Project Canterbury

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 IX. Mtshazi and the Pondomisi School

ON Tuesday, June 28th, Mabasa, the Government headman of the Pondomisi location, who had formerly been regent for Umditshwa, came with Ranuga, Umditshwa's eldest brother, to make a formal report of Mtshazi's flight, and to request me to take steps to procure his return. [Tyali was really the oldest, but Kanuga was the first son of the Iqadi.] During the next few days almost every Pondomisi visitor that I had--and, naturally, after so long an absence they were many--spoke to me on the subject, for it was the topic which, more than any other, at that time occupied their thoughts: the upshot being that I asked all the great chiefs to meet me on July 23rd at Mabasa's place.

Before, however, the day arrived, I had had an unexpected meeting with Mtshazi and Nogqili. On July igth, a message was sent up from Umtata to say that they were there, and were very anxious to see me. They had come up from Sarili's to see the Bishop, and, on their arrival, had learnt that I was back again at S. Cuthbert's. Accordingly, on the following day, Tshele and I went down for an interview, and with the Bishop had a three hours' talk with them and the two Pondomisi councillors who were in attendance. Mtshazi had grown very much, but in other respects, as was only to be expected, had distinctly retrograded; he was dressed simply in a blanket, and his manner was very gauche, as if he were ashamed of himself, as was probably the case. Undoubtedly he really believed that he was bewitched; and, looked at from the point of view of the heathen Kaffir chief, his terms were very mild, consisting of nothing more than the exile of the supposed offenders. On the other hand, he had no power to enforce anything at all, so that this demand was quite as useless for bringing about a reconciliation as a far more harsh one would have been. I endeavoured, of course, to show him the absurdity and the evil of this practice of "smelling out," and insisted that Government would never allow the exile of these men, against whom nothing whatever was proved, or even attempted to be proved, and upbraided him strongly with his cowardice, a point on which my words seemed to have some effect.

The meeting had no direct result, but no doubt it helped to pave the way for further negotiations. The only immediate settlement at which we arrived was this, that the plan already formed should be carried out in its integrity, i.e., that the meeting should be held at Mabasa's on the 23rd, and that afterwards I should go down to see Sarili with three men from S. Cuthbert's and three Pondomisi chiefs. August 4th was the day fixed for the visit to the old Kaffir chief, and a special message was sent to him to say that we should sleep near his place on the 3rd, and arrive early on the 4th, and that he must be careful not to make a mistake in the day.

On the 23rd we had a very interesting meeting at Mabasa's. Three of the accused, Ranuga, Mtangayi, and Mkondweni (all personal friends of my own), were present, and took part in the proceedings. Majangaza, however, did not show himself. The two first named spoke out like men, protesting strongly against the charge brought against them, and challenging Mtshazi to prove it. Mkondweni, however, took a different line, and expressed himself as ready to obey his chief in everything. The general feeling in the meeting, which lasted nearly four hours, was that the four should move to more distant parts of the location, and that was to be "the Pondomisi word" to Mtshazi. "With this message I had nothing to do: it was valueless without the Government's ratification, which it would never be likely to receive, or the consent of the four persons accused, which it was highly improbable would be given. Three well-known men were named to accompany me to Sarili's--Matanzima Xayimpi, Mncotane, and Ngomani; while I named, for my own part, Philip Lokwe, Robert Tshele, and Albert Nomlala, a Fingo, Gaika, and Pondomisi respectively.

About midday on August 3rd, Lokwe, Tshele, and Nomlala joined me at Mnqanduli Residency, the latter leaving us again very soon to find the three Pondomisi and bring them to the store where we proposed to stay the night. That evening ride was one of much interest to me, as my two companions were firmly persuaded that some "abak-weta" (newly circumcised boys) of whom we asked the road in the dark, and who followed us with their assegais, directing us down a very sombre-looking hill, were intending to decoy us away, so as to rob and murder us, a. view of affairs in which I entirely disagree with them. We reached our destination, however, shortly before seven o'clock, and were soon joined by the rest of our party.

