Silences around the Memory of the Mpondoland Revolts in South Africa (1950s-1961)

by Jana Roth


1. Introduction


“It is cliché to state that history as professionally practiced has been mostly shaped by the forces which have emerged victorious from open, hidden, and/or muted confrontations of all kinds, between communities, nations, classes, clans, gender, which may or may not have exploded into warfare” (Depelchin 2005: 1).


With this statement Jacques Depelchin speaks to a crucial yet frequently ignored part of historical discussions. It shows that colonial discourses remain within discourses of power relations, along the lines of race, gender and class. Thereby, the interrelation of power and knowledge is essential to understand who narrates which stories and in what manner (Kilomba 2010: 25f.). We must ask ourselves, which stories of emancipation and self-organization against patriarchal, sexist and racist colonial administrations have been silenced? How can we access and understand them but also give them space? For this, the understanding of memory and silence is fundamental. What is remembered? Who and who’s experiences are remembered? How are experiences narrated and remembered or erased?


These were some of the questions I asked myself when I first heard about the Mpondoland (or Pondoland) revolt (1950s-1961) in the Eastern Transkei region during the South African anti-apartheid struggle. This revolutionary movement called Congo Movement or iKongo opposed the white[1] nationalist government by incorporating approaches of witchcraft and sorcery to create a separate nation and fight against the apartheid state. The fact that very little published work without a systematic study of the Mpondo resistance exists, is an example of resistance by the marginalized that remains widely hidden. In this context, urban anti-apartheid struggles like the Sharpeville and Langa protests are well remembered, yet rural resistances like the Mpondoland revolts remain largely absent in historical narratives (Kepe & Ntsebeza 2011: 3ff.). This points to different aspects of silence revolving around the memory of these revolts, especially in contemporary discourses. In the case of iKongo, it is relevant to study the silences around womxn[2] and around witchcrafts, since both remain subjects of silence and prejudice throughout history (Fidler 2011: 76f.; Schmidt 2002: 283f.).


It is hence appropriate to examine what silence means in the context of the Mpondoland revolts. However, I argue that the analysis of this question requires a non-eurocentric lens to study social movements and move away from the idea of a Western nation state and capitalist society model. With that, the role of religion needs to be examined outside a European religious framework. As I am in the position of a white womxn in the Global North, it is not my place to recount the Mpondoland revolts nor speak for marginalized voices. I am aware that my presence as a white person colonizes spaces where I obtain given privileges. Therefore, my intention with this research is rather to point out initial problems and silences around the documentation and memory of the Mpondoland revolts and with that my role as a researcher, in order to give space to silenced voices and experiences.


To study silences around the Mpondoland insurgency, I will use a qualitative case study method which is aligned with a theoretical construct composed of prior scholarly work. During the research process, I examined primary and secondary sources, including research articles, interviews and online websites for silences around the case, which I then split into three theory-based categorizes — womxn, witchcraft and the memory of the insurgency. Before analyzing silences around these three categories, I will briefly define the theoretical and methodical framework of the case study. First, the concept of memory is discussed, which can broadly be understood as a narration, interpretation and representation of the past (Assmann 1997: 9). Theories of silence are also vital in this respect, since collective memory and silence are constructed through power relations. Specifically, gendered systems of power and authority that were recast and imposed during colonialism, reconfigured colonial patriarchies and Western Enlightenment ideas within colonized settings (Depelchin 2005: 18). This background explains various silences within historical narrations. The second part analyzes how the Mpondoland revolts are remembered or rather silenced regarding womxn, witchcraft and the historical memory of the insurgency. I argue that the Mpondo revolts are so rarely mentioned due the politicization of discourses around womxn, occult powers and ways of resistance in general. The lack of female representation in historical narrations of iKongo demonstrates that social constructions follow a male dominated path, silencing womxn, especially Blackwomxn who face double misrepresentation. Further, the deliberate silencing of witchcraft is due to modernist ideas of culture and society rooted in colonialism, which perpetuate traditional/modern binaries (Niehaus 2010: 66). Lastly, the Mpondoland revolts remain invisible in most anti-apartheid struggle accounts due to preconceptions of traditionalist witchcraft combined with modernist virtues of democracy and human rights that demonstrated alternative ways of resistance.


