Guy Hartley: Dithakong and the Mfecane

Guy Hartley

Julian Cobbing’s ‘alibi’ argument claimed that the Zulu kingdom’s role in the Mfecane was a cover-up. Accordingly, he argued that the battle fought at Dithakong between 24 and 26 June 1823 was in fact a slave raid initiated by a handful of white eyewitnesses with Griqua support. Capitalising on known errors in the reports of the battle, Cobbing claimed that the European witnesses had intentionally misled their readership to conceal their involvement. In his 1992 MA thesis, Guy Hartley put forward his own analysis of the battle. By creating biographies for each of the white witnesses – Robert Moffat, George Thompson, and John Melvill – Hartley argued that the social and religious sensibilities of each rendered them highly unlikely to have been slavers. The conventional account of the battle, he added, whereby the Griqua assisted in a defensive battle against the invading ‘Mantatees’, far better withstood critical scrutiny than Cobbing’s contrived revisionism. Hartley further argued that there was insufficient evidence linking Griqua and Korona raiders to indications of stress in the Highveld region prior to 1823, whereas African oral evidence firmly attributed the unrest to the arrival of the Hlubi and Ngwane groups. Hartley concluded that Cobbing’s Mfecane critique overstated the influence of European violence, exaggerated the manipulation of history by the European witnesses, and ultimately ignored African evidence which contradicted it.

Relevant Works

Cobbing, Julian. “Jettisoning the Mfecane (with Perestroika)”.  African Studies Seminar Paper, Rhodes University, 1988.

Cobbing, Julian. “Ousting the Mfecane: Reply to Elizabeth Eldredge”.  Paper prepared for “The ‘Mfecane’ Aftermath: towards a new paradigm” workshop. University of the Witwatersrand, 6 – 9 September, 1991.

Cobbing, Julian. “The Mfecane as Alibi: Thoughts on Dithakong and Mbolompo”. The Journal of African History 29, no. 3 (1988), 487-519.

Gewald, Jan-Bart. “‘Mountaineers’ as Mantatees: A Critical Assessment of the Events Leading up to the Battle of Dithakong”. MA dissertation, Leiden University, 1989.

Hartley, Guy Frere. “Dithakong and the ‘Mfecane’: A Historiographical and Methodological Analysis”. MA dissertation, University of Cape Town, 1992.

How, Marion. “An Alibi for Mantatisi”. African Studies 13, no. 2 (1954), 65-76.

Kinsman, Margaret. “Hungry Wolves’: The Impact of Violence on Rolong Life, 1823–1836”.  In The Mfecane Aftermath: Reconstructive Debates in Southern African History, edited by Hamilton, Carolyn, 363-393. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1995.

Lye, William F. “The Difaqane: The Mfecane in the Southern Sotho Area, 1822-24”. The Journal of African History 8, no. 1 (1967), 107-131.

Online from: 16 Jul 2021