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Eight Years in Kaffraria, 1882-1890.

By Alan G. S. Gibson, M.A.
S.P.G. Missionary to the Pondomisi, and Archdeacon of Kokstad

London: Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., 1891.

Chapter VII. Umditshwa and the Pondomisi Boarding-School

IT has been previously related that Umditshwa arrived at his home on the night of January 2, 1885. It must be presumed that his journey had been accomplished more quickly than was expected, for it is a fact that he reached Pondomisiland before any instructions had been received by the local authorities of the Government as to his position and the way in which he was to be treated--an unfortunate delay, which was within an ace of leading to the most serious complications when Umditshwa presented himself, as he very promptly did, at the office. Temporarily the district was in a very unsettled state; so much so that the station people were on the following day seriously expecting a fresh war; and one of the leading men at S. Cuthbert's came to me for a long talk on that Sunday afternoon (4th), to consult as to what was to be done if hostilities broke out.

On the Monday I had gone out for a stroll up the valley leading towards Umtata, when, at a distance of some three miles from home, I heard the sound of horses coming rapidly behind me, and looking back, saw Goniwe galloping towards me, leading a spare horse. It appeared that Umditshwa was at S. Cuthbert's, and had sent his son to bring, me back to see him.

My first interview with the chief left an impression which no subsequent meeting ever effaced--an impression of a man who, however deep and wily he may have been, was every inch a chief and a gentleman; one of polished manners which would not be, perhaps, surpassed in any European society, although the customs and the etiquette might differ. The friendship, the foundation of which was laid this day, continued unabated until the day of Umditshwa's death.

He came to me now in a state of much perturbation. He maintained that he had been sent back by the Government to his old country as chief; that he had been charged to "look after his magistrates, his clergy, his traders;" and he mentioned, in proof of the truth of his story, that he "had kissed the Government's hand" in gratitude. With this idea in his mind he had made his journey home again, having paid the penalty of his former fighting against the Government by his three years' imprisonment; but on his return he found himself a nobody, and his words were not believed. If he had had health and strength he would have returned to Capetown at once to vindicate himself; being unable to do that, he asked me to write to the Government on his behalf, asking for a letter to declare the truth of his statements.

Much is often spoken about the interference of missionaries in politics. For missionaries to interfere and thrust themselves into politics may well be condemned, but I do not myself see that to write a letter at a parishioner's request, and practically at his dictation, on a political subject, is interference in politics, any more than acting as an amanuensis for a parishioner in his private affairs is to thrust oneself into his private matters; nor can I understand how a clergyman, when consulted by any member of his flock about his duties, can fail to give him such advice as he thinks in his conscience to be best; or again, how, if he sees one of those who have been committed to his charge by God embarking in a course which is sure to be injurious, he can refrain from counselling and warning him. The missionary who urges a chief to give up the practice of smelling out is not accused of meddling in politics; nor would such a charge be brought against him if he recommended an independent chief to hand over his country to the English. For myself, at the risk of being considered to intrude myself into matters outside my province, I did not hesitate to grant Umditshwa's request (although regretting that it had come to me), not only on his account and his people's, but also for the sake of the Government, for if there is one thing that is prejudicial to white rule in South Africa it is the notion that the Government is carried on unjustly, or that pledges are given for a purpose, and not redeemed.

A most civil and courteous reply was sent to me (which I at once communicated to the chief), in which his statements were directly traversed, and it was maintained that he had been distinctly told that he did not go back as chief.

How are these contradictory versions of the same interview to be reconciled? No one would think of doubting the written statement of the Government, nor do I believe that Umditshwa was other than firmly persuaded of the truth of what he alleged. His story, which I heard repeated on three or four occasions, never varied in any of its details; the fact that he "had kissed the Government's hand," on which he laid such stress, was never contradicted; the bold enunciation of his claims at the office on his first arrival, his eager desire to return to Capetown, his request that the Government should be at once written to on the subject--all these are indications that he firmly believed the truth of what he said. If all were known, we might possibly find that much was made of the influence that he would naturally possess among his own people on his return (for to them he would always be chief, whatever he might be in the eye of the law), and that he was exhorted to use that influence on the side of order and the authority of Government, and we might perhaps learn that there had been misinterpretation, which was really at the root of the misunderstanding. The faulty rendering of one little word would do the mischief. If the words "you are returning to your country" had been spoken, and the possessive was rendered by "lako," not by "lakowenu," it would be implied that the country was his own, not as containing his home, but as being his possession as ruler; that he returned not as a private individual, but as a chief.

