Tiyo Soga: How One Man Envisioned a New Nation


Less than a year before his death in 1871, Tiyo Soga – the first indigenous African person ordained by a European church – penned a journal entry which exposed a deep divide in Soga’s indigenous people, the Xhosa of South Africa. On one side of this divide stood the “the old killing party” – those who “say the customs of our Fathers are good enough for us” – while the “liberal party that hails light – improvement, good & orderly [government] from the whiteman” formed the opposing ranks.[1] Soga was intimately familiar with this line of fragmentation among the Xhosa people because it divided his own heart. He was born a Xhosa yet he received a European education in Scotland, along with European church credentials, and married a Scottish woman. When he returned to the Eastern Cape of South Africa in 1857 from his second extended-stay in Scotland, Soga encountered a horrific scene: approximately 400,000 cattle had been slaughtered, an estimated 40,000 Xhosas were dead from starvation, and another 40,000 had fled their land in search of sustenance in the Cape Colony.[2] This tragic event, known by most modern historians as the “Cattle-Killing Movement,” decimated the Xhosa people and broke Soga’s heart. In the fourteen years he spent ministering among the Xhosa, Soga worked in a variety of ways to bring healing to the schism seemingly cemented in place by this tragedy and help the Xhosa people recover and maintain a dignified life in the midst of growing pressure from European settlers and colonists. In this paper, I explore how Tiyo Soga combined his unique identity as a European-educated Xhosa missionary and his literary skill to publish a series of articles in Indaba, a Xhosa-language newspaper, which served as one, primary aspect of his long-term response to the Xhosa crisis. After providing a brief biography of Soga’s life, followed by a more thorough analysis of the Xhosa cattle killing, I will examine Soga’s initial response to the cattle killing and then explore how his Indaba articles envisioned a new Xhosa nation.

A Brief Biography

            Tiyo Soga was born in 1829 to Nosuthu, the chief wife of Old Soga, who was a prominent counselor among the Ngquika Xhosa tribe living on the highly contested eastern frontier of the British Cape Colony in modern-day South Africa. Old Soga was an ardent disciple of Ntsikana – “an authentic African prophet” – who converted to Christianity in 1815 and developed a unique blend of Christianity that critiqued yet remained connected to traditional Xhosa religion and culture.[3] Like Ntsikana, Tiyo’s father was committed to his Xhosa chief and, unlike Ntsikana, fought with them in the frontier wars against the British colonists. While he remained suspicious of European missionaries, in general, Old Soga took an “accommodationist” approach to European settlers and their foreign culture, especially their new agricultural technologies and capitalist economics which he used to further establish his wealth and independence from Xhosa chiefs.[4]  The extent to which Old Soga felt at liberty from the communal pull of Xhosa society is exemplified by his refusal of Tiyo’s circumcision – an essential rite of passage that separated Xhosa men from boys. As a result of his father’s social and cultural location on the borders of Xhosa and settler life, Tiyo was already being set apart from his Xhosa kin at a very young age.

This cultural differentiation continued in Tiyo’s life as he learned basic literacy skills from his older brother and then attended a missionary school at the Tyumie Mission Station, which was headed by Rev. William Chalmers of the Glasgow Missionary Society and the United Presbyterian Church (UPC) of Scotland. When Tiyo was fifteen years old, Chalmers helped him gain entrance into the newly opened Lovedale Seminary, a training center for the Glasgow missionaries and local UPC members. At Lovedale, Tiyo learned English and studied Xhosa, geography, math, Latin, and Greek, but these studies were always secondary to Lovedale’s primary objective of religious education in the Scottish Presbyterian tradition.[5] The relational bonds created by his educational experience at Lovedale are evidenced by Tiyo’s reaction to the outbreak of the “War of the Axe” in early 1846: when the European missionaries fled, he fled with them instead of staying with the Xhosa people. As a result, he ended up in Scotland with William Govan, the former principal of Lovedale, during an extremely formative period of his life when he would receive further education at the Glasgow Free Church Seminary. Tiyo also developed what would become a very influential relationship with Rev. William Anderson of John Street Church, where he would be baptized in May 1848 before returning to the Eastern Cape later that year.[6] When he returned, Tiyo’s education and newfound familiarity with European culture positioned him for membership among a rising class of modern Xhosa elites who were positioned at the intersection between the Xhosa and the colonists.