2. Theoretical and Methodical Framework


Before examining historical narratives of the Mpondoland revolts, it is necessary to clarify the case study approach used for this research project. Since case studies can be based on a theoretical construct that guides the research process, I will briefly discuss approaches to memory and silence (rather than an entire discussion of the theories) as these are essential to have in mind when studying historical narratives. Only then can we give the needed space to marginalized voices to recall the past and thereupon influence future narrations, interpretations and representations. Or as Marianne Hirsch and Valerie Smith put it, “Memory is firmly situated in the present yet it looks toward the future” (2002: 2).

2.1 Conceptions of Memory


Memory is a broad field of study that can be approached from different disciplines, like sociology, anthropology, psychology, history or political science. I will concentrate on the two latter disciplines, as they are the most relevant to my research question.

Generally speaking, acts of memory are always acts of portrayal, representation and perception by agents within specific contexts. The fundamental approach to the study of memory is that not only one but various versions of history interact and compete for influence in the public, thus constructing collective memory. However, individual and collective memories (and with that social and political group identities) are shaped by political culture and mass media, that consequently have power over which elements, symbols, ideas and myths of the past are remembered and which not. These shared imageries create an “imagined community” with a shared past, present and future (Confino 1997: 1393; Glassberg 1996: 8-11). This also means that memory is always an issue of power and hegemony, and thus of gender, race and class. It entails that certain memories and identities are (purposely) excluded or erased from memory, complementing the Foucaultian relationship between systems of knowledge and power within the struggle for hegemony among various groups (Glassberg 1996: 12).

Depelchin further distinguishes two paradigms regarding the (re-) production and memory of African history in the last century. The first being the initial colonialist denial of the mere existence of African history and the second being the shift to a recognition of African history as an academic field since 1960. Yet, if one questions who defines this field and which questions, themes and conceptualizations are turned to, it is evident that in reality no paradigmatic shift took place. It was simply a “reformulation of the [initial] denial” within pre-established boundaries stemming from colonial rule, concerning capitalism, gender systems, and the superiority of complementing knowledges (Depelchin 2005: 12 & 18).

Moreover, Hirsch and Smith portray the relationship between gender and memory. They state that “psychological and political structures of forgetting or repression that have disempowered women or enabled them to veil their own painful past lives” are crucial to understand gendered manifestations of history and memory (Hirsch & Smith 2002: 4). With the transmission of cultural trauma across spatial and generational boundaries therefore comes the transmission of gendered paradigms of the atrocities of colonialisms, slavery and their legacies (Hirsch & Smith 2002: 3f.).

David Glassberg finally points out that certain forces shaping public history and memory should not be oversimplified, thus constructing society as purely passive, since the imageries and their meanings displayed are interpreted differently within various local contexts. This could serve as a potential starting point for different memories to come into dialogue to define countermemories and transform perceptions of public histories (Glassberg 1996: 13).


2.2 Conceptions of Silence


Like memories, silences are the product of power relations, specifically power relations grounded onpatriarchal colonialism. Therefore, silence is also rooted in the production of knowledges, specifically in the ongoing colonial dominance of imperial nations who produce knowledges, descriptions and representations about other cultures. Africans and the African diaspora are thereby the “only group of people whose academic historians are predominantly non-Africans” (Abdullah 2004). This representation of ‘others’ implies the “hierarchical othering of cultures and peoples” and simultaneously excludes certain narrations and debates (Abdullah 2004). Silence does not only imply the absence of certain communities, discourses and histories but also these communities remaining voiceless. This is due to the fixation upon studying the ‘other’ (gender, race, class or culture) which reproduces hierarchical structures of power and oppression instead of challenging them (Depelchin 2005: 1f.).

Depelchin differentiates between two related types of silence concerning colonial rule. The first kind of silence is caused by state power involving “terror, repression, oppression, exploitation” and with that different intersections of gender, race, class and religion. The second silence involves the reproduction of the first by social scientists and historians (Depelchin 2005: 9f.). Within these silences Depelchin distinguishes two further categories: silences that are independently and consciously demonstrated, as a survival strategy; and unconscious silences deriving from trauma and repressed memories (Depelchin 2005: 11f.). This finally points to the complex matter of ‘breaking silence’ and who is ready and able to and who is not.