It was on January 26 that I made known to Umditshwa the reply which I had received from the Government to his letter. There was nothing for him to do now but to accept the altered position of affairs; to settle down as a private gentleman among the tribe who regarded him as their chief; to try and keep from misusing the influence which he would always possess far more than any one else among them; not to let that influence be too much seen, lest he should be accused of trying to gain a position which the Government had refused him; not to conceal it too much, lest a charge of suspicious secrecy should be preferred against him; to live in the country which he had once ruled, and see it mainly occupied by the hated Fingoes, and possess his soul in patience; to live as a mere subject under the Government which had taken away his authority, and be true and loyal to it. No one can deny that, however much the position may have been inevitable, however much he may have brought it upon himself by the war of 1880, and his inability then to restrain his sons and people, however much it may have been for the welfare of the country, for the man it was most terribly hard.

The very next day Umditshwa gave a tangible proof that he saw the fact that "the old order changeth, yielding place to new." On my return from a walk to a neighboui-ing trader, I found that he and some of his people had come over, and were waiting for me; and in the background I saw a group of five boys, including Mtshazi. Umditshwa's words were very welcome. He had come, he said, to hand these five boys over to me. "They are not my sons any longer; they are your sons now. Take them, and do whatever you like with them. Teach them all you know yourself. If they are troublesome, beat them. They are your sons now." Asked further if, in the event of their wishing to adopt Christianity, they might be baptized, he gave his consent.

Thus I became father of a ready-made family of five red Kaffir lads, all aged about fourteen, all quite wild, uncivilised, and heathen.

This could not but be a matter of much rejoicing. For heathen boys who live at heathen homes, day-schools are of little use as a Christianising influence. What is required is the habitual impression of the religious surrounding of a boarding-school. Again, one of the main obstacles to our work among Kaffir tribes has lain in the tribal influence, which has been all against Christianity: with our missions, as with those of mediaeval days, the great thing is to have the influence of the chief on the right side, for where the chiefs lead, the people, deeply imbued with the feeling of loyalty and the habit of accepting authority, will not be long in following.

Again, this action on the part of Umditshwa should be a great encouragement to those who mourn over the slowness of missionary work; for what he did in January 1885 was but the carrying into action of a thought which had been in his mind as far back as 1879. At that time a hut for Mtshazi had actually been built at S. Augustine's, but the unsettlement among the natives caused by the Zulu war, followed in its turn by the Pondomisi war, deterred Umditshwa from carrying out his design. When he sent his sons to me, he did so because he recognised the continuity of mission work, and the undyingness of corporations sole; he saw in his new missionary the "man who was in U. Key's place;" and the seed sown by the latter, after lying all these years seemingly lost in the ground, suddenly sprang up at S. Cuthbert's.

At the same time, elastic as colonial houses proverbially are, it is a little embarrassing to have an addition of five boys to one's family without a moment's notice, for the chief was going to leave them then and there! I asked, therefore, for a week's respite, in which to make some preparation for them; and accordingly they were brought back again on the afternoon of Monday, February 2, by Mkondweni, one of Umditshwa's brothers.

The names and parentage of the five were as follows: Mtshazi, great son of Uinditshwa; Qebi, son of Umditshwa by another wife; Qunqu, son of Mkondweni; Sogotyo, son of Sodinga, an uncle of Umditshwa's, who had been smelt out and put to death years before; and Uzigodlilo, son of Mqanga. Of the five, Mtshazi was the only one who was really known to me.

