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Treasuring our heritage will bring us together

Viewing the grave of the Xhosa chief Ngqika a few years ago affected me deeply, but not in the way I expected. Nestling in the foothills of the Amatolas on the site of Ngqika’s “Great Place”, it was once regarded as semi–sacred by the Xhosa, a shrine that became the focus of their national yearnings. Today, it looks frankly abandoned, a non–descript flat stone bed crudely fenced off from the surrounding huts, and so undistinguished as to resemble no more than the final resting place of any local farmer. It is a depressing sight for an historian.

It was further sobering to see the conditions in which the surrounding population lived. The Xhosa finally won the Frontier Wars, at least politically, but amidst all the hopeless poverty it felt like a pyrrhic victory at best.

Also inexorably disappearing are the tangible remains of the Eastern Cape’s once all–pervasive imperial heritage. Crumbling, unvisited monuments, their bronze plaques often long torn off for their scrap metal value, forgotten and derelict military cemeteries now almost completely reclaimed by the bush, and the half–submerged remnants of forts and other outposts are increasingly all that is remain of the historical frontier region. One also finds the ruins of former white farmsteads, recognizable because of the tall trees their long–dead owners planted nearby as a gesture of faith in the future.

Just outside Fort Beaufort, some eighty kilometres to the north–west of Ngqika’s grave, lies the Waterkloof, an intricate system of cliffs, dense forests and precipitous gorges. It was here that the great Xhosa general Maqoma had his stronghold, withstanding numerous British attempts to dislodge him before the latter’s superior firepower finally prevailed. But there is no monument to Maqoma in the Waterkloof today, nor to the many brave warriors –- both Xhosa and coloured rebels — who fought and died beside him.

This is not exceptional. In general, there would seem to be a paucity of memorials in the Eastern Cape to those who fought so long and bitter a rearguard action against the predatory forces of colonialism. Hopefully, the situation is by now being remedied. A crucial part of any liberation process, after all, is reclaiming one’s history, always bearing in mind the truth of the adage that history is invariably written by the victors.

Since 1948, the Jewish people have been engaged in reclaiming their own history in their ancestral homeland, something that must have seemed an impossible dream during the endless years of their exile. A particularly stirring event in this ongoing quest took place in the Spring of 1960. Israeli President Yitzchak Ben–Zvi, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion and various other senior members of government were gathered at Ben Zvi’s home to hear the reports of four teams of archaeologists on the latest discoveries made in the caves of the Judean Desert.

When it was his turn to report, the famous soldier–archaeologist Yigal Yadin displayed part of a document and read aloud the first line of writing upon it: “Shimon Bar Kosiba, President over Israel”. Turning to Ben Zvi, he said, “Your Excellency, I am honoured to be able to tell you that we have discovered fifteen dispatches written or dictated by the last President of ancient Israel, 1800 years ago”. Bar Kosiba, also known as Bar Kochba, had been the leader of the last Jewish rebellion again Rome in 132–4 C.E., a legendary hero who briefly restored Jewish independence before a final, catastrophic defeat put paid to Jewish nationalist aspirations for nearly two millennia.

Yadin’s momentous discovery, resonant with emotional significance for the people of the young State of Israel, came to my mind last December as I stood at the foot of Nomtjherhelo, the hill fortress of the Ndebele Chief Nyabela. Strewn with boulders, covered with thick vegetation and honeycombed with an intricate system of caves, this was the main stronghold of the Ndzundza clan. It was here that they entrenched and rallied themselves following Mzilikazi’s reign of terror and here, during the Mapoch War of 1882–3, that they held the predatory forces of the Zuid–Afrikaansche Republiek at bay for eight months before being forced by starvation to capitulate.

A statue of Nyabela was erected at the foot of Nomtjherhelo in 1970. Every 19 December, his people’s descendants gather before the hill to remember their ancestors’ sacrifices, simultaneously celebrating the ongoing vibrancy of the Ndebele culture that the white man’s military conquest disrupted but failed to destroy. One cannot help but be reminded of another mountain fortress — Masada — where Jews today, among them newly–inducted Israeli soldiers, regularly gather to remember the gallant, doomed resistance of their ancestors against the might of Rome.

