation to the rather stereotyped
descriptions emanating from Cory’s history. Here we have the ingredients
necessary for a recasting of Hintsa as a leader endowed with the qualities
of diplomacy in the face of engulfing violence, a victim of intimidation, a

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 159

resister in his attempt to escape rather than betray his people, and a figure
feared by the British. These varying characterisations significantly interfered
with colonial depictions of Hintsa as treacherous and unreliable. They also
implicitly marked colonial representations of Hintsa and Xhosa politics as
being premised on knowledge that was enabled by violence.
There is, however, a larger question at stake in the narrative that
relates to the conditions of their making and, more pertinently, to the
way they function as a critique of the empirical edifice of colonial history,
primarily by narrating the prehistory of colonialism. Precoloniality was very
much a concept of nationalism’s modernity. Somewhere, and somehow,
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in the vernacular narratives of precolonial history we can begin tracing

the recuperation of the subject that was originally grounded in colonial
discourse. That intervention was more than merely the proclamation of a
‘foundational fiction’ of an imagined community.
Mqhayi’s writing was definitely an experiment in producing
nationalist history. What defined it as such was its desire to make its
argument on the stage of world history. We should therefore read nationalist
narration not merely in terms of what it asserts as its point of departure,
but also in terms of how the decision of where to begin is the point at which
it seeks to insert itself into a universal history. In other words, by recalling
its founding narrative of filiation, we should perhaps also investigate what
impact it ultimately seeks to make on the stage of world history. It is here
that nationalist historiography presents itself as more than a history of Xhosa
identity; as more than a mere search for an imaginary home(land), but as a
fervent effort to establish, even interrupt and reverse, the flows of the spirit of
world history.
By rescuing Hintsa from the virulent descriptions and portrayals of
colonial officials, Mqhayi forfeited the task of discounting, challenging or
negating the numerical facts presented in the case of the colonists. He elected
to defer the realm of numerical facts to the authority of British officials. The
strategy, it seems, was to conflate numerical fact with colonial claim and in
so doing tacitly to give up the fight on the ‘number front’. It is here that we

160 the deaths of hintsa

may begin to appreciate the process that presented the story of Hintsa as
equal to the task of challenging a history founded on the colonial archive that
emphasised a British monopoly over concepts of justice, property and progress.
Unlike Soga, Mqhayi not only attempted to speak a true discourse
of the killing of Hintsa but chose patiently to describe the cultural milieu
in which the king’s juridical power was to be understood. Mqhayi’s
recuperation of the figure of Hintsa in his Ityala Lamawele first published
in September 1914 questioned concepts of the law derived from colonialism
and, in so doing, opened a second level in his text that expounds a culturally
determined jurisprudence, universal in its aims but particular in its exercise.
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To make sense of this complex and subtle argument it may help to

begin with a brief synopsis of the plot of Ityala Lamawele. The story relates
the struggle between twins, Wele and Babini, each seeking to lay claim to
being the heir of their deceased father, Vuyisele. The point of irresolution
leads to the case being transferred to an imbizo, constituted under the
auspices of the king, Hintsa. At first the case seems to be a simple one of
establishing who is the older of the twins, and therefore the rightful (read
customary) heir. However, as the deliberations unfold, we are introduced to
a level of intense difficulty. Wele, who is alleged to be the younger of the
two given that he was delivered after Babini, claims to be the heir on the
grounds of: a) receiving inquithi (the ritual cutting of a finger of a first born);
b) exchanging an inkwili (bird) for the heirship when the twins were younger;
c) being circumcised before Babini; and d) looking after his father’s house
and everything in it. Babini’s counter-claim is that he is the heir because
of birthright.
Hintsa summoned several witnesses to testify on the matter,
including the midwives (Singiswa, Teyase and Yiliwe) who delivered the
twins, the headman of the clan, elderly experts on questions of custom and
so forth. Each, in turn, acknowledged the complexity and uniqueness of the
case. Throughout, Hintsa is said to have offered an attentive ear (ironic when
thought of in relation to the mutilation of the ear by Smith’s forces), listening
carefully and seldom intervening in the unfolding saga. Having heard all the

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 161

arguments and advice, claims and counter-claims, Hintsa offered his verdict
after consulting with the sage Khulile, a commoner living along the Nqabara
who was knowledgeable about Xhosa law of primogeniture. The consultation
with Khulile not only helps to establish the existence of Xhosa law but also
helps to undo the colonial construction of a despotic precolonial king.
Khulile’s ‘death’ in the narrative, according to AC Jordan’s reading,
‘synchronizes with the arrival of the Fingo’s from the East (the area of the
Zulu kingdom) and of the news of a White race coming “from the sea”’. 42
This, in Jordan’s view, is the point at which ‘fiction and fictitious characters
disappear, and we have true history’. 43 As for the markers of this ‘true
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history’, Jordan notes:

The relations between the Xhosa and these new-comers, the diplomacy
exercised by the White men in driving a wedge between the Xhosa and
the Fingos on the one hand and between the two rival sections of the
Xhosa on the other, the mutual jealousies and the bitter rivalry that
broke the unity of the Xhosa and contributed towards their downfall, –
all these are related with commendable restraint by Mqhayi. In
beautiful style he traces the fortunes of the Xhosa people beyond the
‘emancipation’ of the Fingos, beyond the death of Hintsa, beyond
Sandile’s exile, beyond Maqoma and Sir Harry Smith, right up to the
disaster of the Mendi, by which time the subject is no longer the Xhosa
alone, but the Bantu of South Africa more generally. 44

The shift between ‘fiction’ and ‘true history’ is of course an untenable

distinction in light of my critique of the repressed imaginary structure in
colonial discourse. The distinction at the core of Jordan’s reading betrays two
earlier arguments he makes of Mqhayi’s writing. The first relates to his claim
that Mqhayi was not ‘a great creator of character’. 45 Thus he concludes that
in Ityala Lamawele, which presents a ‘beautiful picture of social life among
the Xhosa during the reign of Hintsa. . .hardly any character stands out
in the story, and consequently the impression left in the reader’s mind is
the collective dignity and refinement of the chief and his subjects’. 46

162 the deaths of hintsa

The second recalls Mqhayi’s attitude towards the discipline of history.
According to Jordan, after giving up his post as sub-editor and editor of Izwi
Labantu (The Voice of the People) and Imvo Zabantsundu (Native Opinion)
respectively, Mqhayi was offered a post at his Alma Mater, Lovedale:
[B]ut during the few years in the world Mqhayi’s views on South
African History and how it should be taught in African schools had
undergone such modification that he found himself compelled either
to be false to his own convictions and teach history as the authorities
would have him teach it, or give up teaching altogether. He decided
on the latter. 47
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It may be instructive to view this resistance to official history as a catalyst

to contest the juridical assumptions, and therefore the cultural claims, of
colonial history. Ityala Lamawele, then, would serve as a history of Xhosa
juridical practices that extended beyond colonial misrepresentations. In the
preface to Ityala Lamawele, Mqhayi suggested that his was an attempt to
prove that Xhosa law is not different to the law of the ‘enlightened countries’.
For Mqhayi, the failure to acknowledge the juridical basis of Xhosa society
resulted in the stereotype of despotic rulers who dominated without any
sense of constraint. While this position overlooked the specific ways in which
the system of indirect rule invented the domain of customary law, Mqhayi
pointed out the basis of the stereotype of precolonial societies:
Abantu abamhlope bate bakufika pakati kwetu, kwako ukubuzana
nokupikisana pakati kwabo bodwa, abanye besiti akuko mbuso
kumaXhosa, into ekoyolulaulo nje lwenkosi, xa isenamandla okoyisa, esuka
igwebe igqibe kume ngayo nokuba uluntu luyakolwa nokuba alukolwa. 48

( When the white people arrived among us, there was questioning and
debating among them, some saying there was no form of government
among the Xhosa’s, the only thing that existed was the despotic rule
of the chief. He had the power to bully and to pass verdicts that would
be final, whether the society was satisfied or not.)

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 163

Mqhayi countered this perception by meticulously annotating the process
of consultation that attends to judicial practices among the Xhosa and
by insisting that the king was not the sole decision-maker. In the end
Hintsa’s decision is based on the advice of a commoner, Khulile Majeke
from Nqabara. In Majeke, Mqhayi finds the possibility of dissociating the
paramount king from colonial associations with absolutism. After consulting
Lucangwana, his trusted adviser, he sent for a commoner despite the
protestations of Bucwana, the prosecutor.
Sezingapina ngok’inkunzi zalomzi kaPalo?
Fuda sisiti nguHintsa kupela akuko yimbi
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Ndidane ndayinko Ndakuv’ukuba izentinile
Ayikwel’ikutenina Lenkunzi. Lwapel’usapo
Kukutshisana ngasemva
Ngomzikizikan’ ogqitywe kwa ngabafazi
NguTeyase noSingiswa kwamazolo
Akuko nto iyakuvel ’eNqabara 49

(How many bulls are now there at Phalo’s house?

We thought it was Hintsa and no one else.
The bull that mounts other bulls.
Was I disappointed when I thought it had castrated itself!
And handed (power) over to those of Majeke at Nqabara
Why is this bull not mounting?
The family is being destroyed through burning one another at home
Over a simple thing which has been dismissed by
Teyase and Singiswa a long time ago
There is nothing that will come out of Nqabara)

Bucwana’s protestations are ignored by Hintsa, who chooses to base his

decisions on the knowledge of a commoner. While Jordan seemingly overstates
the failure on the part of Mqhayi to sustain and develop characters, he is correct

164 the deaths of hintsa

to suggest that the excerpt produces a concept of law as pastoral pact. This
normalisation of power in the writing of Mqhayi opposes the selective narrative
based on the colonial archive. It also, incidentally, posits the universality of law.
This reformulation of the law could, however, only be sustained by
securing the cultural field through which it gained acceptance. In his brief
introduction to the trial of the twins, Mqhayi expressed concern for the
marginalisation of Xhosa culture in the face of ‘enlightenment’ from the
west. For Mqhayi, it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure that Xhosa culture
does not vanish. In the preface to the 1931 edition, Mqhayi noted his concern:
Inteto nemikwa yesi Xhosa iya itshona ngokutshona ngenxa
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ye-Lizwi nokanyo olukoyo, oluze nezizwe zase Nthonalanga. . .

La ke ngamazwembezwembe okuzama ukuxatalaza kulomsinga
uzakutshayela isizwe sipela.50

(The Xhosa language and custom are gradually disappearing because

of Christianity and civilization which are at present, brought by
western nations. . .These, therefore, are genuine efforts to try and
resist this current which is going to sweep away the whole nation.)

That Mqhayi expressed opposition to the missionary civilisation process

may have contributed largely to the incorporation of Ityala Lamawele into
a category of anti-colonial writing. This sentiment, however, was more
clearly discernible in the cultural claims that the text makes. The position
that Mqhayi occupies in relation to the question of culture is that of
ethnographic insider. The layered descriptions of the lives of Babini and
Wele – from the time of the difficult births, through the difficult years of
childhood in which the question of seniority repeatedly emerged, to the
controversies surrounding circumcision, to the point of the trial – are each
explained with ethnographic insight into the rituals of the everyday. The text
contains references to rituals – such as ulwanga lwempofu – in which social
hierarchies are given specific meaning, the female initiation ceremony of
ngetonjane through which young women are socialised, and the ceremonial

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 165

slaughtering of a beast called yatsalwa umxhelo. One consequence of
this privileged narrative is that it produced the notion of culture as self-
contained. Much has been said in favour of reading Mqhayi’s work within
the general framework of a politics of filiation. Cultural difference, and
indeed similarity, emerged as a crucial point of departure to challenge the
weight of colonial history.
In the play of difference and sameness, the question that confronts us is
whether there is a way in which we may read the literary text of Mqhayi as a work
of historical criticism. Any attempt to reconstitute history had to take account
of lost origins – the sign of the womb that spawned Babini and Wele in this
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instance. It is a familiar and recurring theme in the work of Mqhayi and Soga –
the latter having devoted considerable attention to the life of Sarhili, Hintsa’s
son, in his writing. In some respects the return to origins must be treated as a
response to the insufficiency of colonial history by invoking the category of the
prehistory of colonial violence. Historians have often critiqued this view for its
overt romanticism – a critique that says very little about Europe’s romances of its
origins – or for its historicist implications. For nationalism the return to origins –
even when presented as a foundational fiction – is crucial for a story of identity
and necessary for pointing to the insufficiency of the temporal plot of colonial
violence. The notion of origin is freed from history as progress and redeployed in
the affirmation of cultural difference.
Without reifying this sphere of difference, we might argue that it at
least designates the productivity of nationalist narration. Edward Said has
instructively drawn our attention to the productivity of nationalist narration
in his reflections on the poetics of Yeats and the problem of ‘nativism’.
Although Said critiques this nativist tendency for its pursuit of a precolonial
essence, he nevertheless argues that it:
re-inforces the distinction (between ruler and ruled) by revaluating the
weaker or subservient partner. And it has often led to compelling but
often demagogic assertions about a native past, history, or actuality that
seems to stand free not only of the coloniser but of worldly time itself.51

166 the deaths of hintsa

An important qualification in Said’s approach to the question of ‘nativism’
is that he finds, in the articulation of essence, an interruption and an
unsettling of worldly (read secular) time. Read into Mqhayi’s Ityala Lamawele,
we may go on to say, with Said, that while Babini’s claim highlights
the insufficiency of the coloniser’s story of progress, it simultaneously
approaches the search for origins, which is nationalism’s inaugural concept
of history, as equally important for the story of progress.
The controversy between Wele and Babini, then, might mark the
inadequacy of the spirit of world history in enabling a politics of nationalism.
This is possibly why Babini’s claim to be the first to be delivered from the
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womb is not jettisoned but placed alongside the patriarchal responsibility

that issues from the character of Wele. The competitive spirit of firsts –
displayed in the ambitions of Alexander, Andrews and Smith discussed
earlier in this book – is rendered insufficient in Mqhayi’s writings.
Instead, it is the combination of this competitive spirit with the demand
for responsibility (Wele) that produces the ethical subject of history. In the
end, Ityala Lamawele may be read as a text which rescues justice from the
monopoly of truth and relocates it in the realm of ethics. Ityala Lamawele
displaces the work of colonial repetition, which produced the categories
of real dangers and the figure of history in colonial discourse, and recasts
the ethical subject of history as indistinguishable from the discourse
surrounding the construction of an ethnic subject.
The silent and measured figure of Hintsa is contrasted in the quest
between Wele and Babini. Hintsa is given the task of a just resolution to the
conflict and it is to justice that the attributes of listening and reconciliation
are assigned. The figure of Hintsa issues wisdom that reconciles the origin
of essences to a politics of the present. As a consequence, the temporal and
figural referents of colonial narratives are thereby provisionally reconstituted
in the writing of Mqhayi. In the process of rewriting, a certain displacement
occurs in which the secular project of history is confronted with the force of
an imaginary structure.

