Ndlambe ka Rarabe, Regent of the Rharabe; Chief of the Ndlambe

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About Ndlambe ka Rarabe, Regent of the Rharabe; Chief of the Ndlambe

Rharhabe was the founder of Rharhabe sub-group of the Xhosa nation. And the 2nd son of Phalo. Rharhabe died near present day Dohne in the Eastern Cape Province. He is known to have had at least two wives. He had 8 sons from his first wife:

and a daughter

and from his second wife, Nojoli kaNdungwana of the Thembu he had two sons:

Although Gcaleka was the rightful heir to Phalo’s kingdom, Rharhabe developed a reputation (and a large following) as a fearless warrior. Eventually, rivalry between the two brothers resulted in civil war. Rharhabe was defeated and forced to flee west of the Kei River. There, he established a kingdom among the Xhosa currently living there. Unfortunately, this region was heavily populated and Rharhabe’s arrival caused quite a bit of turmoil. Smaller clans defeated in battle were forced to settle elsewhere as Rharhabe sought to consolidate his power. Rharhabe and his heir, Mlawu, were both killed during this period, and control of the clan transferred to Mlawu’s son, Ngqika.

Although the clan took Ngqika’s name, he was too young to rule. As with Xhosa tradition, Rharhabe’s other son,Ndlambe, served as ruler until Ngqika matured. As second son, Ndlambe had title, but no real authority–as soon as he was old enough, Ngqika would take over. Nevertheless, he supervised a major expansion in the size and power of the clan (now called the Ngqika). By the late 1700s, this expansion resulted in the inevitable contact with the European settlers in Cape Colony. Both the Africans and Europeans depended on cattle as the fundamental economic asset. Thus, both groups competed for the prime grazing lands located west of the Great Kei river. In addition to fighting over grazing lands, raiding parties on both sides stole cattle and other livestock. The number and severity of the conflicts increased rapidly. By 1779, the situation had deteriorated beyond repair. Over the next 25 years, three Xhosa wars broke out. While these were mainly border skirmishes, they did cause more distrust between the Xhosa and Europeans.

One noteworthy development during this period was the short-term alliances between Ndlambe and the Dutch settler (or Boers). In 1793, Ndlambe sought to defeat the remaining Xhosa clans west of the Kei River. This would make the Ngqika clan the paramount clan in the region and a major threat to their Gcaleka cousins to the east. This Second Frontier War was not much of a war at all. The Boers, eager to stop constant cattle raids, mounted a concerted attack and drove several smaller clans out of the lands west of the Groot-Vis River. There, Ndlambe waited with his armies and routed his fleeing cousins. The border situation might have died down, but for the fact that young Ngqika was now eighteen, and ready to assume the throne. Ndlambe, of course, was not so willing to give up power, so he appealed to the clan. When this didn’t work, he and his followers sought assistance from the Gcaleka , west of the Kei River. The Gcaleka , fearing the new Chief Ngqika would seek to rekindle and old rivalry, decided to support Ndlambe, and sent a small detachment to assist him and his followers. In a legendary battle, Ngqika defeated the force and took Ndlambe prisoner. The plot thickened in 1795, when the British took control of the cape. Now an undisputed world power, the British colonial empire spread from South America to East India. They viewed their South African possessions the same way they viewed their other possessions–a resource to be mined. When the local population interfered with this endeavor, the population was unseated. They took this attitude to Ngqika with a suggestion that the Xhosa clans west of the Groot-Vis River relocate east to help resolve the border disputes. Ngqika happily agreed, knowing full well he had no authority over these groups...

Ndlambe died on 10 Feb 1828, at ninety or more years old – ‘ the perfect specimen of a powerful chief of the olden times before intercourse with the colonists’. When he was born the whites had scarcely moved beyond the Cape, although they had already encountered Xhosa on their cattle-bartering journeys to the east. He had been witness to the great schism in the Xhosa nation between his father, Rarabe, and his uncle, Gcaleka, and had been regarded, unfairly, as the principal committed enemy of the Cape Colony. He had seen more of the early formative history of South Africa than any other man; he died at the very moment it began to enter the most decisive stage of that evolution. But he took with him the formidable power of the Ndlambe, his people, for he left them no clearly designated heir. His rightful heir had died in battle against the colony, possibly at the Battle of Grahamstown, where he had lost 3 sons. The logical successor was his son, Mdushane, who, in his father’s old age, had taken over many of Ndlambe’s powers. But Mdushane himself died just over a year after his father. Mdushane was, William Shaw said, ‘a native of no ordinary mind’, and the missionary rightly predicted that the Ndlambe would go into a decline without an efficient leader. There was noone else of any stature. What they got was a minor son of Ndlambe named Mhala, who was said to have usurped the chieftancy by dispossessing the better-placed heir through a false accusation of witchcraft. [Mostert, p608-9]

  • Peires, JB: ‘The House of Phalo’. 1981, Raven Press, Johannesburg, SA
  • Mostert, Noel: ‘Frontiers’. 1992, Jonathan Cape, London
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Ndlambe ka Rarabe, Regent of the Rharabe; Chief of the Ndlambe's Timeline