Battle of Amalinde

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The Battle of Amalinde took place in 1818 between two Rharhabe chiefs, namely: Chief Ngqika and his paternal uncle Ndlambe. Ndlambe’s army was led by his son, Mdushane and they were supported by the Gcaleka who were led personally into the battlefield by their paramount, Chief Hintsa. 

 

The origins of the conflict between the uncle and his nephew were both personal and socio-political.  Ngqika’s father, Mlawu, died when he was still too young to rule and his uncle Ndlambe, as per custom, became the regent. Under Ndlambe’s leadership the chieftaincy grew in strength as he consolidated his power by absorbing smaller chiefdoms or expelling them to far afield lands. It was perhaps because of this enhanced role that when Ngqika entered manhood in 1795, Ndlambe refused to relinquish power. As a result of this stalemate, a minor civil war resulted. Ndlambe was supported in his endeavours to retain power by his cousin, the amaGcaleka chief Hintsa. Ndlambe’s forces and supporters were defeated and were forced to leave Ngqika’s country.

For almost two decades the two adversaries co-existed in a state of heightened tension. Things came to a boil in 1818 at the Battle of Amalinde. One of the socio-political causes of the battle was the increasing pressure that the advancing Europeans were exerting on the two main resources of the Xhosa – land and cattle. In classical colonial case, the settlers took advantage of the fissures that existed between various Xhosa chiefdoms. A singular event that was to turn a tide of the Xhosa again Ngqika, as his liaison with the beautiful Thuthula, a wife of Ndlambe. Ngqika’s allies, the Mbalu, Mdange and the Gqunukwebe were to change their allegiance and joined Ndlambe.

The relationship between Ngqika and the British brought instability and mistrust among the other Xhosa chieftaincies. Paramount amongst these was, of course, Ndlambe. In October 1818 Ngqika mobilised his fighting units and sent for help from the Cape Colony. Apparently Ngqika himself was neither a great fighter nor military strategist (Stapleton, 1994).  Ignoring the fact that his eldest son, Maqoma, had no actual battle experience, Ngqika appointed him and his renowned Jingqi as lead forces in the battle against Ndlambe.  Maqoma was instructed by his father to destroy Ndlambe’s Great Place. 

Ignoring the prophecy and warning of Ntsikana, the royal diviner and spiritual counsellor, Maqoma and his 2 000 strong army marched straight into the waiting claws of Mdushane – Ndlambe’s eldest warrior son.  Ndlambe was supported in this mission by his old ally Hintsa of the Gcaleka.  Hintsa took matters quite personally and it is not far off the mark to presume that he had a bigger axe than Ndlambe to grind. Unlike Ndlambe, Hintsa personally led his army into the battlefield.

This battle came to be known as the Battle of Amalinde. Facing defeat, the wounded Maqoma and what was left of his army fled up to the slopes of Ntaba ka Ndoda. More than 300 men lost their lives on that fateful day in 1818 (Stapleton, 1994). That night Mdushane’s men fuelled huge bonfires with corpses of Ngqika’s people, as if death on its own was not enough, the remains of an enemy had to be devoured by fire, leaving little behind. Maqoma was so seriously wounded at Amalinde that he disappeared from public life for almost a full year. Hitherto the objective of Xhosa warfare was to capture as many cattle and women belonging to the opposing force as possible. The animosity between the amaNdlambe and the amaNgqika was, however, so great that all this changed at the bloody scene that ensued at the Battle of Amalinde.

The consequences of the battle was profound for vanquished and victor alike. Following the defeat, Ngqika applied to the British for assistance and in December 1818, a military expedition under Col Brereton set out to attack Ndlambe. Matters came to a head when Makana unsuccessfully attacked Grahamstown. The Xhosa lost access to the fertile tract of country between the Keiskamma and Fish Rivers. The area was soon filled with settlers. A proud and independent people were inexorably placed under British control.  

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