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 167

In the commemoration of Mqhayi in August 1999 in Khayelitsha
township in Cape Town, or in the proclamation of Mqhayi as the imbongi
(praise singer) of the nation, Mqhayi’s writings are often read in terms of
rescuing and sustaining a concept of nation that is linguistically and ritually
defined. DDT Jabavu considered it to be ‘an original effort to give a picture
of Xhosa court life before the advent of the Europeans’.52 Others, such as
Oscar Dathorne, read Ityala Lamawele in the idiom of tribal (read ethnic)
history.53 In commentaries on the text we may discern the emphasis that
Ityala Lamawele is primarily a text that inaugurates a difference with colonial
history. Issued in 1914, two years after the formation of the South African
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National Native Congress, the aporia that gives rise to a reconciliatory – if

not patriarchal – closure of the story could be seen as an argument for
an identitarian unity that extended beyond the definitions of Xhosaness.
Clifford Dikeni tellingly treats Ityala Lamawele as an extended metaphor.54
He argues that its allegorical mode may be read as a refutation and rejection
of the misconceptions that missionaries and colonialists had about black
people. Thus, while Ityala Lamawele seems to be dealing with a legal contest
between Wele and Babini, about who the rightful heir to Vuyisele may be,
Dikeni argues that the story contains the subterranean hints of a deeper
critique of colonisation. One indication of this is narrative style, which as
Dikeni suggests defies western narrative conventions in that characters are
merely incidental to the plot. Jordan makes a similar point when he argues
that Mqhayi’s narrative lacks in structure, at least to one familiar with the
organisation of western narrative structure. Whereas Dikeni insists on a
particularly African mode of narration, others have sought to place it in direct
confrontation with colonial history. Jordan has, for example, insisted on
recognising Mqhayi’s contribution to anti-colonial nationalist thought. Much
of the anti-colonial potential ascribed to Mqhayi’s writing was his utopian
aims in the weaving together of concepts of justice derived from a dependence
on a Christian missionary discourse that extended the pastoralism attributed
to the institution of chieftaincy. Unlike the violence that underwrote colonial
society and its history, for Mqhayi these pastoral tonalities of power presented

168 the deaths of hintsa

an alternative relation to its subjects than the repression that defined South
Africa in the early twentieth century. The story of how this historical critique
was reduced to a mere expression of cultural studies might help to explain
why culture was no match for the cunning of colonial reason.

From anti-colonial history to cultural studies

Both Soga and Mqhayi’s writings serve as a critique of settler colonial

history. Both help to illuminate the common threads of nationalist narration.
Soga specifically tackles the modes of evidence of the colonial archive,
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while Mqhayi grapples with the imaginary structure through which

colonialism grounded the subject of Hintsa. Tackling both the constraints
of the colonial archive and its supplementary imaginary structure that
allowed it to overcome the internal tensions of Empire, Soga and Mqhayi
might be read as offering an alternative history to settler colonial ones.
Unfortunately, both writers (but Mqhayi more than Soga) are generally read
as contributing vernacular Xhosa cultural histories rather than offering
a strategic invalidation of colonial histories. At one level, I wish to argue
that the potential for the cultural appropriation lies in their insufficient
attention to the forms of their own interventions in the discourse of history.
I shall return to this point in the following two chapters. At another level,
the disciplinary conditions in which their work was produced meant that
with time the anti-colonial impetus in their work was significantly blunted.
Missionary censorship combined with the spirit of world history and the
spectre of vanishing cultures to turn the foundational texts of nationalist
historiography into cultural studies.
The publication process further helped to facilitate this reductionism.
The truncated form in which Mqhayi’s writing eventually appeared had
more to do with personalities at Lovedale Press and the ideology of associated
missionaries than with the author. Amongst Mqhayi’s many writings, Peires
singles out Ityala Lamawele as a text that was ‘mutilated’ by the missionary
RHW Shepherd and robbed of its incisive political critique of colonialism.

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 169

Textual mutilation, incidentally, can be tracked in the excision of the
commentary on the physical mutilation of Hintsa in 1835 from Mqhayi’s
writing. Almost 100 years after the charge of physical mutilation of Hintsa
on the banks of the Nqabara River, Mqhayi’s Ityala Lamawele was rendered
literally unrecognisable as it was being prepared for Xhosa language teaching
in government schools and the training of magistrates in South Africa. That
which remained of Ityala Lamawele, after it had been editorially mutilated
(see comment by Peires below) by the missionaries RHW Shepherd and
WG Bennie, represented the bare bones of the narrative produced by Mqhayi.
Peires describes the constraints posed by the editors of Lovedale Press as follows:
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The effective monopoly of the Lovedale Press in the era of Shepherd

stifled the development of a meaningful vernacular historiography.
Objections by the Lovedale Press left an author no choice but to
submit or withdraw his [sic] manuscript altogether. Controversial
references to British and missionary roles, ethnic differences, or
contemporary politics were eliminated. Vivid references to natural
human functions were taboo. Authors were not allowed to present
their views of religiously touchy issues such as circumcision and
witchcraft. The exigencies of finance haunted both publisher and
authors, and in some cases resulted in the non-publication of
manuscripts. The need to provide acceptable school textbooks would
have driven Lovedale to censorship, bowdlerisation and the New
Orthography regardless of its own inclinations. Delays in publication
were to prove fatal in several cases. No matter how much one makes
allowances, it is hard to forgive Lovedale Press for its part in the loss of
three manuscripts by the greatest figure in Xhosa literature [Mqhayi]
or for its role in mutilating its greatest classic [Mqhayi’s novel Ityala
Lamawele, the lawsuit of the twins].55

Missionary interventions and censorship targeted historical writing in

ways that often resulted in a reaffirmation of the settler colonial history as
modular. Given these general conditions of constraint, the question that

170 the deaths of hintsa

arises is how Ityala Lamawele came to be construed by Jeff Opland, a scholar
of Xhosa oral poetry, as a historical novel.56 By this I do not merely wish to
imply how the novel was seen to engage with history as a convention but
rather from where it derives its historical sense that qualifies it as ‘cultural
history’. One possible response to this question is to ask how, and through
which techniques, Mqhayi’s Ityala Lamawele has come to be sustained as a
text with historical significance? Rather than plotting this preservation of
the text in terms of subsequent cultural interpretations, I want to propose
that we consider also how the text is inserted into a network of arguments in
which the figure of Hintsa presented itself as a site of specific substitutions.
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In effect, I am asking how the figure of Hintsa, which served as a point

for responding to settler colonial histories, was reworked and inserted into
competing ideological positions? What Soga and Mqhayi accomplished was
to resurrect the figure of Hintsa, endowed with the moral qualities of a great
leader but ultimately caught between the spirit of world history and the
notion of vanishing cultures. In various ways these respective disciplinary
positions echoed many of the controversies in the nineteenth-century
settler public sphere, especially the diametrically opposed positions held by
Godlonton and the Reverend John Philips referred to in Chapter 3.
Soga and Mqhayi’s texts seemingly wrote themselves into the
bifurcated state that Mahmood Mamdani describes in terms of the
creation of citizens and subjects in the 1930s.57 Both indirectly produced
the cultural and historical raw materials that would be used against their
very own political projects. Segregationist and apartheid discourses needed
the resources of citizen and subject to produce their diabolical constructs
of racial difference. The state that produced this bifurcation through the
instruments of customary law and decentralised despotism required both
cultural and historical resources to achieve the political formation that
Mamdani so productively outlines. Customary law was being upheld by a
vast network of shifts in disciplinary knowledge, both in terms of the impact
of economic change and the need for cultural preservation. Ultimately, the
coincidence of developments from within disciplinary knowledge allied to the

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 171

readjustments in understandings of race and the effects of industrialisation
cast a spell on the intellectual trajectories of nationalism as it too was forced
to grapple with the ominous native question.

The spectre of world history

By the 1930s, at the time when Soga was writing, the forging of a historical
figure in nationalist narration could not avoid the interpretive frameworks
created by the insertion of South Africa into global capitalist relations of
production and exchange. What emerged was an increasing production of
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economic histories that sought to locate the local in the expansive dynamic
of capital. In this milieu, the question of resurrecting Hintsa could hardly be
undertaken without also engaging the spectre of world history or what I will
call the career of Geist – or historical spirit – in South Africa. A protracted
but necessary digression through two examples of the career of Geist in
South Africa, which by the first half of the twentieth century seemed to defy
Hegel’s rather exclusive approach to world history, is necessary to make sense
of the disciplinary conditions for the rise of ‘cultural history’.
In 1917, three years after the publication of Ityala Lamawele,
SM Molema, a contemporary of Mqhayi, offered a presidential address
to the African Races Association of Glasgow and Edinburgh titled
‘Possibilities and Impossibilities’ in which the complex relation between
nationalist historiography and concepts of progress may be gauged.
Published in 1920 as part of a larger collection of essays under the title
The Bantu: Past and Present, the paper is a vehement critique of the
appropriation of a philosophical concept of progress by racial science.
Without resorting to polemic, Molema painfully highlights the pitfalls
of racial science, which was engrossed in establishing the reasons for
what it termed black inferiority as a product of biological disposition
or environmental and historic reasons. For Molema, the debate denied the
possibility of what he termed the improvement of the black man. But in
opposing the concept of progress that founded racial science, Molema was

172 the deaths of hintsa

hard-pressed to offer an alternative concept. One approach was to rescue
the idea of progress from racial science and to relocate it in ‘philosophic
history’. Two points are crucial here. Firstly, we have the general argument,
in Molema’s essay, that the black man is capable of progress. Secondly,
progress is defined by variable movements in history away from the past
and towards a present and a future (‘it is by a sufficient acquaintance with
the past, and also with the present, that the future can be, in a measure,
foreshadowed’).58 It was therefore necessary to reclaim progress as a
possibility for nationalist writers like Molema. In his conclusion to his public
address, Molema identified the key distinction in the deployment of the trope
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of progress:
It is a law of all scientific investigations to presume a uniformity and
orderly sequence in phenomena that are being observed, whether
these be physical, chemical or biological. It is a basic, fundamental
principle, an axiom and a law of philosophical history – in its
inquiry into the social, moral, or intellectual evolution of man – to
presuppose human progress and human perfectibility, throughout
humanity, even though the visible progress may be haphazard,
irregular, desultory, and zigzag; even though it may be full of failings
and falterings. The underlying principle is – what one man can do,
another can generally do also; what one nation can achieve, another
nation can also achieve.59

If we take Molema’s intervention seriously, we may argue that in the

twentieth century nationalist constructions of history were placed in a
position of irreducible compromise with the story of progress. In squaring
up, as he did, with the exclusivity normally attributed to the story of progress
as a monopoly of Europe, Molema had of course stopped short of naming the
subject that would pre-empt the possibilities of what early nationalist writers
described as the capacity for improvement. And yet, the compromise with the
story of progress meant that the colonised subject could only participate in
one of two histories.

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 173

In one version, the colonised subject is portrayed as being devoured
by the advent of capitalism in its imperialist stage. Such a perspective clearly
dominated the writing of CW de Kiewiet, whose Imperial Factor in South
Africa, published in 1937, marked a break with the segregationism that
permeated academic history writing at the time. De Kiewiet described the
extent of the alienation of the colonised subject from the land and the rapid
alteration of the landscape in the nineteenth century. Following the war
of 1851, De Kiewiet wrote of the relative calm enjoyed on the eastern Cape
frontier up to 1877. This he attributed to a population that had been ‘drawn
deeply into the mechanism of colonial society’.60 As he put it:
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Within South Africa there was not to be found a single tribe that was
sufficient unto itself. The natives bought, they sold, they worked. The
racial separation of white and black could not obscure how much
they were part of one another. The distinction drawn between the
civilisation of the European and the barbarism of the native no longer
corresponded in adequate manner to the difference in their economic
and social positions. Their contact, and ultimately their conflict, were
caused not by different but by similar interests. Tribe was linked to
tribe in a subtle bond, welded not by the natives themselves, but by the
European; for everywhere the stronger pressed upon the land and the
life of the weaker, appropriating the one and transforming the other.61

Proof of the transformation of the colonised subject relied heavily on

narrating the substantial transformation of the landscape that followed
nineteenth-century conquest in southern Africa more generally. In addition
to the agricultural practices and overcrowding resulting from European
expansion on the eastern Cape frontier, for De Kiewiet the transformative
moment in the landscape coincided with the spread of drought in the eastern
Cape. De Kiewiet argued that in all regions of the world where soil subject to
drought is intensively worked, it becomes powdery and is easily blown into
the dust that sifts down upon the South African landscape in the brilliant
sunsets of winter. One consequence was that the entire ‘native population’ –

174 the deaths of hintsa

including those from the eastern Cape – was ‘unable to produce enough
wealth to satisfy its needs, which contact with Europeans had served to
Notwithstanding the economic implications and the emergence of
new social arrangements that preoccupied De Kiewiet’s historiography,
the impact of the drought on the frontier sparked the war of 1877 and the
landscape was, he argues, altered forever. So drastic may have been the
outcome that De Kiewiet cited official accounts, which in turn suggested
that ‘the country was spoken of as “dead” amongst the natives’.63 At a
political level, the peace that followed the conclusion of the war in 1878
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saw the introduction of the Transkeian Territories and the system of native
government with the creation of a native reservation.
The dissident texture of De Kiewiet’s writing was accomplished by
identifying specific relations of dependency that defined the onset of South
African industrialisation. De Kiewiet constructed his history by combining
a focus on relations of production on the land with a sense of changing
social relations in a period of emergent industrialisation. Historiographically
speaking, we might say that he sought to undermine the exclusivity of an
Afrikaner nationalist discourse which refused to come to terms with the
indispensability of black labour in the process of industrialisation, and
targeted the imperial factor as primarily responsible for the subjugation
of black South Africans. To the black man, argued De Kiewiet, not to the
white man, does South African history owe its special significance. And, he
argued that the greatest social fact of the century was not gold or diamond
mining, or even agriculture, but the universal dependence on black labour.
Unfortunately, De Kiewiet too hastily foreclosed the reading of nationalist
historiography, which sought to reverse the brutal effects of colonial power
with depictions of the pastoral conditions of precoloniality. If De Kiewiet
was rearticulating the arguments about land and colonisation found in
Soga’s writing, his approach to the effects of rapid industrialisation seemed
to contradict Mqhayi’s. The pastoral tone of Mqhayi’s writing seemed better
suited to an ethnography that attended to the problem of vanishing cultures.

