THE HISTORY ISSUE

Good Monday Afternoon everyone

It’s my pleasure to introduce The History Issue as this month’s content focus for my blog.  The Hair Issue started the conversations that I hoped it would start when I launched it and I’ve had strangers and acquaintances comment on how they’ve been following ‘’My Hair Revolution’’.  I’m hoping that The History Issue, taking some time to concentrate on the subject of mine, yours and our history, will result in an even better sense of who we are as individuals and as compatriots. The aim is always to restore a lost dignity, a lost sense of self but also to speak the truth, which has the ability to change the way you and I see the world.  That’s why I’m doing this.

I always loved History as a subject at school.  I always excelled at it because I was that annoying kid who would have the answer to everything because I would go home and spend hours reading up on whatever we were learning about as soon as we started the particular subject in class.  This piqued an interest in my father, who would sit and have discussions with me about the conventional history we were studying, offering different takes on it.  I would sit in his study reading volumes of Encyclopedia Britannica sets for fun (rolls eyes), quiz myself on the events of Chronicles of different years, watch VHS tapes of figures like Credo Mutwa over and over again and then naturally gloat to my sisters and my classmates about it yet have the nerve to wonder why I was a social pariah at home and why nobody asked me to any school dances.

These days I only become intolerable during 30 seconds but for the most part, I’m a shadow of that gloaty little girl.   Random historical facts and anything to do with the past still turn me on although I faltered a bit on my reading while I was busy with fashion and the general adventures of my life in the last few years, I have spent the last 18 months revisiting South African History as an adult.

I can’t begin to explain how much this has affected my worldview.  We all know (do we?) that the history that was part of the syllabus in in the 90s and even the 2000s was a hangover from an Apartheid approach to South African History.  You know, the South African history that starts in 1652 with the arrival of Dutch East India Company Viceroy Jan van Riebeck?  The ‘’history’’ that writes out (as in excludes from the books) the achievements of indigenous Africans, their art, religion and contribution to civilization.

The only histories that existed, according to our curriculum were those of the  English, Portuguese, Spanish and the French, which we spent a great deal learning about.  I remember studying Egypt, China and Japan and feeling like Africans have been left behind by all these other nations. The image I walked away with after studying Egyptian history was that they must have been Middle Eastern or ‘’Arab’’, which isn’t even a race.  They were definitely not black even though they lived in Africa. To this day, despite 3000 year old evidence around them, it’s still a contentious issue among Egyptologists that the Egyptians included dark skinned African people.  Anyway, we’ll get to that later.

Even when I studied History for 3 years at Rhodes and we did study South African history, the focus was always on Post-Colonial South Africa, leaving classes and classes of students ignorant about the existence of life in Africa before the colonists came.  This was normal and unquestioned.  African history was hidden and the silence about it wasn’t always sinister, it was because the teachers who taught us were ignorant of African history, just like the teachers who taught them because, well it was designed in this way so that African people have no sense of self, let alone pride in the achievement of their forbearers.  Has it worked?

Why is it that we could reblockquote the names of the wives of Henry the Eighth and the order in which they were divorced and beheaded yet one has to scramble to find information on Xhosa, Pedi or Shona chiefs, kings and queens?  Their names don’t roll off our tongues because the information isn’t easily available.  Part of it is because of our own ignorance as victims of this historical exclusion and perpetual loser syndrome, and the other reason is because of the old adage history is told by the victor.  To deprive someone of their own history is to deprive them of their power, knowledge.  What can one do with an empty pot? One can fill that pot with ingredients that when cooked over time, become a bottomless soup of lies, elaborate lies and misunderstandings that for years and years and years keep entrenching themselves into the base of the pot until the lies become facts.

Two months ago, Nigeria expunged History as a subject in school. I repeat, History is no longer a subject in Nigerian schools.  The education department says it’s because there are not enough teachers to teach it, not enough jobs that one can do with a Degree in History and lastly, ‘’the students shun it as a subject’’.  So what would happen if the students also shunned Maths and Science as subjects? Could those also be struck off the register so easily? This is a shocking leap of ignorance that is going to deprive Nigerian children of a core part of themselves.  I know that History is seen as one of those fuddy duddy subjects that bores most kids into undermining it but here’s a newsflash, undermining one’s history is undermining one’s self.

I believe that the reason Africans are perceived as the most inferior by the rest of the world, a view upheld by an economic system that literally takes from the richest continent in the world, Africa, and leaves its people the poorest: poor of food, poor of land, poor of resources and poor of knowledge – is because we have been successfully tricked into thinking that Africans were nothing before colonialism, not just African kids but all kids who have learned history in the last 100 years have been privy to that disinformation. It’s a system that’s been used to conquer North America, South America, Australia, some parts of Asia and all of Africa.  Naturally, Africans had it the worst because our continent had and still has the most that European colonizers were after during the 19th Century scramble.

