Now that we are officially in Black History Month 2015, here’s a timely excerpt from Martin Meredith’s new book, The Fortunes of Africa:
“After eight frontier wars, Xhosa resistance against white colonial rule was nearly at an end. Often divided among themselves, the Xhosa had lost much of their ancestral land. But their plight was to become even worse. An outbreak of a lethal cattle disease, bovine pleuropheumonia, decimated their herds. Already humiliated by white conquest and now struck by the loss of much of their cattle wealth, they desperately sought a way out of calamity. In a mood of growing hysteria, they fell victim to the prophecy of a sixteen-year-old Gcaleka girl named Nongqawuse that if they sacrificed their remaining herds and destroyed their crops, their ancestral spirits would rise from the dead, drive the whites into the sea, and restore their fortunes. When the Gcaleka chief, Sarhili, decided the prophecy was authentic and called on his people to comply, other Xhosa chiefs followed suit; grain stocks were destroyed. The frenzy reached a peak at the new moon on 18 February 1857 when the prophecy was supposed to have been fulfilled.
The result was a devastating famine in which at least 40,000 Xhosa died; another 33,000 fled into the Cape Colony hoping to find work. The Xhosa population of British Kaffraria fell from 105,000 to 27,000. The colonial authorities provided emergency relief but also took advantage of the drop in population to make more land available for white settlement. In 1866, British Kaffraria was incorporated into the Cape Colony. Its new frontier was the Kei River.”