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 175

The spectre of vanishing cultures

The other version of Geist’s career also acknowledged the widespread effects
of industrialisation. Rather than proclaiming the transformation of the
colonised subject into industrial worker, it set out to reclaim the last vestiges
of this subject in the name of culture. Between 1928 and 1930, Duggan
Cronin travelled some 2 718 miles from the diamond fields of Kimberley
through the towns of Elliotdale, Tsomo, Ngqanakwe and Idutywa, amongst
others, to produce ‘a faithful photographic record of native life before the
opportunity [was] lost’.64 The areas he visited formed part of Gcalekaland,
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the seat of Hintsa at the beginning of the nineteenth century. Following

an exhibition of this record in then Salisbury in July 1939, Duggan Cronin
reflected on the motive for his visual quest:
Forty two years ago, my work in the [mining] compounds threw me
among natives of all types, and from many different tribes, in whom
I began to take a sympathetic interest. After mastering the art of
photography in 1904, I at once started making photographic records
of these people. . .I am not a negrophile, but I believe in giving the
natives a square deal. Whatever may be our opinion of them we must
admit that they are our greatest economic asset.65

Beyond the specific paternalism attributed to the visual referent lies the
network of citations that enabled a recuperation of a culture presumed
to be fast fading away. Duggan Cronin would mark his project by way of
declaring ‘a genuine interest in the Native and sharing in the remorse that
Bantu culture should fade away’.66 To counteract the negative consequences
of ‘civilisation’ on native life, Duggan Cronin set out to capture the ‘fine
physique of the native’s industry and their peculiar customs, superstitions,
art and all the different aspects of their lives.
The photograph mediates an encounter with modernity and, in
the case of Duggan Cronin’s photographic studies, with an African life
supposedly eroded by modernity. We may even say that the photograph

176 the deaths of hintsa

mediates an encounter with the modernity of power. This is one response
to the question of what the photograph is evidence of. The perspective is
not, however, new in the study of photographic practice in the colony and
the postcolony, where scholars have extensively documented the practice
of re-enactment in the age of photographic reproduction.67 The motifs that
structure the work of salvage are nostalgia, melancholy and a sense of loss.68
As such, the photographic oeuvre of Duggan Cronin partially displaces
the trophy portraiture and colonial landscape painting of the nineteenth
century and institutes in its place a discourse of replenishment. The
coincidence of the setting of Duggan Cronin’s first photographs of native
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subjects in the mining compounds of Kimberley attests to the convention

of the photographic re-enactment and to the process of subjection. Such
a view, while crucial for the development of a postcolonial critique, often
overemphasises the negative, as opposed to productive, dimensions of power.
The question that we are compelled to ask in relation to the productivity of
power is what else, other than repression, the photographs are evidence of.
One suggestion may be to consider them as within the dominant cultural
anthropologies associated with the discipline of Bantu Studies at the
University of the Witwatersrand.
This was clearly within the logic of liberal pluralism, which had
neglected to envisage the pending crisis of apartheid in the intellectual
arguments about segregation. Reflecting on Duggan Cronin’s photographs
displayed in the Bantu Gallery in Kimberley, anthropologist AW Hoernlè
suggested that they represented the last outpost against the march of
civilisation in the subcontinent of Africa. The general interest in native life
and the desire to affirm the ‘vanishing cultures’ of Africa were explained
in terms of the increasing disciplinisation of the native in a rapidly
industrialising South Africa.
For one hundred years the white man has been in contact with the
Bantu in South Africa. He has fought and subdued him; he has tried
to Christianise him; he has employed him for manual labour and
menial jobs. The one thing he has not done, until quite recent years

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 177

has been to study the Bantu and to record the salient features of
their civilization now threatened by increasingly rapid disintegration
in contact with white civilization. Now, when it was almost too
late, this work is at last being taken in hand. Bantu languages and
Bantu culture have, during the last ten years, been taken up by
our universities as subjects of scientific research and study. Scenes
from Bantu life and ceremonies have been filmed. The government
helps with grants. Even missionaries now have, generally, some
anthropological training and seek to understand and preserve much
of what formerly they ignored and destroyed. The native as subject of
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human interest for his own sake, is at last coming into his own.69

The work of recuperating the subject, and the disciplinary subjection of those
thought to be the last remaining traces of precolonial tradition – victims, so
to speak, of the march of progress – depended extensively on discovering the
historical basis for ethnographic research. Before undertaking his journey
to Gcalekaland, Duggan Cronin scoured the existing historical writings on
the eastern Cape, which included those of Moodie, Theal and HA Bryden.
His field notes also refer to assistance gained from, amongst others, John
Henderson Soga. Among his research concerns, once again extensively
reflected in his notebooks, were the histories about the killing of Hintsa in
1835 and the cattle-killing episode of the 1850s, especially the role of Sarhili,
Hintsa’s son, in the latter event.
While the specific relationship between historical research and the
photographic enterprise is generally difficult to ascertain, the implications of
the connection should not be underestimated. The connection has serious
consequences for the treatment of the photographic oeuvre as not merely
a repetition of an earlier ethnographic practice but a concerted attempt at
photographing African history. Many commentators have viewed Duggan
Cronin’s work as an ethnographic record of a vanishing culture. For example,
in 1954 the Cape Times noted that the collection of over 4 000 photographs
‘is a remarkable record of the dress, ornaments, weapons, customs and

178 the deaths of hintsa

habitations of fast-vanishing tribal life’.70 This too may have been the
impression of the financial backers of Duggan Cronin’s project, which
included De Beers Diamond Mines, the Carnegie Corporation and the Union
Research Board. Unimaginable as subjects of history, most commentators
saw Duggan Cronin’s photographic study of native life as an exclusively
ethnographic exercise. Writing in the Diamond News, Cyril Harris noted
that Duggan Cronin had ‘secured studies of thousands of Natives in their
real pristine glory – uninfluenced by Western civilization and happy in their
primitive yet picturesque kraal, where they live according to their own creeds
and cultures’.71
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Many commentators reduced the photographs to the status of mere

documents by stressing their ethnographic value. Reviewing Duggan
Cronin’s portraits in 1987, Joey de Jager argued that the subject ‘is
experienced not primarily as an individual but as belonging to a certain
cultural group and that the artist does little more than document as tastefully
as possible, the particular role that the sitter is obliged to assume’.72 Basil
Humphreys attributed the documentary value to the systematic method used
by Duggan Cronin. Humphreys noted:
In all the pictures other than the portraits, Duggan Cronin
endeavoured to show a typical scene of the countryside of the region
of the tribe [sic] concerned. In addition, he illustrated the industries,
the customs and the ceremonies. And with each tribe he included one
of his famous ‘Madonna’ pictures – a mother and child study which,
however strange to western eyes, is still very moving. Justly framed
also are his portraits of great tribal personalities of the past four
generations, today of inestimable historic interest and a record of a
rule and way of life now passed.73

At the level of signification, the separation of the ethnographic and the

historical attests to what Elizabeth Edwards has called the temporal
ambiguities inherent in photography. By defying the diachronic connections,
the photograph has the potential for transference while being linked, as

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 179

Edwards again suggests, to its referent. The result is perhaps ‘a visualization
of a past made present while playing simultaneously on timelessness’.74
The backdrops for this staging of modernity are crucial in designating
the narrative of loss. Interspersed in the scenes and rituals of what Duggan
Cronin might have considered tribal or native life, are scenes that recall not
only a culture thought to have passed, but also a history that resulted in
loss. Most significant in this regard are photographs related to places that
mark the reign of king Sarhili. The photographs of Hohita Falls and the
place where Sarhili held his court re-enact the scenes reminiscent of a
form of political power laid to rest by industrial modernity – or history for
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that matter.
Negotiating loss by way of the temporal ambiguity of the salvage
photograph – or the process of re-enactment – is the very condition for
the emergence of a particular mode of disciplinary inquiry. Edwards
draws a similar conclusion in her discussion of the Torres Strait expedition
when she argues that ‘the intellectual preconditions of the past allowed for
the demonstrational validity of reenactment’.75 But shortly thereafter, she
argues that there was another perspective on re-enactment – that of the
people of Torres Strait. Like Haddon who led the Torres Strait expedition,
Duggan Cronin offered a glimpse of an encounter around the photograph
involving Chief Ngubezulu of Elliotdale and himself. But unlike Edwards,
who contemplates the ways that cultures write themselves into ethnographies,
we might consider what kinds of subjectivities are effected by this moment
of exchange.
Considered in relation to the threat posed by industrialisation, Duggan
Cronin’s native studies reinvented the category of ‘tribe’ as the site of lost
history. The photographs were selected and published in eight volumes with
accompanying commentary by leading anthropologists and administrators.
Each volume specified cultural differences and included portraits of chiefs and
the categories that defined the traces of a precolonial social formation.
Beyond a narrowly ethnographic reading, Duggan Cronin’s
photographic studies of native life are accompanied by a massive

180 the deaths of hintsa

reconstruction of an idealised landscape. At one level, such a landscape
must be seen as antithetical to the rapidly developing mining town of
Kimberley, where his photographic enterprise was initiated. At another
level, the project clearly sets out to recreate the imagery associated with an
imagined pre-industrial past. The panoramic photographs of Bomvanaland
and Gcalekaland that inaugurate the collection of studies in the eastern
Cape, and the attempt to locate ‘culture’ in this landscape through the
photographing of scenes of everyday life, lend themselves to a reading of
landscape as idealised or, more appropriately, a reading of an idealised
subject in an idyllic landscape.
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Duggan Cronin seemed to have reversed the logic of De Kiewiet:

beginning at the point of industrialisation in South Africa and working
his way towards the countryside. The journey brought him closer to the
consequences of industrialisation and the last vestiges of vanishing cultures.
His aesthetic rendering of ‘native life’, however, merged with a pluralist
argument in anthropology, espoused by the likes of AW Hoernle, which
reinforced and appropriated the pastoral undertones of ‘cultural history’ that
may be traced in the mutilated narratives of SEK Mqhayi.

Re-imagining Hintsa

By the 1930s the story of the killing of Hintsa was deeply ensnared in
nationalism’s encounter with colonialism, segregation and disciplinary
knowledge. The entanglement would haunt subsequent efforts at recasting
Hintsa. In 1937 Lovedale Press issued a poem by Mqhayi to commemorate
the hundredth anniversary of the death of Hintsa. Mqhayi’s poem consists of
a 35-line introduction, followed by seven sections ranging in length from 21
to 65 lines addressed to the British, the Ngwane, the Thembu, the Bomvana,
the Zulu, the Mfengu and the royal Xhosa house.
The days have come! The days have come!
The days of the remembrance of Hintsa have come.
This Hintsa belongs to the Khawuta of Gcaleka

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 181

This Gcaleka belongs to Phalo of Tshiwo,
This Tshiwo belongs to Ngonde of Togu
One hundred years have passed since he died,
But he is still saying great things to the nations of the world 76

The days, as it were, had clearly come for re-imaging Hintsa. In order to still
say ‘great things to the nations of the world’ – to world history perhaps –
Mqhayi’s poem was prefaced by the revised image of the king referred to in
Chapter 2. The artist George Milwa Pemba, while enrolled in the department
of Fine Arts at Rhodes University in the eastern Cape, produced the sketch
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of Hintsa that accompanied the poem. Pemba’s sketch, as suggested earlier,

engaged in a procedure of recovery which directly challenged an image
drawn from sources of domination. The image is supported by Mqhayi’s
poem, especially in its involvement in dramatically repositioning Hintsa. The
effect is conveyed by positioning the king in relation to his subjects, enemies
and neighbours. As the opening lines suggest, Mqhayi’s effort corresponded
to the work undertaken by Pemba in recasting the image of Hintsa.
The days of The Grumbling of Nobutho have come;
The Treader of the land till it becomes a floor.
The Welcomer of different nations,
The Home of different races,

The Father of different homeless wanderers.

Praise Hintsa, nations of the world!
You British, why are you so silent?
What is it, you Mfengu?
Bomvana, I hope you are not forgetting,
Even you Sotho of Qhudeni,
Can you be so silent on Hintsa’s day?
When we are talking about his prime?

182 the deaths of hintsa

[An address to the Ngwane]

Ross’s son says you should build a Memorial.

I say Ross’s son Bringer of Reform!
Leopard’s Face was saying it himself,–
The white chief of Gcalekaland.
They said Mfengu and Xhosa unite!
And organise Hintsa’s Memorial Service.
And organise a great ceremonial feast,
So that he should never be forgotten in Xhosaland,
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So that his good name should remain forever,

Which is also inscribed in European books.
Peace, European gentlemen!
You are trying to incite us though we are old men,
Old Xhosa men who need to be cooled down.
Peace, nations, for, mentioning you!
It’s not spite but glorification.
Khawuta’s son should have his own day,–
He should be acknowledged by the whole of Africa,
Because they have learned about the white man from him,–
The nations benefitted, he was blunted.77

Without reducing Mqhayi’s poem to the status of a manifesto, I wish to call

attention to certain features crucial to exploring the consequences of the
embodiment of difference. The first of these is drawn from Jeff Opland’s
analysis, which highlights the uses of eulogy and narrative in the poem.78 In
the case of eulogy, Opland contests Jordan’s earlier analysis, which holds that
the poem is lacking in unity, thereby failing in its epic aspirations. Opland,
however, suggests that the unity be read in relation to the praise for Hintsa
and the obligation of each of the constituencies addressed to preserve the
memory of the king. He then contrasts this aspect of the poem with the
narrative dimensions addressed to the Ngwane and the Mfengu, for example,

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 183

in which the need to memorialise Hintsa is mobilised as a metonym for
unity in the present.
Second, the figure of history is firmly in place here – a throwback
to the popular nineteenth-century didactic mode of history as biography.
But the subtle contrast of memory and memorial that Opland alludes to is
suggestive of a reconciliation that is not only internally contrasted in the
poem. Read in relation to the earlier Ityala Lamawele, we could say that
the reconciliation between Babini and Wele is transposed into the later
twentieth century as providing the contours of the idea of an inclusive (read
representative) nation, one which nevertheless takes ethnicity and culture as
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crucial foundational categories. More appropriately, though, the demands of

eulogy and narrative impose competing claims on the reading of the poem.
If eulogy builds on the theme of unity (‘Praise Hintsa, nations of the world!’),
the narrative components of the poem pave the way for an entry into the
story that goes by the name of Europe (‘He should be acknowledged by the
whole of Africa,/Because they have learned about the white man from him,–/
The nations benefitted, he was blunted’).
What, we may ask, has been learnt about the white man from the
demise of Hintsa? Which nations benefited when ‘he was blunted’? Should
these lines be read as a negation or an affirmation of the trajectory charted
by the west – for the career of Geist? The repetition of the filial relationship
contained in the eulogy leads to an implicit critique of a history ‘Which
is also inscribed in European books’ and which has the potential to incite
‘old Xhosa men’. Like Ityala Lamawele, the poem also establishes levels of
difference through which culture enables a particular critique of history.
Culture, in fact, emerges as an objection to the colonial monopoly of history.
The difficulty of rewriting history in the presence of the legislator
that these intellectuals were compelled to deal with highlights a specific
problem of nationalist history. Its attempts to serve as a corrective of colonial
constructions or its attempts to haul out its cultural treasures or its attempts
to resurrect its fallen heroes failed to displace the underlying historicism
of its cultural reconstruction. That failure necessarily made its resources

184 the deaths of hintsa

available to disciplinary appropriation and thereby reconnected it to systems
of governmentality, not least through the anthropological expeditions of
the Native Administration Department. The limits of nationalist narration,
as it became entangled in disciplinary reason, allowed for little more than
a construction of cultural difference, the very condition I would argue of
segregationism and apartheid. By the 1940s and 1950s the outcomes of this
slippage could be discerned in the concept of history that founded nationalist
responses to apartheid. One brief example of this is Selope Thema’s ‘Out
of Darkness’.79 Thema was a member of the ANC in the 1940s and 1950s
and a contemporary of SM Molema. Writing enthusiastically about his
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years at Lovedale, Thema highlighted his passion for history, especially the
opportunity it afforded him to compare English and South African history.
Like many of his contemporaries, Thema believed that African leaders
like Shaka and Moshoeshoe were under-represented in history, thereby
enhancing the prestige of the white race. More important, though, was the
spirit of contestation that permeated the writings of Thema who, in reflecting
on the history of the eastern Cape, claimed:
the so-called ‘Kaffir wars’ were said to have been waged solely for the
purposes of plundering lonely farmers; but an impartial enquirer
would have discovered that although there was a great deal of
plundering and pillaging the wars were prompted by an ardent desire
to rid the country of European invaders. They were similar wars to
those waged by the Britons against the conquering Romans, Anglo-
Saxons and Danes; or by the Anglo-Saxon tribes against invading
Normans. The motive that prompted these wars was not that of
stock theft, but that of self-preservation. It was not for the sake of the
farmers’ cattle and sheep that black men made that futile but noble
attempt to ‘drive the White man into the sea.’ It was not for the sake
of mere plunder that the Amaxhosa people, in obedience to the false
prophecy of a misguided girl burned their corn and killed their cattle
in the hope that the White man would be driven into the sea. Nor was
it merely to bring calamity upon the Xhosa nation that Nonqawuse

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 185

‘prophesied’ the day when the great men of the past would rise from
their graves and lead the Xhosa nation to victory over the White man.
It was for something greater, something nobler than all this. It was for
the independence of the African race, for its right to develop along its
natural lines so as to determine its destiny without let or hindrance.80

