Mpondo people

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Mpondo people
Bain - Mpondo haarmodes.png
The son of Mpondo chief Faku (before 1864)
Total population
~2 million[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
 South Africa
isiMpondo, Xhosa, English
Christianity, African Traditional Religion
Related ethnic groups
Xhosa, Swati, Zulu other Bantu peoples
Mpondo Kingdom

The Mpondo people, also called AmaMpondo and Pondo, are a Southern African ethnic group.[3] Their traditional homeland has been in the contemporary era Eastern Cape province of South Africa, more specifically what used to be the Transkei region.[2] They speak a Nguni / Mbo language called isiMpondo which is grammatically similar to both isiXhosa and isiZulu.

During the colonial and Apartheid era, the Mpondo people lived in Pondoland of the Republic of Transkei along with Xhosa people and others.[2][4] They are sometimes incorrectly referred as a Xhosa subgroup. While they share some history and culture with the ethnic groups they live with, the Mpondo people have their distinct roots, culture, history and heritage.[2][3][5]


According to the Mpondo oral tradition, they are the legendary descendants of Mpondo, the grandson of Sibiside who was the leader of the once-powerful Mbo nation (AbaMbo or MaMbo). Mpondo people are part of AbaMbo group who migrated from the Great Lakes into modern-day South Africa, having settled along the way in areas like Zambia and Swaziland. It is through king Sibiside that Mpondo the forefather of the nation emerges together with other well known nations. Mpondo people share a common lineage with AmaMpondomise, AmaXesibe, AbakwaMkhize, AmaBomvu and AmaBomvana.

Sibiside's offsprings:[6]

  1. Mavovo (Sibiside's heir and father of the Mkhize clan)
  2. Gubhela (his descendants also call themselves abakwaMkhize)
  3. Nomafu (AmaBomvu and AmaBomvana)
  4. Njanya (AmaMpondo, AmaMpondomise, AmaXesibe)

Mpondo and Mpondomise were twins. There's an ongoing argument about which twin is the eldest, the most commonly held view is that Mpondomise is the senior twins. It is said that while out hunting, Mpondo killed a Lion and refused to hand over the skin to Mpondomise as was the custom (the senior was entitled to skins of certain animals).[7] The tension between the two started from that day and Mpondo and his followers were the first ones to leave and settle elsewhere away from their father's land.


A Mpondo woman

The Mpondo people are currently seeking for their language to be recognised as the 12th official language of the Republic of South Africa. Other Mbo languages include isiSwati, isiNdebele and the various "tekela" languages of nations such as AmaHlubi and AmaZizi. However, since isiXhosa was introduced in schools around Mpondoland most Mpondo people are also fluent in isiXhosa. AmaMpondo also interbred with the San people at an earlier stage and this can be picked up in their language that has various clicks.


The great house of Mpondo is called Qawukeni and is situated in Lusikisiki, Eastern Cape. The right-hand house is called Nyandeni and is situated in Libode, Eastern Cape. The Nyandeni house enjoyed autonomy for decades and was often referred to as Western Mpondoland, while the Qawukeni house was referred to as Eastern Mpondoland.

The towns in the Mpondo kingdom include Lusikisiki, Siphaqeni (known as Flagstaff), Mbizana (erroneously called Bizana), Ntabankulu, Port St John's, Libode and Ngqeleni.

Mzintlava (now known as Kokstad) was allotted to Adam Kok of the Griquas.[8]

Genealogy of kings[edit]

The most prominent of all kings of the Mpondo nation is Faku (1780–1867); he resided in Qawukeni as it's still the tradition today. The Nyandeni house was established by Ndamase, Faku's right-hand son and a prominent general of the Mpondo army during the Mfecane wars.

