Home History 322 lecture list Wallace G. Mills Hist. 322 7 Xhosa Reactions

Intrusion and Conquest—Xhosa Reactions

White intrusion and conquest
- white intrusion brought the beginning of a very protracted confrontation with the Xhosa. This century long confrontation involved the Xhosa Wars, formerly refered to as ‘Kaffir Wars’. [Be careful using the term ‘Kaffir’ .] The confrontation began by the 1770s and was not completed until the 1890s with the annexation of Pondoland. Initially, the Xhosa were not too concerned or aware of the magnitude of the menace approaching. The first contacts were not decisive and the first clashes were quite even; the ‘tobacco trick’ was never forgotten and the tale was passed down from generation to generation.

- there were renegades or people on the fringes of both societies and soon there was intermingling; a few Boers took African wives. Trade, although limited, soon started and though interrupted by wars etc., it never stopped.

- the Xhosa were not over-awed by the religion brought by missionaries and, though frequently showing interest, did not rush to be converted.

- however, the wars and defeats in the 19th C began to change these attitudes. Defeat and military disaster was cause for reevaluation; as people who explain almost everything in terms of supernatural causes, the disasters showed inadequacies in their cosmologies. The Xhosa began to examine the cosmology of the whites to see if they could find some explanation and some solution.

- in discussing Xhosa reactions, we shall be referring to the work of J. B. Peires quite a bit. While I shall agree with him on many basic facts, I shall also disagree. I include a list of relevant works:
- interest and involvement in Christianity began in the first decade of the 19th C. Moreover, the Xhosa reactions over the next several decades were typified by 2 prophets—Nxele (also called Maqoma or Makanda in older texts) and Ntsikana. See Peires' article above, and “Prophets”.
- he was one of the earliest converts to Christianity among the Xhosa and Africans generally. His contacts with missionaries were limited. Nevertheless, he worked to convert others to Christianity.

- during his lifetime, his influence was small—a small band of followers (many his own family). However, he wrote several hymns which were later very significant. They were in Xhosa and used African musical idioms; the images and figures of speech were African rather than European; rhythms and cadences were geared to Bantu language not European. (Most later Xhosa hymns were translations from English and used European melodies which meant that very often the rhythms and metre of words and music are at odds with each other.) Thus, Ntsikana had begun the process of Africanising Christianity.

- Ntsikana urged Africans not to fight or make war against the whites.
- he had an early interest in Christianity and pursued this extensively. At one time, he seems to have wanted to become a preacher, but he was turned down. Perhaps he was already showing deviations in his interpretation of Christianity. However, according to Peires, he soon started down the road of the traditional iqira (diviner) and later war doctor but still hoped to incorporate elements and power of Christianity.

- he began to claim visions and a relationship (brother) to Christ. Finally, he announced a resurrection on the beach near East London on a specific day; a large crowd gathered and nothing happened. This did not unduly diminish his rising career; he claimed that some people had not done what he had decreed and had failed to believe; that was why nothing had happened. The idea of a resurrection was totally new to Xhosa cosmology and religion; many missionaries reported intense interest from Africans when preaching on this subject. Ever pragmatic, Africans usually wanted to know when this was going to happen because they wanted to see some of their dead relatives. As we shall see, this was an idea that they returned to subsequently.

- after that point, Nxele went into reaction against Christianity and began preaching about the dangers posed by whites and the need to drive them out. He called for and became the main military leader in the attack on Grahamstown in 1819, an attack that came very close to succeeding. As a war doctor, he claimed to have supernatural powers to doctor the warriors so that the white man’s bullets would turn into water. Peires argues that this is not a big step from claiming to be able to deflect spears, etc. as war doctors traditionally did.

- the main point is that the Xhosa were beginning to recognise the scope of the threat and to recognise that they would need much more extensive ‘power’ and ‘magic’ than ever before.
The Traditions of Nxele and Ntsikana
- Peires argues that in effect the 2 men were rivals; each, he claims, became an advisor and iqira to a leading Xhosa chief. He even suggests that it was at least partly a result of the rivalry that caused Ntsikana to take the pacifist stance that he did because when Nxele was rousing the Xhosa for war, Ntsikana was urging the exact opposite. He goes even further to argue that the 2 are almost archetypes for the 2 types of response that were to remain throughout the 19th C and most of the 20th C—militant resistance and passive acquiescence. The equating of Christianity with pacifism and acquiescence seems inapt; while pacifism is an ideal in Christianity, very few Christians practice it. Peires argues that African nationalism is a resumption of the Nxele tradition in the 20th C. As we shall see, I argue that African nationalism had as much or more to do with the Nstikana tradition as with that of Nxele.
Resistors vs Collaborators
- Peires is giving us a version of an earlier, simplistic approach; during the 1960s and 70s, there was a tendency to classify Africans into heroic resistors and pusillanimous collaborators. Peires does not use the term ‘collaborator,’ but he clearly still seems to be thinking in those categories.

