The Bambatha Rebellion - a last armed stand against colonialism

The violent clash over land

From the time Europeans set foot on Southern African soil they were in conflict with the indigenous inhabitants. This conflict was at first expressed in low level violence but at times, as the pressure for land grew more intense, it exploded in full-scale war.

Wars along the frontier between the Cape Colony and the black people to the east was an almost constant factor during the 19th Century as the colonists pushed their settlements further east. The superior weaponry of the colonists ensured their success – spears and clubs are not much of a match against rifles and field guns.

By the dawn of the 20th Century the colonists had subdued, sometimes with incredible cruelty, the indigenous people, imposing the laws of the colonies and forcing, by various strategies, the capitulation of traditional farming to wage slavery. The major stratagem employed by the colonial authorities to accomplish this was the imposition of various taxes which had to be paid in cash. To earn the cash needed to pay the taxes, blacks were forced to work for wages as farm labourers and, increasingly, on the fast-developing mines of Kimberley and the Witwatersrand (diamonds and gold, respectively).

The last attempt at armed resistance to this form of coercion occurred in the early years of the 20th Century when the colonial government of Natal was debating and passing into law a provision for the imposition of a “poll” tax on all blacks in the colony. Typically, the law was designed to force blacks to work for the labour-starved white farmers since they would not be able to raise the £3 tax without being engaged in wage labour.

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Chief Sigananda Shezi of the amaCube, 96, captured and humiliated by colonial troopsPainting by F. Dadd entitled "Paying the penalty for murder" showing the execution by firing squad of two men found guilty of killing two policement - the prelude to the rebellionMen of the Durban Light Infantry stand guard over Bhambatha's body. (Photo: Transvaal Leader Weekly Edition, 30 June 1906).Mome Gorge, August 1985, showing the entrance to the gorge and the site of the rebels' camp. (Photo: By courtesy, Ken Gillings).After the declaration of martial law colonial troops burnt and destroyed the huts and crops of suspected rebels.Bambatha's head shown on a contemporary postcard.
Chief Sigananda Shezi of the amaCube, 96, captured and humiliated by colonial troops
Chief Sigananda Shezi of the amaCube, 96, captured and humiliated by colonial troops
Painting by F. Dadd entitled "Paying the penalty for murder" showing the execution by firing squad of two men found guilty of killing two policement - the prelude to the rebellion
Painting by F. Dadd entitled "Paying the penalty for murder" showing the execution by firing squad of two men found guilty of killing two policement - the prelude to the rebellion
Men of the Durban Light Infantry stand guard over Bhambatha's body. (Photo: Transvaal Leader Weekly Edition, 30 June 1906).
Men of the Durban Light Infantry stand guard over Bhambatha's body. (Photo: Transvaal Leader Weekly Edition, 30 June 1906).
Mome Gorge, August 1985, showing the entrance to the gorge and the site of the rebels' camp. (Photo: By courtesy, Ken Gillings).
Mome Gorge, August 1985, showing the entrance to the gorge and the site of the rebels' camp. (Photo: By courtesy, Ken Gillings).
After the declaration of martial law colonial troops burnt and destroyed the huts and crops of suspected rebels.
After the declaration of martial law colonial troops burnt and destroyed the huts and crops of suspected rebels.
Bambatha's head shown on a contemporary postcard.
Bambatha's head shown on a contemporary postcard.

The report on Bambatha's post-mortem body

DETAILS OF THE WOUNDS, AND DEATH OF "BAMBATA"( Rebel Chief.) IN THE "MOME GORGE" N'KANDHLA,

On the morning of the 10th June,1906.soon after the fighting had commenced, at the mouth of the Mome Gorge,Mehlokazulu,and Bambata,were talking together some few yards downstream from where Mehlokazulu eventually met his end. They were both intact at that time and had followers with them(one of whom was afterwards brought up to Colonel Royston, out of the Spruit and he was then man who gave the information as to where Mehlokazulu,was to be found).