An early start next morning brought us, along a precipitous ridge, to the very strong position where Sarili had made his home, a little before nine. The beginning of the proceedings was not very propitious. Just before our arrival we had met Mtshazi, who had informed us that his grandfather was at home; but when we actually reached the kraal, we were told by two men who came out to ask who we were and what was our business, that the chief was out at one of his other kraals, and they did not know when he would be back. When we had been sitting outside for a while, one of them returned and showed us into a clean hut, where he said we could stay the night: to which I replied that I should leave that afternoon.

When we were left alone, we consulted among ourselves as to the course to be adopted. It was necessary, in order to enable me to fulfil my other engagements, to sleep that night at Mnqanduli, a considerable distance away; and further, as a matter of principle it seemed right to adhere firmly to the date already fixed for our meeting with Sarili, and not to give in to any delays. I therefore announced my determination to go again the same afternoon, whether the chief had appeared or not; and my companions all replied that whatever I did, they would do also. We then called the man who had brought us into the hut, and I represented to him that we had come a long way to see Sarili, that the day had been fixed long beforehand, that the chief knew it well, and was thoroughly aware that we should be at his place early: concluding by saying that, whether I saw him or not, we should leave that afternoon, and that I should not come back to fetch "my son" again, when the responsibility would rest with Sarili and not with me.

Our words seemed to surprise him not a little. He said, however, that he thought the chief would be there directly, as he had sent out messengers to call him; and he would go and look out now, to see if he was coming. Almost immediately after this (it was then about 10.30 A.M.) Sarili appeared. None of us doubted that he was really there all the time, waiting, perhaps, to enhance his own importance, or because some of the councillors whom he needed had not yet arrived.

He at first took the line of trying to lay the blame of Mtshazi's flight upon me, which forced me to speak strongly in vindication of myself, until he owned that what was said was true, and left that part of the subject; turning, then, to the Pondomisi, whom he attacked for certain breaches of etiquette and slackness of which they had really been guilty. The end, however, was that he killed an ox for us, and it was settled that Mtshazi and his mother should return unconditionally. Lokwe, Tshele, and I started off again before 4 P.M., reaching Mnqanduli by 10; while Nomlala remained with the other Pondomisi to escort Nogqili and her son home. When I returned to S. Cuthbert's from a prolonged absence on September 2nd, I found that they were back again at the Great Place.

Thus the first great step had been taken, but there were still other difficulties to be overcome: the chief one consisting in the strong desire on the part of Mtshazi and his councillors that his three uncles and Mtangayi should be removed, a desire which had been fostered by the Pondomisi "word" sent down to Mtshazi at Sarili's. Having ascertained from the magistrate that any such idea was quite out of the question, I was able, with much difficulty, to prevail on Mtshazi to be silent by pointing out to him that the preferring a charge of witchcraft was an actionable offence (and indeed one of the councillors was imprisoned very shortly afterwards on this very ground, that he had upbraided Mtangayi with being a wizard). The whole matter was, then, left quietly to die away, and I reintro-duced Mtshazi at the office on September 12, without the burning question being touched. Shortly after that he returned again to school.

This same year (1887) several more boarders came; Tshalilanga, son of Mtangayi, first cousin to Umditshwa; Magwyi, son of Tyali, brother of Umditshwa; Ntoyapi, son of Sodinga, uncle of Umditshwa; and Mfene, son of Batyi.

The following year produced two fresh developments. Sogotyo had in 1887 come definitely forward as a catechumen, and on July 29, 1888, was baptized by the name of Chelston, that name being selected by the parish in Torquay by which he is supported. The school had thus been in existence for three and a half years without a single baptism, nor do I think this at all a long time when the circumstances are taken into consideration. The boys' parents were, without an exception, heathen, and the whole tribe itself the same, with all its influence thoroughly heathen, so that to come forward for the sacrament of initiation into Christianity meant to run counter to all the associations and ideas of the tribe, and almost to be looked upon as a renegade and a traitor.