There do now exist several memorials to the Zulu warriors who gave their lives in the epic struggle with the British Empire in 1879. The Isandlwana battlefield is strewn with monuments to the British dead, but the single memorial to the Zulus -– which is both unpretentious and deeply eloquent — is by far the most moving. What achievements of courage, stamina, discipline and sacrifice it recalls, that great and terrible day when a bare–footed African army swept down upon the cream of the mighty British army and obliterated them. The Spartans of antiquity had nothing on these guys. Indeed, of all South Africa’s black ethnic groups, it is the Zulus who have traditionally enjoyed the most respect from their European conquerors. What does it say about human nature that this was only achieved once they had succeeded in killing large numbers of them?

South Africa’s history belongs to all its people. Its material legacy is something that should be treasured by everyone, whether it is an Iron Age archaeological site, an 1820 Settler cottage, a military cemetery, a political prison or a mineworkers’ compound. Above all, South Africans must avoid thinking in terms of “white” and “black” history, and in finally according the story of black South Africans the due place it was denied during the years of white domination, and steer clear of falling into the trap of denigrating the latter’s equally valid narratives and traditions.

All our peoples have contributed to the rich, compelling, multi–faceted mosaic that makes up our country’s story. Today, no matter what race, religious, linguistic or ethnic group we belong to, we can view the historical experiences of all our fellow South African as our own -– taking pride in their accomplishments, empathising with their suffering, and drawing inspiration from the heroism they and their forebears have displayed.

Author

  • David Saks has worked for the South African Jewish Board of Deputies (SAJBD) since April 1997, and is currently its associate director. Over the years, he has written extensively on aspects of South African history, Judaism and the Middle East for local and international newspapers and journals. David has an MA in history from Rhodes University. Prior to joining the SAJBD, he was curator -- history at MuseumAfrica in Johannesburg. He is editor of the journal Jewish Affairs, appears regularly on local radio discussing Jewish and Middle East subjects and is a contributor to various Jewish publications.

14 Comments

  1. Mandrake Mandrake 9 May 2008

    Beautiful piece. i thank you for brightening my day and perhaps this should be a project to replace the name-change sham.

    uChizama uyabulela! (Chizama gives thanks)

    PS: Chizama is a clan name

  2. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 9 May 2008

    David

    Mbeki is Mfengu. His ancestors fought on the side of the settlers against the Xhosa. What did you exspect?

    Jewish people drive me nuts – and I have some Jewish blood. Don’t you realise your history is only known to you and not to the rest of the world? I mean modern Middle East history – not the ancient past!

    In a nutshell – Jews were all over the Middle East. Even in almost modern times Jews fled from Europe to places like Turkey to avoid the Inquisition of the Catholic Church. Before the First World War Jews were encouraged by Britain to emigrate to the Ottoman Empire for protection.

    It is the history from the outbreak of the First World War that the world does not know. False history has been poured out from the oil rich states who do not recognise Israel’s right to exist, and who refused to take in the Palestinians as refugees, for that reason, and trained suicide bombers for that reason – which they are now too afraid to assimilate themselves. The suicide bombers are fundamentalists and not too keen either on kings like in Jordan and Saudi Arabia. They already got rid of the Shah decades ago.

    In 1947 India was divided up into Pakistan and India. Anyone who has seen the film on Ghandi’s life will remember the Muslim refugees fleeing one way and the Hindu the other.

    In 1947 The Middle East was also divided up – with Muslims getting 80% and Jews 20%. A million Jews fled into Israel (with NO compensation for their rights to homes and property), and there were a million Palestinians (a lot more now – they have large families). Proportionally few were assimilated – because the Muslims refused to accept that Jews had any rights AT ALL. They were sub-human infidels.

    How is this Israel’s problem? I see it as an Arab problem. They caused it. They must solve it.

    I keep hearing on the radio about how the Palestinians still have the keys to their homes. Well why not exchange them fot the keys to the Jewish homes which were abandoned all over the rest of the Middle East?

    David – PLEASE write about modern history from the break up of the Ottoman Empire. I read in the Business report that 69% of the children in America can’t find China on a map. Sow write it simple – for people who can’t find China on a map!

  3. Consulting Engineer Consulting Engineer 9 May 2008

    Israel is the Jews reclaiming their ancestral homeland?? Correct me if I wrong, but Israel was formerly the Land of Canaan, which tells you the name of the people whose ancestral land it really is.

    Jews crystallised into a nation at about 1300 BC after their Exodus from Egypt under the leadership of Moses. So they do not originate in present day Israel. Perhaps then they should lay claim to Egypt as their ancestral land?

