Langalibalele (isiHlubi: The sun is boiling hot), also known as Mtetwa
(c1814 – 1889), was king of the amaHlubi, a Bantu tribe in what is
the modern-day province of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
He was born on the eve of the arrival of European settlers in the
province. After conflict with the Zulu king Mpande, he fled with his
people to the
Colony of Natal
Colony of Natal in 1848. During the diamond rush of the
1870s, many of his young men worked on the mines in Kimberley where
they acquired guns. In 1873 the colonial authorities of Natal demanded
that the guns be registered,
Langalibalele refused and a stand-off
ensued, resulting in a violent skirmish in which European troopers
Langalibalele fled across the mountains into Basutoland,
but was captured, tried and banished to Robben Island. He eventually
returned to his home, but remained under house arrest.
His imprisonment split the colonial population of Natal and was a
watershed in South African political history.
2 King of the amaHlubi
2.1 Early years
2.2 Flight to the Natal Colony
3 The rebellion
4.1 Trial and sentence
The Bushmen, a hunter-gatherer people, were the original inhabitants
of the modern-day province of KwaZulu-Natal.[Note 1][Note 2]
Historians are divided as to when the Bantu, a pastoral people first
migrated into the province from the north, but they had certainly
settled there by the end of the seventeenth century and displaced the
bushmen who migrated into the foothills of the Drakensberg. The
amaHlubi, a Bantu tribe speaking an Nguni dialect had settled in the
northern part of the province between the Buffalo and Blood Rivers.
A muster and dance of Zulu regiments at Shaka's kraal, as recorded by
European visitors to his kingdom, c. 1827.
During the first decade of the nineteenth century the
Dingiswayo, a neighbour of the amaHlubi, set about consolidating the
Nguni people under his leadership. In 1817 he was killed in
battle and after a civil war, power passed into the hands of one of
his lieutenants, Shaka, chief of the Zulu clan.
Shaka expanded the
Zulu clan into a tribe, by attacking neighbouring clans and
assimilating the survivors; his aggression caused the catastrophe of
At the time of Langalibalele's birth, European settlements in Southern
Africa were confined to Cape Colony and to Portuguese fortress of
Lourenço Marques. In 1824 Fynn established a small British
Port Natal (later to become Durban) but the British
Government declined to take possession of the port. From 1834 onwards,
Voortrekkers (Dutch-speaking farmers) started to migrate from the
Cape Colony in large numbers and in 1837 crossed the
KwaZulu-Natal where, after the murder of one of their leaders, Piet
Retief, in the massacre at Weenen they defeated Shaka's successor
Dingane at the Battle of Blood River, put
Mpanda on the Zulu throne
and established the republic of Natalia. Friction between the
Voortrekkers and the Pondo, a tribe whose territory lay between
Natalia and the
Cape Colony led to the British occupying Port Natal,
Battle of Congella followed by the siege and relief of
the port. After the port had been relieved, the
KwaZulu-Natal into the interior and the British established the
Colony of Natal.
The following decades saw the rise of the British industrial base –
emigration was used to control unemployment and thereby boost the
British economy. The
Colony of Natal
Colony of Natal was one destination of such
emigrants. In 1856 the colony was granted representative government by
the British Government[Note 3] with responsible government[Note 4]
following in 1895. The British government appointed a "Diplomatic
Agent" who was to act on behalf of the native[Note 5] people who were
subject to "native law" rather than "colonial law", "in so far as it
was not repugnant to the dictates of humanity". From 1856 until
1877, the post of Diplomatic Agent was held by Sir Theophilus
Shepstone, son of a missionary and who had been brought up at the
King of the amaHlubi
Hlubi oral tradition asserts that the dynastic line of
Langalibalele originated from King Chibi (1300–1325) who reigned in
an area known to the tribe as eMbo, believed to be in the Congo basin.
The tribe migrated southwards along with other Bantu tribes and
KwaZulu-Natal in about 1650. When Mthimkhulu II became
king of the ama
Hlubi in 1800, he held sway over about 5,000 km2 in the
north-western corner of KwaZulu-Natal.
Localities associated with
Langalibalele on a modern-day map of
Langalibalele (literally "the sun is boiling hot"),[Note 6] the
second son of Mthimkhulu II was born in about 1814 and was originally
known as Mtetwa.
Dingiswayo attacked and looted the amaNgwana clan who, to
replenish their losses of cattle, attacked the amaHlubi.