The culture in Pre-Colonial times from as early as the 1300s to the mid 1600s, was to trade with Southern African natives.  Materials like beads, gold and ivory, silver and other precious metals were traded with the Portuguese, who in turn traded with North East Africans, Persians and Asians, and while there would be squabbles and molestations here and there, the general consensus was mutual respect meaning no taking over of other people’s land and livelihood, no forcing them to denounce their Gods, no raping their women and definitely no making their people slaves.

So how did it become that?
Where does the story or our current situation begin to take shape?
Was it simply about black versus white?
What role did our own forbearers play in our downfall?
Who built Great Zimbabwe and why?
Where was the Monomotapa Kingdom?
Who was Mbuye Nehanda?
Why don’t we know a lot about Mapungubwe?
Where did white Jesus come from and to whom were native southern Africans praying before that?
What happened to those gods?
What does the shape of 19th Century village houses have to do with the proselytization of native South Africans?
What happened to the Khoi Khoi and the Khoi San when they first encountered Europeans?
What role did fashion play in the colonization of native Southern Africans?
What did Nongqawuse look like and why was she such a controversial character? Why are Xhosa’s the only Nguni’s that make the click sounds?
How do I feel about taking pride in the fact that I attended a learning institution named after a man who said ‘’I don’t care about niggers, I’m more interested in their land’’?
Why cigarettes and alcohol, mirror’s and teapots were so instrumental in the interior advancement of Europeans in Southern Africa. Why Caucasians have long straight hair and narrow noses and why Negroid peoples have the hair and wider noses they have.
Why Ghandi was not a friend of ‘’Kaffirs’’.
The effects of Tshaka’s Mfecane on South Africa and how the nations of Swaziland and Lesotho came to be.
Who was Sir Lowry, Benjamin D’Urban, Harry Smith, Graham of Grahamstown, Henry Somerset, Beaufort and other British men who have towns named after them?
Who was Rharhabe and why did he hate his brother Gcaleka?
Who was Yese and why did she have power over her son Ngqika?
Who was present when Hintsa was killed and what type of man was he?
Where does the name for the fruit Spanspek come from?
Why was a Khoi San man Africa’s first revolutionary?
Why did the west love Mandela so much after he came out of prison?
Why did Apartheid really end?
Is it really dead?

As you can see I could go on forever. And this all went down in a short 700-year period.  There’s a whole 800 years and the rest of the continent of West Africans who conquered and civilized Europe way before all of this went down – the Moors, whose story is known but somehow not taken as seriously as it should.  There’s a sense of never wanting to attribute any genius to Africans nje in the world and it’s amazing how well it has worked.   Why does it continue to work? It’s only because we don’t really know our history.  For generations we have accepted a history that was taught in the schools of the victors.

I am not a historian so I don’t have the desire nor the capacity to make this into an in depth account of the stories above, but I do plan to tell what I know, what I have learned about South African history and where I as a Mfengu Xhosa fit into the story and hopefully where you, whoever you are and wherever your people come from, fit into the story.  I will give nuggets of knowledge that I have learned and try to make it as interesting as possible since this is a funky blog on funky culture.  I know that my life’s mission is to go back to school and actually break this history down into many set work books and historical novels like Marguerite Poland’s Shades. But for now, here’s to a month of looking at Southern African history and a little bit on African history that goes waaaaaay back when we Nguni were still in the caves of modern day Cameroon.  My golden source, one of many, is a book called Frontiers: The Epic Creation of South Africa and the Tragedy of the Xhosa people written by Noel Mostert, who writes a brilliant story as if he was there as a native Africa who saw it all unfolding.  If you can find it, buy it now.  I didn’t buy it. It’s on a 2 year loan from my friend Michael because it’s almost 1500 pages of WHAT? HOW? WHO DID WHAT? It’s extremely rare and not something you can just walk into Exclusives and buy.

It might also be fun to really engage with this subject by sending me questions, comments, sharing more facts, reading material and bits of history in an effort for group learning which will ultimately lead to better understanding and tolerance of our differences and most importantly, a decolonizing of the mind.

Image: a young Xhosa man by Alice Merster and Joan Broster // African Elegance, 1973

#thehistoryissue

// Comments (20)
  • Eva says:

    Hi Miss Milli B

    I am very excited to read this because of a few things, but especially this: “Why is it that we could reblockquote the names of the wives of Henry the Eighth and the order in which they were divorced and beheaded yet one has to scramble to find information on Xhosa, Pedi or Shona chiefs, kings and queens? Their names don’t roll of our tongues because the information isn’t easily available.”