Susan Geiger focusses on the silence of womxn in history. She explains the neglect of womxn and their emancipative roles in nationalist movements on three levels, namely a practical, historical and theoretical one. The ‘practical’ aspect alludes to androcentrism, implying that historic records are fabricated by and mainly based on the male experience. Womxn thus remain invisible, unless they disrupt or complicate situations. This goes in line with the second historical facet where documentation principally focusses on “men in state or national-level political leadership” (Geiger 1987: 3). Actions on the local or community level, where womxn have more access and are more visible, are often sidelined and ignored. Lastly, Geiger explains the neglect of womxn in history within a theoretical dimension. Gender in theory is predominantly studied as “an analytical category” at the domestic and economic level, not at the state or nation level. In consequence, gendered elements of political processes within the capitalist world economy are not addressed (Geiger 1987: 3f.).

The number of womxn historians and the documentation of womxn in history is further complicated by low literacy rates, especially in parts of the Global South (Geiger 1987: 5). This also points to the intersectionality[3] of silence. It means that Blackwomxn i.e. are double silenced and not seen as capable political agents. Blackwomxn remaining unvoiced can be traced back to the colonial portrayal of African- and Blackwomxn as sexualized beings. Their bodies symbolized wild, virgin land to be tamed and conquered by European men (Busia 1989: 91). This shows that power and sexuality are closely linked in the context of colonial domination. Consequently, the erasure of womxn’s realities in history enhances patriarchal coloniality and global hierarchies.


2.3 Method


This is a qualitative case study aligned with a general theoretical construct that is made up and compromised of prior scholarly work. This construct is imposed on a specific case during the research process. As case studies genuinely ask the question, “What is this a case of?”, it seems a suitable method for this research project, since I aim to analyze the Mpondoland revolts as a case of silence in various dimensions. Thereby, theoretical concepts are linked with data or evidence throughout the research process. Case studies can be understood in diverse ways, yet this particular research entails the “examination of an aspect of a historical episode to develop or test historical explanations that may be generalizable to other events” (Schwandt & Gates 2018: 601f.).

When studying a social phenomenon through a case study, the researcher is guided by a general research question — in this case, what dimensions of silence the Mpondoland revolts speak to. During the research process, I generated more precise questions and categories to analyze, while remaining open to new aspects to constantly re-operationalize (Schwandt & Gates 2018: 603). My research is based on primary and secondary sources, including research articles, interviews and online websites. The qualitative path followed here is an interpretive orientation, which as Weeden argues, considers “‘knowledge, including scientific knowledge, as historically situated and entangled in power relationships’” (as cited in Schwandt & Gates 2018: 604). Ergo, the fundamental assumption when studying representation and the writing of culture and history, is that the world is socially constructed through discourses and power relations. It is thus important to remember, who is writing, what their position is and how the person writing works with memory and data.

Besides following a certain methodological path, case studies bear different designs depending on the use. This study uses an explanatory hypothesis and theory testing design, in which a case is used to both develop and test theories. The researcher develops a hypothesis for the specific case before collecting evidence from various sources to support their claim as well as identifying possible alternative explanations that do or do not lead to the outcome. In the end, the researcher is able to make their argument based on the collected evidence (Schwandt & Gates 2018: 612f.). Although this single case study cannot be used to generate general theories, I aim to analyze the matter to draw conclusions about this specific case and what paradigms it contributes to on a larger scale.


3. Analysis: Mpondoland Revolts


Before examining silences around the South African Congo Movement or iKongo[4], I will briefly contextualize and summarize common accounts of the insurgency. The Mpondoland revolt, also known as Nonqulwana, took place in the late 1950s until 1961 in the Eastern Transkei region in the Eastern Cape. It is important to note that the belief in witchcraft and sorcery is a fundamental part of Mpondo society to understand the world. Thereby, magic can be used for good or evil. Witches were made responsible for food shortages and the economic, social and political suppression by the white apartheid government, which lead to increased witch killings since the 1930s. Since the early 1900s Mpondo people connected Europeans with the rise of witchcraft since it was believed that Europeans used their knowledge of sorcery to impose hardships like fevers upon Mpondo society (Fidler 2011: 76-80).