- this is further a reflection of an early approach to distinguish between primary and secondary resistance. Primary resistance involved early resistance, usually under the leadership of traditional chiefs. Thus, it was the initial resistance to conquest. Secondary resistance emerged after conquest and under colonialism; however, it involved adaptation to the new situation created. Usually the lead was taken by western-educated Africans (a new elite) tending to emulate European middle class values. (This ‘elite phase’ is usually dated in British Africa to just before or just after World War 1) This secondary resistance encompasses a number of new approaches to mobilising opposition; often is shows up 1st in an indigenous press which is used as a means of criticising the colonial regimes. Usually, they are attacking their exclusion in political affairs, but they are also concerned about jobs in the government. Then the elite begins to try to mobilise mass support and to reach out to new organisations and networks (trade unions, friendly societies, sports organisations, etc.) to build a political movement. The mass movement begins to demand a greater say in political affairs and ultimately to demand independence; in most of Africa this later phase came only after 1945.

- the key point is that frequently secondary resistance was depicted as evolving out of primary resistance. While more simplistic versions of this approach have long since been modified, many scholars still seem caught in the same rut. “The music has stopped, but the melody lingers on.” Secondary resistance involves the use of organisational and ideological modes of large-scale societies; i.e., modes such as developed in urban, industrial societies of Europe. These new modes and techniques were then turned against European domination and control. I think that this is even more true in South Africa. What I shall argue is that so-called secondary resistance was rooted very deeply, both ideologically and and organisationally, in Christianity.

- as we shall see, leadership in the ANC came not only from those educated in mission schools (that was the only source of education so it could not be otherwise), but also in many cases from those active in the Christian churches—clergymen, children of clergymen and active laity. Peires fails to understand the full complexity and force of Christianity; like many others, he reduces Christianity to ‘the opiate of the masses’ and sees it as quiescent and submissive; sometimes, it is and sometimes it isn’t. Moreover, armed resistance that is certain to fail may be abandoned, not because the people are passive or collaborators, but because they need to find other ways.
My interpretation
- I agree with many aspects of Peires’ depiction. The Xhosa were determined to maintain their independence, their religion, their culture and way of life. Military resistance was pursued until successive defeats and conquest finally eliminated that as an option; but the search for alternatives was more complex.

- the coming of the British did mark a significant turning point and Africans only slowly awakened to the danger. As Ngqika’s treaty with the British shows (he hoped to use the British to bring his uncle Ndlambe and other clans west of the Kei River under his control), each clan or sub-group tried to manage on its own, including making alliances or resisting whites.

- however, they began to be aware that military resistance needed to be more coordinated; also, there was the need to get all the supernatural assistance they could. This was Nxele’s contribution; he tried to extend the supernatural forces available and tried to unify all the clans west of the Kei in a coordinated attack on Grahamstown in 1819-20.

- the next 3 wars (1835-36, 1846-48, and 1852-54) followed the same pattern except that the Xhosa east of the Kei (the Gcaleka) increasingly joined or were drawn in. Mlanjeni in 1846-48 claimed to possess similar powers to those of Nxele. These successive defeats and disasters greatly increased the desperation and set the stage for another alternative; what the Xhosa turned to was a spectacular supernatural solution—specifically, the Cattle-killing of 1856-57.