The genealogy of Mpondo kings in order:[7]

  • Mpondo
  • Sihula
  • Mthwa
  • Santsabe
  • Mkhondwane
  • Sukude
  • Hlambangobubende
  • Ziqelekazi
  • Hlamandana
  • Thobe
  • Msiza
  • Ncindisi
  • Cabe
  • Gangatha
  • Bhala
  • Chithwayo
  • Ndayini
  • Thahle
  • Nyawuza
  • Ngqungqushe
  • Faku
  • Mqikela
  • Sigcau
  • Marelane
  • Mandlonke
  • Bhota
  • Mpondombini
  • Zanozuko (current)

King Cabe was the first king of the Mpondo nation to cross Mthamvuna river and settled in Siphaqeni. King Ngqungqushe's mother was the first woman whose "ikhazi" (dowry) was paid for by the kingdom, which makes King Ngqungqushe the first "kumkani" in the modern sense. [9]

King Sigcau is known for his militancy in his fight against colonial rule and imposition of colonial policies, notably the hut taxes in the Mpondo Kingdom. He was later arrested for these actions and incarcerated in Robben Island. He remains a hero to the Mpondo people and admired for his bravery. King Sigcau Bravery Award was launched in his honour. His son King Marelane would become one of the founding Kings of the oldest political party in Africa the African National Congress in 1912 in support of the fight against colonial rule in South Africa. His grandson Nkosi Ntsikayezwe Sigcau would follow in the footsteps of his forefathers and become an ANC liberation activist, contributing in the struggle for liberation in South Africa. This also saw him arrested and harassed for his political activities.

Mpondo Clans and tributary clans[edit]

There are three types of clans you find in Mpondoland (kwa-Mpondo/emaMpondweni) today. First, there clans that arise out of the many houses of the Kings listed in the section above (Mpondo's descendents). Secondly, there are clans of the older AbaMbo/MaMbo tribe from which Mpondo himself was born out, therefore these are people of his ancestors. Thirdly, there are clans/tribes who have immigrated to Mpondoland and now pay tribute to the Mpondo kingdom.

In more detail:[7][8][10]

  • From Sihula we have ImiQwane, AmaNtusi
  • From Mthwa we have ImiThwa, AmaWoshe, AmaNgcwangule, AmaGingqi, AmaKhwalo
  • From Mkhondwane we have AmaNtlane, AmaValela, AmaGcuda
  • From Sukude we have AmaSame, AmaNcenjane
  • From Cabe we have AmaCabe, AmaTshomane, AmaDwera, AmaQhiya, AmaNjilo, AmaGqwaru, AmaNqanda
  • From Gangatha we have AmaGangatha, ImiCapathi
  • From Bhala we have AmaBhala, AmaChithwayo, AmaKhonjwayo, AmaHeleni, AmaNgcoya, AmaNyathi, AmaJola
  • From Ndayini we have AmaNdayini
  • From Thahle we have AmaThahle
  • From Nyawuza we have AmaNyawuza

Some of the following clans were followers of Mpondo kings from the beginning, some only came later during the reign of Faku:[8][10]

  • AmaYalo
  • AmaMpisi
  • AmaNgcikwa
  • AmaKhanyayo
  • ImiZizi
  • AmaNtshangase
  • AmaKhwetshube
  • AmaNgutyana
  • Izilangwe
  • AmaXolo
  • AmaDiba
  • AmaNci
  • AmaCwera
  • AmaMpinge
  • Omaduna
  • AmaXhosa
  • AmaZulu
  • AmaSwati
  • AbeSotho

Tributary clans[edit]

These tribes/ clans are not unique to Mpondoland, they usually are small groups in Mpondoland who left their tribes/kingdoms having been given land by Mpondo Kings and thus recognised as forming part of AmaMpondo Kingdom and paying tribute to Mpondo Kings.

  • AmaTolo
  • AmaZizi
  • Bakwena (Sotho)
  • Amahlabe
  • AmaXhate (Xesibe)
  • Other small groups from other kingdoms


The Mpondo Revolt (1960–1962) was the result of the resistance of the Mpondo people against the implementation of the Bantu Authorities Act, part of the Apartheid legislation. Under the Apartheid ideology, separate development of the various ethnic groups of South Africa was proposed and part of that was to segregate black Africans into 'homelands' that were granted independence from South Africa.

Pondo Revolts[edit]

The revolts were related sporadic events that took place in different areas of the Eastern Cape in what was referred to as Pondoland then, under the “rule of King Botha Sigcau. There are various reasons that have been accredited to having been the cause of the revolts in Pondoland, which are mainly centred on the people of Pondoland resisting the colonial government’s rule in Pondoland.[11]


There were varying reasons that lead to the revolts notably the land rehabilitation programme, the Bantu Authorities System and the increase in taxes.