In the 1940s and 1950s the segregationist environmental, social, economic and political supremacy of the racist government increased. The National Party, elected in 1948, began “tribal restructuring” to separate tribes and races as well as control stock and impose farming techniques. Additionally, the Bantu Authorities Act (1951) was implemented in Mpondoland in 1956, which appointed Black Chiefs, giving them certain administration- and self-government powers but limiting public participation (Fidler 2011: 81; Mbeki n.d.; South African Online n.d.b). The dissatisfaction was enhanced by droughts and food shortages.

In this context, iKongo created their own political and social order between 1950 and 1962 and had widespread control of many districts in Mpondoland with their own political hierarchy, constitution and courts. After the government refused to listen to the people’s dissatisfactions, iKongo declared war on government representatives in 1959 who were accused of witchcraft and held responsible for hardships. The insurgents held large meetings in the mountains of Ngquza, Imzia and Nhlovu, discussing strategies to confront their targets, which usually implied burning their huts and the targets themselves (Fidler 2011: 84f.; Mbeki n.d.; South African History Online n.d.b).

In 1960 iKongo sent a petition to the United Nations in which they rejected the brutal suppression by the apartheid state and requested recognition as a sovereign nation (Fidler 2011: 88). June 6. 1960 counts as a pivotal moment of the insurgency that signaled an escalation of violence and sustained military presence in the region. On this day, security forces broke up an iKongo meeting at Ngquza Hill with tear gas and open fire, killing at least 11 iKongo members. The revolts intensified after iKongo’s requests were once again ignored, leading to the boycott of white-owned stores and the refusal to pay taxes (Mbeki n.d.; South African History Online n.d.b).

As a result, a state of emergency was declared on November 30. 1960 in many parts of Mpondoland where extraordinary measures became ordinary and violence was routinized and normalized[5]. Military forces sent by the government turned to tear gas and torture as well as raids, prosecutions and killings without charges or trials to contain the movement (Mbeki n.d.; SABC n.d.; South African History Online n.d.b). By 1961 thousands were arrested and tortured and 23 executed, which virtually suppressed the movement (Fidler 2011: 89; South African History Online n.d.b). In the end, although the Congo insurgency was violently broken up and suppressed, and the African National Congress (ANC) and Pan-African Congress (PAC) took over the political activity in the region, many people held on to the idea of building a nation on their own terms (Fidler 2011: 90).


3.1 Womxn


Womxn’s initiatives remain essential yet under-studied facets of anti-colonial struggles, which can partly be explained by the focus on mainly Western-educated male elites who lead nationalist struggles. Although womxn’s roles have moved into focus since the 1970s their “motivations, methods, and visions of a transformed society” are rarely discussed (Schmidt 2002: 283f.). However, the category womxn is not a homogenous one, hence, it is vital to consider intersectionality to fully grasp the silencing and marginalization of Blackwomxn in this case. Blackwomxn face two paradigms of ‘otherness’, that of femaleness and of Blackness. Yet, as numerous scholars have shown, African womxn were and are not just helpless victims of colonialisms but heterogenous agents in anti-colonial struggles and in the making of their world (Geiger et al. 2002). Withal, womxn’s diverse efforts, views and experiences have historically been silenced and erased. Especially colonized womxn are denied their historical and social subjectivity, since the colonized are predominantly constructed as male. In other words, womxn are not physically absent, instead “the representation of the African woman is the construction of her inactive silence” (Busia 1989: 86). When interpreting history we must therefore ask ourselves, how and why womxn’s histories are erased. How are womxn’s roles narrated? Who narrated these roles and in what language? What does it mean that a man narrates womxn’s resistance?

With these questions in mind, I now turn to the silencing of womxn in historical accounts of the Mpondoland revolts. Firstly, it is evident that most narratives do not explicitly mention womxn or their role in the insurgency. Other sources, that do briefly mentions womxn, usually do so in combination with men (“men and women”) (SABC n.d.; South African History Online n.d.a; b). Govan Mbeki’s recount in his book South Africa: The Peasants Revolt and Katherine Fidler’s analysis of the insurgency are two of the few cases where womxn’s active roles are mentioned,

            “They remained at home when the men took to the hills, and raised the war cry to            mark the arrival of police Landrovers. They wore black to show that Pondoland                                    was in mourning. They refrained from any action that might bring strife to the                              tribe, knowing that unity was all-important” (Mbeki n.d.).