Meantime Mtshazi had become very anxious to go on to school in England. The time for his circumcision, which, among Kaffirs, is the rite which betokens the coming of age, and which is usually performed, at from fifteen to eighteen, had now fully arrived. The tribe was most desirous for the ceremony to take place, not only in order that their chief might attain manhood, but also that the other boys of the tribe of about the same age, who, according to the national custom, would be circumcised at the same time, might become men, and marry. Mtshazi himself, on the other hand, was equally anxious that the ceremony should be postponed, on the ground that, when once he had been circumcised, and attained manhood, the tribe would not allow him to continue his education; for in many points the Kaffir constitution is most democratic. As considerable pressure was being brought to bear upon him, and in a lesser degree upon myself, for his circumcision to take place at once, his request that he might be removed to another school farther away seemed a very right one. At first the Bishop and myself were of opinion that he might be sent direct to England, as he wished; but there were many difficulties in the way of this plan being carried out at that time, and eventually it was decided that he should go to Lovedale, an excellent school in the old colony, for a time, with Chelston as his companion. It was necessary to keep the plan as quiet as possible, for fear that the tribe might prematurely hear of it and compel him to be circumcised first: so that it was not until a week before the date fixed for his start, that, on July 23, 1888, I called the chiefs together at S. Cuthbert's, and announced that, acting on the powers given by the late chief, Umditshwa, and urged by the desire that Mtshazi should have as good an education as possible, both for his own sake and his people's, I proposed to send him, together with Sodinga's son, to Love-dale for a year or two, and probably after that to England.

The feeling in the meeting was decidedly adverse to the scheme, as was only to be expected; as one speaker phrased it, "How can a cow be happy when her calf is away?" But at the same time all were agreed in saying that they recognised the authority which Umditshwa had given to the missionary, and could not hinder the action. Mkond-weni asked whether it would not be possible for circUm, cision to take place even yet before he went; but this was obviously out of the question. At the end, I asked Mtshazi (who was sitting by me) to say a few words, to express that it was his own wish, as well as mine, that he should go, which he did in the most emphatic language. The next few days were spent by the two boys in scouring the country for horses. Here was the Pondomisi's opportunity again, and they made the most of it, trying passively to prevent the young chief's departure, by refusing to lend him horses to take him to Lovedale, on the plea that they were sick, or too thin for so long a journey in mid-winter--a very specious plea. Eventually, however, we succeeded in getting them off on the morning of the 3oth, Frank Rütters (who had returned to S. Cuthbert's the year previous) and Qanqiso accompanying them to Lovedale, a five or six days' journey.

The selection of Chelston alone to accompany Mtshazi at once introduced some heartburnings into the school, Qanqiso, Maqela, and Qunqu, the other three oldest boys, being all jealous that the choice had not fallen on them. The two last-named asked leave to go and look out for another more advanced school for themselves; and when leave was granted, scoured the country for some days in ineffectual search. Had they asked in a right spirit, arrangements might perhaps have been made for them to go to Umtata; but so much temper was shown, that it was felt that they ought to suffer for it. Maqela soon returned, apologised, and was taken back again to S. Cuthbert's; but Qunqu never got over the fancied slight, and permanently left.

In February of the following year, Qanqiso, through the help of friends at Glasgow, was sent on to Lovedale, his father paying £2 a year towards his support there. Before leaving S. Cuthbert's he finished his catechumenate, and was baptized by the name of Alan. He was followed in August by Maqela, before that baptized by the name of Gilbert, whose father raised the whole of the £8 per annum required for the lowest scale of school fees at Lovedale.