- here is my short version, which appears in the Historical Dictionary of the British Empire:
This 'national suicide' was largely a consequence of the Xhosa (Kaffir) wars. The wars in 1846-7 and 1850-53 had been devastating: cattle losses were enormous, substantial amounts of land were taken and starvation had been widespread as a result of British tactics of destroying all food. News of the Crimean War and of the death of former Governor Cathcart led to the rumor that the Russians, who were said to be Black people, were coming to drive out the whites. In 1856, lung sickness in cattle arrived to kill high proportions of remaining Xhosa cattle. It was in this milieux in April 1856 in the territory of the Gcaleka paramount Sarhili ('Kreli') just east of the Kei River that fifteen year old Nongqawuse claimed that she spoke with .strangers believed to be messengers from the ancestors. The messages were interpreted and supplemented by her uncle, a famous diviner ('witch doctor') Mhlakaza. Because they were polluted, the strangers ordered that aIl cattle be killed, that all stored grain should be destroyed, that no grain should be planted and that everyone should purge themselves of all charms and witchcraft. On the other hand, the Xhosa were to build new huts, new grain storage pits and new larger cattle enclosures. If all this were done, then at a specific date in the future, there would be a great resurrection. Not only would the dead arise, but also numberless, fat cattle would appear, the grain pits would be filled, old people and infirm people would become young and well. An entirely new existence of abundance—a millennium—would replace the impoverishment. Whites would disappear or at least the former Xhosa political and social system would be restored.

Similar prophesies had become more common in the despair being experienced by the Xhosa. However, this movement gained importance when Sarhili, who was also paramount chief of all Xhosa, accepted it as genuine. The movement spread rapidly although in the initial stages, some Xhosa sold rather than killed their cattle; however, it divided Xhosa society into believers and unbelievers. Beginning in 1856, a number of dates were set, being postponed when nothing happened. The failures were attributed to selling rather than killing of the cattle or to the lack of participation of the unbelievers. Enormous pressure, even violence to the point of civil war began to be exerted on the unbelievers (to the believers, non-participation was an act of treason against Xhosa society). In spite of the pressure, many Xhosa never joined. The continued spread of the cattle sickness seemed confirmation of the diagnosis and left many feeling that they had little to lose. Failures drove the frenzy for slaughtering as a necessary prerequisite for the resurrection.

The final date set—'the great disappointment'—was 16 February 1857 by which time little food was left in Xhosaland. Within days, starvation became widespread. During the next weeks and months, starvation and disease ravaged the population. An estimated 40,000 people (i. e.., about 38%) died in British Kaffraria alone and about as many made their way into the Cape Colony, begging for food and willing to work for food only. Losses among the Xhosa and Thembu in the Transkei were probably of a similar magnitude.

Some whites, including a few officials, tried to help, but for other whites it was a welcome destruction of an enemy. The governor, Sir George Grey, forced additional people into the migration and seized large amounts of Xhosa land for white settlers. Also, his assimilation policies involved destroying the power of the chiefs; the disaster largely accomplished that and Grey moved ruthlessly to complete the task. In fact, Xhosa social and political institutions as well as faith in traditional religion and society were damaged beyond repair, even though, after some recovery, the Xhosa did fight another war in 1877-78. Another significant effect emerged. Christian mission work had had only modest success to that point; in its wake, mass conversion to Christianity began in the 1860s. Some whites, especially Grey, argued that the movement was a plot of the chiefs who wanted to make their people desperate in order to launch a war to the finish against the whites. Many whites were paranoid, including Grey, but the idea of a great conspiracy was also very useful to Grey in justifying the harsh and drastic measures he was implementing. In fact, no shred of evidence supports the conspiracy theory. The chiefs were as much believers as the people. (reference: J. B. Peires, The Dead Will Arise, 1989.)
- throughout one can see a mixture of Christian and Xhosan religious ideas although it should be emphasised that the episode was rooted in Xhosa culture with Christian ideas being brought in to reinforce and extend the Xhosa foundation; e.g., the idea of purification to end ritual impurity and of sacrifice to please the ancestors were at the heart of Xhosa religion and beliefs; similar beliefs are very prominent in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament referring to ancient Hebrew beliefs.
- the idea of sacrificing all cattle and indeed the irremediable pollution of the cattle was unprecedented and a very great expansion of Xhosa religious notions. Thus, while Christianity perhaps reinforced some Xhosa ideas, it was more likely the extreme desperation of the Xhosa that drove them to this length. Moreover, the lung sickness undoubtedly reinforced the idea that the cattle were irrevocably polluted. Peires argues that districts with the earliest and/or most severe incidence of the disease tended to have higher rates of ‘believers’ than less affected areas.
- on the other hand, the idea of a resurrection of the dead was completely outside Xhosa religious beliefs, but it was an idea with great appeal. Nxele had tried to appropriate the idea as early as the 2nd decade of the 19th C.

- recall that Xhosa generally tended to see the outcome of political and military events as determined by supernatural forces; thus, it is not surprising that they should develop a diagnosis which featured supernatural causes.