In the framework of anti-colonial struggle, history was always also a resource

for squaring up with an oppressive power. With nationalism’s supposed
postcolonial arrival, the stage was set for a renewal rather than dissolution
of history. Historical prerogatives seemed more entrenched than ever and
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far from being destroyed through their union with notions of culture.
Unfortunately, the triumph of recurrence is also the point of the ostensibly
inescapable cunning of reason. If, as Partha Chatterjee argues, nationalism
proves inadequate for the cunning of reason, then we could say that that
failure is idiomatically expressed in the unchallenged historicism that bound
nationalism to colonial discourse.81 As Sande Cohen suggests, historicism
attempts to achieve a cultural ‘timeless time’, an image which holds together
categories such as origin and result.82 Historicism, he argues further,
renders an image of an unavoidable presentation handed down by ‘history’
which braids past, present and future in the here and now. Historicism, in
other words, has the tendency to flatten history. In seeking to rewrite the
story of Hintsa, anti-colonial nationalist narration may have contributed to
precisely such a flattening of history.
Once sanctioned, historicism would allow for an endless refashioning
of the figure of history, even lending itself to the most reactionary and
dangerous forms of nationalist articulation. Five years after the publication
of UmHlekazi uHintsa, the king would be mobilised once more against
the British, but this time worked into the inaugural story of Afrikaner
nationalism: the Great Trek. In 1943, on the eve of the ascendancy of
Afrikaner nationalism, Professor CJ Uys – the renowned Afrikaner
nationalist historian – published a series of articles in the popular Afrikaans
magazine Huisgenoot, proposing a revision of the standard historiography of

186 the deaths of hintsa

the killing of Hintsa.83 Uys claimed that with the discovery of new sources,
such as Shepstone’s diary and previously undisclosed letters by D’Urban, it
was possible to glean the consequences of the war of 1835 in prompting the
Great Trek and to disclose the huge British cover-up that followed the killing.
Presented as an alternative account of the event of the killing of
Hintsa to that produced by Theal and Cory, Uys proceeds to tell his version
of events in four parts under the headings Die Moord Op Hintsa, Die Inval
in Gcalekaland, In Die Britse Lokval, Die Tragedie Loop Ten Einde. 84 Much of
the story that Uys presents turns on the prejudice of British soldiers towards
their Afrikaner counterparts and on proving that the British were liars. The
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basic thesis is that the Sixth Frontier War dramatically transformed the
Great Trek, that iconic event that defined a nascent Afrikaner nationalism,
from a scattered sentiment to a politically cohesive action. Whether or not
beginnings tally with ends in nationalist narration, its modes of subjection
should make us wary about its transformative potential.

Border discourse

The colonial and nationalist texts generally share a commitment to

historicism, even though an insurgent nationalism arrives bearing the
baggage of culture and a deep suspicion of colonial history. In turn,
historicism reduces the debate on the past and the present to the lexicon
of truths and lies. Reading in a framework of historicism – in terms, that
is, of a linear view – is to envisage a past incessantly reworked to sustain
a political claim in the present. Thus, we would have to acknowledge that
Hintsa is reinscribed into a nineteenth-century present in the language of
secularisation, into a twentieth-century insurgent nationalism as a founding
figure of a re-imagined nation and as an inaugural figure of Afrikaner
nationalism. If the proper name ‘Hintsa’ represents a significatory knot,
it is only because his name accommodates the substitutions necessary for
engaging the career of Geist and placing the colonised subject on the stage of
world history.

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 187

The strategic invalidation that serves as a key element at work in
nationalist narration, however, should not be read as an ideological script
only, but also for the form in which it presents its utopian designs. The
general failure to reflect on the form of the argument meant that nationalist
writers often opened themselves to appropriation by emergent disciplinary
projects. In its relation to disciplinary reason, nationalism merely results
in the further subjection of agency. Perhaps the approaches to strategic
invalidation in nationalist narration may have benefited from a more
scrupulous attention to form. Peires leaves us with a sense that both Soga
and Mqhayi themselves ultimately emerged as subjects of disciplinary
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knowledge rather than producers of knowledge. Their work, after all,

came to sustain the claims of liberal pluralists, apartheid anthropologists
and nationalist historians. The reversal of the story of Hintsa was clearly
insufficient in producing an effective history which would require not only
telling a different story of Hintsa but unravelling the discourse through
which his name is made available.
In a peculiar way, the return to the writings of Soga and Mqhayi
correspond to Nicholas Gcaleka’s testing of the limits of the colonial archive
by way of invoking an imaginary claim about the spirit of Hintsa blowing
all over the world with no place to settle. When Khonoza Mbambatho
publicly introduced himself as Nicholas Tilana Gcaleka in the 1990s, his
pseudonym reiterated a place name that is commonly associated with the
poet and writer SEK Mqhayi, who in the early 1900s may perhaps have
expressed sympathy for his claim about the beheading of Hintsa in 1835.85
IsiXhoba sikaTilana (Tilana’s rocky ledge) was the name of a hillock near the
township of Berlin between King William’s Town and East London which
was renamed Ntab’ozuko (Mount Glory) in honour of Mqhayi. This is where
Mqhayi, named imbongi of the nation by the writer AC Jordan, lived for a
period of about 20 years and where he was later buried on 29 July 1945. The
association between Nicholas Tilana Gcaleka and SEK Mqhayi is, however,
neither entirely coincidental nor merely topographical. Mqhayi’s Ityala
Lamawele is among the few recorded instances pointing to the possible

188 the deaths of hintsa

beheading of Hintsa. Mqhayi’s writings, like Gcaleka’s dreams, do not neatly
fit narrative techniques of South African modernisms, although it would be
impossible to read their respective narratives other than in the disciplinary
conditions of such modernisms. That ought not to be seen as an act of
reconciliation at any cost.
It is appropriate to take forward the project of strategic invalidation,
first in relation to colonial modes of evidence that sustained apartheid and
second in relation to the postapartheid narration of the story of colonialism
and the killing of Hintsa. But how, given the limits and appropriations
of nationalist narration, does one chart the contours for a history after
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apartheid? Nationalist history and historiography serve as a reminder of the

limited space for manoeuvrability available to contest colonialism through
the discourses of history and anthropology. In the remaining chapters I
inquire into whether historical criticism might offer a way to disentangle the
link between the colonial archive, apartheid and the discourse of history that
nationalist narration failed to address.

reading ‘xhosa’ historiography 189

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the deaths of hintsa

The border and the body: post-phenomenological

reflections on the borders of apartheid

We must delve into the archaeologies of the dead.1

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Thus far, I have undertaken to understand more clearly the relation

between colonialism and apartheid in South African historiography in a
manner that refuses to reduce colonialism to a receding factor in the rise of
modern South Africa. In the aftermath of apartheid’s formal dissolution (as
most qualifications insist on putting it these days, as if to stress its informal
persistence), that connection has helped to highlight what was unforeseeable
in the radical trajectories mapped out by scholars who sought to reorient
knowledge in the direction of opposing apartheid. Many scholars, amongst
them Clifton Crais, Ran Greenstein, Gary Minkley and Andrew Bank, have
pointed to the nagging resilience of racial formations, not as mere ideological
formations but as deeply entrenched cultural effects and formations in
South Africa.2 For these and other scholars, returning to the problematic of
racial formation was not a return to the foundational dogma of the liberal
historiographical tradition in South Africa that stressed the irrationality
of race in relation to the onset of more rational processes of economic
development. Rather, it pointed to the need for new ways of speaking of
apartheid which took into account the apparatus through which the racialised
subject is defined and activated.

The study of racial formations often flowed from the potential of
Martin Legassick’s seminal ‘The Frontier Tradition’, which challenged the
liberal views of the historian Eric Walker by highlighting the functionality
of race to the sociology of class. The frontier tradition which served liberal
historiography failed to relate race to the changing material base of society.
The inspiration of the later turn to racial formation was in the normalisation
of race in the practices of power, derived in part through models of dispersal
rather than a concentration of power. What these scholars were stressing was
that the postapartheid might be met with the capillary structure of power
that Foucault described for his metaphor of the process of subjectivation.3
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This, I would argue, was the latent, and at times unanswered, postcolonial
question coming home to roost. The move in the direction of studying racial
formations more singularly was, however, somewhat tentative, perhaps given
that it was presented on the cusp of the end of formal apartheid. What I call a
tentative first step can be discerned in a polemic about South African history
by Clifton Crais, in which he points out:
The first [opening for a more emancipatory production of history]
concerns the deconstruction of the white mythology of history in
South Africa, a critical analysis of the relationship between the
production of history and the stabilisation of power. Read against
itself, the canonical writing of the South African past unfolds as a
series of transpositions and, ultimately, a sort of incessant struggle
with the ghosts of Theal and Cory. Each new ‘school’ of historians
invents, so that it can destroy in almost Oedipal fashion, its
intellectual progenitor. 4

To counter this repetitive Oedipal scene in South African history, Crais

proposes an opening that takes into account the speech of subalternity. In
an example that I find both moving in its suggestiveness and poignant in
relation to Nicholas Gcaleka’s dream, Crais leads us through the capillary
networks of power to the aetiologies of the historical consciousness of the
oppressed. Referring to a contemporaneous cue in 1992, Crais notes:

192 the deaths of hintsa

Today, the spirit of the second-generation nationalist D.D.T. Jabavu
has possessed the body of a female relative who until recently taught
at the University of Transkei. Like most of the African elite in the
first half of the twentieth century, during much of his life Jabavu had
employed the language of the colonisers. His spirit has returned to
counsel the living not to make the same mistake twice.5

Historians of South Africa have seemingly been painfully aware of heeding

this advice. But in a conjuncture filled with expectation following years of
resistance, the openings proposed by Crais need to be coupled with a critique
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of the disciplinary conditions that make it impossible for nationalism

to heed its own advice. The question of South African history was not
merely one of the subaltern subject speaking, or its role in mediating
historical consciousness, but one of subalternity, the very structural
condition of constraints and forms of history that ended, repeatedly perhaps,
in an Oedipal drama. This difficulty is not entirely unforeseen in Crais’s
polemic. Very early on he poses a question which I believe we must take
up through the question of subalternity, if only to join him in a search for
an opening. Does history’s inability, he asks, to offer itself as an emancipatory
practice stem from its own unwillingness to confront its origins and its
will to power, its own suppression and silence? If we answer this question
via a traversal of the range of subaltern positions in the aetiology of the
historical consciousness of the oppressed, as Crais suggests, then I’m not
sure that we can heed the advice not to make the same mistake twice. This
is because the subaltern subject is also an effect of an apparatus of power,
a theme I have threaded through notions of the subjection of agency or
subjectivation in earlier chapters. While I am sympathetic to the gesture
proposed by Crais, I would prefer to establish different relations with the
question of subalternity without the burden of expectation of living up to
a prefigured emancipatory ideal or the resurrecting nostalgic notions of
agency. Rather, the figure of subalternity might only lead us to the very
limits of a discourse that functions to produce the subject in the quagmire

post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid 193

of disciplinary reason and to strategically invalidate its operations. Thinking
at this limit is part of the task of intensifying the critique of apartheid and
lending support to the postcolonial search for constituting an epistemic
rupture that might reorder the pursuits of knowledge in the midst of the
modes of evidence of the colonial archive, which gives rise to the subjection
of agency.
As a modality of oppression, apartheid, I will argue, was activated by
modes of evidence of the colonial archive – a strategy that ultimately gives
rise to the condition of the subjection of agency. It is this connection that is
rendered intelligible by the phrase ‘disciplinary reason’ and which compels
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us to examine how knowledge, specifically historical knowledge, created the

conditions of possibility for apartheid. The colonial archive is critical to the
double game that the watchword ‘apartheid’ recalls, because it is here that
the trajectories of exclusion and inclusion of the subject are rehearsed and
put into circulation. In attempting to make explicit the association between
apartheid and the techniques that come to constitute the colonial archive,
this book serves to remind us that the postapartheid is unimaginable
without effecting a strategic invalidation of the modes of evidence of the
colonial archive which enabled the violence of apartheid. If, in other words,
apartheid was the sign of difference genealogically cobbled together through
the dual appeals of nation and identity, then we may legitimately desire
undercutting these basic concepts as a way of preparing the ground for the
emergence of the postapartheid. However, the process of ground clearing, I
argue, would require us to strategically repeat the story of nation and identity
differently, perhaps through what I call a restaging of a postcolonial critique
of apartheid.
As seen in the preceding chapters, apartheid was inconceivable
without the apparatus of the colonial archive. The colonial archive provided
apartheid with its multiple metaphors and strategies of demarcation and
segregation. In Ezekiel Mphahlele’s recollection of this paternity, apartheid
established ‘fences of barbed wire across the country, across allegiances,
across the landscape of African nationalism’.6 The modes of evidence specific

194 the deaths of hintsa

to the colonial archive were not only the foundation on which apartheid
was built but its very discursive condition. Apartheid was, we might say,
entangled in colonial modes of evidence and borne in the shadow of the
colonial archive.
Apartheid’s resilience as a metaphor of the experience of racial
segregation and also subalternity resides in the combination of repressive
and subtle techniques in the exercise of power that it represents. Apartheid
conjures up images of borders and boundaries that assume a certain number
of corporeal effects. In this chapter, I wish to trace their arbitrariness by
way of a post-phenomenological reflection on the borders of apartheid as
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a step towards unravelling the modes of evidence of the colonial archive. I

do so by tracking the stories of the ghost of Hintsa in the late nineteenth
century as the borders that would define apartheid’s homelands were fixed
and fastened through an interlocking discourse of administration, archive
and knowledge production. In a critique of history’s relation to the archive,
I attempt to unravel the processes by which the colonial archive sustains
apartheid and by which history is caught in its shadows. By the same token,
I want to argue that we might see some merit in unlearning the structure
of history which places before us the real and the imagined as discreet, as
opposed to mutually reinforcing, domains of enunciation. Such formulations
only serve to place the subject in an irreducible compromise with power, by
which a figure like Nicholas Gcaleka finds himself trapped in the position
of object.
As the postcolonial critique of apartheid enables an investigation of
our entrapment in the modes of evidence of the colonial archive, I argue that
we should strategically anticipate its subsumption into the bland historicism
of the hegemonic narratives of globalisation. When considered as an
episteme in formation, the postcolonial may potentially serve to reconfigure
the postapartheid as a specifically oppositional discourse to globalisation.
My argument thus far has been that this might be achieved if we work
towards an epistemic rupture in the midst of the transition from apartheid to
postapartheid, one in which the subject is freed from the grip of a normative

post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid 195

discourse of power. Two programmatic consequences suggest themselves
based on the story of the killing of Hintsa. The first relates to the possibility
of stepping out of the shadow of the colonial archive so as to disable its
determining force in discussions on the subject. The second is to ask that
the discipline of history might inaugurate a different relation to the marginal
subject of knowledge, which I take up in the next chapter. In both instances,
the challenges posed by the Subaltern Studies Collective in South Asia on
the issues of the narratives of transition and the subject of history may offer
suggestive options for the reconstitution of South African history. At issue in
this chapter specifically is a radical reworking of the relation to the colonial
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archive by targeting the very structure of the border – the residual trace of
apartheid – that has contained the story of the killing of Hintsa thus far as a
story of the homeland.
We might say that this chapter is about the virtuality of the border
as much as it is about its actuality. We might also say that it is a story of
how boundaries become borders when folded into the circuits of a colonial
archive. Borders form, I wish to argue, in the ‘prose of counter-insurgency’.
The notion of the prose of counter-insurgency is of course indebted to
the work of Ranajit Guha, who has implicitly asked that we not only see
the colonial archive as producing an imagined community but also anticipate
its operation as an imaginary structure. Guha encourages us to consider
the distributions of metaphor, metonym and, we might add, synecdoche
in translating the consciousness of the rebel into terms familiar to power
and history – terms that resonate with the spontaneity associated with
colonial charges of insurgency and revisionist constructions of anti-colonial
As I see it, the argument proposed by Guha does not merely
call for accounting for colonialism via its archive, but also for working
towards effecting an epistemic break with its conceptual reign over the
postcolonial present.7