    After 40 years in the Sinai desert, Moses led them to the Land of Israel. The rule of Jews in the land of Israel starts with the conquests of Joshua (ca. 1250 BC), hence they are foreign invaders.

    In 587 BC Nebuchadnezzar’s army captured Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, and exiled the Jews to Babylon (modern day Iraq).

    Due to incessant trouble making and uprising, The Roman army led by Titus conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple in 70 AD. Jewish people were then exiled and dispersed to the Diaspora. In 132, Bar Kokhba organized a revolt against Roman rule, but was killed in a battle in Bethar in Judean Hills. Subsequently the Romans decimated the Jewish community, renamed Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina and Judea as Palaestina to obliterate Jewish identification with the Land of Israel. The Romans apparently did this with no other people and preffered to assimilate people.

    Hence for the past 2000 years until 1948 Jews have had no dominion over Israel, their dominion in the previous 1500 was also limited. So please explain this right to occupation. It seems other peoples have held that land for much longer periods than the Jews.

    While on this topic, I can think of no other group that was expelled from the Roman empire, since the Romans could generally assimilate anyone. Why do you think it was only the Jews that suffered this fate, and subsequently again from many empires?

    Kissinger and Einstein hinted at this as well.

  4. Consulting Engineer Consulting Engineer 9 May 2008

    The contradictions in this blog are staggering. You warn to stay clear of ‘white’ and black’ history yet regale us with jewish, xhosa and zulu history and the ‘predatory’ forces of colonalism, whites, and the ZAR. The evil white british, afrikaner and roman.

    Clearly white history is of no importance and we are only the evil oppressors, while jewish and black ‘heroic’ stands against whites are relevant. Bloedrivier and a successful heroic stand by whites against genocidal zulus is of no consequence to you.

    This view is similar to that expressed by Alfred M. Lilienthal, in What Price Israel? Chaim Weizmann, leader of the World Zionist Organization, when Einstein had asked him: ‘What about the Arabs if Palestine were given to the Jews?’ Weizman said: ‘What Arabs? They are hardly of any consequence.'”

  5. Alisdair Budd Alisdair Budd 9 May 2008

    You should get some money from the govt, and then revamp them for the tourist trail.

    As well as writing new textbooks for SA schools that have an unbiased history, one way or the other.

  6. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 10 May 2008

    Consulting Engineer

    I do think you should stop reading the Old Testament – you always get it wrong. That is the Bible for the Jews, who do understand it. Stick to the gospels – IF you are Christian.

    Jesus was a Jew and never stopped being a Jew or obeying Jewish law. He said He did not come to change it but to interprete it – and to add a new commandment “Love one another as I have loved you”

  7. Consulting Engineer Consulting Engineer 11 May 2008

    @Lyndall

    Jesus being a jew is another debate. His father was not a Jew. For what reason do you say he never stopped being a jew?

    Judea and Galilee were two separate states and political entities, as illustrated on the map of Palestine in the time in your Bible. Jesus Himself was not a Jew (Judean) or resident of Judea, He was a Galilean or resident of Galilee (Matthew 26:69; John 7:41), and a Judahite or descendent of the Tribe of Judah. The Judeans of prominence were not of the Tribe of Judah, but of Edomites. Pilate was being ironic when he wrote the sign “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Judeans” for the Cross (John 19:19). That is, “the Galilean who was King of the Judeans,” as in “Queen Victoria of England, Empress of India.” Jesus grew up in Nazareth in Galilee. His disciples were fishermen from the Sea of Galilee. And although He visited Jerusalem, he spent most of His life in his home country of Galilee. John 7:1, “After this Jesus stayed in Galilee; for He could not walk in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him.” His followers were constrained “for fear of the Jews” (John 7:13, 19:38, 20:19).

    Jesus said to the Jews “You do not believe because you are not of My sheep” (John 10:24-27). “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the House of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). In fact, Christ referred to “those Jews (or residents of Judea regardless of religion, race or color) who believed on him,” as “of their father the devil” for although they were children of Abraham, they were not children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and heirs of the blessing of Abraham, nor did they have the faith of Abraham, and were in all probability descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Esau (John 8: 31,44). In contrast, Jesus instructed His disciples – who were from Galilee of the Gentiles, not Judea (Acts 1:11; 2:7) – to pray to And in Revelation 2:9 and 3:9, Jesus speaks of “those who say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan”.