The little boarding-school seemed by this time to be on a firm basis, and its tone was becoming a Christian instead of a heathen one. During 1888 four new boys came--Tunja, Xandelekile, Siziba, and Adam; while Keta also became a boarder in the same year. In 1889 there were several more arrivals, the names of the new ones being Mva, Nonqayi, Zityini, Gosa, Mtshisazwe, Langa, Mbundwana, Vangendaba, and Mtshiki; so many that it was necessary to enlarge their house by building a lean-to all along the back as dormitory, this work being done mainly by Riitters and the boys themselves. In 1890, before I left for England, two more new boys came--Mark, a Christian (the first Christian that we had ever had), and Mtenge.

Some of these boys were brought by their fathers, who wished them to receive an education, or simply to be brought up along with their chief. This was the case with six or seven of those whom I have named. In two or three cases it was the influence of an elder brother who was at school that brought the younger. Two at least of the bigger lads came entirely on tbeir own account; another came first to work, was attracted by the school-life, and after the period for which he was hired had ended, remained on as a boarder. Another (Mtshiki) came simply through my asking him one day, when he had run up to me (us I rode past the place where he was herding the cattle) to say good morning, whether he would not like to come to school. Others, again, were left me by their fathers on their deathbeds, in a way that is perhaps interesting enough to call for a fuller record.

On May 29, 1889, I had just returned from a long round through Griqualand East and Pondoland, when I received a message from Tyali, one of Umditshwa's brothers, that he was anxious to see me. I rode over to his kraal as soon as possible, and found that he was fully persuaded that many years of shattered health were about to be terminated by death, and he had called me in to give some final instructions about his family and his own burial. One son of his (Magwyi) was already with me; two others, Mfenenduna and Ncekane, were well known to me; and I took the opportunity of asking him if he would give them to me. He pointed out what was quite true, that their mothers would be in a great measure dependent on them, and offered me in their stead the two little boys Mbundwana and Vangendaba, whom I very gladly accepted.

It was a matter of great thankfulness to find that Tyali, who for long had been in the position of a hearer, was anxious to be baptized, and that this desire was one of the causes that had made him send for me. The intensity of the tribal feeling against the adoption of Christianity was brought out very strongly in his request that no one of his people might be informed that I was coming to baptize him, lest they should interfere and remove him, or in some other way prevent the administration of the sacrament. This request came from one of the most influential people in the whole tribe, one whose opinion carried perhaps more weight than anybody else's. I gave him clinical baptism in his hut on May 3ist, visited him frequently till his death on the night. of June 5-6, and buried him with Christian rites on the 6th. Shortly afterwards the two little boys came to S. Cuthbert's, where they are likely, I hope, to remain for many years.

At the same time, Umditshwa's son, Xomfana, whose long-continued ill-health has already been mentioned, was rapidly becoming worse; and on the day of Tyali's burial one of his brothers came over to report this to me, and to say that he was very anxious to see me. Xomfana was at that date in hiding, in order to escape from the malignant power which was supposed to be bewitching him, and the secret of his hiding-place was known to very few, so that it was arranged that I should go alone on the following day to the Great Place, where Nogqili would give me a guide. Accordingly, on the 7th, I saddled up as soon as I had opened school, and reached the Great Place by eleven o'clock. Here I had to conceal my special errand; but Nogqili knew perfectly well the object of my coming, and very soon called one of her councillors, to whom she gave some orders in an undertone. With this man as guide, the journey was performed with perfect secrecy.

This visit to Xomfana was a very sad one, for there was evidently little hope of his recovery; but he clung violently to life, and nothing apparently could be done for him or with him from a Christian point of view. He asked me to take care of his little son after he should be gone, and to bury him myself when the end came. And so, after his death, which took place some weeks later, Mtshisazwe was sent to me; and, by my special request, a little friend and playfellow of his (Langa), to keep him company. That was how our four youngest boys, all about nine years old, came to us.