196 the deaths of hintsa

Bordering on the eastern Cape

In 1975, the Department of Bantu Administration and Development

published the findings of an ethnological study by Arthur O Jackson
detailing the ethnic composition of the Ciskei and the Transkei. The
ethnological arm of the department, under the watchful eye of a senior
anthropologist, had emerged as critical to the historical and anthropological
verification of apartheid’s borders, especially those concerned with the
homeland policy of the state. This is what Jackson reported:
The information on the occupation of the Ciskei and Transkei dating
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furthest back into history, is oral tradition. The earliest documentary

data, however, come from the observations of mariners shipwrecked
along the coast. The latter sources indicate that part of the Transkei
was already occupied by the Bantu in 1650, whereas calculations
based on the former indicate that the Bantu entered the Transkei
about a century earlier (Wilson, 1959). The first noteworthy westward
migration across the Kei River took place in 1702. In 1752 the
Keiskamma River was considered to be the westward limit of Cape
Nguni expansion, and formed the boundary between them and a
sparse Hottentot population.
The eastern limit of European settlement was for a long time
Bruintjies Hoogte and the Gamtoos River. This frontier was extended
to the Fish River in 1775. In 1778 an agreement was reached with some
of the Xhosa chiefs (the Xhosa were the furthest west of the Cape
Nguni) determining the Fish as the boundary between them and the
Cape Colony. In 1819, at the conclusion of the fifth frontier war, the
boundary was extended to the Keiskamma and the Tyumie Rivers.
This boundary was confirmed by proclamation at the conclusion
of the seventh frontier war in 1847. At the same time the area up to
the Kei River was proclaimed British under the designation of British
Kaffraria. This area was finally annexed to the Cape Colony on
April 17, 1866.8

post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid 197

Jackson was a minor apparatchik in the Department of Bantu Administration
and Development. Most of his work on tracing the historical precedents for
the border between the homelands of the Ciskei and the Transkei, along
the lines of the Rharhabe and Gcaleka split in the House of Phalo were,
it seems, indebted to the earlier narratives of Theal, the ethnography of
Hammond-Tooke, and official legislative proclamations of state. Jackson
supplemented these earlier narratives with brief ethnographic research on
genealogies, made on several short visits to the eastern province in the early
1970s, from which he derived a demography of the ‘tribes’. From this vantage
point the colonial boundary was seen to have its precedent in oral tradition.
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A boundary between oral narrative and official proclamation was, it appears,

being breached in the interests of putting in place a border of apartheid.
The conclusions of Jackson’s ethnographic report encountered their
limit in a project of South African history writing that set itself the task
of opposing the very premises of apartheid. Writing in 1975, at the time
of Jackson’s report and the consolidation of the borders of the homeland
system, Jeff Peires, for example, presented an alternative reading of statist
constructions of the border between the Ciskei and Transkei in an article
titled ‘Rise of the “Right-hand House”’. In considering the potential
value and limitations of oral tradition, Xhosa historical writing and
European sources respectively, Peires highlights the extent to which each
may have contributed to the history of the House of Phalo, the patriarch
under whose leadership the Xhosa state fissured into the Rharhabe and
Gcaleka chieftaincies in the late 1700s. Outlining the contours of Xhosa
historiography, Peires distinguishes vernacular narratives from the
constraints imposed on them by anthropologists such as Hammond-Tooke,
whose tendency was to perceive of the realm of orality merely in terms
of tradition.9 The anthropological discourse conveys the impression that
apartheid’s homelands (the Ciskei and the Transkei) were natural outcomes
of precolonial divisions. Peires criticises scholars such as Hammond-Tooke
for the ‘aetiological error’ (making inferences from the present) and for
treating orality as cultural rather than historical narratives.10 In contrast to

198 the deaths of hintsa

Hammond-Tooke, Peires suggests that the presumed fission in the House
of Phalo does not adequately represent continued political unity of the
precolonial state and, as such, emphasis on fission in the House of Phalo
tends to support the logic of apartheid’s homeland system.11 One consequence
of the aetiological error, according to Peires, is that it gave rise to a related
lack of time depth and the concomitant problem of telescoping.12 In his
critique of the ethnographic premises of apartheid’s engineering, Peires
argues that a fission, not a division, marked the split in the House of Phalo
and that the origin of an apartheid border was being read back into the social
structure of the precolonial past.
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Opposition to the constructs of apartheid’s legacy has continued

unabated, even in the aftermath of its formal dissolution. In two recent
studies – Anne Mager’s exploration of the emergence of the Ciskei and
Clifton Crais’s forays into the techniques of governmentality in the making
of the Transkei – that deal with the problematic of South Africa’s homeland
borders, written in the aftermath of their official dissolution by the
postapartheid state, efforts are made to connect the history of borders in the
eastern Cape to the making of colonised subjectivity.13 Mager emphasises the
constructedness of the border that came to define the Ciskei, preferring to
read how gendered subjectivity required a constant reworking of that border.
She insists that her approach is at odds with the idea of the Ciskei as an
entity largely unchanged since the 1840s and defined as the territory between
the Fish and the Kei Rivers. Deployed uncritically, she suggests, the term
‘Ciskei’ remains a colonial one and gender came to play a fundamental role
in reconstituting its outlines.14
For his part, Crais highlights the instrumentality implicit in the
making of the borders of the Transkei, especially involving the operation
of mapping, census and cultural constructions. His The Politics of Evil
provides several important insights on the annexation of Gcalekaland in
1885. He argues, for example, that the move followed on the heels of various
commissions and reports in the early 1870s, 1876 and 1883, which established
borders and defined tribal groups. The 1883 commission, he argues, marked

post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid 199

‘both the culmination of developments in the Transkei in the preceding
decade and the beginning of a more fundamental codification of customary
law and clarification of colonial rule’.15 Crais attributes these borders and
definitions to ethnographies of the state, bringing together the overlapping
strategies of cartography, census and cultural construction – a process of
making the Xhosa knowable and therefore governable.
The Politics of Evil provides a useful thumbnail sketch of the
magistracies and how the techniques of governmentality rearranged
precolonial spatial arrangements. As Crais suggests, encompassing headmen
and chiefs in a system of village and location resulted in a destruction of
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economy and ecology. The net effects of a colonial episteme were indeed
severe. If the effects were borne by those who were targets of a civilising
mission, and if those effects doubled as strategies for entrapping Africans
in a colonial tribalism, such a claim is established by recourse to the very
archive of colonial governmentality. This, for example, is what Crais tells us
midway through his discussion on the production of boundaries:
The colonial archive for the 1870s and 1880s is replete with
discussions of boundaries, their drawing up and the anxiety and
contestation they invariably caused, and the displacing of people
that frequently followed the colonial organisation of political space.
Africans made it clear that they lived in a world in which boundaries
were not ‘fixed’ and in which political claims very frequently
overlapped. People living in what became known in anthropological
discourse as ‘maximal lineages’ did not inhabit contiguous areas.
‘There is no fixed boundary,’ one chief told the chief magistrate; ‘our
people are intermixed.’ Some of his people were ‘about 18 miles from
my Kraal. The space between us is filled up by’ people attached to
other chiefs.16

In traversing the voluminous resident magistrates’ reports, especially

from the magisterial district of Elliotdale, there is little reason to doubt
that territorial boundaries are products of overlapping techniques of

200 the deaths of hintsa

governmentality and that its aim was ultimately the inventions of discreet
cultural and gendered subjects. I have no reason to doubt that the colonial
archive produces, as an effect, a sense of imagined communities. But here
I want to offer a different reading of this material, one that takes account of
the forms of the archival material as much as their specific content. Hintsa’s
ghost is one of those features that peppers the later colonial archive of the
eastern Cape. My concern is with the potential of the colonial archive to
organise our reading and, more precisely, with the difficulty of stepping out
of the shadow of the colonial archive. The archive, I will argue, especially the
colonial archive, is not merely a collection of techniques. It is an apparatus in
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itself, one that has called forth different configurations of reading amongst
historians. Think only of ideas of reading against or along the proverbial
grain.17 To distinguish my argument from those of Crais and Mager, I wish
to recall the now familiar phrase ‘the prose of counter-insurgency’, proposed
by Guha for the unreadable traces of subalternity in official archives and
their derivative historiographies.18 Important in Guha’s choice of phrase is
the idea that the prose of counter-insurgency is not reducible to insurgency as
such. Similarly, the traces of insurgency are not to be understood in a merely
prelinguistic sense but as constitutive of the discourse of the archive. In this
chapter, the prose of counter-insurgency calls attention to an administrative
trace of the network of counter-insurgent spying and surveillance through
which we may begin to explain the subaltern effect of the discourses
of borders and boundaries. The phrase ‘prose of counter-insurgency’
suggests why attending to the imaginary structure of the colonial archive,
notwithstanding its pervasive function as instrument of power, is important
in advancing the critique of colonialism and, of course, apartheid. The will
to knowledge that renders insurgency intelligible as an object of knowledge
is constitutively bound up with police power in the broadest sense. It is not
a question of unknowable cultural difference in the anthropological sense,
but a political and post-phenomenological question of understanding the
institutional conditions of possibility for what appears self-evident in one’s
own (historiographical) experience.

post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid 201

1885. . .

In the resident magistrates’ reports, 1885 appears as a milestone in the

relationship between the Xhosa sovereignty of Gcalekaland and its
annexation to the Cape Colony. As if seeking to create the impression of the
inevitable outcome of the slow march of time, the archivist’s preface to the
reports links these specific outcomes to the reigns of two nineteenth-century
kings, Hintsa and his son Sarhili. Sarhili, as will be recalled from the earlier
discussion, had accompanied Hintsa to the British camp shortly before the
fateful killing. The names of both Xhosa sovereigns, descended from the
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House of Phalo, have assumed metonymic status in colonial records of the

story of colonisation in the eastern Cape, especially the area east of the Kei
River known as Gcalekaland. The two reigns – Hintsa’s and Sarhili’s –
are connected by the archivist’s timeline which serves to introduce the
inventory of the chief magistrate of Thembuland and his respective resident
magistrates.19 It is worth quoting the timeline in full because it coincides
with the framing of my contribution to the discourse of the border, one
punctuated by the grammar of domination and the subjection of agency.
We might call it a bare bones narrative of the historical time of a border.
In 1835 the eastern boundary of the Cape Colony was extended to the
Kei River [Cape of Good Hope Government Gazette no.1536, 29.5.1835,
Proclamation 10.5.1835]. East of the river the tribes [sic] remained
independent although government representatives were stationed
with the important chiefs to enforce the treaties [W.M. Fynn with
Kreli and H.F. Fynn with Mapas: CO 5831, proclamation 29.12.1836].
In 1858 the area between the Kei and the Bashee rivers was
conquered by the colonial forces and settlements of Fingoes and
other favourably disposed blacks from British Kaffraria established
at Butterworth and along the Bashee River (Idutywa) under the
supervision of a Special Magistrate.
In 1864 the formerly hostile Gcalekas were allowed to return west
of the Bashee and a British Resident for all the tribes and magistrate

202 the deaths of hintsa

for the Idutywa Reserve appointed to reside in the neutral area
between the settlements of Gcalekas and Tambookies.
On the recommendation of the Commission of Native Affairs
in 1865 more Fingoes and Tembus from the colony were settled in
the territory east of the Kei River and this led to the growth of the
districts of Fingoland and Emigrant Thembuland. In September
1878 a chief magistrate was appointed for the districts of Fingoland,
Idutywa Reserve and Gcalekaland, which were collectively to be called
the Transkei. Seven magistrates were appointed to assist the chief
magistrate: three in Fingoland (Nqamakwe, Tsomo, Butterworth),
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one at Idutywa Reserve and two in Gcalekaland (Kentani and Qara-

Bashee area – later Willowvale). In 1879 Fingoland and Idutywa were
annexed to the Cape Colony as the Transkei and the regulations for its
administration laid down. In 1885 Gcalekaland was also annexed to
the colony.20

The extension of the colonial border to the Kei River in 1835 was folded into
the making of the story of the killing of Hintsa. This, as I argued earlier, was
achieved through a process of the subjection of agency specific to a colonial
mode of evidence.21 The dispersal of the effects of an information economy
combined with a grammar of domination that involved making the active
verb of colonial reportage – instigate, invade, contrive and plunder – resonate
with the object nouns of its discourse – primitive, uncivilised, savage and
‘Cafre’. The grammar of domination was never too far from the effects of
colonial domination. The one is incomprehensible without the other.
In keeping with the initial elaboration of the concept of a colonial
mode of evidence, I wish to argue that the finalisation of the border can be
traced in the cracks that appeared in the system of indirect rule involving
the late king’s son, Sarhili. On 16 October 1885, the resident magistrate in
Elliotdale in charge of Bomvanaland sounded an enthusiastic note of victory
over having secured Sarhili’s registration and also that of his subjects.
Assuring the chief magistrate, Major Elliot in Umtata, that he was unable

post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid 203

to speak highly of Sarhili’s behaviour, he nevertheless acknowledged
the assistance provided by the Gcaleka chief in ensuring the successful
relocation of his people and abiding by the conditions laid down for him.
‘All Bomvana’s [sic],’ he pointed out, ‘living on the Gcaleka side of the line
have been removed by me to the Bomvana side and all Gcalekas living on
the Bomvana side have been moved to the Gcaleka side; so as to prevent
any dispute in the future as regards boundaries.’22 No sooner had he
proclaimed this victory than Langa, a Bomvana chief who had allegedly
served the British government loyally until that point, apparently demanded
compensation for land given to Sarhili to occupy.
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Langa’s demand resulted in a flurry of submissions on the meaning

of colonial boundaries, if not their meaninglessness. At issue was the area
between the Mbashe River and Nzulu (Mpaku River mouth at Hole-in-the-
Wall), which the colonial state had surrendered to Sarhili in exchange for his
registration and submission to the system of hut tax, a key facet of the system
of indirect rule. The resident magistrate’s triumphalism notwithstanding,
the boundary he had proclaimed as a final act in the colonisation of the
Xhosa was as unstable as ever. Rather than seal the victory of colonialism,
it revealed the cracks in the system of indirect rule. The reason, I argue, is
because borders and boundaries are as much a product of the imaginary
structure as they are products of systems of rationality. It is strange how
readily the historian appropriates the spectres that haunt the colonial past as
fact, especially if such spectres support rationalist conclusions. Take as one
random example Eric Walker’s A History of South Africa, published in 1928,
which relates the following narrative of Frere, a colonial official who was later
to play a major role in the destruction of the Zulu kingdom, on a visit to the
eastern Cape colony:
In August 1877, Frere had learned that the Frontier Police had just
crossed the Kei River into the independent Transkei to protect the
Fingoes from Kreli’s hostile Gcalekas. He at once sent Brownlee, his
Native Affairs Minister to summon Kreli [sic] to his presence; but that
chief, remembering how his father, Hintsa, away back in 1835, had

204 the deaths of hintsa

come in under safe conduct and been shot while trying to escape,
declined to put himself in power of any Cape Governor.23

We might pause to ask how this knowledge of Sarhili being haunted by the
spectre of his father was arrived at so that Walker might conclude, subtly
perhaps, that Sarhili was effectively resisting the power of the Cape governor.
The answer to this question is not as easily supported by a a self-referential
verification within the colonial archive. The ghost of Hintsa travelled a
more circuitous route into the history of the last nineteenth-century war
of conquest involving Sarhili, and became a more complicated presence in
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defining the borders and boundaries of the colonial imaginary.