The land rehabilitation programme[edit]

The land rehabilitation programme was a system which entailed the colonisers keeping the fertile soils to themselves and allocating the less fertile lands to the local people.[12] The Mpondo people revolted against this.

The Bantu Authorities System[edit]

This system brought about tension between the people of Pondoland and their chiefs. The Bantu Authorities System created a pseudo sense of power as colonial authorities gave chiefs limited power, ensuring that administrative duties were still being assigned to the colonial government. This disrupted the system as people were used to being consulted at the Inkundla before decisions were made. Inkundla was when members of a community met together to discuss issues affecting the district/area and made decisions.

Series of events leading to the 1960 revolts[edit]

The first signs of revolt were apparent through local vigilante groups such as the Makhuluspani. The Makhuluspani was a group that was created in a bid to combat stock theft in the districts of Tsolo and Qumbu in the 1950s. It is reported that these groups targeted headmen and chiefs who were cooperating or suspected to be cooperating with the colonial government.[13] There were also conflicts around the Bizana area during that same year as the government intended to fence off a certain area on the coastal area to reserve the forests and coastal zones without having consulted the people of Pondoland. People were evicted out of their land, and at one stage during evictions police were attacked.[14]

In 1959, in the Bizana district, Saul Mabude who was the chairman of the district authority and advocate for the Bantu Authorities system was asked to meet with the people of that community. He was tasked with explaining the Bantu Authorities system to them, however he did not show up as he feared for his life. The consequence to his actions resulted in him having his house burnt and the police terrorizing the people in that area. This did not deter the Pondo people from mobilising against the government, who made it clear to Chief Sigcau, who was the King at the time that the Bantu system was not going to be enforced on their watch.[11]

In June 1960 a meeting was called at Ngquza Hill. These meetings had become the norm during the apartheid era around that area as people used them to educate each other on the events that were taking place, thus the meetings on the hill were not held secretly. The police were tipped about the meeting, who in turn upon their arrival fired on the people at the hill. This resulted in the arrest of 23 people and the death of 11 people.[14] In retaliation, there was an ambush on a police patrol in Flagstaff. These people were shot at by the police, resulting in the injury of two policemen and the arrest of one headman.[11]

In November 1960 in Flagstaff, a mass meeting was called at Ngqindile. Chief Vukayibambe called the police and helped disperse the meeting. One of the protesters was killed, this resulting in Vukayibambe’s kraal being set on fire and his death. All those who had an affiliation with the chief and supported him were killed, injured and their kraals set alight. The police were sent to diffuse the situation.[11]

Stabilisation of the revolts[edit]

A commission of inquiry was held right after the massacre. The demands from the people of Pondoland entailed the Bantu Authorities, Bantu Education Acts being withdrawn, the relief from taxes.[11] Their demands were not met, and in retaliation the Pondo boycotted all white owned stores in Pondoland.[11]

By the end of November 1960, a state of emergency was declared in Pondoland, in Flagstaff, Bizana, Takankulu, Lusikisiki and Mount Ayliff. No one could access those areas without a permit, and the west of Umtata was closed off. The revolts were shut down through heavy policing and raiding tax evaders. The Bantu Home Guard was also established by the chiefs in a bid to shut down the revolts, with the aid of the military force that was sent by the state in a bid to subjugate the areas in Pondoland where the revolts had occurred till 1963.[11]

In 1960, a total of 4769 had been imprisoned during this period of the revolts form 1950–1960, and 2067 brought to trial and it is reported that 30 people were sentenced to death during August and October in 1961.[14]

Arts and entertainment[edit]

The Mpondo people are one of the major tribes that produce and consumes the genre of music called Maskandi but the Mpondo people are unique in a performance of what is called "imfene" (baboon dance). This dance is performed by young ones and adults of both sexes to the sounds of Maskandi music.