Fidler further explains that once government collaborators were identified by iKongo, their huts and bodies were violently burned and mutilated by an army of men after womxn sounded war cries to warn the targets. Womxn also sounded war cries during the State of Emergency to warn against approaching police (Fidler 2011: 86f.). Mbeki and two interviewed witnesses additionally explain that womxn were also victims during the insurgency — for one, due to sexual violence including rape from the police during the Emergency (Mbeki n.d.) but also being excluded from iKongo meetings, considering “‘the traditional point of view that men will decide and discuss the affairs of the community and women are only told what has been decided upon’” (Beinart 2011: 104). These recounts in turn point to patriarchal gender systems within Mpondo society  imposed during colonialism that silence womxn.

While few narrations mention womxn’s roles in the revolts as activists but also as victims, their perceptions and visions are left out altogether. A reason for this could be that most accounts and studies are masuclaizied narrations with a bias that ignores or side-lines womxn, even more Blackwomxn who are not seen as political actors. Consequently, the entire recollection of certain events remains misinterpreted and misrepresented. The lack of female representation and female witnesses in historical recounts of the insurgency show that social constructions follow a male dominated path that silence womxn, especially Blackwomxn. Just because womxn are unmentioned does not mean they are not present agents. We should therefore not only question what is said but also what is not said and why. The systematic refusal to hear someone does not mean they are voiceless.


3.2 Witchcraft


The belief in witchcraft dates back to pre-colonial times but has been reconfigured over time and remains relevant in South African villages and townships until today (Niehaus 2010: 65). It should be noted that the terms ‘witchcraft’ and ‘sorcery’ are Western terms and thus distorted translations of local ideas with broader and more ambivalent nuances[6] (Geschiere 1998: 831). Additionally, the term ‘African witchcraft’ should not be homogenized, considering its pluralities and diverse notions throughout historical and cultural settings (Sanders 2003: 348). Numerous scholars such as Birgit Meyer, Daniel Smith or Ralph Austen recognized witchcraft as critical responses to a capitalist materialistic economy that comes with inequalities, violence and underlaying power structures (Sanders 2003: 339). Accordingly, witchcraft is widely used to blame misfortunes and social and political inequalities (Niehaus 2010: 65).

Although the view of witchcraft as “premodern” and “backward” is increasingly challenged by scholars who suggest witchcraft could be associated with the development of “modern” societies (“‘modernity’ of witchcraft”), prejudice against the belief in witchcrafts remains prevalent in many contexts, including the formal political sphere (Ciekawy & Geschiere 1998; Fidler 2011: 76f.; Geschiere 1998 & 2011; Sanders 2003). This explains the suppression of witchcraft discourses within the anti-apartheid struggle, as in the case of iKongo. The insurgents sought justice for treason of their Chiefs within discourses of witchcraft and sorcery, rather than discourses of European secular law (Fidler 2011: 85). While implementing ideas of witchcraft (like including herbalists (amaxhwele) in meetings to identify Bantu collaborators and purify and protect Mpondo society), they also embraced Western ideals of governance like democracy and public participation to create their own nation apart from the ANC’s nationalist discourse.

While analyzing narratives of iKongo, it was remarkable to find that apart from few scholarly articles (Kepe & Ntsebeza 2011; Fidler 2010; 2011), online history sites and first hand narrations have no mention of witchcraft beliefs. Instead, the revolts are explained by Mpondo people’s distrust in their Chiefs after the latter’s co-option by the apartheid government through the Bantu Authorities Act (Mbeki n.d.; SABC n.d.; South African History Online n.d. a; b). Reason for this could be that witchcrafts are commonly understood as ‘traditional’ that “contradict enlightenment reason and clash with liberal democratic values, founded upon universalism” (Niehaus 2010: 74). We must therefore ask ourselves, why some religious practices count as legitimate while others do not. How are witchcrafts discussed in this context? How and why are certain spiritual approaches remembered or erased?

