Life of Sir George Grey: Governor, High commissioner, and Premier. An Historical Biography.
A Kafir Rising
A Kafir Rising.
Meanwhile, Grey's civilising schemes had been exciting the distrust of the Kafir chiefs, who saw their judicial functions being absorbed by white assessors and their authority over their tribesmen undermined by white superintendents. They must have believed that, in the mind of so far-seeing a Governor, there was a deeply laid plot to conquer the natives by pacific means. They met plot by counterplot and hatched a conspiracy which, had it been successfully carried out, would have reconquered British Kafraria for the blacks.page 101
Two very different versions of the events have been given. On one side there is the picturesque and poetical narrative of Mr. Bees, probably inspired by Grey and told just as Grey was in the habit of telling it. On the other, we have the far balder and more prosaic, but possibly more exact, narrative of Professor Henderson, who presumably derived his facts from the copies of Grey's despatches in the Government archives at Capetown. The discrepancies between the two at first sight transcend the discordances among the Roman legends that whetted the ingenuity of Niebuhr or those that baffle the harmonizers of the Pentateuch or the Gospels. Examined more closely, they are seen to be mutually complementary. Each is by itself imperfect and incomplete. Either states what the other omits, and vice versâ. The two, taken together, contain the whole truth. We will try to fuse them.
At the beginning of the chain of events, and underlying it, we discern a Kafir conspiracy against the British occupation of Kafraria. Kreli, the paramount chief of the Kafirs, was the soul of it. His fellow-conspirators were named Fadanna, Quesha, and Macomo. They cleverly used the priesthood, which was probably sympathetic, as a collaborator. The high-priest, Umhlakaza, cunningly created an instrument in a prophetess, who professed to be in communication with the dead ancestors of the race. A secret subterranean passage, known only to herself, took her below the waters of a lake and brought her into the presence of the dead chiefs. There the eye was gladdened by evergreen pastures where grazed countless herds. Receiving the ancestral commands, she told them that homes would there be provided for them and never-failing supplies of food; never again would they need to toil. It was, of course, a mere lure, but it misled a whole people, numbering 60,000 warriors and 200,000 souls. In obedience to it, and by command of their chiefs and priests, the infatuated tribesmen promised to destroy their crops, cattle, and stores of food on an appointed day—February 18,1857—and sacrifice them to the spirits of their ancestors. All who disbelieved in this prophecy page 102and refused to make the required sacrifices would be destroyed. The real object was to reduce the Kafirs to desperation by the destruction of their supplies, and thus induce them to rise against the British. To indicate the day, a great miracle would be performed. On the appointed day the sun would rise as usual, but would soon turn back and set in the quarter whence it had risen. A hurricane would spring up. The Kafirs would then advance, and the Europeans would be swept into the sea. A new and brighter era would dawn.
The colonists waited in suspense for the arrival of the dread day. A British force, under an English general, guarded the frontier. The great day arrived. The voluntary promises were kept, and the destruction duly effected. Then the Kafirs prepared to advance. Greatly outnumbered and evidently alarmed, the general proposed to retreat, and he sent a message to Grey to that effect. With a statesmanlike eye Grey saw at once the impolicy of a retrograde movement, and promptly ordered the general to hold his ground. If he dared to retreat, Grey threatened to supersede the Commander-in-Chief and himself take the command. It was no idle menace. He believed he had the power, and he certainly had the will. Needless to say, he was submissively obeyed. To the end of his days he recalled the incident with satisfaction and pride.
The Kafirs did not venture to attack. The expected miracle was not performed. A schism broke out in the Kafir camp between the believers and the unbelievers, which latter, as is usual, were blamed for the failure of the prophecy. The two sides fought, and some were killed. Feeling that he had gained his end, Grey set out to return to Capetown, and he captured several leading chiefs on his way back. Having destroyed their supplies of food, the Kafirs were overtaken by famine, and the appalling number of 50,000 died of starvation. Grey's humanity was as energetic as his hostility. He immediately devised measures of relief. He brought 34,000 natives into Cape Colony and distributed them as servants. For the rest he built villages and supplied them with food, agricultural implements, seeds, and cattle.page 103
Several of the chiefs captured were sentenced to longer or shorter terms of imprisonment. But Grey was not the man to leave his work unfinished. Realising that there could be no lasting peace in South Africa while Kreli remained powerful, he gathered together a small force of colonial irregulars and the mounted police he had created and attacked the chief in his own country, where he lay in fancied security. Then he drove him into the interior, where for years he was kept powerless, and, on his own humble petition, permitted to return to a location in his former territory only when he could no longer be active for mischief. The case was parallel to the seizure of Rauparaha, and its effects were similar. It broke the back of the Kafir resistance, as the seizure of Rauparaha ensured the definitive ascendancy of the British in New Zealand. Grey won great repute in South Africa by the decisive stroke, and he received high laudation from the Colonial Office in a despatch that bears the traces of Bulwer Lytton's lofty diction. Well might the Secretary of State commend his "firm and benevolent dealing with the native races," his "sagacity in foreseeing and averting collisions, and" his "able policy in using unexpected and strange incidents in the history of the Kafirs for their advantage and for the security of the Colony."