They brought with them the whole of their personal property, consisting of one blanket apiece, which served for clothing in the day and bed-clothes at night, and (I believe) one pipe, which was shared among the five. Smoking and taking snuff are national customs among the Kaffirs. Umditshwa also sent a cow with them, to be milked daily for their use, so that they might have the "amasi" or thick sour milk so much used by all natives. Otherwise they ate mainly mealies (i.e., Indian corn) and Kaffir corn (millet), and slept on mats or sacks, as they would have done at home.

By the help of mission-boxes sent out from friends in Scotland, by which country the diocese is largely supported, they were soon provided with a shirt apiece, and the white boys gave some of them old waistcoats. The combination of shirt and waistcoat alone, with bare legs and head, was, to say the least, not a little peculiar! and I was not sorry when, after a while, they all possessed themselves of trousers. The question of dress for Kaffirs, if we were able to approach it as a new one, would present no little difficulty. The blanket is not sufficient for winter, and there are practical objections to it in a high wind, or when the wearer is engaged in hard work. On the other hand, European dress is unbecoming, and unnecessarily cumbersome. But the policy of the past has so identified the English dress with civilisation and religion, that it would probably be almost impossible to make any alteration now, however much we might deem it in the abstract desirable. The boys' days were generally spent as follows. For four hours in the morning they were in school, the schooling including religious instruction, which was, at first, chiefly given by means of pictures. In the afternoon they were often given some manual labour, or else they would go over their lessons by themselves, bathe, play singlestick, &c. At evensong in Church most of them would be present. On Friday afternoons they were at first allowed to go home every week for an exeat until Friday evening. This was partly to allow me to visit the out-stations with a clearer conscience, for I had no man to leave in my place to look after them while I was absent, and partly to help to soften down the enormous contrast between their present life of discipline and education, and their past existence of freedom and play in their natural life at home. At first all used to avail themselves of the exeat. They would come and shake hands and say good-bye in their clothes, then retire to their own hut, change, pack their clothes away in a box, and re-emerge with their blankets and sticks, and so make their way home. But after a time they began to remain, and at last the system of exeats was given up altogether.

Many difficult problems came to the front in the education of these raw heathen boys. How much religious instruction was to be given them? How was it to be conveyed? Should they be compelled to go to Church? If so, might they not be disgusted with religion? If not, would they ever go? These last questions I decided by making attendance at two evensongs in the week, and two Sunday services (when they were at S. Cuthbert's) compulsory, leaving the others free. Should an attempt be made to civilise them? or would that only call out selfishness and a hurtful discontent? On this head I decided as far as possible to keep away civilisation, not only for their own sakes, but also because of expense. Cleanliness, industry, sobriety, religion, these are all needed, as we all allow; but I do not see that the man is better because he sleeps in a bed, eats meat every day and drinks coffee, and, I would willingly add also, wears European clothing, though on the last-named point we had to make a virtue of necessity.

Certainly they were a very good set of boys, and gave little or no trouble. Mtshazi, Sogotyo, and Uzigodhlo all worked hard. Mtshazi quite accepted from the first the position of responsibility, and acted as a sort of prefect, reporting whatever went wrong. Sogotyo was the cleverest and most receptive, but inclined to put himself forward too much. Uzigodhlo was, in some ways, the flower of the flock. An episode of his earlier life is worth recording. During the Pondomisi war, when he was only nine years old, he saved his mother's life. She had been left behind, through illness, at the kraal, when the rest of the people fled at the approach of their enemies; but he refused to leave her, and succeeded in dragging her away to a donga, where he concealed her, and himself with her, until all danger was past. Qebi, again, was idle, and never cared for school life; and Qunqu, though hard-working, was very slow, and disposed to be sulky.

Two or three days after their arrival, Ngomani, who lived about a couple of miles away, brought his son, Maqela, to be educated with his chief. I accepted him with much reluctance, as I knew something of him from his having worked at a neighbouring store, where I learnt that he was a troublesome boy. He did not belie his character, for within five days he broke a rule, and on being punished, ran away home. After this, in spite of reiterated requests, I refused him readmission, until I left for England, when he was allowed to come again as a day-boy, which he continued to do regularly for fifteen months till the middle of 1887, when he was once more accepted as a boarder. Maqela is not without some excellent features in his character, among which may be named persistence and perseverance, intense craving for education, and devotion to his chief, which blends strongly in with personal ambition.

