Makhanda Nxele ("the left handed") or Makhanda the prophet (also spelled Makana) (died 25 December 1819)[a] was a Xhosa warrior and prophet who, during the Xhosa Wars, led an attack against the British garrison at Grahamstown in 1819.
Makana was born near the coast in the Uitenhage area of the Eastern Cape. During his youth, he heard the gospel message preached by the first missionary in the area, Johannes van der Kemp. Although probably part of the forced expulsion of 20,000 Xhosa from the area in 1812, Makana maintained a strong interest in Christianity, combining it with elements of ancient Xhosa beliefs. His powerful oratory style attracted people in their thousands and earned him the status of chief and military adviser to Chief Ndlambe.
Makana led a combined force of the Xhosas against Chief Ngqika, who was seen as selling out his people in return for personal gain as an ally of the British Empire. When the British seized 23,000 head of cattle from Ndlambe’s people in retaliation, Makana urged all the Xhosa to unite to try to drive the colonizers out once and for all. Makana advised Ndlambe that the gods would be on their side if they chose to strike back at the British at Grahamstown, and promised that the British "bullets would turn to water".
Ndlambe took Makana’s advice, and on 22 April 1819 Makana (with Ndlambe as his patron) attacked Grahamstown in broad daylight with a force of about 6,000 men (some sources say 10,000 men). They were accompanied by women and children, prepared to occupy the land which had formerly been theirs. The British garrison of approximately 350 troops was able to repulse the attack only after timely support was received from a Khoikhoi group led by Jan Boesak.
Defeated by superior British firepower, Makana eventually surrendered himself in the interests of promoting peace. The British imprisoned him on Robben Island, but treated him with great respect, giving him private accommodation, food and furniture. On 25 December 1819, Makana escaped along with 30 other prisoners, mostly Xhosa and Khoisan rebels from the Eastern frontier districts. Although several survived, Makana drowned. Since he had promised his people he would never abandon them, they continued to hope for his return for another 50 years before funeral rites were observed.
Makana is credited with attempting to unite the Xhosas in their struggle against the British Empire. His dedication to this cause and the sacrifice of his own life in its pursuit led twentieth century prisoners on Robben island, including Nelson Mandela, to call for renaming that island after Makana. The Makana Local Municipality is named after him, and so was Makana F.A., a sporting body formed by political prisoners on Robben Island during the apartheid years.
Notes and references
- Other sources date his death 9 August 1820, .
- ANC.org.za - Makana at the Wayback Machine (archived June 2, 2008)
- Wells 2007.
- South African Languages - Place names
- 22 April 1819: The fifth Frontier War: Sangoma Makana attacks Grahamstown under the patronage of Xhosa Chief Ndlambe, and is defeated - South African History Online
- Origins of Tournament in an Infamous Prison — New York Times, July 5 2010
- Wells, Julia C. (2012). The Return of Makhanda: Exploring the Legend. University of KwaZulu-Natal Press. ISBN 978-1-86914-238-4.
- Wells, Julia C. (2007). Rebellion and Uproar: Makhanda and the Great Escape from Robben Island, 1820. University of South Africa Press. ISBN 978-1-86888-368-4.
- Pudi, Ranko; Satyo, Sizwe (1984). The illustrated life of Makhanda. Skotaville Publishers. ISBN 978-0-947009-04-5.
- Philip, John (1828). Researches in South Africa: Illustrating the Civil, Moral, and Religious Condition of the Native Tribes: Including Journals of the Author's Travels in the Interior. J. Duncan.