Mthimkhulu died in the ensuing battle and as both
his elder brother Dlomo were children, Mthimkhulu's brother Mahwanqa
assumed the regency. Mahwanqa, rather than resolve the differences
with the amaNgwana, fled northwards across the Pongola river (northern
boundary of KwaZulu-Natal) to the
Wakkerstroom area of
the two boys where he sought sanctuary amongst the amaNgwe. Other
members of the tribe fled southwards to Pondoland, or westwards to the
Orange Free State
Orange Free State and the Basutoland; those fleeing to Basutoland
placing themselves under the protection of Chief Molapo. After the
Shaka in 1828, Mahwanqa returned to the amaHlubi's
traditional lands. Since Mahwanqa was not subject to Dingane, Shaka's
successor, he set about rebuilding his army.
Once Dlomo came of age, Mahwanqa was reluctant to relinquish the
regency and wished to transfer the chieftainship to Langalibalele, but
Mahwanqa's troops revolted and Mahwanqa was slain in the ensuing
battle. Dlomo, on taking the chieftainship paid a visit to the Zulu
Dingane at the royal kraal in
UmGungundlovu where he argued that
the best course would be for him (Dlomo) to retain the chieftainship
of the ama
Hlubi and that
Dingane should return his cattle. Dingane
however ordered the murder of Dlomo. Thus, in about 1836,
Langalibalele became king of the amaHlubi. Under the guidance of
Zimane, the great man in the ama
circumcised and initiated into the rituals of the tribe. He then took
his first wife – he was later to take another three wives.
Duba, Mini and Luphalule were Langalibalele's half brothers who
plotted to have him killed and eaten by the cannibals. Duba asked
Langalibalele to accompany him to his mother's place at the amaJuba
Langalibalele was tied to a pole. It is said he was saved
by girls who saw
Langalibalele and reported the matter to Gxiva, his
friend. Gxiva managed to release
Langalibalele who escaped during the
night and crossed the Mzinyathi river which was in flood.
Langalibalele had a long history of escapes including escaping being
killed by amaZulu.
Flight to the Natal Colony
In 1848 Mpande summoned Langalibilele to the royal kraal.
Langalibalele, mindful of what had happened to his brother, refused,
and Mpande, incensed by Langalibalele's refusal, launched an attack.
Hlubi and the amaPutini fled across the Buffalo River into the
Klip River country and Langalibilele appealed to Martin West, the
lieutenant governor of Natal for protection. In December 1849, after
negotiations in which Shepstone exhibited considerable diplomacy, the
amaHlubi, now reduced to 7000 in number, were granted 364 km2 of
good land on the banks of the Little Bushmans River, between the newly
established European settlement of Bushmans River (Estcourt) and the
Drakensberg. It was hoped that the ama
Hlubi would provide a buffer
between the bushmen and the settlers and so protect the settlers'
cattle from the bushmen. This area proved too small and within a few
Hlubi settlement had spread to over 6000 km2.
The British Government required that the colonies be self-supporting
insofar as was possible, resulting in various taxes being imposed on
all residents. In the 1850s military levies and a hut tax were imposed
on the native population who lived within the limits of the Colony. In
1873 a marriage tax of £5 imposed by the colonial government caused
Drakensberg – across which Langalibilele escaped
The discovery of diamonds in Kimberley, in the British Colony of
Griqualand West, attracted thousand of workers, black and white. Many
young men from the ama
Hlubi became labourers on the mines and some
were paid in guns rather than in money, a practice that was legal in
Griqualand West. The
Hlubi labourers habitually brought these guns
back to their home in the Natal Colony, upon returning from the mines.
In 1873, John Macfarlane, then magistrate in Estcourt, ordered that
Langalibalele hand in his people's guns for registration. As
Langlibalele did not know who held guns, he refused to enforce the
order. Walker records that the government named eight men who were to
be ordered to register their guns and that after some hesitation,
Langalibalele sent in five of the named eight men. Pearse on the
other hand records that
Langalibalele himself was ordered to appear
before Shepstone, the Secretary for Native Affairs and that
Langalibalele refused on grounds of ill health. In the event, Sir
Benjamin Pine, who arrived in the Colony as lieutenant governor in
July 1873 ordered the arrest of Langalibalele.
Anthony Durnford in 1870.
