Sir Benjamin D’Urban accepts the Mfengu as British subjects


Fengu people

Sunday, 3 May 1835

The Mfengu (or Fingo in the colonial lexicon) were defeated and left landless by King Shaka's Zulu army, and slowly arrived in Xhosa territory over a period of time. By the 1830's, a centre of Mfengu settlement had been established around the Methodist missionary station in Butterworth (Eastern Cape), where missionary John Ayliff was stationed.

By 1835, the relations between the Mfengu and the Xhosa groups under Hinsta had become strained, and the Mfengu were feeling vulnerable without land to call their own. As a result, many Mfengu looked to Ayliff as their source of political patronage (see Frontier Wars for more information).

In reply to a letter by the Rev. John Ayliff, on behalf of the Mfengu, Sir Benjamin D'Urban accepted the Mfengu as British subjects on 3 May 1835. In this letter he promised them land in Government Notice No. 14, dated at Ndabakazi. Therefore, the Mfengu became the first of the Nguni people to convert to Christianity, and accede to be subjects of the Crown, or Black 'settlers'.

*Note: Mfengu - Although they speak a common language, Xhosa people belong to loosely organized but distinct chiefdoms that have Northern Nguni origins. Since the Mfengu arrived in various areas of Xhosa territory over a period of time, they are considered a Xhosa sub-group.

• Potgieter, D.J. et al. (eds) (1970). Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, Cape Town: NASOU, v. 7, p. 381.
•  Keegan, T.J (1996). Colonial South Africa and the origins of the racial order, New Africa Books, p. 146.
•  "The PWD Trample On Mbeki's Mfengu Ancestors" [online] Available at: [accessed 28 April 2009]

Last updated : 30-Apr-2015

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

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