The Ngqika people are a royal Xhosa who lived west of the Great Kei River in the what is today the Eastern Cape of South Africa. They were first ruled by Rarabe kaPhalo who died with his son Mlawu, who was destined for chiefancy. The clan would named after Ngqika ka Mlawu, the son of the then late Mlawu. It would be years before the child would rule his people who fought in the Xhosa Wars following the invasion of the British and Dutch settlers.
The Dutch East India Company (VOC) that was responsible for trading and colonising of South African land in what is described as “founding” several urban areas like towns and cities in already populated areas of the west of South Africa. The organisation continually changed the boundaries in the Cape Colony due to European invasion and migration, establishing the Great Fish River as the eastern frontier in 1778.
The clan were referred to as “Gaika” people by the Europeans.
Birth of a nation
Ngqika ka Mlawu was the first chief of the Ngqika and the third paramount chief of the Rharhabe people. He had nine wives. The clan was named after him when his grandfather (Rharhabe, the founder of the tribe) and father (Mlawu, who was to be the next chief) both died in 1782. Ngqika, at only four years old, was too young to rule. Ndlambe (who would eventually establish the AmaNdlambe people) was Rharhabe’s other son and Ngqika’s uncle who became regent until the boy matured – in the tradition of the Xhosas. Ndlambe was responsible for the expansion of his tribe’s territory and influence. He absorbed smaller clans (like the imiDange people) into the Ngqikas or expelled them to far lands. They were eventually invaded by European settlers from the Cape Colony who fought with them over their prime grazing land, west of the Great Kei River.
The occupation by white settlers (Dutch and British) resulted in the century of Xhosa Wars (commonly known as the Frontier Wars) from 1779 to 1879 involving Xhosa tribes (including the Ngqika), Khoikhoi and San people. Relations between the European invaders were fluid throughout this period with the varying indigenous people and Europeans working for or against one another to secure land, resources and cattle. These groups changed allies depending on who would help advance their objectives over the years. In 1793, in collaboration with other Xhosa clans, the Ngqikas fought against white settlers during the Second Frontier War.
In 1796, Ngqika turned 18 and was ready to assume his rightful place on the throne, but his uncle was reluctant to give up power. Ndlambe appealed to the tribe to retain his power but this failed. His nephew imprisoned him a year later in an attempt to stifle his power. When he escaped across the Great Fish River in 1799 with his supporters, he attempted to collude with the Cape Colony’s white government to overthrow Ngqika, but the colony continued to recognise his nephew as the paramount chief.
Ngqika ka Mlawu died in November 1829 after a chest illness and alcohol abuse.
List of chiefs during Xhosa Wars
Mgolombane Sandile the rightful heir of Ngqika, was only nine years old when his father died. Mnqoma, born to Ngqika and Nomvakalisa Nothontho of the Ngqosini, was the chief’s eldest son but because Sandile’s mother was a descendent of abaThembu (a royal lineage). Her first son was thus considered the “Great Son”. Mnqoma became regent until Sandile was ready to rule. The following is a list of chiefs of the Ngqika that ruled during the Xhosa Wars starting with Sandile’s great grandfather, Rharhabe:
- Rharhabe: lived 1778 (as the leader of the Rharhabe people) – 1782, ruled 1796 - 1782
- Ngqika: lived 1778 – 1829, ruled 1796 - 1829
- Mgolombane Sandile: lived 1820 – 1878, ruled 1841 - 1878
The native groups lost most of their land and were absorbed into the British empire during this century. The Xhosa eventually lost access to the fertile land between the Great Kei River and Great Fish River to British colonists.
- Albany, South Africa
- History of Cape Colony from 1806 to 1870
- British Kaffraria
- Military history of South Africa
- Mgolombane Sandile
- The Battle of Amalinde
- Great Kei River
- Great Fish River