Home / History / Makhanda Nxele – Warrior of the 5th Frontier war
Artist impression of Makhanda Nxele - Xhosa Wars Warrior

Makhanda Nxele – Warrior of the 5th Frontier war

Makhanda Nxele or Makhanda the prophet (also spelled Makana) (1790 to 1820) was a Xhosa warrior and prophet who, during the Xhosa Wars, led an attack against the British garrison at Grahamstown on the 22nd April 1819.

Makanda was born near the coast in the Uitenhage area of the Eastern Cape. He was the son of Balala, a commoner of KhoiKhoi.
Artist impression of Makhanda Nxele - Xhosa Wars Warrior
During his youth, he heard the gospel message preached by the first missionary in the area, Johannes van der Kemp and for a long time thereafter maintained a strong interest in Christianity, combining it with elements of ancient Xhosa beliefs. His powerful oratory style attracted people in their thousands and earned him the status of chief and military adviser to Chief Ndlambe, son of Rharhabe.

In 1818 at the battle of Amalinde, Nxele fought alongside a combined force of amaXhosa against Chief Ngqika, who was seen as selling out his people in return for personal gain as an ally of the British Empire. At the battle AmaNgqika suffered heavy losses.

When a British led force commanded by Colonel Brereton seized 23,000 head of cattle from Ndlambe’s people in retaliation, Makana urged all the Xhosa to unite to try to drive the colonizers out of Xhosaland once and for all. Nxele advised Ndlambe that the gods would be on their side if they chose to strike back at the British at Grahamstown, and promised that the British “bullets would turn to water”.

Ndlambe took Nxele’s advice, and on 22 April 1819 Nxele led an attack on Grahamstown in broad daylight with a force of about 6,000 men (some sources say 10,000 men), all under the overall command of Ndlambe’s warrior son Mdushane. They were accompanied by women and children, prepared to occupy the land which had formerly been theirs. The British garrison of approximately 350 troops was able to repulse the attack only after timely support was received from a Khoikhoi group led by Jan Boesak.

Defeated by superior British firepower, Nxele eventually surrendered himself in the interests of promoting peace. The British imprisoned him on Robben Island. On 25 December 1820, Makana escaped along with 30 other prisoners, mostly Xhosa and Khoisan freedom fighters from the Eastern frontier districts. Although several survived, Nxele drowned. Since he had promised his people he would never abandon them, they continued to hope for his return for another 50 years before funeral rites were observed.

Kulapho iqhalo elithi: “Ukuza kukaNxele” laqala khona….kuba amaXhosa akulinda ukuza kukaNxele, kodwa khange ade afike, kuba waswelekela kulwandle lwaseKapa, eqhwesha esiqithini, de wabe uyabuyiswa ngokomoya ngomhla we 18 April 2013.