Sign in
Download Opera News App

Lifestyle

 

Culture

 

History

The Real FREEDOM Fighters Nelson Mandela (Life)

APART FROM LIFE, a strong constitution, and an abiding connection to the Thembu royal house, the only thing my father bestowed upon me at

birth was a name, Rolihlahla. In Xhosa, Rolihlahla literally means “pulling the branch of a tree,” but its colloquial meaning more accurately would be

“troublemaker.” I do not believe that names are destiny or that my father somehow divined my future, but in later years, friends and relatives would

ascribe to my birth name the many storms I have both caused and weathered. My more familiar English or Christian name was not given to me until

my first day of school. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I was born on the eighteenth of July, 1918, at Mvezo, a tiny village on the banks of the Mbashe River in the district of Umtata, the capital of the

Transkei. The year of my birth marked the end of the Great War; the outbreak of an influenza epidemic that killed millions throughout the world; and

the visit of a delegation of the African National Congress to the Versailles peace conference to voice the grievances of the African people of South

Africa. Mvezo, however, was a place apart, a tiny precinct removed from the world of great events, where life was lived much as it had been for

hundreds of years.

The Transkei is eight hundred miles east of Cape Town, five hundred fifty miles south of Johannesburg, and lies between the Kei River and the

Natal border, between the rugged Drakensberg mountains to the north and the blue waters of the IndianOcean to the east. It is a beautiful country of

rolling hills, fertile valleys, and a thousand rivers and streams, which keep the landscape green even in winter. The Transkei used to be one of the

largest territorial divisions within South Africa, covering an area the size of Switzerland, with a population of about three and a half million Xhosas

and a tiny minority of Basothos and whites. It is home to the Thembu people, who are part of the Xhosa nation, of which I am a member.

My father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyiswa, was a chief by both blood and custom. He was confirmed as chief of Mvezo by the king of the Thembu

tribe, but under British rule, his selection had to be ratified by the government, which in Mvezo took the form of the local magistrate. As a

government-appointed chief, he was eligible for a stipend as well as a portion of the fees the government levied on the community for vaccination of

livestock and communal grazing land. Although the role of chief was a venerable and esteemed one, it had, even seventy-five years ago, become

debased by the control of an unsympathetic white government.

The Thembu tribe reaches back for twenty generations to King Zwide. According to tradition, the Thembu people lived in the foothills of the

Drakensberg mountains and migrated toward the coast in the sixteenth century, where they were incorporated into the Xhosa nation. The Xhosa

are part of the Nguni people who have lived, hunted, and fished in the rich and temperate southeastern region of South Africa, between the great

interior plateau to the north and the Indian Ocean to the south, since at least the eleventh century. The Nguni can be divided into a northern group —

the Zulu and the Swazi people — and a southern group, which is made up of amaBaca, amaBomyana, amaGcaleka, amaMfengu, amaMpodomis,

amaMpondo, abeSotho, and abeThembu, and together they comprise the Xhosa nation.

The Xhosa are a proud and patrilineal people with an expressive and euphonious language and an abiding belief in the importance of laws,

education, and courtesy. Xhosa society was a balanced and harmonious social order in which every individual knew his or her place. Each Xhosa

belongs to a clan that traces its descent back to a specific forefather. I am a member of the Madiba clan, named after a Thembu chief who ruled in

the Transkei in the eighteenth century. I am often addressed as Madiba, my clan name, a term of respect.

Ngubengcuka, one of the greatest monarchs, who united the Thembu tribe, died in 1832. As was the custom, he had wives from the principal

royal houses: the Great House, from which the heir is selected, the Right Hand House, and the Ixhiba, a minor house that is referred to by some as

the Left Hand House. It was the task of the sons of the Ixhiba or Left Hand House to settle royal disputes. Mthikrakra, the eldest son of the Great

House, succeeded Ngubengcuka and amongst his sons were Ngangelizwe and Matanzima. Sabata, who ruled the Thembu from 1954, was the

grandson of Ngangelizwe and a senior to Kalzer Daliwonga, better known as K. D. Matanzima, the former chief minister of the Transkei — my

nephew, by law and custom — who was a descendant of Matanzima. The eldest son of the Ixhiba house was Simakade, whose younger brother

was Mandela, my grandfather.

Although over the decades there have been many stories that I was in the line of succession to the Thembu throne, the simple genealogy I have

just outlined exposes those tales as a myth. Although I was a member of the royal household, I was not among the privileged few who were trained

for rule. Instead, as a descendant of the Ixhiba house, Iwas groomed, like my father before me, to counsel the rulers of the tribe.

