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The foot prints of Kings in the liberation heritage of South Africa

By Stella Sigcau

15 February 2019

As we approach the legendary Ndebele King Silamba commemoration on the 2 March 2019 at Komjekejeke Heritage Site, Pretoria, we are reminded of the instrumental role South African Kings played in the liberation struggle and colonial resistance whilst protecting their land, culture and heritage and thus making their footprints in the liberation heritage. Komjekejeke Heritage site where King Silamba lies has become an attraction for cultural tourism where Ndebele culture, poetry, music, art and craft is showcased.

It is an event that attracts people from various diverse walks of life and contributes to socio economic development whilst creating awareness around the history, heritage conservation and language of the Ndebele people.



It is indeed a success story of how liberation heritage can be turned into a positive contributor to a better South Africa, community development, tourism and cultural preservation whilst uniting people from diverse areas locally and internationally.

Photo: Dr Esther Mahlangu is a South African artist from the Ndebele nation. She is known for her bold large-scale contemporary paintings that reference her Ndebele heritage. Dr Esther Mahlangu was conferred with an honourary doctorate by the University of Johannesburg, 9 April 2018.

The role of traditional leaders in colonial resistance and liberation struggle seems not to be as emphasised and yet it remains critical and an essential part of South Africa’s liberation heritage. The events like the commemoration of King Silamba are a constant reminder of the contribution of traditional leaders in the liberation struggle so that their contribution is never forgotten and continues to make a difference.


Many sacrificed their lives defending their nations hence we hear of the Bhambatha rebellion, the Frontier Wars, the battle of Blood River and so forth. During the birth of the oldest liberation movement in Africa, the African National Congress on 8 January 1912, traditional leaders were part and parcel of this historic day. Kings Dalindyebo of the Thembu, Dinizulu of the Zulu Kingdom, Khama of Bechuanaland (Botswana),Lewanika of Barotseland, part of Zambia,Letsie II of Basutoland (Lesotho),Marhelane of Mpondoland andMoepi of Bakgatlait is reported, were made honorary Presidents of the SANC (ANC) on this historic day.

Thembu King Sabatha Dalindyebo’s struggle for liberation led him into exile where he passed on. Ndebele King Nyabela is reported to have fought six major wars against colonial powers. History tells that he hid King Mampuru of the Pedi Kingdom who was sought after by colonial powers at Mapoch caves. They were both arrested and sentenced to death in 1882.


King Nyabela's sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. King Mampuru was hanged in Pretoria Prison currently known as Kgosi Mampuru Correctional Services on 22 November 1883. Hlubi King Langalibalele’s defiance of the colonial authorities led to his arrest and his trial commenced, it is reported on 16 January 1874. He was incarcerated in Robben Island. King Sigcau of the Mpondo Kingdom’s resistance of colonial powers and imposition of the hut taxes in the Mpondo Kingdom led to his incarceration first in Kokstad prison and then Robben Island.

In the Proclamation No. 231 of 1895 of the arrest of King Sigcau, Governor Hercules Robinson, on 11th June, 1895 referred to King Sigcau’s presence in the Mpondo Kingdom, “as dangerous to public safety and good order and likely to lead to the disturbance of the peace and his previous acts of disobedience to the lawful orders of the Colonial Government, refusal to permit an authorized officer of the Government to discharge his lawful duty and Sigcau’s acts in disregard and defiance of the law rendered himself liable to arrest”.

Other Kings who played an instrumental role in this regard include Hintsa (Xhosa Kingdom), Faku (Mpondo Kingdom), Sekhukhune (Pedi Kingdom), Mhlontlo (Mpondomise Kingdom). These are some, and by no means limited to, the many Kings who should be remembered for the heroic roles they played and thus leaving their footprint in the liberation heritage history of South Africa.





February/March 2020

















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