By Mbulelo Sisulu
King Hintsa. Ah! Zanzolo! was the King of amaXhosa from around 1820 to the day of his brutal murder by British on 12 May 1835.
He was the heir to King Khawuta kaGcaleka kaPhalo kaTshiwo kaNgconde kaTogu kaSikhomo kaNgcwangu kaTshawe kaNkosiyamntu kaMalangana (mXhosa) kaMnguni.
Hintsa was born in around 1789, roughly 10 years after the first war of resistance against European invaders began. The Xhosa Wars lasted for 100 years from 1779 to 1879.
Initially called the “Kaffir Wars” and later referred to as the “Cape Frontier Wars” or “Africa’s 100 Years War” by Europeans, in actual fact these were wars of resistance by African people fighting for their land from bloody thirsty invaders, who eventually succeeded in colonising most of the African people, including amaXhosa.
These wars lasted for generations, led by many brave warriors at different periods such as Chief Ndlambe kaRharhabe, Chief Chungwa kaTshaka of amaGqunukhwebe, Chief Mdushane kaNdlambe, Makhanda Nxele, Chief Maqoma kaNgqika, Chief Tyhali kaNgqika, Chief Mhala kaNdlambe, King Hintsa kaKhawuta, Chief Bhurhu kaKhawuta, King Sarhili kaHintsa, King Mgolombane Sandile kaNgqika, Bhotomani and many other African heroes who paid the ultimate prize and died in battle.
The wars of resistance were about the fight against land dispossession; a fight against the introduction of Christianity and the killing of African spirituality; a fight against the theft of property such as cattle and a fight for the survival of the peoples of Africa!
The war in which King Hintsa was killed, has been classified by European writers as the Sixth Frontier War. It began with the expulsion of Chiefs Maqoma kaNgqika, Tyhali kaNgqika, Mhala kaNdlambe and other Xhosa Chiefs from their lands in the Thyume River valley in 1829 and 1833.
The actual spark that infuriated amaXhosa was the shooting of four Xhosa warriors by Lieutenant Sutton under the instructions of Henry Somerset on 12 December 1834. Among those four Xhosa warriors, was Chief Xhoxho kaNgqika and younger brother of Chief Maqoma.
A 12,000-strong amaXhosa army, led by Chief Maqoma, then a regent of amaRharhabe, Tyhali, other Xhosa leaders, set off to reclaim their land from colonialists in the Cape Colony.
They fought bravely against European invaders who were led by Piet Retief along the Winterberg area and Harry Smith, who is said to have ridden his horse from Cape Town to Grahamstown in six days.
AmaXhosa forces were fighting very hard and the Europeans had to call for reinforcements who were sent by sea to Algoa Bay (eBhayi). Burgher and Khoi troops were also called out. After a series of battles, it got difficult for amaXhosa and many retreated to the vastness of Amathole Mountains.
Benjamin D’Urban, after whom the City of Durban is named, who was at the time the Governor and commander-in-chief of the Cape Colony, then devised a plan to completely dispossess the land of amaXhosa. In this scheme, he was assisted by Henry Somerset and others.
They saw that the best way to completely break the backs of amaXhosa, was to put the blame for the war squarely on King Hintsa’s shoulders, as he was known to be the King of all amaXhosa.
On 20 January 1835, Benjamin D’Urban arrived on the frontier area to personally direct his army and to quench his thirst for more African land and cheap labour. Working with Harry Smith, he succeeded in driving amaXhosa back over the Keiskamma and stealing about 4000 cattle, and capturing many Xhosa women and children who were sent to work on the farms of European settlers.
Chief Maqoma, Ah! Jongumsobomvu, and other Xhosa leaders saw it best to send many of their remaining cattle to King Hintsa for protection. Since Benjamin had already planned to attack King Hintsa, he marched his marauding army over the Mkwayi River (Kei) and looted, pillaged and burnt huts and fields and stole more Xhosa women and children along the way who were then sent to be slaves of Europeans in the colony.
By 20 April 1835, Benjamin and his forces set up camp at Ndabakazi near Gcuwa (Butterworth). “Under the guise of punishing King Hintsa for encouraging the Rharhabe attack on the colony, the governor declared war on the Gcaleka.” (Stapleton, T.J. Maqoma, Xhosa resistance to colonial advance)
Harry Smith on the other hand continued terrorising the villages of amaXhosa. He “scoured the surrounding countryside, burning villages and rounding up thousands of cattle.”
Seeing the brutality that was meted on his people, King Hintsa decided to ride to confront Benjamin D’urban. Some scholars say he wanted to negotiate a settlement. King Hintsa and his men were disarmed on arrival and taken prisoner.
D’urban demanded that he “surrender 50,000 cattle and 1000 horses and admit responsibility for Rharhabe hostility.” He also demanded that the King of amaXhosa should tell all Xhosa chiefs and warriors to stop fighting and surrender to the British as subjects of the Cape Colony and the British Crown.
King Hintsa refused all these demands and immediately sent a message to Chief Maqoma, military general and commander-in-chief of Xhosa warriors, telling him of his capture and warning him not to trust Europeans and telling him to hide all the cattle.
While the King was still kept prisoner, Benjamin D’urban and Reverend John Ayliff, who had a Wesleyan mission station near King Hintsa’s Great Place in Gcuwa, collaborated on yet another scheme.
They promised abaMbo heaven on earth if only they could join them and leave the Xhosa Kingdom. AbaMbo had been given land by King Hintsa about 15 years before after they fled from Portuguese invasions in what is now KZN. They were to be known as amaMfengu/ Fingoes.
Little did abaMbo know that Benjamin D’urban wrote to the British Crown in London and informed them that they had “emancipated 17,000 Fingoes”. He then announced that all the land between the Keiskamma and Kei rivers was annexed by the Cape Colony. He also announced that all the Rharhabe people would be expelled from this new province that he called Queen Adelaide.
The plan of the colonials was unfolding well. Harry Smith then forced King Hintsa to accompany him on a mission to take his stock on 12 May 1835. They were accompanied by George Southey and some Khoi servants who were also armed.
At some point during their horse ride near Nqabarha River, King Hintsa managed to escape on his horse and Smith pursued him, shooting at the him and missing a couple of times. Some accounts say the gun malfunctioned, oh well.
Smith managed to catch up with the king and pushed him off his horse. Hintsa got up and ran, still holding his assegai. Smith shouted at George Southey to shoot and Southey fired and hit Hintsa in the leg, but he still continued running. Southey fired again and hit, but King Hintsa continued limping and ran into Nqabarha River in Gatyana (Willowvale).
At that point, it is said that King Hintsa was in deep water and couldn’t stand properly. It is said that the Khoi servants were ordered to shoot as they were closer, but they refused saying that they wouldn’t shoot a king.
Southey managed to get closer and Hintsa had his hands raised asking for mercy but Southey got behind him and at very close range and shot at the king of amaXhosa, King Hintsa!
“Southey got to the body first and took off Hintsa’s brass body ornaments for himself. Others grabbed for his beads and bracelets. Southey or his brother William cut off one of Hintsa’s ears as a trophy and someone else cut off the other. A doctor travelling with them was seen trying to pull out some of Hintsa’s teeth.
“Later, even Smith could no longer bear the barbarity he had caused and ordered Hintsa’s body dropped from his horse and to be left in the bush for his followers to find.” (Mostert, 1992).
There have also been claims that Harry Smith and his accomplices, George Southey and Benjamin D’Urban, cut off the King’s head and took it back to the United Kingdom.
Reference of this story is Professor Ncedile Saule.