    Jesus told “those Jews who believed in Him . . . You are of your father the devil, and lust for what is forbidden. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him . . . as he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:31-44).

    The bible is not meant to pick and choose; you must accept it in its entirety, including the Old Testament.

    Besides the points I made above have nothing to do with the bible. They relate to historical occupation of the land of Canaan, and its usurping by one people. Chrisdtians also had a long occupation during the Crusades, and even Roman times.

    My question was ‘by what rights do Jews claim the land os Israel, since I questioned their ancestral or historical claim’. The only answer they usually give is summed up by ‘God gave it to us’.

  8. Wilhelm Wilhelm 12 May 2008

    I agree with the writer.

    Just as the sands of time is a mixture of different kinds of rocks grounded down, so are the people of South Africa.

    The truth is that we are all South Africans. Our history is so interwoven that the one would have never came into their current existance without the other.

    It is so untrue that to be a hero or a brilliant leader you have to be a certain skin colour. The history of our country is full of these people from all nations that shaped our current land and they should not be forgotten.

    In all nationalities there are evil men and there are good men. This land is drenched with the blood of the black as well as the blood of the white. We should remember the true past, study it, learn from it and teach it.

    If we preserve that true heritage of how we are blended together as a nation. We can live in true peace.

    Nobody will be better than the next we will see the equality between us. If you look at the “Afrikaners” they were looking for peace not for war. They left their country to find peace.

    If you don’t believe me just look at Sarel Cillier who was the person who made the vow at Bloodriver. He had a adopted black child. An orphan he discovered in the bush. But you don’t see that in the history books. And that is just sad.

    Our heritage is precious and we are losing it and with it the truth about who we are and were we came from.

  9. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 12 May 2008

    Consulting Engineer

    Jews decend through the female line, because you can’t always know who the father is, but you can always know the mother. His mother was a Jew.

    The “murderer from the beginning” and “a liar and the father of lies” is the devil. The Jews also believe that. Go on an Alpha course to learn how to interprete your bible. All Christian Churches give such courses, including the Dutch Reformed Church. Besides you meet some nice people. Every session ends with a discussion group where all views are discussed.

    Jesus came to the Jews and formed the disciples, who were then instructed, after Pentacost, to go to all peoples. No-one again would ever be “unclean”. Acts 10 and Acts 22:21

    You are proof that the vast amounts of money spent on anti Jewish propaganda by Muslim fundamentalists, especially on the net, to brainwash minds, has worked.

    Do you ever read a book other than the Bible?

  10. Consulting Engineer Consulting Engineer 13 May 2008

    @Lyndall

    Please explain to me how money spent on the internet by muslims could have impacted on the bible.

    I do not visit muslim web sites, so obtain no information there.

    Rather check on the ownership of the international media and you will see in reality the tribe who is in control of propoganda. I have published the names of the owners and controlling parties of the international media before.

    Regarding what is said about the chosen, it was said well before muslims existed as well, and well before the internet. I can send you refrences from romans onwards and it is like they were said today. So in what way could have muslims impacted on anti-jewish propoganda, the facts which have remained consistent for over 2000 years. Rather ask yourself why it has remained so throughout history. As they say, there is no smoke without a fire.

    I would say the propoganda is what has affected you.

  11. Consulting Engineer Consulting Engineer 13 May 2008

    @lyndall

    If you want to see how the internet is manipulated and by whom, type the word “Jew” into Google. See what comes up first. An offensive search result. It is antisemitic now to say Jew??

    Consulting Programmer Seth Finklestein (a jew)claims “Google bombing” is responsible. This is an attempt to influence the ranking of a given page in results returned by the Google search engine.”

    This is accomplished through insuring that many sites have the same links, and then having those links refer back to one web page.

    The “Jew” Google bomb began shortly after the discovery, in March 2004, that a search for the word “Jew” in Google would yield a link to jewwatch. Interestingly, there is no indication in the data that jewwatch.com became the number one ranked return other than by the internal linking structure within their site. That is, they achieved this position entirely by themselves.

    Steven Weinstock, a jewish New York real estate agent, was the first to discover that searching the word “Jew” returned the jewwatch.com site in the number one position (Becker, 2004).