During the insurgency, the ANC (with prominent operatives like Govan Mbeki) expressed solidarity with iKongo and strategically used connections between witchcraft and government collaborators to increase their support. However, since South Africa’s independence in 1994, the ANC makes almost no mentions about the Mpondoland revolts and its role in the anti-apartheid struggle (Fidler 2011: 82; 2010: 35). The modernist government consciously silences the revolts to serve their nationalist identity politics to unify the nation (Ciekawy & Geschiere 1998: 4). Ergo, the recount of ANC operative Mbeki strategically silences iKongo’s belief in sorcery, although he thoroughly explains hut burnings and other witch-punishments (Mbeki n.d.). This neglect is rooted in colonial ‘modernization schemes’ within civilizing missions to spread christianity, eliminate local notions like witchcraft and exert control and violence over colonized peoples. Such enlightenment language was maintained by the apartheid government (Niehaus 2010: 66) and continues on a global scale until today.

The brutal violence committed against accused witches is inexcusable. Nonetheless, beliefs in religion and with that witchcrafts is a crucial element of culture and identity. Silencing certain beliefs therefore silences and erases certain identities. As witchcraft is an integral part of many cultures, especially in Africa, it should not be a neglected subject but rather integrated into political, social and scientific discourses. This has the potential to redefine and move past a naturalized universal understanding of ‘modernity’ and allow plural modernities to coexist in a non-hierarchical manner. With that, researches must also examine their role within power relations in forming such discourses of exoticization and silence around witchcrafts (Ciekawy & Geschiere 1998: 2). Only then can we overcome hierarchical binaries of traditional/modern beliefs and move towards greater epistemological pluralism, allowing other ways of knowing.


3.3 Memory of the Insurgency


Memory can be seen as a subjective experience that sustains and is embedded within power relationships in society. Ergo, memory is also used for political purposes, often with regard to ideology, to create public or collective memory — or as Alon Confino put it, “who wants whom to remember what, and why”(Confino 1997: 1393). The ‘politics of memory’ is closely related to the ‘politics of identity’, since the creation of a collective identity purposely excludes certain groups and cultural practices. Thereby, archival accounts tend to coincide with hegemonies, leaving the decision of what is said, who speaks and how matters are portrayed to the powerful. Perspectives and interpretations of the marginalized then remain invisible. We must therefore ask ourselves, how the Mpondoland revolts are remembered and why they remain invisible in most accounts of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Fidler argues that iKongo used local concepts like witchcraft to create a new political perception of a nation-state while simultaneously embodying Western ideals of governance such as public participation and protest, human rights and democracy (2011: 76). Yet, this unique approach has been silenced throughout history. Newspapers during apartheid were often in the hands of Afrikaner nationalists or English imperials with an obvious bias towards the documentation of the revolts (Pieterse 2011: 45-49). Political literature by Black people, on the other hand, largely remained loyal to rational and secular views of the ANC and All African Convention (AAC) (Pieterse 2011: 69-71). Jimmy Pieterse found that “[c]ontemporary accounts, including newspaper articles, government reports, and the descriptions of eyewitnesses, fit the revolt into an existing framework of political and social upheaval” (Pieterse 2011: 43). This points to the fact that South African history mainly focusses on efforts by the ANC within the anti-apartheid struggle by using rhetoric of “modernism”, liberal democracy and secularism. In turn, alternative concepts and strategies are excluded, which explains why the Mpondoland revolts are virtually not mentioned in any official account of the anti-apartheid struggle (Fidler 2011: 90).

Although the ANC never condemned iKongo, they molded the resistance to make it compatible with their own (Drew 2011: 76; Fidler 2010: 193). Consequently, the Mpondoland revolt is predominantly seen in light of the ANC resistance. Some historical recounts mention that the ANC’s presence during the insurgency strengthened iKongo (Mbeki n.d.; South African History Online n.d.a), others even go so far as to falsely claim that iKongo was constituted particularly by ANC supporters (SABC n.d.). Moreover, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which is aimed at promoting national unity and reconciliation, only mentions iKongo in reference to the ANC (Fidler 2010: 198f.). The TRC further constructed iKongo insurgents solely as victims of apartheid: Since iKongo’s agency involved notions of magic, it was deliberately silenced in the dominant Western liberal democratic narrative of the liberation struggle, leaving only the victimized facets of iKongo (Fidler 2010: 205).

