It was 10 June 1906 - and the whispered hopes of freedom of an embittered peasant population were being crushed by a white army's know-how, and its bullets.
six weeks, an African chief called Bambatha had waged a 'war of liberation' from
a forest hideout in the Natal midlands. Although his military manoeuvres were
confined mostly to evading pursuing troops, his resistance led to a mixture of
panic among whites and extravagant expectation among Africans. But amass
up-rising did not materialise. On the night of 9th June the guerrillas, watched
by army scouts, pitched camp at the entrance to the valley. By the early hours
they were surrounded, and at dawn the air began to sing with bullets
than 500 warriors died in the massacre at Mome Gorge, and later, in an ominous
warning to other would-be rebels, the victors marched through the countryside
with a bizarre trophy - the head of Bambatha.
first rumblings of discontent started at the end of 1905 when the authorities
introduced a new £1 poll tax on top of existing hut and dog taxes. Although,
in theory, the tax affected all males over the age of 18, it was aimed primarily
at the African peasantry. The authorities were well aware that the only way
Africans could accumulate enough to pay this new obligation was by working in
the labour-hungry white farming and mining sectors. The tax became payable for
the first time on I January 1906, and although there were many rumours of
African discontent over the new measures, Natal newspapers stilled white fears
with reports that the black population was paying up well. But panic set in on
20 January when a white farmer in the Camperdown district was murdered shortly
after he had taken his labourers to Pietermaritzburg to pay their taxes. Despite
renewed assurances from the media and the Secretary of Native Affairs, reports
of black 'insolence' began filtering in from all around the country.
Furthermore, when Africans began killing off their white coloured animals
and destroying European-made tools, whites needed no further proof that an
uprising was imminent. Dozens of farmers began abandoning their holdings for the
safety of the towns.
the end of January 1906, opposition to the measures reached breaking point.
And on 10 February two policemen were killed in a fracas which followed the
refusal of 27 followers of a chief called Mveli to pay the tax. The ringleaders
of the alleged killers were prominent members of the small but highly vocal
Ethiopian church movement. Convinced that 'agitators' were behind the flare up,
the angry white community found a ready scapegoat in this separatist religious
movement and called repeatedly for its banning.
with growing hysteria in settled ranks, the government declared martial law
and instructed the colony's most respected soldier, Colonel Duncan McKenzie, to
restore order. McKenzie, a known hard-liner, tackled this task with relish.
Indemnified by the martial law provisions, he marched through the territory,
administering corporal punishment to Africans reported to be insolent or
restless, sacking chiefs, burning crops and kraals and confiscating cattle. In
April, 12 men accused of complicity in the killings of the policemen were
captured, tried by court martial and executed. But more trouble was brewing....
it flared when Bambatha, the head of the small Zondi clan, returned to his
homestead from a visit to Zululand to find that he had been sacked and replaced
as chief by his uncle, Magwababa. Furious, he kid-napped the usurper and then
fled into the nearby Nkandla Forest, where he was granted refuge by a clan of
iron workers and assegai-makers led by the 96 year-old Sigananda. Called upon by
the government to arrest Bambatha and hand him over to the authorities, the old
chief replied by throwing in his lot with the rebels. Aware that the majority of
his cam-patriots regarded the Zulu royal house as the head of African society,
Bambatha claimed the support of Dinuzulu, the son of Getshwayo, the last Zulu
king. Although Dinuzulu denied involvement, several prominent chiefs and
hundreds of young warriors, convinced of an imminent vide-scale uprising, took
to the bush in support of Bambatha. However, their crushing defeat on 10 June
and the quick suppression of another rebel group in the Mapumulo district
brought resistance to an end. More than 3000 Africans and about 30 whites died
in the fighting.
was arrested and brought to trial in 1908 on charges ofhightrea-son, public
violence, sedition and rebellion. Although defended by William Philip Schreiner,
one of the Cape Colony's top lawyers, he was found guilty and sentenced to four
years imprisonment and a fine of £100. He was released in 1910 and exiled to
rebellion was the last time, at least until the 1960s - that Africans resorted
to armed insurrection. In the coming decades a new type of freedom fighter - one
who carried no weapons - would increasingly define the pace and tone of the
black man's struggle for political and social fulfilment. In many ways, white
supremacy was about to be tackled by a far more enduring opponent.