Struggle icon Nxele Makana drowns while escaping from Robben Island


Nxele “Makana” Makhanda

Saturday, 25 December 1819

Post the Fourth Frontier War 1811-1812, the Cape Governor, Sir Charles Somerset, made a verbal treaty with Gaika, the supposed paramount chief of the Western Xhosas. Unfortunately this agreement between Sir Charles Somerset and Gaika helped provoke a quasi-nationalist movement among the Western Xhosas, led by the 'prophet' Makana, which led to a renewal of the civil war between Gaika and Ndlambe. The Xhosa prophet Makhanda Nxele known by many people as Makana, was later imprisoned on Robben Island for leading an attack on Grahamstown in 1818.

On 25 December 1819, Makana, together with about thirty other prisoners, attempted to escape from Robben Island in three boats. The boats capsized and Makana, while marshalling and urging his men to swim to shore, drowned. Only four of the prisoners survived. Makana became a lasting symbol of resistance. The island is sometimes referred to as Makana Island.

• Elphick R. & Davenport R. (1997) ‘Christianity in South Africa’, (University of California Press) pg 72
• South African History Online, (2013), ‘Chapter IV - Divide and Rule’, from SAHO [online], Available at [Accessed: 05 November 2012]

Last updated : 15-Dec-2015

This article was produced by South African History Online on 19-Dec-2012

Support South African History Online

Dear friends of SAHO

South African History Online (SAHO) needs your support.

SAHO is one of the most visited websites in South Africa with over 6 million unique users a year. Our goal is to fulfill our mandate and continue to build, and make accessible, a new people’s history of South Africa and Africa.

Please help us deliver this by contributing upwards of $1.00 a month for the next 12 months.

Make a donation here and send us a message of support.