A spectre therefore haunted the many counter-insurgency reports
provided by police, ‘native detectives’ and resident magistrates from the
area along the Mbashe River following the war of Ngcayecibi.24 As happens
with such ghostly matter, it presents itself as an unreadable trace, sparsely
bridging the gap between the confirmatory claims of evidence and the prose
of counter-insurgency. At the height of the war of 1877–78, colonial officials
alluded to rumours of the ghost of Hintsa circulating amongst the Xhosa.25
Sarhili had apparently invoked the spectre as a reminder to his followers of
what had happened to his father at the hands of the British and as a means
of mobilising his people against colonial bureaucrats intent on incorporating
the Gcaleka who had settled along the Mbashe River into the system of hut
tax. Around the same period, Caesar Andrews, who claimed to have been
part of the expedition to the Mbashe in 1835 in which Hintsa was killed, opted
to publish his diary so that it might serve as a lesson for those having to deal
with the son, Sarhili. Andrews noted (with, as I suggested in Chapter 2,
parenthetical detail that expressed the benefit of hindsight):
Taking his son Kreli [sic] with us, we pursued the spoor of cattle
towards the Bashee and came in sight of them before sunset. We
observed vast herds being driven off in all directions on the opposite
mountain range (Bovanaland [sic] in 1877, where Kreli has recently
done the same – repeating history).26

post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid 205

Later, after Sarhili was defeated, such spectral claims, leaving aside
the matter of accuracy, overlapped with administrative procedures of
the resident magistrate and his small coterie of police in the district of
Elliotdale. In particular, the so-called ‘native detectives’ were the conduit
for ‘information’. In 1881 they sounded the alarm of danger lurking in the
forests of Mbashe Valley, claiming that Sarhili was up to no good. The
resident magistrate emphasised the careful work of his detectives, suggesting
that they had worked in different directions and in ‘total ignorance of one
another’s movements’27 and nevertheless reached the same conclusions.
The detectives reported that Sarhili and a number of other chiefs had
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taken refuge in the forests of the lower Bashee and were accompanied by
a large number of armed followers. They claimed that between 1 000 and
2 000 men ‘hostile to the colonial government’28 had amassed in the area.
In particular, the detectives claimed that the armed men had been on
the lookout for government spies whom they were ordered to kill without
mercy upon discovery, and that Sarhili was in contact with the Pondo chiefs
and the baSotho who were expected to provide assistance in ensuring the
‘subjugation of the white man and the overthrow of the Government’.29
The nature of these suspicions corresponded in their broad outline
to the story of the killing of Hintsa in 1835. Hintsa, too, had been suspected
of plotting against the British in what the colonists called Maqoma’s war.
He too was seen as setting a trap for the British and accused of liaising with
Rharhabe chiefs to rebel against the British. Most importantly, colonial
officials suspected Sarhili of playing a double game that allegedly repeated the
tactics adopted by Hintsa.30 In this discourse, Hintsa was not merely invoked
as exemplar but as the return of the repressed. Echoing the latter coincidence,
the resident magistrate confirmed that Sarhili was trying to use the colonial
administration to secure land for settlement, as he was plotting to ‘rise again
from the ashes of defeat’31 and attempt to overthrow the British government.
A few days after the first report, on 19 May 1881, the resident
magistrate wrote that messengers were sent from Captain Blyth to inform
Sarhili of a mistake made in conveying the idea that he would be given a

206 the deaths of hintsa

location near King William’s Town. Sarhili was invited to another meeting to
clarify what government actually meant. In the reports of ‘reliable sources’
it was claimed that ‘Sarhili had become concerned, saying that if the former
message was a lie, how was he to believe that the present [meeting] was
not a trap to catch him’.32 If he should meet, Sarhili proposed that it be on
the Umbonga Heights, an area known for its rough terrain and intricate
geography, not unlike the Nqabara where Hintsa was killed. This followed, it
was claimed, rumour that had reached the Mbashe of Major Elliot’s plans to
send a force to Bomvanaland to capture Sarhili and to punish the Bomvana
for harbouring him by ‘converting their country into a bush to hide him’.33
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The so-called ‘reliable sources’ pointed out that:

if government should decide to meet Kreli [Sarhili] at Umbonga
(which he confidently expects) he will go there prepared to fight in
the event of treachery, and will be accompanied by a large impi of
Halas, as well as his present followers, that he will send one impi on
ahead to lie concealed some distance beyond the place of meeting so
that if treachery is contemplated he will have the Government party
hemmed in, another impi bring himself at Embonga while a third
impi will be placed near the Nechana to defend his rear.34

Intelligence has a way of creating a sense of intrigue even when there is

none. The correspondence to the story of the killing Hintsa can be tracked
in notions of traps, rumours and deception, all of which were central to the
prose of counter-insurgency. And with notions of Sarhili’s apparent threat,
the resident magistrate was warned to be on his guard at the smallest
provocation, especially since his detectives had been discovered, making it
difficult to obtain further information. The resident magistrate’s informants
were clearly much more central to the unfolding events than initially
presumed in the historiography of the eastern Cape. As for the respective
colonial officials, their allegiances appear to be far from clear. One example
is the way Klaas Tanda enters the colonial record. Klaas Tanda, whom
the resident magistrate called ‘our old friend’, was present at the meeting

post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid 207

called by Sarhili near the lower end of the Nechana on 15 May, where Tanda
identified the detectives. If Tanda was dismissed by September 1881, his son,
Josiah, continued to work as a constable in the colonial police, although he
too was suspected of being a conspirator.35
The colonial administration was enormously skilful at turning such
uncertainty generated by the work of counter-insurgency to its own political
advantage. The work of detectives combined with a handful of colonial
administrators and headmen, for example the Bomvana Chief Langa or Moni
before him, in an effort to make sense of an allegedly duplicitous Sarhili. While
the statements of Sarhili’s deception were familiar, arriving at such a conclusion
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required a skill in the use of official reportage. The following quotation from
one such report gives us a precise basis from which to evaluate such skill:
Late events, especially the tacit non-acceptance by Kreli [sic] of the
terms afforded him by government have shown how suspicious he
is, or rather how covetous and exacting under the pretence of being
suspicious and afraid of the Government; but when it is remembered
that his people have flocked around him and have for several months
past been jealously watching, lest government – exasperated by his
persistent finessing – should send a patrol in pursuit of him – it can
readily be understood, how this district has been kept in anything
but a quiet settled state and how its office work has been impeded.
Scarcely can a constable from this office go through the district on
duty but what it is considered that he is a spy from the Government,
endeavouring to find out Kreli’s hiding place and his life is therefore
by no means free from danger.36

Why was it necessary to cast suspicion on Sarhili? Perhaps in recalling

the memory of his father and his fate, the name of Hintsa also served as a
reminder of his relations with the Bomvana. This at least is what the reports
seem to suggest. In his demand for land he refused to surrender the idea
that the Bomvana were his subjects and that that relation extended to the
generosity of his father, who had given the Bomvana refuge and ended up

208 the deaths of hintsa

marrying Nomsa, daughter of the Bomvana chief. Sarhili was born of this
marriage. The prose of counter-insurgency sought to unravel the monopoly
Sarhili was claiming over the Bomvana. The resident magistrate noted, in
red ink along the margins, that his informant had ‘just come again to tell
me that a doctoring ceremony took place the day before yesterday among the
impis in the Bashee and Nechana Valleys’.37
A year later, the threat of rebellion or the attack on ‘spies’ had not
materialised and the colonial narrative of a pending threat was interrupted
when Sarhili summoned the new resident magistrate, Henry Vice, to a
meeting. Vice reports that he was met by 400 or 500 men and that Sarhili
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demanded to know ‘what great crime he had committed’.38 If it was on

account of the war of 1877–78, Sarhili believed that he should be forgiven as
had been done for the others who participated in the rebellion. He claimed
that ‘he was living in the bush with the wild beasts and wished to return to
his old homestead to remain there comfortably’.39 A few days later, Sarhili
apparently thanked the resident magistrate for the pardon granted to him
and asked that he be allowed to reside at Qora in Gcalekaland with his family.
Vice’s report to the chief magistrate in Umtata must have appeared as a
mixed signal. Unfortunately, it was interpreted not as a crack in the colonial
system of indirect rule but as an act of submission on the part of Sarhili.
The view of the resident magistrate proved too optimistic. His
numerous reports detailing negotiations with Sarhili were interrupted by
the seemingly disconnected case of Mbebe, a man who resided in ‘Kreli’s
territory’. Quite clearly, the relocation proposed by Sarhili was too amicable
for those around the resident magistrate who were invested in the outcomes
of counter-insurgency. Gaining the adherence of Sarhili was no guarantee
for the task of implementing the system of indirect rule. If anything, it
would prove necessary to enforce the suspicion surrounding Sarhili, at least
in the interest of introducing the system of indirect rule and its various
elements amongst his followers. The pretext, it seems, was provided by the
story of Mbebe, who would serve as a catalyst in the story of Sarhili’s alleged

post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid 209

Early in 1883, a man by the name of Quwe from the Idutywa district
reported a case of his missing wife and daughter. He claimed that they
had been to Bomvanaland on a visit to Mbebe, the woman’s father, for the
purpose of begging a beast from him. Having not arrived, Quwe proceeded
to Mbebe’s household to enquire after his family’s whereabouts. He returned
home to Idutywa believing Mbebe that they may have taken a different route.
But with time, he returned to Mbebe’s where he was told that the heads of
two persons had been found in the bush near the kraal. The matter was then
reported to the resident magistrate’s office in Elliotdale, where two policemen
were dispatched to investigate and, if necessary, arrest Mbebe. During the
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arrest, Mbebe was forcibly released by 30 armed men headed by one Sombali.
Sombali sent a message to the resident magistrate stating that Mbebe was
‘not a government man’ but was rather ‘one of Kreli’s men’. 40 The statement
from the policemen, Langeni and Nenka, painted a macabre picture of
the discovery:
We first came across the head apparently that of a girl, a number
of bones were lying about, a little further on I saw the head of a
woman. Quwe was present and recognized it to be that of his wife. On
enquiring from the young man who first discovered the bodies he told
me they were very much decomposed and saw several dogs tearing
them to pieces. . .I then said I must arrest Mbebe. Sombali said Mbebe
is Kreli’s man and that no magistrate can arrest him. 41

Failure to arrest Mbebe and Sombali, even after receiving permission from
Sarhili, proved to be a major setback for Vice. By seeking the extradition of
Mbebe, Vice sought to make inroads into areas claimed to be under Gcaleka,
rather than colonial, authority. This made the work of colonial officials
exceedingly difficulty. Vice might have believed that receiving permission
from Sarhili to arrest Mbebe and Sombali would be seen as a tacit acceptance
of his attempts to extend colonial authority to the Mbashe valley. But when
Sombali and Mbebe escaped, and when Sarhili handed over five cattle
belonging to Mbebe to the policemen, Vice was left profoundly embarrassed.

210 the deaths of hintsa

On 17 May Sarhili claimed he was still looking for the men but argued that
they may have been frightened off by the presence of the policemen.
Vice’s failure to establish Gcaleka vulnerability to colonial law was
worrying indeed. It certainly necessitated his removal from office, which
was announced on 18 July 1883. His successor, J Morris, made much of the
failure, often pleading for action against the Gcalekas for corrupting the
sentiments of the Bomvana to colonial authority. Sarhili, it would seem,
had once again slipped through the cracks of the system of indirect rule.
Unlike Vice, Morris proved to be a more conventional administrator who
chose tried and tested techniques of extending colonial administration. These
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included the techniques of mapping, census and the collection of hut tax.
Territorial demarcation and the creation of administrative units produced
enabling conditions for Morris. Under his watch, there seems to have been
a diminishing dependence on spying and detective work in the areas of the
lower Mbashe River. Yet, the prose of counter-insurgency left an indelible
mark on his administrative style. On 21 November, Morris attempted to
eclipse the domain of surreptitious speech and rumour by requesting
permission for a new census to be taken. Apparently, the existing registers
were unreliable and this affected the ability of the resident magistrate to
collect hut taxes.
In a confidential letter to the chief magistrate a few months after
he had assumed office, Morris wrote despairingly of ‘the Gcaleka who only
acknowledge Kreli and repudiate the right of Government to control them in
anyway’. 42 In his letter he noted:
The Gcaleka occupy a portion of Bomvanaland about 20 miles from
the Bashee mouth thereby causing a feeling of animosity to exist
amongst the Bomvana’s [sic] who as legal subjects of Government
object to this occupation being forced upon them by these people
and request that the government take some steps to remove them as
they cannot be responsible for the results as there is already a strong
feeling existing which may at any moment cause collision. These
Gcaleka refuse to pay hut tax, thereby raising the idea among the

post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid 211

Bomvana’s of being oppressed as their natural reply is ‘Why must
we pay hut tax? When Kreli’s [sic] people are exempt from such tax,
although they are living in our country and with which they taunt us.’
They are living in a lawless and savage state and in such inaccessible
gorges and passes of the Bashee valley, that it is utterly impossible to
send a single policeman or even my whole force (eight men) amongst
them, on any duty, without danger. 43

Morris cited the murder of a Gcaleka man by members of the Bomvana as

an incident that aggravated tensions and necessitated colonial intervention.
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The Gcaleka, he pointed out, came into the district as refugees and were
scattered among the Bomvana headmen. These headmen, he claimed, were
being ignored and the Gcaleka were asserting rights to which they had no
claim. More worryingly, the area along the coast had been transformed into
‘a refuge and haunt of thieves and lawless characters’. 44 Having pointed out
the dire conditions that supposedly prevailed in his district, Morris called for
the removal of the Gcaleka.
The origins of this panic did not emanate from the rituals
surrounding the collection of hut tax, but from the lack of ‘information’
forthcoming. Increasingly, Morris had to rely on the Bomvana headman,
Langa, for his reportage. But this allowed for some continuity in the
representations of the Gcaleka, especially the sense of intrigue that emanated
from the work of counter-insurgency. Morris was forced to seek information
by other means, including past records which, he complained, were useless
in providing information on Gcaleka men, women, children and stock that
needed to be removed from Bomvanaland. 45
To counteract the dearth of information, the Gcaleka were summoned
en masse to a meeting on 19 February 1884 for the purposes of registration –
or so it seemed. Morris pointed out that 700 people attended the meeting
accompanied by Sarhili. They refused to register. But he also reported that
he was enabled by the meeting to frame a return which was an approximate
estimate. He also made it clear that while he avoided giving them any