    This resonates because it is exactly this I am working on. I am currently working on detailing the life of the longest-reigning female chief to rule in colonial Natal, Vundlazi MaSenca. If you’re interested in reading my published chapter about her (and much else in the other chapters) I’d recommend getting your hands on http://ukznpress.bookslive.co.za/blog/2013/11/07/introducing-ekhaya-the-politics-of-home-in-kwazulu-natal-by-meghan-healy-clancy-and-jason-hickel/

    I’d be happy to send you (and any others) my MA once it’s submitted. It looks not only at Vundlazi and the fate of female chiefship in Natal, but at other women in her family. It also looks at Dalida Dube (John L Dube’s grandmother, a royal widow of chief Dube of the Qadi), Mbalasi Makhanya (royal widow of Duze, a chief of the Makhanya, and grandmother to the first Zulu-speaking doctor), and the roles Qwabe princesses played in Qwabe political affairs in Natal in the 1840s. It touches on how women’s opportunities to own property were affected by colonial law and administration.

    Will be following the history week 🙂

  • Namhla says:

    Looking forward to learning from you. I’ll be the first to admit that I am one of those who found History a boring subject. Never even considered having it as one of my subject choices at school.

    This post has enticed me, I want to learn and know more about my history. I agree that “undermining history is undermining one’s self”.

  • Milli Bongela says:

    Oh my word Eva this is MUSIC TO MY EARS. You know, with as much reading I’ve done on these subjects, there’s still so much I don’t know. I had no idea about Chief MaSenca and I would love to know more. I have clicked on the link and it shall be my midnight reading once I am done with my day. Yes please, I would love to read your MA Theses and other information you might have. Thank you

  • tamara says:

    Milli. I would like an introductory background to where the different languages and cultures formed in Africa. What connects or separates Shangaan, Venda, Xhosa or Zulu tribes? How has their history shaped them to be who they are now? Are there certain characteristics or family values in different tribes? Which tribes were born out of khoisan? Are some more prone to gatherers, and others to hunters? How does this apply in modern times?

  • JO says:

    Hey Milli
    Love your work !
    I was not a fan of history at school but Jeff has the hugest library of SA history books at home (am forwarding your blog to him now ) Oscar never showed a lot of interest in history in Primary School, but he came back from school in Gtown for his first holiday recently with an awesome report, highest mark being …… history ! He then gabbed on to us all about this history talk that Marguritte Poland had given to the Grade 8 new boys , (he also met her later that term at the airport waiting for his bag to arrive and went and introduced himself and they had a long chat ) …his favorite teacher at school is his history teacher !
    Amazing how the seed can be planted !

  • Shakira says:

    Milli, you have made my day. I started to research my family history last year during a traditional ceremony of amagobongo, which required me to know all izithakazelo (clan names) in their order. What I have found has also helped my older sister a great deal since she is going through the ceremony of ukuthwasa but since her main dlozi is a ndawo dlozi the information has come in handy because the ndawo spirit is usually the oldest and not from SA. I will be happy to contribute what I can.

  • Milli Bongela says:

    Tam I have a book that I can lend you that explains all the different Nguni and Bantu groups in Southern Africa, it’s not long, just a peek into their traditional lives. But off the top of my head, Tsonga, Venda, Xhosa, Swati, Mpondo, Himba, Shona, Ndebele, Tswana, South Sotho and Zulu people are members of the same group of Abantu or Bantu people who migrated from West and Central Africa over a millennia beginning up to 3000 years ago, eastwards towards where modern day Kenya and Tanzania and then travelled south to various parts in Southern Africa. Some settled along the west coast, some settled in the centre around where Zimbabwe is and some settled on the east while others went further down into modern day South Africa. Depending on who settled where, a kingdom or a village developed because they were pastoral. For instance the city of Great Zimbabwe is thought to have been erected around the 11th Century and completed in the 14th Century and was a functioning Kingdom that eventually gave birth to the Kingdom of Mutabapa or Monommotapa which was established in the 15th Century. But before that, The Kingdom of Mapungubwe, of which the Venda people of South Africa are descendents of, existed as early as the 10th Century for over 200 years. The existence of the Kingdom was discovered in 1932. Explorers found gold and pots and weapons that were over 900 years old under the ground right up the road. Ok I’m going off course here. So some groups went west and remained and others went all the way South to where modern day Kwa-Zulu and Eastern Cape are. When Shaka came to power in the early 1800s, he unleashed a zulu nation building war called The Mfecane that saw thousands of small Nguni groups flee modern day Kwa-Zulu – some went North to modern day Zimbabwe and Mozambique, some went South to where modern day Lesotho and Swaziland are and others broke away from the Zulu groups and moved further South into the Cape while others remained to eventually form the Zulu nation. We are all part of the Bantu Migration and are connected linguistically and genetically. For instance, there are similar and shared words in Zulu, Swati, Xhosa and Swahili. Swahili is spoken in the Great Lakes reason but the word for meat, nyama in Swahili is exactly the same word in Zulu, Xhosa and Shona and it’s nama in Sotho and very similar in the more than 500 Bantu languages. The same applies to the word Umlungu or Umzungu or ”white person”. The Khoi San and Khoi Khoi were and white man is very similar to the same words in Zulu and Xhosa. The Khoi were the original inhabitants of modern day Southern Africa, Namibia and Botswana but the various groups met them at various stages depending on where each group settled. The Xhosa for instance, because they were settled in the South Eastern Cape from the Drakensberg region all the way to the Fish River had encountered the Khoi San and Khoi Khoi, fought for territory against them, intermarried with them and the cultures integrated to form the modern language, which has incorporated the X, Q, Kr, C and Qq sounds into the Xhosa language – that comes from an integration with The First People. They were the hunter gatherers. The Nguni were pastoral meaning they farmed and settled on land whereas the Khoi were nomadic and didn’t settle on specific parts of the land for extended periods. I hope I’ve answered your questions. There are books and all of this info is also available on the net.