- also, although the remedy they sought (the killing of all the cattle, etc.) is extreme, it not the only response of this kind by peoples being threatened and displaced by invading people and culture. Among Amerindian plains peoples in the late 19th C in North America, there was the Ghost Dance. The so-called Cargo Cults in south-east Asia in the wake of World War 2 are also cited as examples.

- the belief that the Russians would come to help drive out the British, which was also current during the time of the cattle-killing, is especially similar to the Cargo Cults. Also, just after World War 1, there were similar rumours in parts of the Transkei that African Americans were coming to liberate the Africans; this seems to have been what filtered to South Africa about Marcus Garvey’s ‘Back to Africa’ movement and its slogan of ‘Africa for the Africans’.
(A) Xhosa political structures were irretrievably destroyed:
  1. death and the migration of a large portion of the survivors (some for 10-20 years, but some forever) shattered the coherence of Xhosa political structures;
  2. faith in Xhosa religious and cultural viability was widely undermined;
  3. Sir George Grey’s assimilation policies made much faster headway. Grey had already begun in the wake of the 1850-53 war. The remaining Xhosa land west of the Kei River had been annexed as British Kaffraria. Grey’s idea was to substitute white magistrates in place of chiefs in judicial matters; they would apply ‘native law and custom’ as they understood it. In this way, it was thought that Africans would be eager to use white magistrates who were declared to be impartial and fairer than the chiefs. However, gradually, legal concepts could be brought more into line with the Roman-Dutch law in the Cape and bring about legal assimilation. Other parts of the scheme were to provide ‘industrial’ education and western medicine as major elements of assimilation.
  4. Grey also seized the opportunity to introduce another element—white settlement; his idea was that by putting white setters amongst the Xhosa, their example and employment of Africans would also effect assimilation of the Xhosa.
(B) The door was opened for mass conversion of the Xhosa to Christianity
- up to that point, converts had been relatively few; some missionaries worked for years and had only a handful of converts to show for it.

- Africans had often shown a great deal of initial interest as they were always interested in new religious ideas; they would attend services and debate theological issues extensively. Africans were often very good at that as some missionaries acknowledged.

- however, as they got more information on what the missionaries were demanding, especially the abandonment of so many customs and culture (including lobola, polygyny, and circumcision) as well as urging them to stay neutral (and thus abandon their chiefs and ‘nation’) in the wars, most Xhosa rejected it, saying as one missionary reported, “We are well as we are.”

- also, many missionaries were disappointed in the quality (as well as the quantity) of many converts. Where missionaries had been given substantial amounts of land for their stations, the missionary had the powers of a headman in allocating land. In the increasingly over-crowded situation in the eastern Cape, it was clear that some Africans coming to the mission stations were attracted by the land, not necessarily by Christianity. As well, outcasts from Xhosa society tended to gravitate to the stations. Some were people who got into trouble (including people who were ‘odd’ or different and who might have been accused of witchcraft); others were people with severe physical problems and without family to look after them.

- finally, the wars often disrupted mission work; not only were buildings destroyed (a military measure because white troops tended to use them as fortifications) but converts were killed or scattered; sometimes, the wars caused converts to renounce Christianity:
  1. the demands of loyalty to their people were too much and missionary attempts to urge them to stay neutral brought rejection of Christianity;
  2. they felt that the British, who were Christians, were killing and destroying the Xhosa; this did not seem to follow the ideal of not making war.
- by the 1860s and after almost 6 decades of mission work, missionaries numbered converts in the 10s and dozens; beginning in the 1860s and especially after 1866, conversions began to take place in the 100s and even 1,000s.

- this mass conversion was portentous; since the 2nd decade of the 19th C, the over-whelming majority of Xhosa had chosen Nxele’s option of military resistance. After the successive defeats and disasters illustrated the futility of this option, the Xhosa began to turn to Ntsikana’s option. Also, this seems to suggest that conversion to Christianity was more an effect of conquest rather than a cause.

- up to this point, Peires’ and my interpretations are pretty much in line with each other. However, the long term effects of adopting Christianity are not as simple as Peires implies. While some versions of Christianity do lead to quietism and non-participation in politics, other versions do exactly the opposite.

- in fact, I argue that the roots of African nationalism (i.e., what has often been labelled by historians as secondary resistance) in the 19th C are to be found almost entirely in postmillennial Christianity; in the 20th C, it is true that other ideological influences also came into play (Marxism and revolution as well as Africanist ideology). However, Christianity still remained the most powerful influence.

Xhosa Reactions—adaptation

Mass Conversion to Christianity
- as noted, this began in the 1860s in the wake of military defeats and the cattle-killing; one other element was also necessary in order to facilitate this process—Africans taking the lead in evangelising.