212 the deaths of hintsa

information, he ‘had learned from the general bearing of the Gcalekas that
they will not remove from Bomvanaland unless they receive a tract of their
own country and that a very large portion’. 46
While Morris claimed to have gained valuable information from the
meeting, by April he was denying reports that ‘Sarhili had visited him with
500 armed and mounted men, demanding documents and the restitution of
the country failing which Mr Morris would shortly hear from him again’. 47
The threat, although denied, now claimed that while Sarhili had agreed to
be registered, the Gcaleka refused, fearing the unstated demand to pay hut
tax. This slight deviation pointed to the infinite malleability of information,
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especially in sowing division so as to expedite the colonial administration of

indirect rule.
The effect of the prose of counter-insurgency was that it produced
a state of insecurity. This insecurity, we might argue, could be gleaned
from the cracks that appeared in the system of indirect rule. Coupled with
a desperate famine in the region, the question of boundaries became the
only mechanism for creating peace of mind amongst colonial officials. Yet,
the ghosts that haunted the securities of colonial administration would
not rest. The raw materials provided by the detectives, colonial police and
resident magistrates were replete with a prose that was wholly other, yet
simultaneously indispensable. The resultant impasse compelled a breakdown
at every level. Morris wrote of the inability to administer hut tax in May 1884
and a few months later decried the Bomvana for being incapable, because of
their presumed backwardness, of fulfilling the requirements of the system of
taxation. The Bomvana complained about the uneven application of the law.
Morris pointed out that he had no jurisdiction over Sarhili. Any attempt to
ask the latter to mediate in questions related to transgressions of colonial law
would merely secure Sarhili’s legitimacy.
The boundary was more than a means of creating administrative
units for the efficient functioning of government. It also served to demarcate
the realms of the secure and the insecure, certainty and uncertainty. It was
not so much an instrument as it was a product of the difference at the heart

post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid 213

of a system of representation. And the greater the effort to materialise the
boundary, the more difficult it would prove to realise it. 48 In a moment that
bears all the signs of resignation, Sarhili is reported to have sent a message
with his son Khota to the resident magistrate, underlined with a sense of
uncertainty of the intent of the colonial administration:
I see I have fallen by acting as I did towards Major Elliot. I did not
mean war. I was expecting great things but found them to be small.
I am willing to abide by all the conditions with exception to paying
up of hut tax within a month – a matter impossible in consequence of
starvation at the present time. I shall talk over the boundary you offer
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without a question and live peaceably with the Government and I shall
put down all arms from today – that these have got me into trouble. 49

A few weeks later Sarhili sent another message assuring Elliot that he would
not cause the Major the slightest trouble when he came to point out the
boundary. He even joked that he believed Elliot had forgiven him on account
of his (Sarhili’s) birthday.50 But Elliot never arrived. Instead, the boundary
was proclaimed by the resident magistrate, Morris. The chief magistrate,
for his part, may have calculated that the Gcaleka/Bomvana boundary paled
in comparison to the ability to extend the Thembuland boundary further
to the Hole-in-the-Wall. The prose of counter-insurgency had created a
minor distraction in the form of the Gcaleka/Bomvana boundary in order
that it might extend its grip over Gcalekaland. Sarhili had forgotten to glance
over his shoulder – to guard his rear, as he was said to have remarked
while preparing for a meeting with the resident magistrate some years
earlier. In the three submissions by Chief Sirunu, Chief Tyali and Sarhili
in October 1885, attention was devoted entirely to the extension of the new
boundary that limited and constricted the territorial claims of both Bomvana
and Gcaleka.
Crais tells us that a meeting had indeed taken place between Elliot
and Ngangelizwe, although the document is now damaged and no date
is discernible.51 However, he concludes that Ngangelizwe considered his

214 the deaths of hintsa

control to extend south just over the line separating Mqanduli and Elliotdale
districts. Crais argues: ‘This area was a classic borderland, which appears
in the archival record as multi-ethnic, that had been contested earlier by the
chief and the Xhosa paramount Kreli [sic]. Ngangelizwe especially disliked
the fact that the magistrate was permitting “people to reside. . .without
procuring the opinion of the chiefs.” ’52 Peires argues that the Thembu were
taken under colonial protection and left Sarhili and the Gcaleka surrounded
and encircled.53 The prose of counter-insurgency had clearly obscured the
different levels of colonial discourse and if the statements by Sirunu, Tyali
and Sarhili are of any use, it is that this realisation came too late.
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Chief Sirunu is reported to have complained bitterly that a boundary

line was made without any of the Bomvana being consulted. ‘I allude,’
he added, ‘to the boundary of the Mcwasa River, and further when I once
mentioned the matter to major Elliot, chief magistrate, he was quite ignorant
with regard to a boundary line having been laid down.’54 Then he made it
clear that the boundary of Bomvanaland as known was from Nzulu (Mpaku
River mouth) to its source at Ngcwaguba.
Tyali recalled a past that reached back in time to relations between
the Bomvana and the Gcaleka. He spoke of an exodus from Pondoland
when the Bomvana killed Ngungushe, the Pondo chief. Hintsa, chief of
the Gcaleka, had offered them the area between the Mbashe and the Umtata
border, taking the area of Old Morley as the boundary with the Thembu.
The Bomvana Chief Gambushe’s son had married Hintsa’s sister, and
Hintsa had married Gambushe’s daughter, Nomsa. Although given the
area up to the Umtata, they had only settled it up to the Mpaku River
mouth (Hole-in-the-Wall), the rest given up to Chief Pali’s amaTshezi.
Tyali pointed out that:
the land now occupied by Pali was never Tembuland, it was
Gcalekaland; as proof of what I am saying the father of Gcaleka died
and was buried at the Ngcwaguba and you will not even now get a
Gcaleka woman to drink of the water of that stream nor gather wood
from the forest close by.55

post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid 215

Sarhili, too, echoed these sentiments, speaking of his father’s embracing of
the Bomvana and of the ancestral claim to the border now cutting through
the heart of what he considered Gcalekaland. ‘The Bomvana are my people
and when I fought with Ngangelizwe it was to protect them.’56 Unfortunately,
oral history proved incapable of halting the annexation of Gcalekaland. With
the prose of counter-insurgency, the boundary between cadastral prose
or what historians sometimes call official evidence and orality had been
breached to establish the borders of indirect rule.
Behind these annotated claims of disgruntlement lay the laughter of
the chief magistrate and his gloating bureaucracy – an empty gesture in the
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declaration of victory. This, as Guha has argued, often appears as a blind spot
in radical historiography which fails to acknowledge the terms of law and
order in every occurrence of the voice of insurgency in the colonial archive.
Such then is the episteme of the border, neither a site of transgression
nor an absolute limit. Borders only ever appear to matter where they never
really are. This at least is the provisional conclusion of a reading of the prose
of counter-insurgency which blurs boundaries, establishes borders and defers
endlessly to other levels in the orders of discourse as it envelops colonised
subjects and their historians.

Borders that matter

The materialisation of the borders of apartheid in South African

historiography has, I argued in this chapter, been achieved with little concern
for the prose of counter-insurgency. The epistemological status of borders
should not be assumed but questioned in the interests of founding a history
after apartheid, one that sets out to disqualify the foundational fiction of the
border in the discourse of history.
The interest in the border often marks feminist and postcolonial
sites of critique of disciplinary knowledge, viewing these border discourses
as productive of both meanings and bodies. However, the possibility of
transnationalism with its promise of hybridity and new forms of political

216 the deaths of hintsa

solidarity encounters its limit in the demand for a politics of location,
especially one attentive to the circuits of global capitalist modernity. No
sooner had border crossing become the preferred way to do scholarship than
the realisation of difference set in once more. The transnational has a habit
of slipping into the groove of the transactional. My argument for a post-
phenomenological discussion of the border is an effort to arrest this slippage
in the interest of redefining what we mean by scholarly exchange.
But we must start more modestly with an earlier coincidence in which
a boundary between orality and official script was breached in the process
of instituting apartheid’s border. I argue that what this early discourse
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alludes to is an alignment of evidence and poetics in constructing a mode of

evidence. To recall briefly, by modes of evidence I mean a specific alignment
of modes of evidence of the colonial archive and the imaginary structure
which produces a certain number of effects around the subject. In particular,
I argue that its effects largely recall the fractured postcolonial effects upon
the subject of African history, not the unified subject of ‘nationalism’s
biographic complex’.57
Rather than reading the archive as bearing traces of spontaneous
resistance from subalterns, in this chapter I argued that we ought to read
it as symptomatic of the prose of counter-insurgency. The reports of
suspicious activity in the Mbashe Valley in the late nineteenth-century
eastern Cape, of the circulation of the ghost of Hintsa, and of history
repeating itself were all products of the prose of counter-insurgency which,
I argue – following Ranajit Guha – is not reducible to a prelinguistic level
of insurgency. The prose of counter-insurgency sees the verbal report of
the ‘native detective’ or policemen translated into the secondary discourse
of the resident magistrate, who offers it to the chief magistrate and then
passes it on to the historian for revision as a text of resistance. We now
have as a consequence radical history written in the terms of law and
order. In the process, very little if any effort is given to answering how the
historian distinguishes between the reliability and liability of evidence of
the colonial archive.

post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid 217

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the deaths of hintsa

History after apartheid

Europe, in the enigmatic process of its globalization and its paradoxical

disappearance, seems to project onto this screen, point by point, the silhouette
of its internal war, the bottom line of its profits and losses, the double-bind
logic of its national and multi-national interests.1
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The assignment of the role of agent in the discourse of history is not

an arbitrary decision but one that is intended to mediate the relationship
between the discipline of history and the public sphere.2 This is true of the
settler public sphere in which Hintsa was co-opted and the post-apartheid
public sphere to which Nicholas Gcaleka was conscripted. One of the
greatest difficulties in narrating the story of Hintsa is where precisely to
locate agency. Assigning agency in such a complex story has to account
for the forms of subjection which give rise to the possibilities of agency
in the first place, even when such agency is tasked with overcoming the
structural conditions of power. The work of the investigating subject is
equally obscured in the process. This, however, is not merely an oversight.
It is the very condition of history that derives its sources from the activating
potential of the archive which authorises, and at best shapes, its discourse.
To call into question the forms of subjection generic to the colonial archive
is simultaneously to ask if the history activated by that apparatus could have
a different relation to the subject formed in a system of domination. With
the rise of social history, especially in Africa, the subject that functions

as a driving force in the discipline of history is the subject of marginality.
The study of African history has repeatedly sought to offer this subject a
role beyond its subservience for which it is produced by hegemonic forms
of power. The subject of African history is a willing subject of resistance,
adaptation, consciousness, collaboration, speaking of its victimisation,
perpetration, or set to work in the unenviable role as cultural broker.
In re-evaluating Nicholas Gcaleka’s search for Hintsa’s skull by way of
a discussion of the subjection of agency, I have asked not only for unravelling
the work of history in facilitating the subjection of agency but also whether
it is possible for the discipline of history to have a different relation to those
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who do not make the cut of its discourse. Is it possible to adopt a different
relationship to the concept of marginality that is constitutive of the discourse
of history, one that treats marginality not merely as evidence of some
objective socio-economic condition but, more fundamentally, as a symptom
of the processes by which the modes of evidence of the colonial archive
are constituted and from which knowledge production proceeds? More
importantly, what implications might this new relationship have for what I
am calling ‘history after apartheid’, that is, a history that seeks to step out of
the shadows of the colonial archive and its far-reaching operations? Although
these questions have framed the argument of this book, especially as they
relate to the responses generated by Nicholas Gcaleka’s alleged retrieval
of Hintsa’s skull in 1996, it may be useful to restate the problem in terms
that serve to recall the attempt to read Gcaleka’s mission as an indication of
disillusionment with postapartheid South Africa.
The desire to present Nicholas Gcaleka in terms of an identity that
mediates the economic difficulties accompanying unfulfilled promises
in the postapartheid period, as Shula Marks suggests, is displaced, in the
argument of this book, with an inquiry into how his subalternity is an effect
of, and an irreducible crisis for, a regime of truth and alternative histories.
By concentrating upon the modes of evidence, without which this regime of
truth is invalid, this chapter seeks to go beyond the reversal of the colonial
archive that is attempted in nationalist narrations of the killing of Hintsa.

220 the deaths of hintsa

My aim is to show that the demand for a reinterpretation of history – or its
rewriting – is inadequate to the task of thinking after apartheid, precisely
because that demand ultimately amounts to little more than a repetition
of a formal segregation of history from historiography that is lodged at the
very core of a system of representation. The search for a passage out of the
shadows of the colonial archive cannot depend on merely disqualifying the
claims made on the basis of evidence or on invoking an imaginary structure
to posit an alternative history. I have shown so far that both these tactics lead
to repetition without difference. Perhaps the only way of stepping out of the
shadows of the colonial archive is to mark a difference in the midst of its
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discourse, that is, in finding in the misfit of the text the sources for the break
up of a regime of truth, its modes of evidence and the imaginary structure
which, combined, resulted in the subjection of agency.
My textual cue for pursuing this line of argument is an exhibition of
the colonisation of the eastern Cape at the Albany Museum in Grahamstown.
As you may recall from the earlier discussion, Grahamstown was the setting
of an emergent settler public sphere which was activated in part by the war
of 1834–35 and the killing of Hintsa. The Albany Museum was, and is, very
definitely a museum of the frontier. In Cory’s The Rise of South Africa, it
is named as containing the skull of the ‘rascal’ Hermanus, and in recent
exhibitions it has put on display ornaments and an assegai seized from Hintsa
on the fateful day when he was killed on the banks of the Nqabara River
in 1835. Since 1994, the Albany Museum has taken its first steps towards
reconciliation, through revising the gallery on the history of the eastern Cape.
We have, in the museum’s text displays, a more favourable representation (by
postapartheid standards) of the 100 years of war that engulfed the eastern Cape
in the nineteenth century. However, it is a history that now relates to the rise
of a new national narrative, one that sympathetically details interpretations
associated with Xhosa historiography while offering a glimpse into settler
colonial histories. It does not seek to provide a balanced history though, as the
need to provide a corrective to settler colonial history is more pressing. In the
process of correction, several aspects of the exhibition attest to post-apartheid

History after apartheid 221

remaking. Among these, a painting by Frederick I’Ons titled Chiefs Crossing
a River is, juxtaposed with a triptych by Hilary Graham titled The Death of
Hintsa, painted in 1990, which helps to convey suspicion of mutilation of
the king following his killing. Graham’s triptych serves as an alibi to my
argument. He presents visual cues for the killing of Hintsa in a museum that
is searching for a postapartheid identity. Graham’s paintings cut through
the exhibition, offering a glimpse into colonial violence while testing the
limits of what can be said about the killing of Hintsa. The textual cue in the
title of Graham’s third panel – Smith cuts off Hintsa’s ear – accompanied by
the museum’s parenthetical note ‘(this is the artist’s view and not a proven
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fact)’ opens up the very problematic that has defined my argument. Graham
portrays a scene of frenzy where no amount of factual accounting can produce
a sense of order or narrative cohesion, while the parenthetical correctives
offered by the museum to the title of each panel are telling indeed.
Collection: Albany Museum

Figure 6a: The death of Hintsa, by Hilary Graham, 1990, Panel 1: The tragic death of
Hintsa (Chief Hintsa and Harry Smith negotiate the return of stolen cattle).

222 the deaths of hintsa

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Figure 6b: Panel 2: Smith shoots Chief Hintsa (in fact George Southey fatally shot Hintsa).

Figure 6c: Panel 3: Smith cuts off Hintsa’s ear (this is the artist’s view and not a proven fact).

History after apartheid 223

Exhibiting colonial history

In the Albany Museum exhibition, there are signs of a nineteenth-century

framework of order and a supposedly monolithic settler colonial history
being replaced by multiple interpretations and competing histories. In the
introductory panel to the exhibition, the revision of nineteenth-century
histories of the eastern Cape is made explicit:
This exhibition provides a brief summary of the complex history
of the eastern Cape from 1780 to 1910. Contact amongst the
peoples of the eastern Cape led to conflict and conquest, which
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in turn, contributed to the making of modern South Africa.