My father was a tall, dark-skinned man with a straight and stately posture, which I like to think I inherited. He had a tuft of white hair just above his

forehead, and as a boy, I would take white ash and rub it into my hair in imitation of him. My father had a stern manner and did not spare the rod

when disciplining his children. He could be exceedingly stubborn, another trait that may unfortunately have been passed down from father to son.

My father has sometimes been referred to as the prime minister of Thembuland during the reigns of Dalindyebo, the father of Sabata, who ruled

in the early 1900s, and that of his son, Jongintaba, who succeeded him. That is a misnomer in that no such title existed, but the role he played was

not so different from what the designation implies. As a respected and valued counselor to both kings, he accompanied them on their travels and

was usually to be found by their sides during important meetings with government officials. He was an acknowledged custodian of Xhosa history,

and it was partially for that reason that he was valued as an adviser. My own interest in history had early roots and was encouraged by my father.

Although my father could neither read nor write, he was reputed to be an excellent orator who captivated his audiences by entertaining them as well

as teaching them.

In later years, I discovered that my father was not only an adviser to kings but a kingmaker.After the untimely death of Jongilizwe in the 1920s, his

son Sabata, the infant of the Great Wife, was too young to ascend to the throne. A dispute arose as to which of Dalindyebo’s three most senior

sons from other mothers — Jongintaba, Dabulamanzi, and Melithafa — should be selected to succeed him. My father was consulted and

recommended Jongintaba on the grounds that he was the best educated. Jongintaba, he argued, would not only be a fine custodian of the crown

but an excellent mentor to the young prince. My father, and a few other influential chiefs, had the great respect for education that is often present in

those who are uneducated. The recommendation was controversial, for Jongintaba’s mother was from a lesser house, but my father’s choice was

ultimately accepted by both the Thembus and the British government. In time, Jongintaba would return the favor in a way that my father could not

then imagine.

All told, my father had four wives, the third of whom, my mother, Nosekeni Fanny, the daughter of Nkedama from the amaMpemvu clan of the

Xhosa, belonged to the Right Hand House. Each of these wives — the Great Wife, the Right Hand wife (my mother), the Left Hand wife, and the

wife of the Iqadi or support house — had her own kraal. A kraal was a homestead and usually included a simple fenced-in enclosure for animals,

fields for growing crops, and one or more thatched huts. The kraals of my father’s wives were separated by many miles and he commuted among

them. In these travels, my father sired thirteen children in all, four boys and nine girls. I am the eldest child of the Right Hand House, and the

youngest of my father’s four sons. I have three sisters, Baliwe, who was the oldest girl, Notancu, and Makhutswana. Although the eldest of my

father’s sons was Mlahlwa, my father’s heir as chief was Daligqili, the son of the Great House, who died in the early 1930s. All of his sons, with the

exception of myself, are now deceased, and each was my senior not only in age but in status.


When Iwas not much more than a newborn child, my father was involved in a dispute that deprived him of his chieftainship at Mvezo and revealed a

strain in his character I believe he passed on to his son. I maintain that nurture, rather than nature, is the primary molder of personality, but my father

possessed a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness, that Irecognize in myself. As a chief — or headman, as it was often known among

the whites — my father was compelled to account for his stewardship not only to the Thembu king but to the local magistrate. One day one of my

father’s subjects lodged a complaint against him involving an ox that had strayed from its owner. The magistrate accordingly sent a message

ordering my father to appear before him. When my father received the summons, he sent back the following reply: “Andizi, ndisaqula” (I will not

come, I am still girding for battle). One did not defy magistrates in those days. Such behavior would be regarded as the height of insolence — and

in this case it was.

My father’s response bespoke his belief that the magistrate had no legitimate power over him. When it came to tribal matters, he was guided not

by the laws of the king of England, but by Thembu custom. This defiance was not a fit of pique, but a matter of principle. He was asserting his

traditional prerogative as a chief and was challenging the authority of the magistrate.

When the magistrate received my father’s response, he promptly charged him with insubordination. There was no inquiry or investigation; that

was reserved for white civil servants. The magistrate simply deposed my father, thus ending the Mandela family chieftainship.

Iwas unaware of these events at the time, but Iwas not unaffected. My father, who was a wealthy nobleman by the standards of his time, lost both

his fortune and his title. He was deprived of most of his herd and land, and the revenue that came with them. Because of our straitened

circumstances, my mother moved to Qunu, a slightly larger village north of Mvezo, where she would have the support of friends and relations. We

lived in a less grand style in Qunu, but it was in that village near Umtata that I spent the happiest years of my boyhood and whence I trace my

earliest memories.

Content created and supplied by: Alupheli. (via Opera News )

Christian English Nelson Mandela Rolihlahla Thembu

COMMENTS

Load app to read more comments