- from an early date, indigenous people had been active and necessary agents in evangelisation, especially as interpreters, but also as subordinate workers. While officials in the mission organisations at home in Britain had always urged that the task of evangelising be turned over to Africans as quickly as possible, most white missionaries had been reluctant, saying that Africans were not yet ready for such responsibility. However, the 1st African from South Africa was ordained in 1856.
Tiyo Soga
- Tiyo Soga was the son of Soga, an influential councillor and a follower of Ntsikana, although Soga himself never became a member of a mission church, partly perhaps because he was a polygynist; Soga was respected as one who adopted the use of plows and other innovations.

- Tiyo’s mother did join the Scottish Presbyterian mission, and as Tiyo early showed great aptitude and ability, he became a protégé of the teacher of the newly established Lovedale Institution. Lovedale’s initial goal was to provide an education for the children of missionaries, but it soon began taking Africans who had completed the primary education provided by local mission schools. Later, it was the 1st school to provide secondary education and even post-secondary education when the Theology School was established in the 1870s.

- eventually, Tiyo was selected to be sent to Scotland to complete his education there, which he did in the 1850s completing both a BA and a theology degree. The Scottish universities were very good and theology required both Latin and Greek. Clearly, Tiyo Soga was an outstanding individual.

- he was ordained in Scotland, married a Scotswoman, and returned to South Africa as a missionary. His return created a sensation. His career as a missionary was quite short and he died within 10 years of TB. He was sent to open a mission to the Gcaleka east of the Kei and had only limited success. Part of the reason was that the demoralisation of defeat was not so advanced as among the Xhosa west of the Kei, but partly because he had not been circumcised and many traditional Xhosa would not take him seriously. His main accomplishment was on the committee completing the translation of the Bible into Xhosa. This task had been going on since the 1820s when parts began to be translated (some not very well). Tiyo was invaluable and he is often given much credit for making it such an outstanding translation.
[Soga has long been dismissed as irrelevant to the African nationalist tradition; however, this recent reassessment points out that Soga raised several important themes which became of great importance to African nationalists in the 20th C.]
Wesleyan Methodist Church
- in 1866 after talking about it for some time (and likely being influenced by Tiyo Soga’s example), the Methodists decided to take the plunge and 4 specially selected men began training for ordination under a missionary named Robert Lampough. This was a grand experiment as many missionaries and other clergy in the Methodist church were opposed. One of the 4 candidates for the ministry was Charles Pamla. He especially was able to report rising interest and a growing number of conversions.

- it is clear from the records that these men began to have an impact even in the 1st year, as they were able to report very significant results of their evangelising efforts; however, even before this had advanced very far, they were all overtaken by a stunning religious phenomenon which became known as the Taylor Revival (see my “The Taylor Revival of 1866 and the Roots of African Nationalism in the Cape Colony,” Journal of Religion in Africa, VIII, 2(1977), 105-122).
The Taylor Revival
- this phenomenon received its name from an amazing American revivalist named William ‘California’ Taylor. He was kind of like a Billy Graham of the 19th C. He arrived in South Africa in 1866 en route to the US from Australia. Because of the illness of his son, the family stopped in Cape Town. While his son recovered, Taylor began preaching; he was only in South Africa for about 8 months.

- Taylor had an incredible career; he never stopped. Considering the rigours of travel in that era, the man must have had almost unbelievable energy because he quite literally went around the world.

- his evangelism featured very emotional, ecstatic type conversions—people crying and weeping, falling down, overcome with an overwhelming sense of guilt and the need for forgiveness. This was not unusual in North American Methodism at the time, although it had for the most part disappeared from British Methodism (it had been common in the early days during Wesley’s lifetime in Britain in the 18th C).

- he began around Cape Town and slowly moved eastwards. During the early period, he had tried preaching through interpreters to Dutch speaking audiences (both whites and Coloureds) but had been unhappy with the results. He had decided to preach to English-speaking audiences only.

- however, when he arrived in East London, he was importuned by Lamplough to visit his mission. Finally, Taylor agreed to stop for one day only on his way to revival meetings in Grahamstown and other inland towns. At the mission, he met Charles Pamla. They devised a plan whereby Taylor preached the sermon to Pamla beforehand so that he had a good idea of what was coming. As it turned out, Pamla, who was an outstanding preacher in his own right, was also an inspired translator. For example, one technique frequently used by Taylor was to sing a hymn as he was reaching the climax of his sermon; in this first sermon he did that as well although he had not gone through the song previously with Pamla. Apparently, without missing a beat even though he had never heard the song before, Pamla not only translated the song but also rendered the melody line by line. The amazed Lampough later wrote that he had never heard anything like it before.