In the wake of the “War of the Axe”, the Xhosa lands where Tiyo was born and raised were annexed as a separate colony, British Kaffraria, and British magistrates were installed to rule over Xhosa chiefs. Soga began his life in this new, tense environment as the schoolmaster of the Uniondale mission station. He faced severe challenges in this position as the parents of his “red” students – non-Christian Xhosas who followed traditional Xhosa custom – became suspicious of this uncircumcised Xhosa “boy” posing as a man; the school eventually broke up.[7] In a place where the traditional way of life was under severe threat from violent colonial encroachment, Tiyo’s elite, educated status and his lack of traditional markers of identity and authority combined to mark him as strange and untrustworthy in the eyes of those he had hoped to evangelize and “elevate” using the methods of European civilization.

When another frontier war erupted in 1850, Soga fled British Kaffraria and eventually made it to back to Scotland in 1851. On this stay, he would pursue a theological education and training as a missionary at the Divinity Hall of the UPC at Glasgow University. Soga used this time to deepen his existing relationships with Rev. Anderson and the John Street Church while excelling in his studies. After five years, he was ordained in the John Street Church as the first African minister of the UPC. In February of the following year, he married Scottish native Janet Burnside. After a highly successful six month fundraising tour of Scottish churches, Soga left Scotland for the last time in April 1857 to return to British Kaffraria and begin his service as an ordained missionary.[8] After nearly eight years spent under the influence of modern, Western educational institutions on European soil, Soga’s fundraising success testifies to the degree of acceptance and respect he had achieved in European society. Unfortunately, it also provides a stark contrast to the various levels and forms of rejection he struggled against from European settlers and his Xhosa kin throughout his ministry among the Xhosa.

Upon his second return home, Soga was shocked by the devastation among the Xhosa people as a result of the Cattle-Killing Movement which had ended only a few months before his arrival. The land he had come to evangelize was depopulated and many who remained struggled to survive through famine and starvation. In spite of this, Soga did not lose hope and pressed forward to found a new mission station at Umgwali – not far from the Tyumie Mission Station where he lived as a child. Soga faced a wide array of challenges to his ministry including extreme racism and violence from the European settler community, entrenched resistance to his mission of Christianity and civilization from the Xhosa people and their chiefs, and a prolonged personal health battle with tuberculosis. With a strong sense of purpose and determination, Soga paved his own way as an elite Xhosa missionary and built a church at Umgwali while traveling throughout British Kaffraria preaching and teaching among the Xhosa. He kept strong relationships with his missionary friends and served as an adviser to colonial authorities. He broadened the scope of his work through his many literary achievements including his Xhosa-language translation of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, a collection of Xhosa hymns, and several articles in the Xhosa-language publication Indaba in addition to articles in other local newspapers. At Umgwali, Soga resolved to give all of himself in his missionary service as he struggled to faithfully engage the severely threatened and vulnerable Xhosa population with a gospel wrapped in the garments of European civilization.

After ten years of grueling mission work at Umgwali with unimpressive results in terms of the number of converts, Soga was called farther east away from his home territory into Xhosa land that was still just beyond the reach of official British control. He settled in Tutura and founded another mission station where he served for the remaining years of his life. It was here that Soga tried to use the church as a place to “foster unity between the two factions” within the Xhosa tribes created by the Cattle-Killing Movement.[9] In addition, Soga served as an adviser to the Xhosa chief Sarhili which afforded him the opportunity to play a more active role in advocating on behalf of the Xhosa people as British colonists continued to advance into Xhosa territory in the wake of the Cattle-Killing. Soga also began working on an updated translation of the Xhosa Bible. In April 1871, he completed construction on his church at Tutura, but, sadly, succumbed to his protracted battle with tuberculosis and passed away only four months later. Soga struggled to be accepted among the Xhosa people as a modern missionary in the world of the 19th century British Empire, but he remained faithful to his people. In a letter of advice written while close to death to his sons who were away in Scotland for their education, he made himself clear: “take your place in the world as coloured, not as white men; as [Xhosas], not as Englishmen.”[10] Soga was Xhosa, but Xhosa in a distinctly new way.

