Nonesi Great House Wife, Twice regent of the abaThembu

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Nonesi Great House Wife, Twice regent of the abaThembu

Birthdate: (65)
Death: 1880 (61-69)
Palmerton, South Africa
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Faku kaGcaleka, King of the amaMpondo
Wife of Ngubengcuka Vusani aNdaba, King of the abaThembu
Half sister of Raba kaFaku

Managed by: Sharon Lee Doubell
Last Updated:

About Nonesi Great House Wife, Twice regent of the abaThembu

The Story of Nonesi as Regent of the abaThembu

"For the Colonial Government which had, for some time , been thinking along the lines of a divisive policy of regionalism as a solution to frontier problems, the golden opportunity had now arrived. Among the Thembu who remained behind with the Right Hand House, was a remarkable woman , Nonesi , Mtirara 's foster mother. Like Mtirara, she had close relations with J.C. Warner, whose advice on Thembu matters was well received by the Government. Warner used his considerable influence and in an unprecedented move, two regents were appointed: Nonesi to rule over the western Thembu and Joyi over the Mbashe section. As Sihele points out, two people could not be regent for one person. He maintains that if Nonesi was regent, then Joyi was to be an ordinary chief. Not only was this an unusual situation, but it was unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of the Thembu. By 1850, then, the Thembu seemed to have been subjected to the vagaries of fortune. They were territorially, as well as politically, divided amongst themselves, and were jostled on the one front by white farmers, and on the other by the Gcaleka. The annexations of 1848 had weakened the influence of those chiefs who had traditionally been friendly to the Colony, and many young malcontents were waiting with Maphasa, as frontier tension was once again mounting, to join a war against the Colony. The eighth frontier war, the War of Mlanjeni, broke out in December 1850. Maphasa, after some hesitation, joined the Ngqika, thereby bringing into the war, not only his own people, but many young activists from Nonesi 's people whom he seemed to have attracted like a magnet. It was reckoned by frontier farmers that, at the commencement of the war, Maphasa was more influential than Ngqika himself. Not only did Maphasa's participation strengthen the numbers of t he warring tribes tremendously,78 but the whole area of confl ict was extended. In some parts, his men resorted to a devastating type of guerilla warfare, in others they joined in concerted movements with the Ngqika and Gcaleka to attack strategic points. The attitude of the Hala was, as in 1846-1847, uncertain. Nonesi earned for herself the title "Nonesi the faithful", and proved her loyalty by moving with her clan to the border of the Cradock district so as to protect this part of the frontier. Her example was followed by Quesha and some other chiefs who were supplied with arms. The fact, however, remained that Nonesi 's control over her people was not absolute, and the Colony could not count on the neutrality of her whole clan. The excitement of war, backed by the Mlanjeni promises was contagious to young men who had probably never accepted Nonesi 's regency. An incident which took place in January 1851 would certainly have estranged a number of Colonial supporters. A commando under Gideon Joubert claimed that they were attacked by a section of Nonesi 's people under her Chief Councillor. In revenge, Joubert fell upon Nonesi 's people, dispersed them completely and then demanded a war tribute of 2,000 head of cattle and 150 horses. Nonesi was further ordered to retreat beyond the Mbashe. 79 The fact that Nonesi complied with this demand indicated either an admission of guilt or her realization that she lacked control over her people and that it would be safer to remove them from the danger zone. The turning point in the war came in 1852 brought about, amongst other factors, by the unexpected death of Maphasa while on his way to the Klaas Smits river to join in a combined attack on Turvey's Post. The fighting spirit of his people was now temporarily paralysed, not only because they lacked leadership, but also because disputed claims to leadership led to internal discord and suspicion. Meanwhile, military success finally seemed to have come within Sir Harry Smith's grasp , but the British Prime Minist er, Lord John Russell as well as the Colonial Secretary, Earl Grey , had convinced themselves that Smith had prolonged the war through his leniency to Khoi-khoi rebels and inadequate vigour against the enemy. He was recalled, and on 31 March 1852 , Sir George Cathcart arrived as new Governor and High Commissioner.