  • Nana says:

    Hi Miss Bongela.

    Thank you for the knowledge and looking forward to the history month. I would love it if you recommended a book or two that i could read to find out more about the different Nguni and Bantu groups in Southern Africa.

  • Chumisa says:

    This is so cool, what you’re doing. I’m also doing this kind of personal research.

    I found these useful:

    http://amaxhosa.wordpress.com/2011/07/07/umzi-kaphalo-house-of-phalo/

    http://xhosaculture.co.za/history/amamfengu/

    As much as the stuff on the net and books is informative and rich in info, I still feel like I want to learn all this from the lips of someone and not just paper.

    Good luck with the rest of everything.

    From a fellow Mfengu Xhosa.

    P.S Don’t hate how some of the texts say Fingo (European :/) instead of the proper Mfengu? Urgh.

  • Lehlohonolo Shuping says:

    This is an internal battle I have been having with myself for a long and extended period. The chief question eating me has and still is, “why are we so poor when we live in such a rich continent?” A friend of mine tagged me on this link on facebook and I immediately dropped down what I was doing to read this informative piece. He knew I’d go ballistic upon seeing this hence he tagged me. I have a streak of hatred toward whites and I become ultra sensitive when any person of any colour other than black say anything that in my view discredit my people. I can’t help it, I’m a Pan African to the core. Your blog will be my source of healing as I gather info. I stand is Africa for Africans, we don’t need any more contamination of thoughts by the west. Let’s the African mind. Amandla!

  • Milli Bongela says:

    Hahahah I knoooowwwwww the Fingo with an e at the end. Please share what you’re also working on. This could only mean building on what a lot of people have already established. Thank you I will check out your references. I have a lot of reading to do.

  • Slomokazi says:

    super loving your perspective on this and your writing is so fresh.

  • Mosa Mokoena says:

    Thank you for helping me find myself. “You cant go forward if you dont know your past”, i’ve heard that a million times before but im only realising the truth in it now.

  • I’d love to read about the people that went through Tigerkloof (and similar schools) and what they went on to become and do.

    And… I’ll send you a manuscript someone was once writing about my granddad. Could be interesting.

  • Thandiwe N. says:

    First time reading your blog, but might I say I am already hooked. Keep doing the good that you’re doing by squeezing as much ignorance as you can out of our black natives. It’s needed. I’m inspired and as an aspiring writer, I couldn’t get better exposure on this particular day than this. I’ll be reading and keeping up to date with your posts.

  • lorette matodes says:

    Your blog is really interesting. I wss brought up in Zambia,schooled in South Africa and then left for Europe where I have been ever since.I will be following you with interest.Last time in Africa I visited The Khoi /Bushman Centre on The Wild Coast …and plan to go back ..

  • Mncedisi Mweza says:

    Truly interesting. I have just started reading about BLACK history. I read a book by Chancellor Williams: The destrucyion of black civilization.
    It made mefeel like I have been sleep walking all my life. Try to find it on Amazon .

  • Theo says:

    This is most refreshing and thought provoking at the same time. I am raising two beautiful girls who i have been struggling to answer questions they ask about why we leave where we leave and why are white people more important than us and leave in clean beautiful big houses by the sea and this questions come from a 9 and a 7 years old.
    These blogs of yours are giving a narrative that is needed to help fight the inferior complex that is suffered buy black people world over and i pray you go back to school and represent the truth about our truth. Inga kungadeda ubumnyama kuvele ukukhanya endleleni yakho “Camagu mntan’ ethongo”

  • Hamen says:

    The Threads of a tangled History…

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