The pre-colonial period


In the pre-colonial period, 1880 to 1893, the Pondo people (Mpondo) formed part of the Xhosa ethnic group, but differed in terms of culture and customs. They were well known for their dominant tribal ties and unity that originated from deep roots in their past. The Mpondos are similar to other Nguni peoples who occupied the whole of the East Coast of South Africa. Linguistically and culturally, the Mpondo fall somewhere between the Xhosa, Thembu, Bomvana, and Mpondomise to the South-West, later dubbed the Cape-Nguni, and the many small units in pre-Mfecane Natal. They all share fundamental features of social organization and material culture which distinguished them from other African societies in Southern Africa. They consist of a number of subchiefdoms, each under their own inherited leaders, subordinated in changeable degrees to a royal family with which most claim a direct genealogical connection.The Mpondo people maintained large herds of cattle, which supported their economic independence. Land and livestock were the main sources of the Pondos’ economy.

In Pondoland, the Royal families were very rich when compared to other Mpondo. They owned land, cattle, goats, sheep, farming tools and ploughs. Mpondo people produced maize, which was their staple food. Pondos provided food and shelter for themselves by breeding cattle, growing grain and pumpkin, hunting, and making huts, clothing, household utensils, and weapons from material at hand. They were united, mindful of their ethnicity, and proud of their background. The control and administration of Pondo affairs fell under their Paramount Chiefs. Mpondo Paramounts and Chiefs enjoyed more power over their local people than other Chiefs and Paramounts in other areas of the Transkei. This was because Pondoland had rejected the council system, which had reduced the role of hereditary Paramount Chiefs (the colonial term for African kings) in land allocation and others.

Grass played a significant role as it was used for thatching and animal grazing.The root of Mpondo economic independence was their wealth in cattle.Cattle were very important to the Pondo people, as they were used for religious ceremonies and to purchase commodities they needed. Most importantly, the Pondo were self-governing as far as their socio-economic system was concerned. Land brought a sense of self-respect, confidence and dignity, and the importance of land ownership was also a unifying factor.

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• Kepe, T, and Ntsebeza, L. (2011). Rural Resistance in South Africa: the Mpondo Revolts after Fifty years. African Studies Centre. Brill. LEIDEN. BOSTON. Stapleton, T, J. (2001). Faku: Rulership and colonialism in the mpondo kingdom (c. 1780 ”“ 1867. Wilfrid Laurier University Press.
• Theal, George, MacCall. (1837). History of South Afrcia from 1873 to 1883, twelve eventful years, with continuation of the history Galekaland, Tembuland, Pondoland, Bathshuanaland until the annexation of those territories of Cape Colony, and the Zululand until its annexation of Natal (1919), London, Allen.
• Wood, G. (1993). “The Horsemen are coming”: Rethinking the Pondoland Rebellion, Rhodes University: Contree 33.

Last updated : 31-Jan-2014

This article was produced for South African History Online on 31-Jan-2014