Lusikisiki and Bizana

Pondo tribesmen gather on an airfield near Bizana(Photo: Drum Photographer © Baileys African History Archives)

Several years before revolt finally flared, the government had made efforts to induce the peasants to accept Bantu Authorities. In 1953 it tried, through Paramount Chief Botha Sigcau, to force the rehabilitation scheme upon Eastern Pondoland, but at a meeting held in Lusikisiki at which Botha Sigcau was present, the people categorically rejected the scheme. The meeting was highlighted when one man by the name of Mngqingo turned his backside to Botha Sigcau, a sign of non-confidence; the people supported him and booed the chief and the officials. A few days later a large contingent of police entered the area, and Mngqingo took a large peasant army with him to the thick forests. When the government appeared to give up the affair, however, Mngqingo emerged and disbanded his impi. He was eventually arrested and deponed to the district of Cala and the opposition to the government measure gradually subsided.

Discontent then manifested itself in the district of Bizana, which lies between Lusikisiki in the south and the Umtamvuna river on the border of Natal in the north. In September 1957, the Pondos of Bizana rejected Bantu Authorities, Bantu Education and the rehabilitation scheme at a meeting to which the peasants came in their thousands. They demanded that Botha Sigcau should publicly declare whether he was the head of the Pondo tribe or the boot-licker of Verwoerd, the then Minister of Native Affairs. Botha Sigcau left surreptitiously, and the meeting went out of control, ending in disorder and the widespread cry - ‘Umasiziphathe uya Kusebenza sifile’, or ‘Bantu Authorities will operate over our dead bodies.’

Then, in 1958, all the Pondoland districts were invited to send representatives to a large gathering called by the Minister of Bantu Administration and Development, Mr de Wet Nel, and Botha Sigcau. The people were led to believe that the gathering was some sort of celebration, but found on arrival that it was an attempt to get Bantu Authorities under way.

Pondo tribesmen listen to the official's report on the government's Committee's findings on the recent Pondoland disturbances. This is a peaceful demontration on their way to the meeting place at the air field. (Photo: Drum Photographer © Baileys African History Archives)

Chief Botha announced that he had been promoted to take over the chair of the Chief Magistrate of Umtata, and that in turn some of the Chiefs would be promoted in the various districts. The Pondo Court would be enhanced in status, and great changes would be brought about. In short, the people were told that they were getting self-government. (Memorandum sent to the U.N. by the Mountain Committee)

In practice, however, Chief Botha alone made promotions; it was he who selected councillors for the courts from his own supporters. The people steadily lost confidence in the courts, and corruption set in among the councillors, who knew that their position depended not on the goodwill of the people, but on their maintaining their friendship with Chief Botha. This cancer in the heart of tribal justice was one of the main reasons for the breakdown of the whole tribal structure, and for the subsequent development of a new system during the Pondo revolt.

They rotate ever deeper into the once healthy organism of tribal life.

Government appointees to positions of authority were increasingly spurned by the people, and had to rely on the police and the magistrates to impose their authority. Many Chiefs and headmen found that once they had committed themselves to supporting Bantu Authorities, an immense chasm developed between them and the people. Gone was the old give-and-take of tribal consultation, and in its place there was now the autocratic power bestowed on the more ambitious Chiefs, who became arrogant in the knowledge that the government’s might was behind them.

Frustration and dissatisfaction were mounting, and at the Isikelo Location in the district of Bizana anger boiled over. The people called a meeting to demand that Mr Saul Mabude, Chairman, and members of the District Authority explain Bantu Authorities to them. Mabude did not attend. The meeting was punctuated with grim silence, a premonition that all was not well in Pondoland. Laughter and easy talk, characteristics of the Pondos, were totally absent. The meeting ended in disorder. On a Sunday morning, some time later, a large impi marched to Mabude’s kraal, while the women raised the war cry ”” ‘I ”” iwuuu I ii wu iwu!’ Mabude’s house was surrounded, his pigs and fowls were slaughtered, and his hut was set on fire.

The government struck back savagely. Police traversed the country in heavily meshed cars; armed police swarmed into the kraals on the hillsides, terrorizing women and children, arresting the men. Two battalions of the Mobile Watch moved in with armoured vehicles and camped at the villages of Bizana, Lusikisiki and Flagstaff. 60 ‘Native’ police underwent special courses to assist in the training of home guards.

Last updated : 08-Aug-2011

This article was produced by South African History Online on 10-Jun-2011