Chief Mhlonthlo revolts against the British


anglo boer icon

Saturday, 23 October 1880

Paramount Chief of the Mpondomise, Mhlonthlo, lured Hamilton Hope, the third resident magistrate at Tsolo in the Eastern Cape, and his staff to Sulenkama where they were massacred, during a revolt against the British. Hope was lured to Sulenkama, Chief Mhlonthlo's capital, by promises that the Mpondomise would assist the British government defeat the Basotho during the Gun War of 1880-1881. In return, the British government would supply the Mpondomise with arms and ammunition. Chief Mhlonthlo asked Hope to address the assembled warriors before marching to battle. It was at this moment that the six men rushed to Hope and his two men and stabbed and killed them within a few minutes. The only life spared was that of a Davis, whose father and brother were missionaries among the Mpondomise. Chief Mhlonthlo told Davis that their action was a revolt against the government. His words were:

"[The government] has either entirely changed from what it was doing a few years ago, or it must be ignorant of what its Magistrates are doing. We are harshly treated. We came under the Government in order to gain peace and quietude, instead of which we have been in a continual state of unrest from the treatment we have received. Faith has been broken with us over and over again ... Our cattle are to be branded; our arms are to be taken away; and after that our children are to be seized and carried across the water." (Craig 2003: 18).

On 29 October, 1880, they continued their revolt by destroying the magistrate's offices and jail. The revolt was crushed and Chief Mhlonthlo fled to Lesotho where he stayed for more than two decades before his arrest in 1903. He was charged with the murder of Hope and his assistants, but was found not guilty and in 1906 returned to his home as a commoner. He died in 1912.

Click here to read more about this revolt.

• Craig, D. 2003. " Chiefs and Bureaucrats in the Making of Empire: A Drama from the Transkei, South Africa, October 1880" The American Historical Review, vol. 108, No.: 4 (October).

Last updated : 10-Oct-2013

This article was produced for South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011