In the 1850s, in despair after sixty years of disasterous wars and government betrayals that had cost them most of their ancestral lands, the Xhosa, - South Africa's most important and sophisticated black nation - gave way to a strange and dangerous teaching. Prophets among them declared that salvation lay in killing all their cattle their most prized possession, and destroyng all their food stocks. If they did this, on a certain day everything would be returned by supernatural agency in much greater abundance - huge new herds, copious supplies of grain - and the white man would be expelled from the lands he had stolen. The herds were slaughtered, the appointed day came, and passed; thousands of Xhosa starved to death. It was, in the words of one sympathetic missionary, 'a sad horror'.
Yet, as Noel Mostert makes vividly clear in Frontiers, these events were only the cruel climax of a far larger narrative, one that began hundreds of years before with the slow migration of Xhosa ancestors out of central Africa towards the Cape, and the earliest Portuguese explorers coasting south in search of a route to India. South Arica, especially the shifting frontiers of the eastern Cape, was to be the setting for a truly epochal collision between two worlds - white and European, black and African - and it is the story of this confrontation, prolonged, agonized, and morally ambiguous, that Mostert tells here.
In its scale and richness the account is extraordinary, encompassing a vast range of time and characters from the initial stunned contacts between shipwrecked sailors and black indigenes to the imprisonment of the last Xhosa chiefs on barren Robben Island. Here are the first Dutch settlers camping miserably below Table Mountain, beset by weather and hunger and the terrors of the countryside; the wild frontier Boers venturing further and further into the wilderness in search of elephants to shoot and land to graze; the Xhosa and other black peoples learning to mistrust white promises, and the first small-scale wars over stolen cattle or petty insults; the British seizing the Cape as a strategic base, and then finding themselves with an unmanagable - and unwanted - colony on their hands. We witness the arrival of the missionaries, borne on a tide of good will and enthusiasm, only to become entangled in politics; the successive colonial governors dispatched from London, almost to a man veterans of the Peninsular campaigns against Napoleon and confident - at first - in their use of force; and the soldiers themselves, marching uncomfortably in full battle kit (scarlet coat, pipe-clayed straps and all) through the scorching bush. The story belongs to the Xhosa, too, to the warriors who continued to fight after repeated defeats, and to the great chiefs from Ngqika to Sandile, whose grace and patience in the face of what must have seemed inexplicable enmity lends the tale a frankly tragic dimension.
High-minded abolitionist principles, rough imperial ambition, fiercely held indigenous values, the evangelical desire to save souls (even, if need be, at the expense of bodies_ - all these themes converged to complicate and embitter the moral and political drama in the first half of the nineteenth century. As Mostert observes in his epilogue,the end of the wars did not mean the end of the agony, but rather a legacy of pain and anger that to this day shapes South African society.
Based upon years of research, written with a Gibbonesque sweep and a dazzling command of detail, Frontiers has been likened to Robert Hughes's classic The Fatal Shore. For anyne who would understand South Africa today, or the nature of imperialism at its high-water mark, it is essential reading; a magnificant, utterly memorable book.
Unclipped dustcover, slightly sunned spine, with xxix plus maps 1355 pages of text with illustrations. Very clean copy.
- Jacket Condition: Very Good
- Binding Condition: Very Good
- Overall Condition: Very Good
- Size: 16 X 24 cm