- the results were stunning. People were weeping and crying—a great tumult. Some of the missionaries were very concerned, but Taylor assured them that this was not unusual and that the same thing happened at services with whites. There was a 2nd service at night which lasted into the early hours. By that time over 100 people were claimed as converts, a stunning outcome for missions up to that time.

- early the next day, Taylor left. However, as he continued his preaching to white audiences, other missionaries also pleaded with him to come to their missions. Finally, Taylor agreed provided that Pamla came to be his interpreter. For several weeks then, Taylor would visit mission stations with Pamla as he continued his revival campaign. Everywhere, the results were similar. However, it did not stop after Taylor departed. Especially under the Africans (both the ministerial candidates and other ‘evangelists’, many of whom later became candidates for the ministry themselves), this revival movement continued to build.

- then, Taylor decided to visit Natal, but instead of going by sea, he decided to travel overland through the Transkei where the Wesleyans had established a line of mission stations. Conversions were not numerous there; probably the impact of defeat and the disruptions of European influences was not as great as in the frontier districts of the Colony. However, as Taylor himself reported, Pamla was much more an object of interest and excitement to the Africans than Taylor was.

- in Natal, the two men separated; as Taylor said, Pamla could preach just as well or better to the Africans without Taylor. Thus, Taylor concerned himself almost exclusively with white audiences. Again, although conversions were not as spectacular as in the eastern Cape, conversions were much larger than missionaries had ever seen before.
- among whites there was considerable impact. Not only were new members added to the Methodist churches (other churches also received some benefit) and existing members made more enthusiastic, but several men offered themselves for the ministry. However, this revival began with Taylor’s arrival and tended to diminished rather quickly afterwards. Within 5 years, ministers were lamenting how ‘cold’ many of their members had become. Thus, among whites the revival provided a short-term shot in the arm, but did not generate much long-term, on-going momentum.

- among Africans, however, the story was very different. The phenomenon started several months before Taylor arrived on the scene; it not only continued after he left but also the momentum increased. Not only were Methodists part of it, but other missions also began to experience similar, if somewhat more muted, interest and conversions.
Taylor’s Role and Function
  1. Pamla and the others probably learned a good deal about techniques of evangelising and of revivalism. Taylor was one of the best and most successful of his time; he proved that in a variety of countries and situations. Thus, his revivalism wasn’t just situational.

  2. His arrival probably fanned a small flame into a blaze so one can say that his coming quickened the religious awakening that was already beginning.

  3. More importantly, perhaps even vitally, Taylor legitimised the revival; few white clergymen had witnessed anything like it before and there was a good deal of apprehension at the emotionalism and the relative disorder as compared to regular, sedate and predictable services.

    - there is a good chance that if it had broken out spontaneously among Africans only, there would have been opposition and attempts to tone it down or even suppress it. Taylor arrived and produced similar phenomena amongst whites; although not as noisy as African meetings, they were often just as emotional. Also, Taylor reassured nervous ministers that similar things happened all the time in his revival services in the US, Canada and Australia.

    - this legitimising enabled it to continue long afterwards among Africans. W. C. Holden was describing services in the early 1870s that were very similar to the original outbreak at Annshaw Mission in June 1866.

  4. Taylor ensured the development and expansion of the ordination of Africans. Among Methodists the experiment was a success. The next year, 4 more were accepted as candidates for the ministry and more added each year after. The original 4 were ordained in 1870. Taylor’s proposals for expanding African clergy and relying on them for all the evangelising among Africans was published in the Grahamstown Journal as well as the Wesleyan Missionary Notices (the missionary magazine) in Britain.
- later in the 1870s, Wesleyan officials in Britain felt that local church officials were dragging their feet so they sent out a special delegate named Kilner in 1879-80; he went around to the various districts to see that more was done. In 1881 between 50 and 60 men were accepted as candidates. Most of these were older men with low educational qualifications, but who had been used for many years as part-time or full-time evangelists and local preachers.

- other churches soon followed suit; Anglicans ordained their first African deacon in 1872 and the 1st African priest in 1877. They really got in gear in the 1880s. About the same time, the Presbyterians and Congregationalists organised the Theology class at Lovedale, but it was late in the 1870s before their first ordinations took place. They were more demanding academically and initially demanded Latin and Greek.