Langalibalele and his people made plans to flee to
Basutoland (modern Lesotho) via the Bushmans River Pass. The Natal
Colonial government proposed a three-pronged police operation with
military support to arrest
Langalibalele – initially Lieutenant
Colonel Miles was to have overall command, but he was not happy with
many details and was happy to hand command over to Major Durnford. The
plan was for Captain Allison was to cross the
Drakensberg via the
Champagne Castle Pass, some 25 km to the north of the
Bushmans River Pass, Captain Barter was to cross the
the Giants Castle Pass, some 10 km to the south of the
Bushmans River Pass while other forces would approach Langalibalele's
territory from the east. Alison and Barter were to travel under cover
of darkness and to meet up at the top of the Bushmans River Pass on
Monday 3 November 1873 at 0600 hrs and block Langalibalele's
flight. The entire force comprised 200 British troops, 300 Natal
Volunteers and about 6000 Africans.
To the south, Durnford accompanied Barter and led by native guides
followed the route across countryside that much more rugged than
expected and they ended up to the south of Giants Castle, not to
the north where the pass lay. After a consultation, the guides took
the party up the Hlatimba Pass, some 20 km south of the
Bushmans River Pass. After negotiating the 2867 m summit of the
pass, Durnford and his force consisting of 33 carbineers and 25 Basuto
proceeded to the top of the Bushmans River pass where they intercepted
Hlubi tribesmen 24 hours later than expected. Durnford
attempted to negotiate with the tribal elders while Barter and the
rest of the party covered him. Some of the British forces lost their
nerve and shots were fired. Durnford and his men retreated back down
the Hlatimba Pass having lost five of their number. Allison had
meanwhile failed to find the
Champagne Castle Pass.
On 11 November martial law was declared in the Natal colony, and two
flying columns, one under Allison, were sent to search for
Langalibalele in Basutoland. They entered the protectorate via the
Orange Free State
Orange Free State and on 11 December reached a spot in the Maluti
Mountains that bore evidence of
Langalibalele having recently been
there. In reality,
Langalibalele had thrown himself at the mercy of
the Basuto chief Molapo, but Molapo had already handed Langalibalele
over to a local force who, on 13 December, handed him and five of his
sons over to Allison.
Trial and sentence
During most of the nineteenth century, the
Colony of Natal
Colony of Natal had two
systems of law – colonial law which applied to settlers and which
was based on
Roman Dutch law and native law which applied to the
indigenous population and which was based on traditional tribal law.
Native law was administered by the indigenous chiefs and, "in so far
it was not repugnant to the dictates of humanity", was upheld by
colonial magistrates. Indigenous people could, after a lengthy
process, apply for exemption from native law. As of 1876, no
indigenous people had successfully made such an application.
The trial of
Langalibalele started on 16 January 1874 and was
described by Pearse as a "disgrace to British justice". Langalibalele
was tried under native law with Pine and Shepstone, the chief accusers
presiding over the court without the assistance of a Supreme Court
Langalibalele was denied the right to have a counsel until the
third day of the trial, the counsel was not permitted to interview the
prisoner nor was he permitted to cross-examine the witnesses.
Langalibalele was sentenced to banishment for life and as the Colony
of Natal had no suitable place of detention, the neighbouring Cape
Colony to the west was prevailed upon to make
Robben Island available
for Langalibalele's imprisonment. British Governor Henry Barkly
assented and the Chief was immediately transferred.
Bishop Colenso, led the outcry against Langalibalele's banishment
Almost immediately after
Langalibalele arrived at Robben island,
information began to surface across southern Africa about the unfair
nature of the Chief's treatment. Doubts were soon raised about the
fairness of the trial, and about whether
intended to rebel at all.
John Colenso, first Bishop of Natal, led the outcry. He journeyed to
England to plead Langalibalele's case personally and succeeded in
getting the case returned to the South African courts. Charles
Rawden Maclean (John Ross) wrote a letter to the editor of The Times
in support of Langalibalele. In 1824 Maclean had been shipwrecked at
Port Natal as a boy and stranded with his companions for four years.
In 1827 he walked to Lourenco Marques, some 600 km away to
obtained medical supplies. In his letter, Maclean, who had spent
much of his time in Southern Africa at Shaka's royal kraal, described
that in traditional African society a chief, summoned to the royal
kraal in the manner in which Langalibilele had been summoned by the
Natal Government, was often executed or at the very least had his
cattle and wives confiscated. He also explained that his personal
interest in the case was the protection that he had received from
Langalibilele's namesake during the latter stages of his journey to
The ruling government of the semi-independent
Cape Colony soon came to
the conclusion that
Langalibalele had been unjustly sentenced, though
much of the Cape's legislature on the other hand remained wary of the
Hlubi chief. The Cape government Minister and spokesman John X.