Mehlokazulu, and Bambata, argued the point, as to what to do , while they were together, Bambata, decided to go down-stream towards the Insuzi River, and Mehlokazulu decided to go up-stream into the Mome Gorge, Bambata, was followed by a native who is now in our employ and tells us that as they were running down-stream towards the Pear-shaped Bush[a],Bambata, received his first bullet wound, this was one in the left arm, which broke it a few inches above the elbow. They got to the base of the Pear-shaped Bush, and then parted company (informant and Bambata) It is very evident that after they had parted company, Bambata must have got wounded in the back under the right shoulder-blade, the bullet coming out under the right breast. His third wound was an assegai stab about 2 inches below the left nipple which must have been fatal. This wound was without doubt given by one of M'fungela's[b] native Levies, who afterwards described to the authorities, how he had lost his assegai blade in trying to withdraw it from a native whom he had stabbed (you will notice the assegai-blade sticking in the body, in my photo graph of Bambata)in a melée,which took place between the Rebels, and themselves, at about the spot where Bambata's body was found. The native who deal this blow then Qa-Qa'd[c] him according to native custom.

Subsequent to this, there was a wound from an expending bullet, which entering at the base of the back of the skull, and passing out of the vicinity of the left eye, removed the eye, and a portion of the frontal bone and cheek. There were also one or two scratches, evidently from assegais, probably received during the fight with the native.

Notes:
a. The 'Pear-shaped Bush' is the Dobo Forest, near the entrance to the Mome Gorge.
b. Mfungelwa was an influential Inkosi from Zululand who committed his tribe to the Colonial authorities.
c. This involved slitting one's victim from groin to sternum to enable the spirit to escape, failing which it was believed that the instigator would experience a swelling of the stomach, similar to the victim.

The last armed resistance to colonialism

Needless to say this tax was widely resented by blacks. Matters came to a head in February 1906 when two white policemen were killed in the Richmond District of Natal. The colonial government declared martial law and in April twelve suspects were arrested, court martialed and shot.

The colonial militia, under Colonel Duncan McKenzie, was sent to restore order. The troops went through the tribal territories meting out summary punishments, burning huts, crops and kraals, and confiscating cattle.

Chiefs known to be against the tax were also summarily sacked by McKenzie and replaced by more compliant men. So it happened that a chief of the small Zondi clan, Bambatha, came back to his home after a visit to Zululand to find his uncle, Magwababa, had been installed as chief.

Bambatha kidnapped his uncle and took refuge with a clan of artisans in the Nkandla Forest nearby, led by a very old chief Sigananda, who was then 96 years old. Sigananda was ordered by the colonial authorities to hand Bambatha over, but he refused.

Hundreds of young warriors came to the forest to join what they thought would be a popular revolt against the colonial government.

Instead, on 10 June, the group of warriors following Bambatha, were massacred in the narrow Mome Gorge. The colonial militia had surrounded their camp in the night and when dawn came the warriors were mown down by relentless machine gun and rifle fire.

Bambatha's head was cut off and paraded through the countryside. Sigananda was humiliated after he was arrested that day.

Unrest continued in Natal for the rest of that year and into 1907. The toll on blacks was enormous - between 3500 and 4000 blacks were killed as against about 24 whites.

A positive outcome was the black unity that arose in response to the heavy-handed and cruel white suppression of the rebellion.

Alfred Mangena, who at the time was studying law in London, laid a charge against the Governor of Natal for illegally declaring martial law. In response the Natal Government tried to discredit Mangena. He in turn sued for, and was awarded, damages. Mangena later came back to South Africa as the first black Barrister-at-Law.

An interesting recent addition to the generally-known information about Bambatha and the rebellion is recounted in an article by Ken Gillings in the South African Military History Journal of December 2002 Vol 12 No 4 entitled The "Death" of Bhambatha Zondi which tells of the discovery in England of an old trunk in which a lock of hair, said to be Bambatha's, and a report describing his body post-mortem was found. The report is shown in the box at right.

The accompanying photograph of Chief Sigananda tells a story of white arrogance and utter disregard for the dignity of someone like Sigananda, who in black culture would have been a revered figure on account of both his age and his position within the clan. The picture is so eloquent of a complete lack of cultural understanding.