The Congo Movement is difficult to place into categories, since it was neither “traditional” nor “modern”. Instead, it spoke to elements of local traditions but also cosmopolitan[7] concepts of nationalism, democracy and popular prostest. This could ultimately explain the silence around iKongo within anti-apartheid narratives. Nevertheless, even though the movement did not succeed and the ANC-dominated government remains uncomfortable with notions of magic, the belief in occult powers remains significant in many parts of South Africa (Fidler 2011: 91). Hirsch and Smith recognize that memory is the space where the individual and the social meet, which in turn gives way for countermemories to challenge hegemonic history and memory (2002: 7). The case of iKongo could serve as such a countermemory. It shows that the interaction of traditionalist and modernist concepts have the potential to induce new political and social understandings and perspectives that challenge binary structures.


4. Conclusion


Outside of the Eastern Cape, the Mpondoland insurgency is rarely known internationally or nationally among South Africans (Fidler 2010: 175). To that end, this research attempted to uncover different dimensions of silence around the Mpondoland revolts. Fundamentally, it revolves around questions of power relations — more closely, gendered and racialized power structures rooted in colonialism that perpetuate ongoing coloniality. Queries such as ‘How are stories told?’, ‘Who narrates them and in what manner?’, ‘Who is represented?’, ‘Which knowledge is regarded as such and which not?’ are therefore crucial. The aforementioned power structures explain silences around womxn, especially Blackwomxn as well as silences around occult powers within narrations of the Mpondo resistance. It is shown that the invisibility of iKongo in most accounts of the struggle against apartheid is mainly due to iKongo’s unique conversion of Western ideas around nationalism and democracy with local conceptions of witchcraft, which did not reconcile with the ANC’s societal framework of a Western liberal democratic nation.

This research is by no means complete. I am aware that there are further silences as well as further aspects of the above discussed silences that I, in my position as a white womxn from the Global North, am not able to define — this is also not my place. I have attempted to uncover some aspects of silence around the Mpondoland revolts, yet I am also reproducing others. Therefore, space must be given to deeper research, yet not necessarily from persons in my position, so as to avoid reproducing structures of power.

In that sense, scholars should use diverse research methods, theoretical frameworks and data sources to overcome androcentric and eurocentric biases. More importantly, however, in order to overcome gendered colonial epistemological violence and emancipate (historical) knowledge, it is not sufficient to concentrate on alternative sources and methodology. The pre-condition must be that space is given to silenced views, experiences and lived realities. Subjects can thereupon be truly represented and emancipated, becoming agents of their histories and futures. Such a space has the potential to converge different versions of the past with different memories and create dialogue, ensuring that diverse voices and experiences are heard and passed on. Only then, can hegemonic finished interpretations of the past be revisioned. Since historical and collective memory is fluid, history can be re-written and recalled differently in varying contexts and times. The case of iKongo could serve as an example of envisioning an alternative political society outside the lines of easy categorization in a postcolonial[8] context. In the end, prevailing binaries, such as rural/urban,traditional/modern, private/public, citizen/subject, peasant/proletarian could be overcome.

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[1] The terms Black and white are spelled differently in this paper to acknowledge Black as a socially constructed racial term, which refers to people of the African diaspora (although they are by no means homogenous) sharing a racialized identity and history.

[2] This paper uses the intersectional term womxn to include non-cisgender womxn, meaning feminine-identifying genderqueer and non-binary individuals.

[3] The concept of intersectionality describes constructed dynamic social categories, such as race, gender, class or ability, that are co-constituted and interrelated with one another, creating individual social identities that vary over time and space (Djoudi et al. 2016: 249).

[4] iKongo means congress in isiXhosa, the language widespread in the Eastern Cape (South Africa Online n.d.b).

[5] The measures were extraordinary in the sense that they had not been implemented in the same manner until then — these “extraordinary” violent measures became the ordinary structure in daily life for Black people during apartheid (Fidler 2010: 173).

[6] Mpondo people use the terms umthakathi and igqwira interchangeably to define witches and sorcerers while ukuthakatha expresses the exercise of witchcraft or sorcery (Fidler 2011: 79f.).

[7] The term “cosmopolitan” is used here to express the communication between different concepts, experiences, and perspectives.

[8] The term postcolonial is used here to solely refer to the time after independence of former colonies. This by no means suggests that colonialism is overcome, since colonialities persist to this day.

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