    Two distinct movements resulted from this discovery. Weinstock started an online petition to remove jewwatch.com from the Google search results. He established, removejewwatch.com Web site where he was able to very quickly collect signatures in support of removing jewwatch.com from Google’s search results. Google resisted this effort and finally wrote a letter explaining their rationale. The online letter is listed in the sponsored links above the search results for the term “Jew.” In the letter, titled “Offensive Search Results” (see http://www.boycottwatch.org/misc/google.htm), Google explains that “views expressed by the sites in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google” and that the results for the term “Jew,” although offensive, are the objective results of the search (Google, 2004).

    Although the online petition ultimately failed, it helped mobilize the “Jew” Google bomb, which was initiated by Daniel Sieradski, editor of the Jew School, at http://jewschool.com/, a site devoted to Jewish fringe culture. Sieradski proposed the linking of the word “Jew” to the wikipedia.org entry for “Jew” at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jew. In roughly a month’s time word of this effort spread through online discussions, primarily on blogs, and was successful in displacing jewwatch.com as the number one Page Rank in a Google search.

    About TV, lets only look at the BBC. Who are the people who determine what is watched on television and printed in the newspapers?

    If I say Jews straightaway, we can expect that mention of this minority will put many readers on the defensive. Is this “anti-semitism? That, you see, is the first example of the hypnotic effect of media power. The mass media have managed to implant into many people’s minds the idea that it is “anti-semitic” even to acknowledge that members of the Jewish community play a large part in controlling our news and opinion and to question whether this is a good thing. In the uncomfortable feeling provoked by the very mention of the word “Jews”, there is provided the first lesson in media indoctrination and brainwashing.

    The reality? The most powerful man at the “British” Broadcasting Corporation is Alan Yentob, Director of BBC programmes.
    Behind the scenes, Jews are well represented among the Governors of the BBC, who include former president of the merchant bank S.G. Warburg Sir David Scholey, Sir Kenneth Bloomfield and Janet Cohen. Holders of important BBC managerial posts include Sarah Frank, Chief Executive of BBC Worldwide Americas; Controller of Publicity and Public Relations, Keith Samuel, and David Aaronovitch, who is Managing Editor of the BBC’s weekly programmes. Anne Sloman is Deputy Head of BBC News Programmes; Ruth Caleb is the Head of Drama.. Head of BBC Comedy Entertainment is Jon Plowman. The host of lower level functionaries who implement the wishes of the media masters in such stations also includes a vastly disproportionate number of Jews, such as Geoffrey Goodman, who broadcasts on BBC Current Affairs and LBC/IRN- BBC TV’s legal correspondent Joshua Rosenberg. Naomi Goldman is not only a Producer on Newsnight, but is also a member of the Jewish Socialist Group. Another militant Zionist in BBC is writer and broadcaster Lisa Jardine.

    Channel 4 and its endless diet of filth and perversion, the same pattern. ITV Jude Goffee and its senior sponsorship and advertising officer is Eve Salomon. The Network Director and Claudia Rosencrantz as ITV ‘ s Controller of Entertainment.

    Carlton Communications, Carlton’s Chairman is Michael Green. Green, was quoted in the Jewish Chronicle of 17.11.95 as declaring that: “I am very aware of being Jewish.”

    I can carry on forever about every station and then start on the USA, but you should get the point by now.

    The millions of listeners who are now resigned to hearing ludicrous outbursts of “political correctness” every time they tune in to a BBC radio station should listen carefully to the names of producers and similar highlevel functionaries listed at the end of such offerings.

    So how can you tell me that we are fed muslim propoganda? That statement of yours is ‘anti-semitic’ and you have yet to substantiate it.

  12. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 14 May 2008

    Consulting Engineer

    I give up. You are addicted to junk off the net.

    Everyone else

    Does any one of you have the strength to take over ?

  13. BLACKLISTED DICTATOR BLACKLISTED DICTATOR 26 May 2008

    Lyndall,
    Consulting Engineer is obsessed with “Jews”. Moreover, many of his comments are anti-semitic. I have to conclude that it is not worth engaging with him. You and other readers should draw your own conclusions about Thought Leader’s willingness to continue publishing his venom.

  14. BLACKLISTED DICTATOR BLACKLISTED DICTATOR 27 May 2008

    Lyndall,
    It seems strange that Consulting Engineer believes that “Jews” are a malevolent world influence when they have won so many Nobel prizes.
    Jealousy, of course, is an irrational and untreatable affliction.

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