People, depending on their particular social, economic, cultural
and political background, will perceive and record what they see
around them differently. Historians are also influenced by their
own world-views. This exhibition relies mostly on quotes, pictures
and objects to tell a story. It is merely a stepping stone for your
own interpretation. 4

The unspoken desire expressed here is, of course, that the assemblage of
quotes, pictures and objects – the products of a history of colonisation – may
inspire another interpretation. The curators of the Albany Museum find the
potential for interpretation in stories, such as that of the killing of Hintsa,
which have for so long been understood as a dead end amongst historians.5
Reminding readers that historians are not time travellers who can leap back
into the distant past to study it first-hand, Gerard Corsane argued in the
pages of The Phoenix, the museum’s magazine, that:
historians can seldom claim that they know or can present all the
exact details of what happened in the past. Although they should aim
at being objective and disciplined they will not end up with absolute
truths. Instead, using the evidence critically and professionally,
they can only ever hope to provide an interpretation of what they
think occurred. The readers of historical interpretations will also be

224 the deaths of hintsa

influenced by their points of view, but through consensus they will
decide which interpretations are acceptable.6

The demand for reinterpretation is of course the demand for another

meaning. But this does not refer to just any meaning. Rather, as the excerpts
drawn from the exhibition suggest, this is meaning connected to a sense of
modern South Africa and bound to rules that demand objectivity, discipline
and truth – however difficult these may be to realise. The desire for multiple
interpretations, new meaning, objectivity, discipline and truth, however,
encounters its limit in the particular story of the killing of Hintsa. In talking
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about the killing, the exhibition offers the following apology that combines
two rather discrepant propositions: ‘Although the true facts of Hintsa’s death
will remain shrouded due to a lack of evidence, he has since been seen as a heroic
symbol of Xhosa nationalism.’ For the purposes of this chapter, I will refer to
these as propositions A and B respectively.
Not too long ago the renowned British historian and philosopher
Robin Collingwood would have dismissed the first proposition as a problem
that should not occupy the historian. So far as Collingwood was concerned,
the rules of the game of history meant interpreting all the available evidence
with the maximum degree of critical skill. In his famous The Limits of
Historical Knowledge, Collingwood suggested that historical thinking ‘does
not mean discovering what really happened, if “what really happened” is
anything other than “what the evidence indicates”’.7 He, of course, did not
anticipate the problem that emerges when the evidence itself produces
doubt – when it was constituted as doubt – over what really happened, as
we shall shortly see in the discussion on the story of the killing of Hintsa.
The suggestion implicit in the Albany Museum’s text is that it was precisely
the lack of evidence that produced the conditions for another history, one
that symbolically deployed the figure of Hintsa in the narrative of
anti-colonial nationalism.
How then did the project of refiguring Hintsa in ‘Xhosa nationalism’
bypass the despair that Dipesh Chakrabarty once claimed had accompanied

History after apartheid 225

every attempt to provincialise Europe? More importantly, how does Xhosa
nationalism make its claims in the face of Europe’s doubtful archive?
And how, more specifically, does nationalist reinterpretation relate to
Chakrabarty’s sense that ‘insofar as the academic discourse of history
is concerned, “Europe” remains the sovereign, theoretical subject of all
histories, including the one’s we call “Indian,” “Chinese,” “Kenyan,” and so
on’?8 How did it then become possible in the Albany Museum to expand the
realm of the sayable within a discourse where Europe and its archive served
as a silent but primary referent? I will proceed with a general comment
on the demand for truth about the killing of Hintsa before turning to the
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symbolic reproduction of Hintsa in Xhosa nationalism, which implicitly is a

necessary response to the violence of colonialism.
To explore what is entailed in this response, I want to draw on
Chakrabarty’s Provincialising Europe as a textual accomplice to my reading
of propositions A and B.9 Chakrabarty moves from the premise of the
asymmetries that shape the grand narrative of history towards exploring how
to renew the privileged narrative of modernity from and for the margins.
In a sustained critique of historicism, Chakrabarty argues against seeing
postcolonial histories ‘as addressing a lack or incompleteness and that
assumes an additive view of totality’.10 To substitute the historicism that leads
to a totalising concept of the present, he produces a more substantive theory
of plurality – that is, a non-totalising concept of the present – in what he calls
‘history 1’ (universal and necessary history posited by the logic of capital) and
‘history 2’ (pasts encountered by capital as antecedents but not as belonging
to its own life process).11 To be fair, Chakrabarty makes a concerted effort to
distinguish between minority and subaltern histories, the latter which often,
as John Beverley reminds us, involves ‘a parodic debunking of authority’.12
For the purposes of this chapter, I want to read proposition B in the terms
specified for history 2, even though, I suspect, the former does not fit the
conceptualisation of resistance that Chakrabarty wants to articulate.
While postcolonial criticism has produced significant critiques of
history 1, its relationship to history 2 is less clear. This is where something

226 the deaths of hintsa

like the solidity of a postcolonial criticism gives way to a division of the tasks
of exposure on the one hand, and the displacing work of an affirmative
deconstruction on the other. The tasks of exposure, it would seem, highlight
the domination of reason through an effort at exploring the politics of
representation. Referring to the anthropologist Talal Asad’s work, Aamir
Mufti suggests that the function of genealogy in this context is to uncover
and expose the dynamics of the storytelling through which the west is
produced as a universal project at numerous political and cultural sites
around the world.13 Similarly, David Scott writes that ‘one strand of the
critique of colonialist discourse, one which owes much to Edward Said’s
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Orientalism, has been centrally concerned to demonstrate how colonialist

textuality works at the level of image and language to produce a distorted
representation of the colonized’.14 This strategy, Scott adds, has sought to
expose the devices through which the colonised have been denied voice,
autonomy and agency. Pasts located in history 2 often articulate, to quote
Slavoj Zizek, as a:
multiculturalist problematic of the colonized minority’s right to
narrate their victimizing experience, of the power mechanisms that
repress otherness, so that, at the end of the day, we learn that the root
of postcolonial exploitation is our intolerance toward the Other and,
furthermore, that this intolerance itself is rooted in our intolerance
toward the ‘Stranger in Ourselves,’ in our inability to confront what
we repressed in and of ourselves.15

The slippage into multiculturalism that concerns Zizek has of course also
troubled many postcolonial critics. Leela Gandhi, for example, points out
that it is Said’s contention that in their desperate assertions of civilisational
alterity, postcolonial nations submit all too easily to a defiant and puerile
rejection of imperial cultures.16 The result is an acceptance of nativism by
postcolonial nations which, according to Said:
is to accept the consequences of imperialism, the racial, religious,
and political divisions imposed by imperialism itself. To leave the

History after apartheid 227

historical world for the metaphysics of essences like negritude,
Irishness, Islam or Catholicism is to abandon history for
essentialisations that have the power to turn human beings against
each other.17

We must read in this statement a general opposition to quasi-transcenden-

talism, even as the limits of western humanist discourse are clearly marked
in the work of postcolonial criticism. Contrary to Zizek’s concern for the
multicultural implications of postcolonial criticism, Said’s interventions
have often involved ‘thinking at the limit’ of the west.18 This is not dissimilar
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to Chakrabarty’s anti-historicist project of reading history 1 in tandem with

history 2, or the subaltern studies project where a demographic differential
is the site of an enabling critique of historiography even as it is often the
mark of political failure. But, the recovery of the subaltern, to cite Gayatri
Spivak, is also the moment of its erasure.19 In other words, the emergence of
subaltern studies cannot merely rest with the assignation of the subject of
difference, or only with its constitutive role in the formation of the sovereign
subject. Rather, subaltern studies also involves an intensification of the crisis
of history.
The qualification is important given the transcendental claims made
in the disciplinary field of African history. A good example of this synthesis
can be found in Steven Feierman’s ‘African Histories and the Dissolution
of World History’.20 Feierman tracks the various attempts to insert Africa
into global processes of world historical change only to find an expanded
narrative field which achieves the decentring of Europe. But when read in
relation to VY Mudimbe’s The Invention of Africa, the victory indeed seems
hollow.21 In contrast to the quasi-transcendentalism of Feierman’s claim,
Mudimbe explores how ethnography was inserted into every conceivable
way of talking about, and of course knowing, Africa so that the space of
the exploration of gnosis is not a void. To read Mudimbe is to encounter the
interconnected grids of discipline, institution and epistemology that sustain
colonial marginality in subsequent orders of discourse. Like Paul Veyne’s

228 the deaths of hintsa

study of Greek mythology in a philosophical programme of truth, Mudimbe’s
examinations of the invention of Africans are products of the combinatory
force of knowledge and gnosis or myth.22 Mudimbe’s study of the order of
knowledge of Africa is a reminder that the text of decolonisation has to
confront not only the inaugural moment of subalternisation but also the
episteme that is constitutive of the conditions of possibility through which
Africa is invented.
Effectively, this translates as the necessity to debilitate further
the claim made on the basis of the archive while investigating how
these conditions of possibility are also the scene for the experiments in
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decolonisation. In the preceding chapters I delineated the strategies and the

techniques by which the discipline of history gathers the past in its orders
of knowledge. I argued that the order of historical knowledge confronts,
from the vantage of postcolonial criticism, its limit in the very practices that
framed the logic of colonisation. I was especially interested in tracking the
assemblage of rules, techniques, practices and discourses of evidence that
characterise the grammar of colonial domination.
By bringing the archive to a crisis, by subjecting it to a form of radical
critique, I want to explore the conditions of possibility that may have given
rise to the statement about Xhosa nationalism in the Albany Museum as
it sought to reinterpret the colonial past for postapartheid times. In other
words, I wish to understand how proposition A enables proposition B in the
Albany Museum, to suspect it, so to speak, of a quasi-transcendentalism. In
so doing, I do not simply wish to show how B was excluded from A, or how
B posits a limit to A, but rather how A and B in their cross-hatching define
the epistemic crisis of history. That is to say, in what way is the commonplace
proposition that the ‘true facts of Hintsa’s death will remain shrouded’
completely consistent with the apparently discrepant proposition that he
‘has since been seen as a heroic symbol of Xhosa nationalism’? The crisis of
history is marked by the way in which incommensurable propositions are
rendered meaningful through a system of representation that elides its own
operation at the expense of a process of subjection. Making sense of the crisis

History after apartheid 229

of history is an opportunity for envisaging a history after apartheid
in which a reconstitution of a relation to marginality is also the point at
which to continue the project of strategic invalidation of the reversals of
the colonial archive, but to different ends to those posited by anti-colonial

Hintsa and the search for truth

In the story of the killing of Hintsa the charge of misrepresentation has

always been accompanied by the demand for a truer account of the event.
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This, as I argued in Chapter 3, is an inaugural point of nationalism which

always proceeds by suspecting the colonial prose of containing not merely
misrepresentations, but blatant lies. In proclaiming that the ‘true facts’
about Hintsa’s death will never be known, proposition A shares in this
distrust of the colonial representation. Rather than being a consequence, as
proposition A suggests, of a lack of evidence, I would argue that the dismay
at not knowing the ‘true facts’ about Hintsa’s death is because there was too
much evidence, not a lack of evidence. The excess of evidence, often drawn
from the writings of subaltern soldiers who were out of the loop of official
networks of communication, supported a growing metropolitan lobby that
morally objected to the oppressive and violent attitudes of the settlers in the
eastern Cape.
Initially, the demand for a truer account came from those who were
morally outraged at news of the mutilation of the body. Confronted with
the unsettling effects of a lobby that threatened to fracture the identity
between metropole and colony, colonial officials set about narrating the
events in ways that would limit criticism to the question of morality rather
than colonisation.
Henry James Halse, then a Grahamstown resident, confessed in 1875
to having leaked the story of the death of Hintsa that resulted in a public
outcry in London and, subsequently, a military commission of inquiry. In an
autobiography written specifically for his children and close relatives, and

230 the deaths of hintsa

accompanied by the instruction that it be read only after his death, Halse
reflected on the ‘excitement’ about the killing and mutilation of Hintsa.
Claiming to be the unintentional cause of the excitement, he wrote:
I had written to my father from the camp and among other things
had given him an account of this affair. As news from the camp
was greedily sought after, he showed the letter to several persons,
among others, Dr Ambrose Campbell who was always at war with the
authorities, and was the editor of a paper. He got hold of it and made
so much of it in England that a commission of enquiry was ordered
two years after to enquire into particulars. I heard of it, a summons,
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for me as witness was prepared, but I was at the time preparing for
a journey into the interior, I hurried my movements and started
on horseback, leaving my wagon to follow. Thus the summons was
not served. All the other witnesses being well primed, denied any
knowledge of the mutilation, and the enquiry came to an end, much
to the annoyance of Dr Campbell who tried, but could not revive it
after my return.23

In many ways Halse’s account contradicted the version that dominated

the proceedings of the commission. This is not to suggest that Halse did
not believe that Hintsa deserved his fate. On the contrary, he, like many
others, believed that Hintsa was a victim of his own treachery. Similarly,
his account generally followed the contours of the dominant narrative
that described Hintsa’s escape, his alleged attack on Smith, the pursuit by
George Southey and the subsequent shooting by the latter as told to the
commission of inquiry.
But there are significant departures from what Halse referred to
as the ‘primed responses’ of participants in the killing. Firstly, Halse
claims that Major White, who had accompanied Smith and had been
sketching the territories which were traversed by colonial forces, was killed
before Hintsa.

History after apartheid 231

Halse writes:
On the evening of the third day White did not return to camp and a
party were next morning sent in search, whom we soon found with
his party of four men, one English servant and three Hottentots,
brutally murdered and mutilated. The poor fellows had evidently
been surprised, caught and killed without making any resistance.
We buried the bodies and moved on.24

In Halse’s recollection, it was after this incident that Hintsa made his
escape and was pursued and shot. Interestingly, in Smith’s autobiography,
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Caesar Andrews’s diary and James Alexander’s travel narrative respectively,

the killing of White is dated as 13 May, a day after the killing of Hintsa.
Theophilus Shepstone, the interpreter, claims in his diary that Hintsa died
on the 12th and Major White on the 14th.25 In these narratives, it is claimed
that White was probably killed in revenge for the killing of Hintsa. However,
Halse allows us to ask whether the accusation of revenge, perhaps, did not in
fact belong to the British soldiers charged with escorting Hintsa.
Secondly, Halse’s account contradicts those testimonies that denied
that Hintsa’s body had been mutilated following his death. Having killed
Hintsa, Halse tells us that ‘William Southey cut off Hintsa’s ears and Dr.
Ford of the 72nd [cut] the upper lip and flesh of the cheeks and chin, which
they carried off as souvenirs’.26 This, Halse added with hindsight, ‘was a very
wrong and barbarous thing to do, but we did not think so at the time, and it
might have been the cause of doing the colony a serious injury’.27
Reference to ‘injury to the colony’ possibly reflects the responses,
especially in London, to news of the killing and mutilation of Hintsa. In the
metropole, news of the killing was greeted with widespread moral outrage
and protest. The burning of an effigy of Southey in the streets of London
is taken to indicate how strong the response was to the killing and to news
of the mutilation of Hintsa.28 Much of this protest coincided with the rise
of liberal humanitarian opinion and the slave emancipation lobby in the
metropole in the 1830s.

232 the deaths of hintsa

Many colonists hastily set about defending their actions in reply to
the public outcry against the violent treatment meted out by the settlers
towards the ‘indigenous people’.29 Those immediately involved in the
killing of Hintsa denied the charges of mutilation of the body. Writing in
The Grahamstown Journal in 1836, Lieutenant Balfour stated that he did not
see Southey cut off Hintsa’s ears and that he could not take it upon himself
that such a thing was done. He claimed that he and Southey left the bush
together and that at that time Hintsa’s body was not mutilated except by the
shots fired. Having denied the accusation of mutilation, many settlers sought
to deflect attention away from the actual killing by blaming missionaries
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such as John Philips, who it was claimed ‘had taken up an attitude tow