Qanqiso, son of Sami, a petty chief who had formerly lived at S. Paul's, and now resided near the Jengca, also joined the boarders. His mother, Milly, had been baptized years ago at S. Mark's, but had relapsed into heathenism, in which her husband's influence probably strengthened her. And yet at times lingering traces of her profession of faith seem still discernible, and I am not without hopes that her son may help her to "come home" again some day. Two little boys were also taken--Lohana, son of Umdunyelwa, and Joel, son of one of his councillors. Joel was never much good; but the "moon-faced" Lohana was one of our most promising boys in respect of learning, and one of whom I was personally very fond. These two were brought on September 23.

Two days before that the first vacancy occurred in our numbers (for I can hardly reckon in Maqela's). Uzigodhlo's father was "smelt out," and had to break up his home with all his family and retire elsewhere, happy in living under the colonial government, instead of under native rule, when his fate would have been sealed, unless he could have effected his escape. And many do not care to do this: the stain of being accused of witchcraft is so great upon their honour, that not a few prefer to meet their horrible death, or even to put an end to themselves, rather that go on living with that stigma over them.

Meanwhile the relations between Umditshwa and the mission continued to be most cordial, and whenever his health permitted, he was a frequent visitor at S. Cuthbert's. In April he was given a farm by the Government not far from the residency, and by the courtesy of the then magistrate I was invited, as a friend of both parties, to accompany him on April 23 to the farm, when Umditshwa was shown the boundaries of his piece of land. Only one other event of any political importance as affecting Umditshwa's family took place during this period, as far as I can recollect. Xomfana, one of the chief's sons, who had been much mixed up in the war of 1880, was caught in the Qumbu district and imprisoned. This was reported to me by Umditshwa, who represented, through his missionary, the shattered state of Xomfana's health, and offered to stand bail for him, if the Government would allow him to be liberated. He was accordingly set free, and went to live at the Great Place, a confirmed invalid. Afterwards he was given a small location of his own, but died before he could enter on the enjoyment of it, as will be related further on.

Towards the end of the year Umditshwa expressed a wish that a resident teacher might be sent to open school at the new Great Place on his farm. This request would, of course, have been complied with, but before the arrangements could be completed Umditshwa's chronic illness had terminated in death.

At this time the diocese was suffering under great financial difficulties. Some time previous the payment of salaries had fallen, quite unavoidably, into arrears (though eventually everything was paid up in full), and it had become necessary to give notice to some of the clergy who were paid by the K.C.M. Fund, that their stipends could no longer be guaranteed them after a certain date. Such a notice, coming to married men, two of whom had families, and all three of whom were only in deacons' orders, and had special linguistic qualifications for work in Kaffraria, which would not help them to obtain employment elsewhere, could not be otherwise than hard, although no other course could possibly have been adopted, for without funds they obviously could not be paid, and it was very desirable that the diocese should not run into debt, while it was only due to the clergy themselves that the position should be notified to them, so that they might have time to look out for a sphere of work elsewhere, rather than work on, relying on money which would not be forthcoming. Eventually all three decided to hold on, subsisting as best they could, but having very hard times until matters were better with us again. At the same time notice was sent to a student from S. Augustine's, who was coming to work in the diocese, that it would be impossible to receive him.

Under these circumstances, when there seemed really a danger that the very promising work in Kaffraria might be paralysed, when not only was it impossible to extend, but was becoming necessary to curtail, the Bishop decided to send the writer to England to try and raise funds.

A difficulty now arose as to what was to be done with Mtshazi and his companions, as no white man could be left in my place, but the work would be carried on by the native deacon and other native agents. The only plan that could be devised was to get Robert Tshele, the teacher, to live in one of the detached huts belonging to the parsonage, and look after the seven boys. Umditshwa gave his consent to this the more readily, as Tshele is a Gaika (i.e., a Kaffir proper), and not a Fingo.

