In the Sixth Frontier War (1843-35) the Xhosa invaded deep into Cape Colony. British forces counter-attacked and their commander, Colonel Harry Smith, took possession of the land between the Kei and Keiskamma rivers.
What history does not record, is that Colonel Harry Smith was with his son during the Sixth Frontier War, Joseph Smith. The Xhosa chief Sarhili had a senior councilor called Mhlakaza whose daughter was always opposed to them being an enemy of white people. The senior councilor‘s daughter was Lulisizwe. She was strong wild and fierce.
Mhlakaza was a religious man, who had returned to Xhosa land in 1853 after spending time in the Cape Colony and becoming familiar with Christianity. He left after his mother’s death.
In the Xhosa tribe, the women worked in the garden, cooked, cleaned and looked after the babies. The men were the warriors, they looked after the livestock. Every day in the Xhosa tribe, it’s the same cycle: women do their own thing, and so do the men.
One day, Lulisizwe went with the other boys to look after the livestock. On the other side of the Kei River there was a young man playing with horses. The boys told Lulisizwe that the boy was Colonel Harry smith’s son, and that he was their enemy, but Lulisizwe told them that a son shouldn’t pay for his father’s sins.
Lulisizwe shouted across the river, “Hi, my name is Lulisizwe!!”
Joseph responded, “I’m Joseph!”
But before they could continue their conversation, the other boys told Lulisizwe to stop talking to him. They said it was a curse and that women are supposed to be working in the garden and babysitting. That made Lulisizwe very angry, it made her feel powerless and useless and she hated that feeling. Lulisizwe always thought of herself as a warrior. She wanted to join the army when she turned 16. But they told her that only men could join the army.
Joseph couldn’t take Lulisizwe out of his mind. She was so brave and confident. She had the most beautiful smile. On the other side of the river, Lulisizwe couldn’t take Joseph out of her mind. But Lulisizwe was already promised to another marriage. The son of chief Sarhili, Sigcawu kaSarhili. They both did not know what they were feeling, but one thing was for sure, they wanted to see each other again. They both could not stop thinking about each other.
The following day, early in the morning, Lulisizwe went down the river to wait for Joseph. What she didn’t know was that Joseph was already there, waiting for her.
When Joseph saw her, his heart beat fast. He shouted to her, “Let’s meet down at the river!!”
He was not sure if she understood English but he kept on pointing down the river. Lulisizwe had always ran like a warrior, so she ran down the river. When they got there, one person had to swim to the other side. They both stood there, then Joseph swam to the other side. They looked in each other’s eyes for a long time and Lulisizwe said, “You are brave.”
Joseph was surprised that Lulisizwe could speak English. They started spending time together, and enjoyed it a lot. They soon realised that they were in love with each other. One day, when Lulisizwe was sitting outside with other girls, one of the elders in the village noticed that she was pregnant.
When Lulisizwe found out, she knew that Joseph had to know. So early in the morning, she went down the river to wait for him, she kept practicing how she was going to tell him. When he arrived, she started crying, and Joseph said to her, you are pregnant, I know, and he hugged her, then kissed her, and he told her everything will be alright.
Nongqawuse was the niece of Mhlakaza and best friends with Lulisizwe. Lulisizwe told Nongqawuse that the child she was carrying was Joseph Smith’s child and she was in love with him. To Nongqawuse this was an opportunity to predict the future, since she was one of the prophets in the village.
Nongqawuse immediately told her uncle, that Lulisizwe’s child was half black and half white, but her uncle didn’t believe her. When the elders of the village heard of Nongqawuse’s prophecy, they decided, that if it is true, then the baby must be killed. When only a few weeks were left for Lulisizwe to give birth, she told Joseph that they should run away. Joseph was fine with the idea.
Lulisizwe told Nongqawuse that she was running away with Joseph. Nongqawuse told her uncle the plan, and she that it was the ancestors that told her that. When Lulisizwe was packing, her father came in her hut and told her she was not going anywhere.
Joseph waited and waited and until he fell asleep there. The next morning Lulisizwe went down the river and told Joseph that she was not allowed to go outside anymore but that she will always love him. Joseph told her that he will be there every day and that he will always love her.
Months later, Lulisizwe gave birth to a half black, half white child. As Nongqawuse predicted “A sound is heard in Gxarha, the sound of bitter weeping. Rachel is crying for her children; she refuses to be comforted, for they are dead.”
After giving birth, Lulisizwe’s father killed the baby in front of Lulisizwe and shouted, “This is a curse!!!” Lulisizwe made a promise to herself that her father and everyone in the Xhosa land would pay for killing her son.
Early in the morning, she went down to the river to wait for Joseph. When Joseph got there, she was crying and kept on saying they will pay for what they did. “They killed our baby, Joseph,” she cried.
Joseph couldn’t hold it together, so he started crying too. But Lulisizwe had a plan. A plan to revenge their baby’s death.
The following day Nongqawuse had a vision of ghostly people and cattle, some of the people in the vision had been dead for many years.
“Kill all your cattle, destroy your grain and sow no seeds”, said the ghosts. “If you do this, the Russians [at that time Britain and Russia were on opposite sides in the Crimean War] will come and they will drive the English into the sea and the Xhosa will have all the cattle, grain, clothes, guns and ammunition they could possibly want.”
Chief Sarhili believed Mhlakaza and ordered the cattle to be killed and the crops destroyed. Most people obeyed him, slaughtering between over 150,000 and 200,000 cattle before the end of 1856. As many as 20,000 Xhosa people may have died of starvation.
This was Lulisizwe’s plan, to fake a dream and to tell Nongqawuse because she knew she would tell her father.
She knew it will never bring her son back, but at least she got to avenge him. When Lulisizwe saw her people suffer, she felt like a warrior who had won a battle and when she came back home, everyone was happy to see her. But instead of that, she got a relief, that her son was happy wherever he is.
When the British took full control of the land, Joseph talked to his father to hire a Xhosa girl to be his maid. He argued that it would be very embarrassing for the Xhosa people. His father bought the idea and Joseph hired Lulisizwe as his maid. Finally they were able to be together.
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