Cathcart found the tribes semi-starved and weary of war but by no means subdued. Determined to bring the war to a speedy end, he acted swiftly, conducted successful operations in the Amatola and Waterkloof mountains and then appointed a commission to discuss the possibility of peace with the Thembu. Despite strong protests from the farmers who believed that they had been robbed of complete victory over their enemy, Cathcart was convinced that the time had come to put an end to hostilities, and, after having dealt with the Gcaleka chief Sarhili, he granted pardon to the rebellious Thembu chiefs who were now prepared to surrender arms. The peace terms which Cathcart dictated were largely aimed at the relocation of rebellious tribes beyond the Cape Colonial boundary and the resettlement of forfeited Thembu territories by European settlers. As he was of the opinion that Maphasa had surpassed all the other chiefs in guilt, this chief's lands were forfeited and the name and independence of his tribe were to cease. The remnants of the tribe were allowed to place themselves under a "responsible" Thembu chief.81 The other tribes, living on the lands formerly annexed by Smith, were to be resettled in locations. Nonesi and her followers were invited to return from the Mbashe and to occupy the location west of the Indwe river - the so-called Tambookie Location which later became the district of Glen Grey - where J.C. Warner was placed as a government representative. For the Thembu the war of 1853 was in many respects decisive. Some tribes emerged stronger after the war (Nonesi 's people); others lost all their lands, while others remained behind at the Mbashe under the regency of Joyi. The question now remained as to whether tribal cohesion would stand the strain of the enforced peace and the political division.

...To add to the confusion, there was Nonesi . Her position had always been something of an enigma. It is not possible to ascertain to what extent she was accepted by the Thembu as regent in 1849. It could be that some ambitious chiefs approved of her appointment as they might have felt that the division of power and the appointment of a woman would lessen the chances of usurpation by a young regent. After all, tribal chiefs wanted the central monarchy to be weak. It is equally possible that many of the young activists of the Mlanjeni War rejected her authority. The Cape Government's reasons for having appointed her are obvious. After the death of Mtirara a ruler was desperately needed to control the large number of Thembu on the frontier, and Joyi had no intention of leaving his Mbashe abode. No better person could be found t han Nonesi . She proved her loyalty during the Mlanjeni war by removing her people to the Mbashe river, but her presence between the Mbashe and Umgwali rivers, where she took up abode, annoyed the Gcaleka. They were determined not to make room for her. She therefore welcomed the Cape Government's invitation, after the war, to return to her former lands where she was offered the paramountcy over the newly-created Location. This appointment turned out to be a thorny issue. The term paramount would seem to imply permenancy and absolute authority, but it is doubtful whether either the Government or the Location dwellers themselves viewed it in this light. Nonesi soon experienced the problem that arose from what could be termed agovernment appointment not supported by traditional claims. Given the Thembu concept of one nation under the paramountcy of Joyi, it is understandable that they would not unanimously and willingly have accepted the diversion of the monarchy. Rival claims were soon set up, the most formidable being that of the ex-regent Fadana, who retained much of the support he had held at the time of his regency after the death of Ngubengcuka. Furthermore , Nonesi had to reckon with the Tshatshu and their allies of 1853, who resented the dismantling of their traditional tribal leadership and their land losses in terms of the Cathcart settlements. This meant that after the proclamation of the Location there were within the boundaries of the Cape Colony some 30,000 people, a large number of whom were of dubious loyalty, ruled by chiefs whose powers had never been defined, and subjected to a regent who had no traditional claims to her position. As long as matters were fairly stable, Nonesi could exercise some semblance of authority; but the tranquility of the Location rested precariously upon the stability of her Kaffrarian neighbours, her own ability to appease disgruntled groups, and the unwavering support of the Thembu Agent. The CattleKilling episode was to show how weak these foundations were."

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Nonesi Great House Wife, Twice regent of the abaThembu's Timeline

Age 65
South Africa