It had been arranged that I should leave S. Cuthbert's on March 12, 1886. At this time the chief, as was frequently the case, was ill, but no danger was apprehended. Mtshazi had, however, gone home to sec him about two days previous, and I was intending to visit him myself on the nth, when, early that morning, there came a message for Qebi and the other boys to go home, and almost immediately afterwards another messenger arrived bringing the news that my friend was dead. He had gone out of the hut on to the veldt, and so passed away, in his actual death quite alone.

The Bishop arrived that same evening, with the intention of consecrating the cemetery on the following morning. After full consultation with him, it was decided that I must postpone my going for a fortnight, on account of this fresh development of affairs.

As is so often the case with Kaffirs, witchcraft or foul play was suspected; indeed the latter is not uncommon, for the natives are highly skilled in the use of poisons. Suspicion fell upon Goniwe, and he fled by night, making his way to his mother's people at All Saints, where he took refuge, and where I saw him on my journey down some two or three weeks later.

After a necessary visit to Umtata, to make arrangements for the postponement of my journey, I returned home on the evening of March 17. The following day Mkondweni came to see me on matters connected with Umditshwa's death, and the day after I went over with Lokwe and Tshele to the Great Place to see the grave and put a stone on it according to Kaffir custom. The dead man is buried at the entrance to the cattle kraal, which is then moved, so that the grave falls just outside the new kraal. The grave is fenced in with high boughs, and is piled up over the mould with stones which are thrown on by those who come to pay the last tribute of respect. After we had performed this rite we went and sat down by the huts, and talked with Mkondweni and the widow for the best part of an hour.

From the 20th to the 22nd I was at S. Augustine's and Nxasa for Sunday services. On my return home on the Monday, Xomfana came to see me with reference to Pon-domisi matters. From the 23rd to the 25th I was at Xokongxa and Mbokotwana. On the 26th Mkondweni was over again with Mtshazi and Qebi.

Mtshazi's position at this time was a very precarious one. Although heir of the late chief, it must be remembered that he was the only son of the great wife, and his removal would have opened the succession to Goniwe's brother, Zembe the outlaw. I had learnt about this period that for some time past (at least so the boys alleged), Goniwe had been in the habit, week by week, of lying in wait for Mtshazi on his way home from S. Cuthbert's, in order to beat him to death! and that Mtshazi had only escaped by having a spy who always informed him where the ambush had been prepared. When this same Goniwe had now been smelt out for Umditshwa's death, it can easily be understood that Mtshazi felt not a little alarmed for himself, and was very anxious to come with me to England. Had funds been forthcoming, I would gladly have taken him with me; but as it was, it was quite impossible. His last words to me were very sad: "I am afraid to stay here," he said; "every one hates me so!" And Mkondweni informed me that the lad had told him that, if he had the money, he would run away with me to cross the sea, whether the tribe would let him or not. I pointed out that his feeling of fear was much exaggerated, for the tribe as a whole is intensely loyal, and that as long as he remained at S. Cuthbert's among the Christians he would be quite safe. Nor indeed did I really entertain any apprehensions, or I should have removed him at any cost. It was accordingly settled that he should return to the mission according to the original arrangement, as soon as he had completed the necessary business which was for the present detaining him at the Great Place.

Qebi, on the other hand, had come to ask permission to leave school; and as he seemed bent upon it, and had never been very satisfactory, after I had put carefully before him the folly of his course, I gave my consent to his withdrawal. The same day I accepted Maqela as a day-boy.

On Sunday, March 28, after a final celebration, with a short sermon, I said good-bye to my people, my last sight of them being as they stood grouped outside the Church waving their hats to me while they waited for matins; rode over to now Tsolo, where the magistrate, Captain Hook, joined me, and we drove on together to Umtata, arriving in plenty of time for evening service.

Of the three white boys who had accompanied me to Ncolosi twenty-seven months before, Vice went to Dr. Johnston at Umtata; Rütters to the Bishop, to help in the white boys' school; and Leary was my travelling companion, when on March 31st I left Umtata for England, where he was going to school.

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