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War of Hintsa – the forgotten history of the Sixth War of the amaXhosa against Imperial Britain


Vusumzi Vusie Mba is a researcher for the Eastern Cape Department of Sports, Recreation, Arts and Culture. He writes in his personal capacity.

The legacy of King Hintsa kaKhawuta needs to be kept alive. The Eastern Cape needs to commemorate him by going to war with the pressing issues of underdevelopment, poverty, inequality and unemployment in the province.

The 190-year commemoration of the Sixth War of Resistance that started in December 1834 and ended the following year will coincide with the 30th anniversary of democracy in 2024. The war of King Hintsa is an important historical marker.

Over the past five years, we have learned of the rich history of Jongomsobovu Maqoma of Ngqika who played a crucial role against colonialism in a great demonstration of courage and commitment in ensuring that European cultures did not extinguish indigenous value systems.

Therefore it is a good thing that the government celebrates leaders such as Nkosi Maqoma. Moreover, government assists in the writing and contextualisation of the historical accounts of the people in the Eastern Cape who contributed to building the country.

The war of Hintsa defines our history and the injustices committed against the formerly oppressed people, and their response to their erstwhile colonisers. 

As 2024 will mark 190 years since the murder of King Hintsa, we must recognise the importance of those wars by commemorating them as a reminder of the marginalisation and land dispossession of the people that destroyed our culture, customs and governance.

More importantly, the imposition of European cultural norms was at the centre of challenges that the war of Hintsa was partly about. Sadly, these issues are still prevalent today.

It is not hyperbole to say that many of our current socioeconomic challenges emanated from the wars against dispossession. It is thus crucial that we initiate a process of learning by not forgetting. This does not mean we are vengeful or want vengeance, but it is for the current generation to understand the socio-historical context. 

The process of historic contextualisation is needed so that we can locate the past and current dynamics that inform our daily lives in the complex democratic governance of South Africa.

The effects of the 100 years of British imperialism and the resistance of the amaXhosa are still felt today. 

The socioeconomic and cultural conditions of blacks, particularly those of black Africans, have not changed for the better. Notwithstanding the critical role that has been played by the current government, a lot still needs to be done to improve the social and economic conditions of Africans.

The amaXhosa’s Wars of Resistance (the so-called Frontier Wars) were a series of nine wars from 1779 to 1879 between the amaXhosa nation and European settlers in the Eastern Cape. These wars were the longest-running military action in African colonial history. The amaXhosa people were defending their territory and land from the European settlers. 

King Hintsa of Khawuta played a crucial role in defending the land.

His success infuriated the imperial-colonial regime of the 19th century. This led to his arrest and his ultimate assassination. King Hintsa of Khawuta was shot to death by a young white settler, George Southey, and his body was mutilated. His head was taken to Britain as a trophy by the settlers.

King Hintsa demonstrated valour when he resisted handing over cattle and land demanded by the British settlers after the 1834 war in what was classified as the “Kaffir Wars” in earlier history books. This was later modified to the “Frontier Wars”.

As a result, the war of King Hintsa against the British settlers is classified as the “Sixth Frontier War” in older history books. 

The historical events of these century-long wars against the colonial establishment, through the resistance of our ancestors, took place alongside the introduction of Christianity through indoctrination imposed on the indigenous populations. 

Indigenous people were dispossessed of their land through colonial invasions, the rape of women and sodomising of men, and the introduction of Western religion (Christianity).

The imperialists, colonialists and terrorists from Europe brought their missionaries and armies to invade the indigenous population of the Cape. King Hintsa was lured to the so-called “peace negotiations” by the British colonial governor, Harry Smith, in 1835 (it is unfortunate that there is a town named after this brutal criminal and murderer who was responsible for such heinous deeds).

At these so-called negotiations, Harry Smith demanded 50,000 cattle and a vast amount of land from King Hintsa as “compensation” to the British for the 1834 war. The colonial governor demanded that King Hintsa convey a message to all amaXhosa royal chiefs and warriors to stop fighting and surrender as subjects of the British Crown.

King Hintsa refused and was then held captive until the terms were met. To him, this did not make any sense as he was not obligated to the British Crown. He then sent word to Nkosi Maqoma, who was his military general and commander, telling him to hide all the cattle.

On 12 May 1835, King Hintsa, who was about 45 then, was riding as a prisoner in the company of British soldiers led by Governor Harry Smith. Lieutenant George Southey, who was fluent in isiXhosa, fired at King Hintsa, hitting him in the head and killing him instantly. Southey then took Hintsa’s brass and gold body ornaments for himself, while other soldiers grabbed his beads and bracelets. Southey cut off one of King Hintsa’s ears as a trophy and his brother William cut off the other.

A doctor travelling with them pulled out some of King Hintsa’s teeth. His body was subsequently thoroughly dismembered by the British troops. His head was severed and taken back to Britain.

The legacy of King Hintsa kaKhawuta needs to be kept alive. 

The Eastern Cape, the home for which he sacrificed his life, should not only remember and commemorate him through poems and speeches – he also needs to be commemorated by the government going to war with the pressing issues of underdevelopment, poverty, inequality and unemployment in the province.

Infrastructure in the province is in a dire state; the assegai that King Hintsa carried should stand as a commitment by the current government and provincial leadership to serve the people with pride and dignity. 

His commemoration by the provincial government would be an important event that would serve as a reminder of the great heroes of the Eastern Cape who fought against British imperialism.

King Hintsa, the leader of the amaXhosa, born on the side of amaGcaleka, played a crucial role in resisting and opposing British colonial expansion during the 19th century. His bravery and determination in protecting the people and defending their land against British encroachment symbolises the resilience and fighting spirit of the Eastern Cape people during times of great adversity.

By honouring King Hintsa and other heroes of the Eastern Cape, government will be acknowledging the sacrifices made by these individuals and their contributions to the struggle against imperialism. 

Furthermore, the commemoration of the life and times of King Hintsa will send a powerful message of unity and pride to the province. It will highlight the shared identity and history of resistance against oppression. This would foster a sense of collective consciousness and strengthen the bond among the people of the province.

In addition to honouring King Hintsa and other heroes, this commemoration can also serve as an opportunity to tackle the ongoing challenges faced by the Eastern Cape community. It can be a platform to address issues of socioeconomic inequalities, land redistribution and cultural preservation, which are all interconnected with the legacies of British imperialism.

King Hintsa’s commemoration by the Eastern Cape government will not only pay homage to a great hero, but will also serve as a reminder of the ongoing fight against injustice, and the preservation of the Eastern Cape’s rich heritage. It will inspire and encourage future generations to continue the struggle for a more just and equitable society. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Msimelelo Tywakadi says:

    King Hintsa provence sounds like a good name for the home of heroes

  • Ben Harper says:

    Erm, you were also settlers in those times, you migrated there same as the Europeans did

  • Frankie Ford says:

    Yes, I agree with the writer on this point. The Eastern Cape government should do more to commemorate the historical figures and sites of the 100 year war of resistance. But firstly, they need to educate the people of the province about their history. If they don’t know it, how can they honour it? One example: Fort Fordyce Nature Reserve where the reception overlooks the famous Waterkloof where arguably the greatest Xhosa general, Maqoma, nephew of King Hintsa, fought a long guerilla war against the British in the 8th War. There’s nothing there at the reception about this. No one there knew the site of the fort. To add insult there’s a signpost outside with pointers in the direction of major cities of the world with the distance noted but no signs to direct you about the area! Sadly, this is symptomatic of the sites I visited.

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