Chief Sigananda Shezi of the amaCube was one of the most interesting characters in the history of Natal. His father Zokufa was a cousin of King Shaka and an induna (councillor) in King Cetshwayo's Great Place at Mlambongwenya. Zokufa was a skilled ironsmith.

Sigananda was born in about 1811 and had witnessed the killing of voortrekker leader Piet Retief and his party at King Dingane's Great Place Mgungundlovu in February 1838. He had also participated in many of the great events of Zulu history and was highly regarded by his people.

Copyright notice

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2010

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Comments 31 comments

Makiwa profile image

Makiwa 5 years ago from Australia

Great history recap - I love this sort of thing, you know where my heart lies. If you can (if not already got) get a copy of 'FRONTIERS' The Epic of South Africa's Creation and the 'Tragedy of the Xhosa people' by Noel Mostert. I may have mentioned this one to you before. It is full of history and information. I will follow your 'blog'


chinemeremz profile image

chinemeremz 5 years ago

Hi Tony, this is very beautiful and also history in the making.

It shows the dignity and high self esteem of the blacks in resisting colonial rule.

Thanks Tony because you know your history!


Sophia Angelique 5 years ago

Wow, Tony, you brought back memories. I remember learning all this stuff at school in Port Elizabeth. :)

In later years, I studied towards an anthropology degree at Unisa but dropped it half way when I found myself somewhat bewildered about the history and content of the books I was required to read.

History has always been one of my favorite topics. Thanks for a good read.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 5 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Really a good historical story...enjoyed it.


Micky Dee profile image

Micky Dee 5 years ago

Another awesomely written piece of history. I love your work and I love my BrotherMan Tony! God bless you Tony!


richtwf profile image

richtwf 5 years ago

I love history and thanks for sharing this lesson of the past.

Colonialism isn't my favourite topic because it leaves a nasty aftertaste with me. I could easily have a good old rant about this and get fired up but I've done that before in one of my other hubs on terrorism which has some connection to this.

The following interested me and shows that when you speak the truth, governments will do all they can to discredit you and muddy your name so that people will disbelieve what you say because of your apparent character.

'Alfred Mangena, who at the time was studying law in London, laid a charge against the Governor of Natal for illegally declaring martial law. In response the Natal Government tried to discredit Mangena. '

This is what is happening to Assange of Wikieaks.

I will share a quote which you may have already read:

'It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.' Voltaire

Thanks for the history lesson and God bless you!


Mentalist acer profile image

Mentalist acer 5 years ago from A Voice in your Mind!

Declaration of human rights is a bloody noble affair,thanks for this lesson,tonymac.;)


TheManWithNoPants profile image

TheManWithNoPants 5 years ago from Tucson, Az.

Thanks for a beautiful lesson in history Tony.

jim


always exploring profile image

always exploring 5 years ago from Southern Illinois

This is great as all of your articles are.Whites were so cruel to the black community,didn't Africa belong to the black people?,just as America belonged to the Indian.Greed is a cancer that grows.I'm sure the diamonds and gold were the root of their greed.

Love and Peace


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Makiwa - thanks for stopping by. I have Mostert's great tome, thanks for the tip.

Thanks again for the comment.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Chinemeremz - thanks for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed it and thanks also for the kind words.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Sophia - thanks so much. I had not realised you were a PE meisie! My wife's mother is from PE and I have good memories of the place - had an aunt there we used to visit often.

Glad you enjoyed this piece.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Alek - thanks for stopping by and commenting. Much appreciated.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Brotherman Micky - thank you so much and I love you too! And your wonderful poems! Heading over to check them out again right now.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Ritchie - thanks for stopping by and I really appreciate the thoughtful comment. And the great quote which I had not heard before, but it is so apt and useful.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Acer - thank you. Human rights are not compatable with colonialism.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Jim - you are most welcome and thank you for stopping by and commenting.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Ruby - colonialism was cruel, no doubt about that. Dikamonds and gold certainly added another dimension.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving such a thoughtful comment.