- between 1870 and 1910, over 200 Methodists, 70-80 Anglicans, 15-20 Presbyterians and about half a dozen Congregationalists were ordained in the Cape Colony. Others were ordained in other parts of South African also, but much smaller numbers because there weren’t the schools in those areas.
Significance of Mass Conversion
- in cosmological terms, it involved recognition that the small-scale world of traditional society with its subsistence economy, etc., had been displaced and replaced by a large-scale, multiple world society. It involved a search for the answer to the question, “Where is our place in all this?”
- the white-dominated society of the Cape Colony was much larger, more complex socially with social and economic hierarchies which were, with only minor exceptions, correlated with race and ethnic differences. It was also economically very different with a market economy.

- moreover, the Cape Colony was itself part of even larger ‘worlds’. It was part of the global British Empire in political terms and an increasingly global economic system (e.g., fluctuations in either demand or prices for commodities like wool and soon diamonds had profound effects on the economic well-being of people in the Cape Colony, including Africans).

- conversion then was an acknowledgement that with the conquest, a new situation had irretrievably replaced the old. To people who believe that success or failure were determined by supernatural forces, it was necessary to acquire the necessary knowledge and levers to survive and live in the new world. For most, the key in the new context was Christianity.

- also, they realized that education was the key to jobs and success in this new economic environment and education was supplied exclusively by missionaries and mission societies. This is not to suggest the adopting Christianity was utilitarian and insincere; Christianity supplied emotional and spiritual needs now that traditional religion and cosmology was shown to be inadequate.
- however, it is important to note that Christianity was adopted, not in place of, but in addition to many aspects of traditional belief and continuing respect for many traditional customs. The missionaries tried to get abandonment of a number of customs—especially, ukwaluka, intonjane and lobola—but they had met resistance. In regard to these traditional customs, the African clergy were often in a very difficult spot in the middle (see my “Missionaries, Xhosa Clergy and the suppression of traditional customs.” in Henry Bredekamp and Robert Ross, eds., Missions and Christianity in South African History, (Univ. of Witwatersrand Press, 1995), pp. 153-171). Missionaries expected them to be exemplary and disciplined them for breaches; on the other hand, even when they accepted the missionary criticisms of the customs, they were much closer to the people and were much more aware of the strength of feeling and resistance. Some African clergymen did accept the missionary assessments, but others never were whole-hearted in denouncing the customs. In fact, some began to defend some aspects and the principles underlying the customs.
Traditional Customs
- another feature to note about this turning to Christianity is the fact that it was postmillennial Christianity. This approach holds that society is improving and in the process of being perfected (i.e., moving towards the millennial society and the Kingdom of God). Furthermore, it is the duty and obligation of the Christian to work to bring this about by:
  1. working to convert others to Christianity and thus to bring about the regeneration of society by the regeneration of individuals;
  2. to work for the improvement of society by eliminating evils in society.
- the first duty involves evangelisation while the 2nd involves political action.
Education and Political Activity
- this too was part of the reorientation that emerged in the wake of the defeats and cattle-killing. Beginning in the 1860s and continuing throughout the 19th C, there was a growing demand from Africans for more education. Missions and churches were assisted in filling this demand by government grants, but African parents were often willing to pay fees for their children. Local schools operated primarily in local churches (thus buildings served a double purpose). Then, for education above primary levels, most churches built residential schools. For full matriculation, most students usually had to go to Lovedale.

- the education activities served a double purpose for the mission societies because education provided jobs as teachers for those who achieved certain levels of education. Moreover, it was from this pool of western educated Africans that mission societies drew candidates for the ministry. The ministry was a very attractive option for Africans. In addition to providing a career, the ministry provided relatively high status. There were also jobs in government (usually at the lower levels, but quite a number of Africans were required to interpret and assist in administration of ‘native affairs’. A handful even achieved fairly high status in the Cape civil service. Others found employment with private business.

- by the 1870s, Africans were showing much greater interest in politics in Cape Colony. The Cape Colony had a nonracial (but males only) franchise; there were property and income qualifications, but no restrictions based on ‘race’ (we’ll discuss this in the next module). It was during this decade that the first generation of highly educated Africans first emerged from the system. This small new elite had education qualifications that exceeded those held by the majority of whites. While some missionaries were uncomfortable with this new interest in politics, other missionaries encouraged it, arguing that it was far better for everyone if Africans devoted their time to political action rather than military actions.