On August 25, 1889, we had the largest batch of school baptisms that we had yet had--Siziba, Keta, Tshalilanga, Mfene, and Xandelekile all being baptized that morning. This was followed on January 7, 1890, by the confirmation of Tshalilanga (Vincent) and Xandelekile (Edgar), who were the first two of the boys to become communicants. In the case of Chelston, Alan, and Gilbert, it has been impossible as yet to present them, on account of their absence at Lovedale At the same time, it was not all gain. During the period covered by these three years, in addition to Qunqu, who has been already mentioned, we lost four boys--Joel, Tunja, Adam, and Lohana. Joel had returned at the beginning of the summer term without his bag of grain, which was contrary to rules. Sent back to fetch it, he met it (as was afterwards ascertained) on the road, but turned those who were bringing it back again home, and so departed. It is to be feared that he was not much regretted by any one.

Tunja fell sick, and was sent home for a while on sick-leave. While there, a "word" arrived from Mtshazi at Lovedale that the young men were not to wait for him, but might marry when they liked. The attractions of matrimony proved too great for Tunja, and he preferred to stay at home in the society of a wife rather than to return to school.

Adam did not remain long. He found the routine and discipline of school-life very irksome and trying, and asked permission of the boarders' superintendent (in my absence) to return home, which was, perhaps wisely, granted, lest he should have taken the matter into his own hands and run away. It may be thought that his father, Matanzima, was a little to blame for the boy's rapid wearying of school-life; for, although he came from Umjika, outside the present Pondomisi location, and far away from the homes of all the other boarders, no friend of his was sent with him to S. Cuthbert's to soften the parting from home and the change of life. He was a nice boy, and his leaving was a subject of much regret to me.

About Lohana more must be said. On one occasion, when he had fallen ill, his sickness did not yield at once to the remedies employed. Kaffir fashion, he thought at once that he was being bewitched; and in this impression he was confirmed by something that happened the following night. While he was asleep, he was woke up by the boy lying next to him, who pointed out that his hair was on fire! The fact was unmistakable. The obvious explanation was that one of the boys had been smoking, and a burning match or some ash had fallen against him; or else that one of the boys had done it out of spite against Lohana, for a practical joke. Both these suggestions met with a sturdy denial on the part of the boys, and Lohana worked himself up into such a state of abject terror that there was nothing for it but to send him away for a time: nor have any efforts, either from S. Cuthbert's or on the part of his parents, availed to bring him back again, although visits have been interchanged several times. Still, hopeless as it seems at present, we have no intention of despairing or relaxing our efforts, which may, perhaps, in the end be given success. His leaving us was a great disappointment. Intellectually he was a very promising boy, and, what is more, he was a catechumen.

Meanwhile the question of Mtshazi's going to England was only in abeyance; and it was finally settled that he should be taken over by me, and placed at Denstone College, the authorities of which have acted with the greatest kindness and liberality throughout, in the autumn (that is, the English spring) of 1890. It was at first intended that he should be accompanied by Chelston; but the reports of him from Lovedale were latterly not satisfactory enough to warrant the expense. In his place, Daniel Mtangayi was selected, who for some time had been anxious to cross the sea.

Mtangayi, since his imprisonment at Capetown, had thoroughly identified himself with what may be termed the "party of progress" in Pondomisiland. His eldest son, Daniel, camp to me in 1885 (he was then about twenty years old), and expressed his wish to go to school. He, however, shrunk from coming to S. Cuthbert's because of its nearness to his own home, fearing that he would be perpetually tempted to go home to see his people; and so arrangements were made by the Bishop for him to go down to the college at Umtata. There he was baptized, confirmed, and became a communicant; and soon made his mark as an honest and trustworthy young man. His hope was, and is, eventually to become an ordained missionary to his own people; and, as far as can yet be seen, there is every probability of this hope being fulfilled, if the necessary funds are forthcoming. In like manner Chelston, whose last report from Lovedale is satisfactory, looks forward to becoming a teacher; and Outhbert (Siziba), who goes to Umtata in 1891, is very anxious to be ordained. Another of the boys may, I hope, eventually become a doctor, to work in connection with the mission.