Love and peace

Tony


lionel1 profile image

lionel1 5 years ago

Wow your Hubs are right up my street. I really appreciate your hubs. The Bambatha Rebellion - a last armed stand against colonialism was a great read. Thanks.


MartieCoetser profile image

MartieCoetser 5 years ago from South Africa

Tony, I love history and I’m in awe of your profound knowledge and insight. I think ALL mass-injustice were – and still are - rooted in the complete lack of cultural understanding, and, of course, GREED. The oppressors always nurtured the idea that they were the only ‘good and worthy enough’ to possess the involved land. And then we can look further and see the lack of understanding between men and women, young and old generations... The lack of understanding, even amongst those who have all the required knowledge, is a major obstruction in the way of human development. This is a great-great, though extremely sad, piece of SA-history, my friend, eminently presented by you. Jy is nou maar eenmaal ’n doring van ’n hubber. Best wishes from me to you.


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 5 years ago from malang-indonesia

Good morning, Tony. I really enjoy read this hub. You have a great job here. My friend, you always come with great history and I liked your presentation. Take care!

Prasetio:)


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Lionel - thanks so much for the very kind words. Much appreciated.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Martie - thanks so much for your wonderful comment. I'm not sure I deserve such high praise but will bask in it with gratitude!

I agree greed is a motivator for many dreadful things that get done and we in this country have seen (and, unfortunately, continue to see) more than enough of it.

Nogmaals baie dankie vir die mooi woorde. Ek waardeer jou kommentaar opreg.

Love and peace

Tony


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Prasetio - thank you, brother, for the nice comment. I really appreciate it and you!

Love and peace

Tony


SilentReed profile image

SilentReed 5 years ago from Philippines

Most indegenous natives around the world that were colonized by white settlers believe that you do not own the land. It owns you. land ownership was alien to them. A concept that probably aided in their being gradually pushed out of their ancestral homes.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

SR - yes indeed, that is a very true observation. Issues of land tenure are still a cause of great tension in Africa generally and particularly in South Africa.

Thanks for stopping by and leaving such an astute comment. I appreciate it.

Love and peace

Tony


sligobay profile image

sligobay 5 years ago from east of the equator

Hello Tony: History repeats itself throughout the world from colonialism to the present. The labor goes to China where the people are enslaved and work for pittance. Inflated prices and deflated values are the means of oppression of the global population. Thanks for the SA history lesson. Cheers.


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 5 years ago from South Africa Author

Gerry - thanks for stopping by. Indeed China is the new colonial power, especially in Africa.

Love and peace

Tony


john 4 years ago

It's painful to read such one-sided drivel by liberals -- and so readily swallowed by the same. All this talk about "indigenous people". It's misleading, creating the impression that Zulu were indigenous. The Zulu settled in South Africa after the boer had been there for some time. The author flippantly includes "witnessed the killing of voortrekker leader Piet Retief" as if it's just a trivial event in that poor troubled indigenous people's history. It was a treacherous and racist act of genocide by the black Zulu settlers against white settlers -- and only stopped by the defeat of the army of 16,000 Zulu at the hands of 420 boer men, women and children. This kind of one-sided slop is contributing to racist and violent crimes against white South Africans.


khehla and nomfundo zondi 4 years ago

its very historicaly intresting to know our herios as zondis generation, what we ever head is that bhambatha died some where in africa, so is that true?


tonymac04 profile image

tonymac04 4 years ago from South Africa Author

John - plese check you history, friend! The Zulu people were in the area now known as kwaZulu-Natal many centuries before the boers got there. Their claim to be indigenous is corroborated by history. What is not corroborated is the often-used propaganda of the Nationalist apartheid regime that the Nguni peoples (of whom the amaZulu were one) came into South Africa at around the same time or after the Dutch settled at the Cape. However the Portuguese explorers encountered Nguni people at Sao Bras (Mossel Bay) in the late 16th Century, long before the Durch got there. The murder of Retief was not by any stretch of the imagination "genocide" whatever else it might have been. Personally I think it was a desperate attempt by the Zulu to prevent what they saw as the treacherous theft of their land by interlopers.

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