The ‘White Concept’ Argument

During the height of the Mfecane Debates during the early 1990s, vernacular texts and African views of the Mfecane were largely precluded from the discussion. Among the few scholars to recognise the significance of African productions were Carolyn Hamilton and Jeff Peires. Hamilton was the first scholar to examine African productions of Shaka during the 1820s. Drawing on evidence from that James Stuart Archive of Recorded Oral Evidence, she argued that different images of Shaka were promoted by different groups of Africans in response to changing political circumstances. Peires, for his part, argued that notable African sources were being overlooked. Those he signalled out for special mention were the oral histories published in N.J. Van Warmelo’s History of the Matiwane; Moloja’s “The Story of the ‘Fetcani Horde’ by “One of Themselves”; and Nehemiah Moshoeshoe’s “A Little Light From Basutoland”.

Although vernacular texts began to garner greater attention in South Africa during the 2010s, Nomalanga Mkhize’s 2018 article “In Search of Native Dissidence” demonstrated that vernacular accounts of the Mfecane have yet to receive sufficient attention. Mkhize persuasively argued that works such as R.T. Kawa’s 1929 book Ibali lamaMfengu, an account of amaMfengu history that contradicted features of Joseph Whiteside’s and John Ayliff ‘s 1912 History of the Abambo, made cogent arguments that were ignored by the white scholars during the colonial and apartheid eras. Ibali lamaMfengu was also overlooked during the Mfecane debates of the 1990s. As Mkhize pointed out, historians’ failure to engage with Kawa’s work exposes a general inattention to African texts and vernacular historiographies.

Relevant Works

Ayliff, John and Joseph Whiteside. History of the Abambo: Generally Known as Fingos. Fingoland (Cape Colony): Butterworth “Gazette”, 1912.

Hamilton, Carolyn. “‘The Character and Objects of Chaka’: A Reconsideration of the Making of Shaka as the Mfecane Motor”. The Journal of African History 33, no. 1 (1992), 37-63.

Hamilton, Carolyn. “’The Character and Objects of Chaka’: A Reconsideration of the Making of Shaka as the Mfecane Motor”. The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History, edited by Carolyn Hamilton, 183-212. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1995.

Kawa, Richard Tainton. Ibali LamaMfengu. Alice: Lovedale Press, 1929.

Maxengana, N. S. “Impact of Missionary Activities and the Establishment of Victoria East, 1824–1860.” MA dissertation, University of Fort Hare, 2012.

Moloja. “The Story of the Fetcani Horde, by One of Themselves”. Cape Quarterly Review 1 (1882), 267-275.

Moshoeshoe, Nehemiah Sekhonyana. “A Little Light from Basutoland,” Cape Monthly Magazine (April 1880) 221-233 and (May 1880) 280-292.

Nomalanga Mkhize. “In Search of Native Dissidence: RT Kawa’s Mfecane Historiography in Ibali lamaMfengu (1929)”. International Journal of African Renaissance Studies – Multi-, Inter- and Transdisciplinarity 13, no. 2 (2018), 92-111.

Peires, Jeffrey. “Matiwane’s Road to Mbholompo: A Reprieve for the Mfecane?” In The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History, edited by Hamilton, Carolyn, 213-240. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1995.

Van Warmelo, Nicolaas Jacobus. Editor. History of Matiwane and AmaNgwane Tribe as told by Msebenzi to his Kinsman Albert Hlongwane. Pretoria: Government Printers, Ethnological publications, no. 7, 1938.

Online from: 31 Aug 2021