The Aborigines’ Protection Society received three letters from Mqikela between 1 August 1883 and 12 July 1884.
Mqikela was born circa 1841 to Faku, paramount chief of the Mpondo kingdom. Mqikela was not Faku’s eldest son, but his mother was the highest ranked of Faku’s wives, and so Mqikela became the traditional heir to the Paramountcy. This caused conflict between Mqikela and his elder brother, and so Faku divided Mpondoland into a western district and an eastern district. Mqikela was to inherit eastern Mpondoland, and his brother was to inherent western Mpondoland. Mqikela succeeded to the throne of eastern Mpondoland in 1867.
Mqikela’s letters to the APS refer to a deputation he wished to send to England to protest the Cape government’s annexation of Xesibeland and Port St. John’s following the Ninth Frontier War in 1878.
It is unlikely that Mqikela himself could write English, but Mfengu leaders had employed Europeans as secretaries and diplomats since 1844, when Faku employed Methodist missionaries from nearby his capital. Mqikela grew impatient with his Methodist agents in 1880 when they refused to send letters to Bartle Frere criticizing his confederation scheme, citing the policy of their mission to avoid politics.
From then on Mqikela employed traders and lawyers as his agents, beginning with H.W. Welborne in 1881. Welborne was a lawyer in Kokstad and, as the attorney of several cattle-traders in Natal, was actively interested in challenging British intervention in the lucrative Mpondo cattle trade. He was dismissed in 1882 due to mismanagement of Mpondo resources, and replaced by a trader named Hamilton MacNicholas.
MacNicholas and his business partner William Bouverie were also actively interested in preventing British intervention in their trading activities, and enthusiastically assisted Mqikela in resisting British confederation. Both of their names appear as witnesses to the letters written by Mqikela, and it is likely that they had translated and transcribed the letters.
In William Beinart’s study of the relationships between colonial traders and the Mpondo chieftaincy, he argues that MacNicholas and Bouverie were not neutral messengers between Mqikela and the Cape or Britain. Rather, Beinart illustrates that MacNicholas and Bouverie had substantial economic interests in preventing Mpondoland from coming under Cape or British rule. Beinart argues that MacNicholas and Bouverie actively sought to intervene in Mpondo politics to drive a wedge between Mqikela and the Cape, and possibly to foment a war. As such, the role of MacNicholas and Bouverie in translating and transcribing Mqikela’s letters is potentially problematic.
Of course, every moment of translation is an opportunity for meaning to be changed or eroded. Given MacNicholas’s and Bouverie’s ulterior motives in working for Mqikela, we have to be even more cautious when approaching these letters. However, I do not think that MacNicholas and Bouverie intentionally or substantially altered Mqikela’s messages during transcription.
I have compared letters from MacNicholas, Bouverie, and Mqikela, and their messages are not consistent. This will be discussed in much more detail in chapter three, but essentially, the letters from MacNicholas and Bouverie state that Mqikela wanted to go to war immediately, while the letters from Mqikela state that he did not want to go to war, and would utilize all peaceful means of protest first. If MacNicholas and Bouverie had been altering Mqikela’s letters, why would they allow his letters to contradict their own?
This is certainly not conclusive proof that Mqikela’s messages were faithfully represented, but I argue that it is enough proof to treat his letters as reasonably reliable.