Merriman publicly condemned the trial ("Natal Prisoner's Bill") and
demanded that it be considered illegitimate. The Cape government at
the time was dominated by liberals, and their arguments on the matter
were twofold. Firstly, they insisted that no white man would have been
sentenced so severely, that the Natal court had therefore been guilty
of racial prejudice, and that
Langalibalele "had been victimised
because of his colour". Secondly, they argued that, as a locally
elected government, they neither fell under Natal's jurisdiction, nor
were obliged to follow British imperial requests in this regard.
In response, many stated that they had been entrusted by a
neighbouring state with the custody of a prisoner, who, if released,
could increase the threat of war on the Cape frontier or Natal. It was
Langalibalele had been tried under Native Law, and that
this should be honoured, regardless of how harsh the sentence
seemed. The resulting bill to have
Langalibalele released from
Robben island faced opposition in the Cape's Legislature, and only
succeeded when the Cape Prime Minister himself threatened to resign if
it was not passed. The pressure to reconsider the sentence grew,
and in August 1875, after Carnarvon, the Colonial Secretary had
finally referred the case back to the courts in the Cape Colony,
Langalibalele was allowed to leave Robben Island. He was obliged to
remain in the
Cape Colony for the time being, until 1887 when he was
permitted to return to Natal. On his return to Natal, he was confined
to the Swartkop location near Pietermaritzburg. He never regained his
power as leader of the Hlubi; he died in 1889 and was buried at
Ntabamhlope, 25 kilometres west of Estcourt. In keeping with the
Hlubi tradition, his burial place was kept secret until in October
1950 his grandson revealed the site to the Native Commissioner in
The immediate reaction to the failure to apprehend
an improvement in the colony's security and the search for a
Nelson Mandela laid a wreath on Langalibalele's grave
Security was improved by the Governor of the Cape Colony, Sir Henry
Barkly, sending a contingent of 200 men to Natal while both the
Boer Republics mobilised men to prevent Langalibalele
seeking help for the Zulu king Cetewayo.
With most of the colonists supporting the colonial government,
Colenso, who had once been a staunch believer in the expansion of the
British Empire bore the brunt of the criticism – both his
theological views and his liberal views towards the native population
were unpopular in the Natal Colony. To a lesser extent Durnford's
views that were similar to Colenso's, and although he had held his
nerve during the confrontation with the ama
Hlubi at the top of the
Bushmans River Pass, he was ostracised from local society.
One of the underlying causes of the
Langalibalele "rebellion" was an
inconsistent policy in the various British colonies towards the native
populations and in particular the ownership of guns. In the United
Kingdom, Lord Carnarvon who returned to the post of Secretary of State
for the Colonies in 1874 proposed a confederation of states in
Southern Africa, under the control of Britain, but in reality this was
a euphemism for a common native policy. While his proposed native
policy was too liberal for the Boer republics, it was considered too
harsh by the Cape's government, which also rejected the way in which
it was to be forcibly imposed on southern Africa from outside. The
ill-fated confederation scheme also required the British annexation of
the remaining independent states of southern Africa, leading to the
Anglo-Zulu War and the First Anglo-Boer War, among other conflicts. In
the end, the confederation plan came to naught.
The year before the rebellion, the
Cape Colony had been granted
responsible government and in Natal there was agitation for a
similar form of government. The Colonial Office however reviewed the
role of native law and in 1875 established the Native High Court which
was to rule on matters pertaining to native law. Responsible
government did not come to Natal until 1895, over twenty years after
Langalibalele's legacy continued into the late twentieth and early
twenty-first centuries. In 1990, shortly after his own release from
Nelson Mandela laid a wreath on Langalibalele's grave in
recognition of Langalibalele's own internment there. In 2005
Hlubi people presented a Submission to the Commission on
Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims under the Framework Act to
recognise Ingonyama Muziwenkosi ka Tatazela ka Siyephu ka
Langalibalele, otherwise known as
Langalibalele II as king of the
amaHlubi. However, in 2010 the Nhlapo Commission found that since
Hlubi has been dispersed before the colonial era they did not
have a claim to a kingship.
^ If the name of a locality in this article had a legal connotation
(for example a clearly demarcated border), the nineteenth century name
is used, otherwise the post-
Apartheid name is used.
^ The prefix "kwa" means "The place", thus "kwaZulu" means "The place
of the Zulu"
The prefix "ama" means "The people", thus "amaHlubi" means "The Hlubi
The prefix "isi" means "The language of", thus "isiHlubi" means "The
language of the
^ In the context of British colonial development in the nineteenth
Representative Government gave the colony had the right to elect a
legislative council to advise the governor, but the governor, as chief
executive was not bound to accept their advice
^ In the context of British colonial development in the nineteenth
Responsible Government gave the colony the right to have a parliament
elected by the colonists headed by a prime minister and cabinet with
executive responsibility, but with the governor still having the power
^ In order to maintain linguistic consistency with the term "native
law", this article uses the term nineteenth century term "native
people" instead of the twenty-first century term "indigenous people".