Mpondo culture and heritage festival[edit]

Imfene, a Mpondo Dance Festival, Kennedy Road Shack Settlement, Durban (2008)

Mpondo Culture and Heritage Festival is celebrated annually by Mpondo to celebrate their culture and heritage. It is the biggest cultural event celebrated in the Kingdom attended by approximately over 20 000 people preceded by the Annual Mpondo Reed Dance. It is held in September of every year at Lwandlolubomvu Great Place, Ntabankulu; palace of the customary head Jongilanga Sigcau. Ntabankulu is the mountainous part of the Mpondo Kingdom surrounded by the great Mzimvubu River. Ntabankulu in Mpondo language means Big Mountains. September is important in the Mpondo history as it was originally the Mpondo new year in the ancient Mpondo calendars and also two of the Mpondo Kings King Mqikela and King Sigcau were born on this month. The Mpondo Culture and Heritage Festival also celebrates the roles played by these icons, including the legendary Kings Faku, Mqikela, Sigcau, Marhelane amongst others. This events also seeks to promote cultural diversity through sharing of Mpondo Culture and heritage with other cultures from South Africa, broader African continent and beyond the Oceans. It attracts a lot of tourists both local and international tourists and is one of the biggest events in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa.

Beliefs and cosmology[edit]

The supreme being according to Mpondo people is known as "Umdali" (The creator). Mpondo people also practice the appeasement of ancestors like all other Bantu tribes.

Mpondo people still practice the old tradition of rain-making. Rain-makers usually come from the AmaYalo clan and some from AmaKhwetshube. Mpondo people also perform facial scarification known as "ukuchaza" which is normally necessitated by the sickness of the person to be scarified, which is interpreted as a patient needing the ritual of its ancestors.

In Mpondoland there are people are said to have a calling to be diviners, healers and medicine experts.

Mpondo lunar calendar[edit]

According to the ancient AbaMbo people, including Mpondo September is the first month of the year. There are some Mpondo people who recognise the appearance of the Pleiades ("isilimela") to signal the beginning of the year,[8] but it is most likely that this interpretation was adopted from the Xhosa people. Mpondo calendar is as follows commencing with uMphanda the first month of the year according to the ancient Mpondo Calendar.

  • uMphanda (September)
  • uZibandlela (October)
  • uLwezi (November)
  • uNtsinga (December)
  • uNtlolanja (January)
  • uNdazosela (February)
  • um'Basa (March)
  • uMgudlula (April)
  • uNtlangula (May)
  • uNtulikazi (June)
  • uNcwabakazi (July)
  • uMfumfu (August)

Notable Mpondos[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Anthony Appiah; Henry Louis Gates (2010). Encyclopedia of Africa. Oxford University Press. p. 195. ISBN 978-0-19-533770-9.
  2. ^ a b c d Diagram Group (2013). Encyclopedia of African Peoples. Routledge. p. 158. ISBN 978-1-135-96334-7.
  3. ^ a b Mpondo people, Encyclopædia Britannica (2007)
  4. ^ Timothy J. Stapleton (2016). Encyclopedia of African Colonial Conflicts. ABC-CLIO. p. 176. ISBN 978-1-59884-837-3.
  5. ^ Timothy J. Stapleton (2006). Faku: Rulership and Colonialism in the Mpondo Kingdom (c. 1780-1867). Wilfrid Laurier University Press. pp. xiii–xviii. ISBN 978-0-88920-597-0.
  6. ^ Mkhize, Siyabonga (2009). Uhlanga Lwas'eMbo. Sibiside Publishers. ISBN 978-0-620-43055-5
  7. ^ a b c Soga, John Henderson (1930). The South Eastern Bantu (Abe-Nguni, Aba-Mbo, Ama-Lala). Witwatersrand University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-06682-2
  8. ^ a b c d Ndamase, Victor Poto (1926). AmaMpondo: Ibali ne-ntlalo. Lovedale Institution Press
  9. ^ King Mpondombini speaks:
  10. ^ a b Jackson, A.O. (1974). The Ethnic Composition of the Ciskei and Transkei: Ethnological Publications No. 53 ISBN 0 621 021032
  11. ^ a b c d e f g SA History Online.
  12. ^ Colin Murray and Gavin Williams.Land and Freedom in South Africa.
  13. ^ Pieterse.Traditionalists, traitors and sell-outs: the roles and motives of ‘amaqaba’, ‘abangcatshi’ and ‘abathengisi’ in the Pondoland Revolt of 1960 to 1961. Department of Historical and Heritage Studies.Faculty of Humanities University of Pretoria .2007.51
  14. ^ a b c Kepe and Ntsebeza. Rural Resistance in South Africa. The Mpondo Revolts after Fifty Years. Koninklikje Brill NV.2011.26.