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The West Bank Location

The Cattle Killings
from 1856 to 1857

Keith Tankard
Knowledge4Africa.com
Updated: 14 October 2009
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The year 1856 saw the start of the Cattle Killing campaign in British Kaffraria.

Space does not allow for a detailed examination here. Essentially, however, after fighting no less than eight unsuccessful colonial wars, the amaXhosa embarked upon a campaign of destroying all livestock and grain in the hope of intervention from the ancestors.

The ancestors, it was hoped, would then drive the Whites out of their country, and thereupon bring about a resurrection of new herds and new crops.

During the campaign, the Xhosa nation became divided into believers and unbelievers. At first, Sandile did not join in but Phato, Mhala and Maqoma -- the leaders whose Great Places were closest to East London -- did.

New cattle kraals were built and old ones were repaired so as to hold the new, resurrected herds. New corn-pits were dug and old ones were cleaned out and enlarged.

By the end of January 1857, the famine had become so acute that many of the amaXhosa had begun to leave their homeland in search of food and employment elsewhere. Of an original population of about 105,000 people, only about 37,000 remained.

Although Phato joined in the campaign, there is no evidence to suggest that the Black community at East London participated directly because, by 1856, the amaXhosa at the port had ceased to be agriculturally based.

Nevertheless, "considerable numbers" of Sarhili's people were said to be visiting the port to sell their corn and were buying spades "in extraordinary quantities".

As the Cattle Killing reached its climax, it brought starvation and poverty to those people close to East London. The poor and the hungry then sometimes turned to violence to survive, with attacks and robberies on the road from East London to King William's Town being frequently reported.

This, coupled with the belief amongst many Whites that yet another frontier war was imminent, led to increased tension at East London. It is in the light of this tension that the events of February 1857 should be understood.

One evening a British soldier was murdered and his body was discovered amongst the rocks, not far from the Black village. The post-mortem revealed that the man had been clubbed to death with a blunt instrument.

There was no evidence to identify the murderer and the body appeared to have been carried to its resting place only after the murder had taken place. Nevertheless, the Magistrate concluded that there were "strong grounds" to suspect that the murder had been committed in the location.

Soldiers of the 89th Regiment then took matters into their own hands. They burnt the village to the ground and then chased the inhabitants through the streets of East London and down to the water's edge, beating them as they ran.

The Chief Commissioner for British Kaffraria thereupon insisted that the Black people had to be registered if they were to be allowed to reside at East London. He also recommended that the Magistrate "do away with Maqoma's next of thieves".

Since the village had been razed to the ground, it was an ideal opportunity to move the amaXhosa and build a new location at a spot much further from the town. Maqoma was fired and a new Headman named Ngogoshe was appointed.

No-one was allowed to remain in the location for any length of time without the permission of the Resident Magistrate, and no woman other than the wife or a family member of a registered person would be allowed to live there.

The Xhosa village had now become no more than a labour pool for the port and its White population.

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