- the emergence of Africans in political activities began near the end of the 1870s, but got everyone’s attention in the 1880s. It was in the early 1880s that Africans, led by this new educated elite, began to make concerted efforts to get Africans enrolled on the voters’ lists. In 1884 there was a sensation when African voters were able to affect an election in one constituency. African voters did not have a majority, but in a 3 way fight for the election of 2 members, they were able to get the candidate they supported elected. So successful were they in getting Africans on the voters’ lists that the whites began to get afraid (although African voters were probably never more than 10% anytime). The result were steps taken to curb the number of African voters.
- the other area of intense activity by Africans was in trying to achieve restrictions on the sale of liquor to Africans [see my “The Roots of African Nationalism in the Cape Colony: Temperance 1866-1898,” International Journal of African Historical Studies, XIII, 2(1980), 197-213]. Massive disruption and social change is very difficult and many people cannot make the shift. Large scale alcoholism often accompanies large social changes. For example, it showed up during the industrial revolution in Britain in the late 18th and 19th Cs; This may be an explanation for similar problems among the Native People in North America. In the Cape Colony, it was asserted that alcoholism seemed more prevalent in the 1870s and 80s partly attributed to the introduction of distilled liquors (especially brandy from the western Cape) but also increased consumption of African beer which was relatively low in alcohol content. Certainly, it was perceived by many Africans to be a serious problem and threat.

- temperance movements were a prominent feature in North America, Britain and a number of other areas in Europe etc. Some adopted a masonic order format. one of the most successful of these masonic format temperance organisations in North America was the Independent Order of Good Templars. The IOGT was founded in the US in the 1840s; it subsequently spread internationally with British and Canadian branches by the beginning of the 1850s. It was virtually unique in admitting women and giving them almost equal status in the organisation. It was instrumental in founding the Prohibition Party in the U.S in 1870; the latter has run presidential candidates in every presidential election since.

- the IOGT was brought to South Africa in the 1870s. However, there, whites had refused to be in the same organisation with non-whites; this issue of segregation had emerged in the US South and brought a split for a number of years in the IOGT during the 1850s. However, no one seems to have made any objection about the segregation in South Africa. In any case, a couple of missionaries created the Independent Order of True Templars (IOTT) in the 1870s. It catered to both Africans and Coloureds, but they were in separate divisions. It was especially strong at Lovedale, and as so many of the members of the new, educated elite passed through there, quite a few became members.

- initially, most of the officers of the IOTT were missionaries, but as they went home on furlow or reduced their level of activity, Africans increasingly rose to the leadership positions. By the early 1890s it was entirely in the control of Africans. In fact, the missionary who had had most to do with establishing the IOTT complained that he had not even been invited to a big convention, even though he was living in retirement only a few miles away.

- many Africans became active in gathering petitions to parliament to change the laws to restrict canteen licences and even to get total prohibition for Africans. Also, when a local option was introduced for licensing canteens, they often appeared to oppose reissuing of licences or granting new ones.

- the importance of this organisation is that it gave experience in organising and operating a voluntary organisation. This was very useful when they began to go on to organise political organisations. It also served to ‘politicise’ Africans to the importance of having the vote. This same role has been noted for women in the late 19th C. One of the most important training grounds for women was in temperance movements. The Women’s Christian Temperance Union became a huge international organisation. Many women went on from this to organisations demanding the franchise for women—the suffrage movement.
Voluntary Associations
- the western educated elite in the Cape Colony began to form other voluntary organisations in the 1880s, such as the Native Educational Association and the Native Voters Vigilance Association. However, the political organisations tended to be more episodic—becoming active primarily at election time and being relatively dormant between. However, if some issue arose (such as legislation which had a negative impact on Africans), then the organisation could be brought to life quickly.

- moreover, the Xhosa-English newspaper, Imvo Zabantsundu (‘The Opinions of the Brown-skinned People’), was founded in 1884. The editor was John Tengo Jabavu who had been a student at Lovedale in the late 1870s and early 1880s. While there, he had become heavily involved in producing the famous missionary newspaper, South African Opinion.. However, his great interest in politics and his outspoken opinions on political topics had made some missionaries very nervous, hence his departure.

- in any case, by the 1880s, Africans in the Cape Colony were becoming very politicized and increasingly interested and involved in politics—what historians of Africa have labelled as secondary resistance. The leaders in these activities were the mission educated and church members. By the early 20th C, the same group would found African nationalism.

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