The most renowned Xhosa chief and arguably one of Africa’s greatest military leaders of the 19th Century. He was the Right Hand Son of Ngqika, ruler of the Rharhabe Kingdom of the Xhosa nation (what was known as the Ciskei).
He was a man of considerable intellect and eloquence, striving to maintain traditional social structures and the power of the Xhosa royalty. According to the Reverend John Henderson Soga, “Maqoma stood in a rank alone for courage and as a orator.” He has been described as a short but impressive warrior who reminded some of his legendary great-grandfather Rharabe.
After leading a campaign in the frontier wars against the Cape, he was captured and imprisoned on Robben Island where he died in 1873.
More than a century later he was reburied in 1978 in the Ciskei Ntaba ka Ndoda (Great Place of the Xhosa kings); commissioned by his descendant Chief Lent Maqoma, to most Xhosa, many of whom had attended Steven Biko’s funeral the previous year, it represented the return of an exceptional leader who had ultimately sacrificed his life for the cause of his people. This remains Maqoma’s legacy.
The story of Nkosi Maqoma (Ah! Jongumsobomvu) of amaJingqi of the Rharhabe section of the Xhosa nation teaches two valuable lessons. Firstly, that of history. It is clear that the so called “frontier wars” were not merely British versus the Xhosa (a “white vs black” narrative which prevails). Indeed, even within the Xhosa speaking region there were those who formed pacts with the Cape, requiring one to take more time to read up on history to understand the complex interdependence.
Secondly, we learn that despite his background as that of a ‘junior’ prince, he did not let this define him, nor limit his potential or willpower. This lesson is embodied in the belief that we possess the power to step into our light no matter what our background. Although a son of a king, Maqoma did not qualify to be heir to the kingdom, as the succession went to his brother Sandile (Ah! Mgolombane) – who was 22 years younger – due to seniority of maternal lineage.
Notwithstanding the impediment of being the oldest and most respected brother, yet ‘junior’ due to his ‘junior’ bloodline (Sandile’s mother was from a more powerful lineage). European witnesses tended to take special interest in recording his statements and conversations and even which clothes he wore, in fact there is more written evidence on him than any other Xhosa ruler. It was not only the Europeans who were impressed with Maqoma, even among the Xhosa, he was often entrusted to serve as a spokesman for all the Xhosa leaders.
Signs of Maqoma’s ‘warrior spirit’ present in his descendant, Chief Lent Maqoma
Back in 1991 when WTC Training Commander Claudio visited the then Ciskei with his grandmother, Selma, at the invitation of her close friend, the late Chief Lent Maqoma, Chief of the amaJingqi (for a period served as Acting Paramount Chief of the amaRharhabe Royal house after the death of Inkosi Enkhulu Mxolisi). Following his return to his homeland after a period in exile, where he was in a secret hideout in the safety of Claudio’s grandmother’s family home (for the safety of Chief Lent Maqoma’s loved ones, the hideout was kept a secret even from his loved ones). This was a particularly challenging period for his family, even having to endure torture to divulge the whereabouts of Maqoma, of which they knew not. This visit was to play an inspirational role for the Claudio who shared an experience with his descendant.
During this visit, they were invited by a local to a boxing match in nearby Mdantsane (where over 23 world champions and 50 national champions hail from, amongst them Nkosana “Happy Boy” Mgxagi, Vuyani “The Beast” Vungu, Welcome “The Hawk” Ncita, Nkosinathi “Mabhere” Joyi, Simpiwe Vetyeka, Zolani Tete). The atmosphere was electric, with the community in full spirit behind the two sportsmen in the ring. The power sport was clear. Claudio’s dad, Diego, being a former Italian welterweight title contender, reinforced the affinity with the sport.
Chief Maqoma embodies the fighting spirit… which in some form or other can serve to inspire us to unleash the warrior within.
Reunited: Claudio with Maqoma descendent Vuyiswa Nomoyi, who he reunited with for the first time since his visit to the Ciskei – when they were both 14 year old teenagers