^ "langa", the sun, and "libalele" it is killing [hot]
^ Pearce, R.O. (1973). Barrier of Spears – Drama of the Drakensberg.
Howard Timins. pp. 3–13. ISBN 0-86978-050-6.
^ a b c d Brian Kaighin. "
Hlubi tribe". Ladysmith and the Boer War.
^ Bulpin, T.V. (1966). Natal and the Zulu Country. Cape Town: T.V.
Bulpin publication (Pty) Ltd. pp. 26–46.
^ "Great Trek 1835–1846". South African History Online. Retrieved
^ "Mozambique: The slave trade and early colonialism (1700–1926)".
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^ Wrigley, E.A.; Schofield, R.S. (1981). The Population History of
England 1541 – 1871. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
^ Bulpin, T.V. – pg 220
^ Bulpin, T.V. – pg 413
^ Walker, Eric A. (1968). A History of Southern Africa. Cape Town:
Longmans. p. 274.
^ a b "Submission to the Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes
and Claims" (PDF). Isizwe Samahlubi. mkhangeli ngoma foundation. July
2004. Retrieved 2011-07-03.
^ a b Pearse, R.O. pages 226 – 254
^ Bulpin, T.V. – page 38
^ Walker – pg353
^ a b Walker, pg 353
^ Pearse, pg 228
^ a b c d e Coordinates of the localities are:
Bushmans River Pass:29°15′21″S 29°25′13″E /
29.25583°S 29.42028°E / -29.25583; 29.42028
Champagne Castle Pass:29°04′43″S 29°21′07″E /
29.07861°S 29.35194°E / -29.07861; 29.35194
Giants Castle Pass:29°19′46″S 29°27′21″E / 29.32944°S
29.45583°E / -29.32944; 29.45583
Giants Castle: 29°20′36″S 29°29′08″E / 29.34333°S
29.48556°E / -29.34333; 29.48556
Hlatimba Pass::29°23′48″S 29°25′27″E / 29.39667°S
29.42417°E / -29.39667; 29.42417
^ Pearse, pg 237-41
^ S. Bourquin. "Col A W Durnford". Military History Journal. The South
African Military History Society. 6 (5). Retrieved 2011-06-10.
^ Pearse, pg 248-9
^ Walker pg 274
^ a b Pearce, pg 251
^ a b c Harriet Deacon (1996). The Island: a history of Robben Island,
1488–1990. Bellville, South Africa: David Phillips Publishers.
pp. 52–54. ISBN 0-86486-299-7.
^ MacLean, Charles Rawden (3 August 1875). "Letters to the Editor".
^ P. Lewsen: John X. Merriman. Paradoxical South African Statesman.
Johannesburg: Ad. Donker, 1982. ISBN 978-0949937834, p.45
^ "BOOKS. » 19 May 1900 » The Spectator Archive".
Retrieved 21 September 2017.
^ George McCall Theal: History of South Africa, from 1873 to 1884.
Twelve Eventful Years. London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd. Ruskin
House. Vol. 1. Chapter 10, The Colony of Natal. "The Rebellion of
Langalibalele Grave, Ntabamhlope". Tourism KwaZulu-Natal. Retrieved
^ Pearse, p 248
^ Norman Etherington (1997). Richard Elphick and Rodney Davenort, ed.
"Kingdoms of This World and the Next: Christian Beginnings among Zulu
and Swazi". Christianity in South Africa: A political, cultural, and
social history. University of California Press. p. 104.
^ Walker, pg 354
^ Diamonds, Gold and War
^ Walker, pg 342
^ Pearse, p 252
^ Sue Derwent (2006).
KwaZulu-Natal Heritage Sites. Cape Town: David
Philip Publishers. p. 88. ISBN 0-86486-653-4.
^ "Biography". Tsidii Website. Retrieved 2011-07-18.
^ "Nhlapo Commission Report". Ministry for Co-operative Governance and
Traditional Affairs. Retrieved 2011-07-25.
^ "Determination of the ama
Hlubi kingship claim" (PDF). Nhlapo
Commission Report. Ministry for Co-operative Governance and
Traditional Affairs. Retrieved 2011-07-25.
^ Vair, Nivashni (2 September 2010). "Disappointed clan wants to meet
Zuma". Times Live. Retrieved 2011-07-25.
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