Generally speaking, it seems unadvisable for native lads to be sent home for their education. There is frequently some danger from the climate, and there is considerable risk of their being spoilt by the kindness of English people--a spoiling which is all the more injurious from its entire contrast to the treatment which they would experience in their own country at the hands of white persons; and in fact there are many ways in which the marked contrast between the life in England and that in Kaffraria might operate prejudicially. At the same time, it is impossible to lay down a hard and fast rule of universal application; and in Mtshazi's case so many circumstances seemed to point to the advisability of his being sent home, that it was the unanimous opinion of all the experts on the spot, lay as well as clerical, who were consulted, that it was the wisest course to face the undoubted dangers, and, at the risk of disappointment and possible failure, to make the experiment.

His removal was necessary for the continuance of his education, and a good education is an absolute essential for him, in view of his position. Whatever his future may be, whether he be recognised by Government and given an official position in the location or not, to his people he will always be chief, and it is imperative that his influence should be exercised on the side of law, order, and progress. It was also highly advisable that he should be removed for a while from the reactionary and heathen influence of his tribal surroundings, so that he might be able to regard Christianity fairly. There is no doubt that his whole bent is towards the establishment of humanising and civilising influences among his people: he has already shown, by sundry actions that he has taken, that he is very anxious for the formation of schools, and that he values and appreciates Church services; and since his arrival in England he has definitely expressed a wish for baptism, but with the addition of the statement that the Pondomisi objected to his becoming a Christian. The position is so fraught with difficulties, considering the attitude of the tribe and its authority (in some respects) over the chief, and the marriage question which will soon present itself for solution, and his action would necessarily exercise such an effect upon the tribe, that any precipitation or haste would be a great mistake; and I think one may safely say that his actual baptism in England would be an error, as the people might fairly complain of what would seem suspiciously like underhand dealing. What might be attained for the present, and what we may hope and pray will be attained, is this, that he should be prepared for baptism, and so saturated with Christian ideas, that he should be ready to face tribal opposition for the sake of his religion, and to be publicly baptized in the face of his people. In any such step as this, he would, doubtless, be supported by the other young chiefs who have been baptized; and if the leading men of the tribe become Christians, very many others will be ready to follow suit. The situation is one full of difficulties and responsibilities, but also full of hopefulness; but for the development of these expectations into realities constant and earnest prayer is needed.

So, then, on April 5, 1890, a final meeting of the Pondomisi chiefs was held at S. Cuthbert's, when the announcement was made that the further step, notified nearly two years before, was now to be taken, and that Mtshazi, accompanied by Daniel Mtangayi and myself, was to leave for England. This time the opposition was limited to two men, and they persons whose voices were of no weight, for in the meanwhile the Pondomisi had learnt that Mtshazi's stay at Lovedale had done him good, not harm, they had seen him return safe and well from time to time for the holidays, and they had been told in the meeting of 1888 that a visit to England was projected, and so had become accustomed to the idea. The only "word" addressed to me was this: not to delay too long with him across the sea. The same evening Mtshazi and Daniel (for whose support his father is paying £5 a year) left for Umtata, where I joined them the following day, en route for East London.

The Pondomisi work, meanwhile, was left in the hands of the Rev. S. G. Mansbridge, M.A., a new arrival from England, who was to spend a year at S. Cuthbert's, learning the language and becoming habituated to the ways of the people, before proceeding to S. Andrew's to take up his own work in Pondoland East. All the outside stations had been drafted off during these years, as will be related in the next chapter, into new parishes: the work that still remained comprised the Pondomisi location, with the station of S. Cuthbert's and the ordinary routine there, outside preaching at some eight or ten different centres among the heathen Pondomisi, and the boarding-school. In this last department there are now sixteen boys at S. Cuthbert's, living with the missionary, of whom four are baptized, and four catechumens, in addition to two communicants at Umtata, three baptized at Lovedale, and Mtshazi and Daniel in England.

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