The Xhosa Cattle-Killing Movement

            According to Adam Ashforth, “explaining the Cattle-Killing is an historian’s nightmare and an hermeneutician’s dream.”[11] Details and eye witness accounts are hard to come by and the story is easily molded to fit the agenda of whoever is telling it. The immediate origins of the movement are found in the vision of a young Xhosa prophetess, Nongqawuse, “in which a ‘new people’ from overseas announced to her that the ancestors were preparing themselves to return to life with new cattle.”[12] When Nongqawuse informed her uncle Mhlakaza, who was already a known prophet, he verified the truth of the prophecy and claimed that the “new people” were ancestral spirits who would rise from the dead along with hordes of cattle and drive out the European settlers if the Xhosa people obeyed their command: cease all forms of witchcraft, kill all their cattle, and burn all their corn crops.[13] Word of the prophecy spread across Xhosaland until it reached Sarhili, the Xhosa king and chief of the Gcaleka tribe, who made a personal journey to confirm the prophecy and returned a firm believer. He began killing his cattle immediately and ordered all Xhosa to comply with the prophetic order.[14]

The Nongqawuse prophecy failed and the Xhosa people were left in ruins.  According to J. B. Peires, author of the most well-known modern historical account of this event, at least 40,000 Xhosa lives were lost along with roughly 400,000 cattle and more than 600,000 acres of land.[15] Nearly 150,000 Xhosa were displaced and thousands found themselves trapped in a legally enforced system of indentured servitude as they sought relief from the British in the Cape Colony.[16] Under the combined weight of the extreme loss of life and property and the subsequent loss of freedom and dignity, the “national, cultural and economic integrity” of the Xhosa people “finally collapsed” and significant number of those who survived had little prospect other than being assimilated into a European-dominated society as the economic underclass.[17]

As Soga identified in his journal, a long-lasting effect of this disaster was the deep divide it caused between those who believed the prophecy and complied with its orders and those who refused. Approximately 85% of Xhosas are thought to have been believers in the prophecy and were known as the amathamba – “the soft ones” – while the unbelievers were called amagogotya – “the hard ones.”[18] Peires’ analysis reveals how the amathamba were largely “a party of the common people” who wanted to show their loyalty and submissiveness to Xhosa society by giving up what little they had to offer for the common good.[19] When the prophecy failed, many of the amathamba who survived would have been in a particularly vulnerable and destitute situation. Alternatively, the amagogotya were primarily composed of “sensible men” who had “benefited from the new opportunities offered by the colonial presence” and who had “broken free from the trammels of the precolonial order.”[20] On average, the amagogotya Xhosa were already wealthy and held positions of authority in the social hierarchy. Old Soga, Tiyo’s father and a prominent counselor to the Ngqika Xhosa chief Sandile, is a representative case.[21] After the prophecy failed, the wealthy and powerful members of the amagogotya party would have amassed even more wealth and power relative to their amathamba kin. Therefore, the failure of the Nongqawuse prophecy introduced new divisions within Xhosa society that tore apart families, chiefdoms, and tribes as believers suffered disproportionately more than non-believers and were far less equipped to respond to colonial pressure in the wake of this tragedy.

Several explanations for the mass slaughter of cattle and crops by the Xhosa have been given. The first theory originated with colonial administrators who claimed that the prophecy was a delusional, “kamikaze-style” plot devised by Xhosa chiefs to drive the peasant people into desperation which would lead to an all-out war against the colony as the Xhosa people did whatever they could to survive.[22] Helen Bradford notes how this theory supported “savage repression” by the Cape Colony in the form of ruthless militias, massive land seizing, coerced cheap labor, and “schadenfreude over ‘enemies’ who starved to death in their tens of thousands.”[23] Peires links the slaughter of cattle with the devastating epidemic of cattle lungsickness which preceded the acceptance of the Nongqawuse prophecy in most Xhosa villages.[24] As this disease encountered the already “exceptionally battered and divided society” of the Xhosa, it combined with millenarian hopes for a new world free of European aggression voiced in the Nongqawuse prophecy which required that all the diseased, “impure” cattle be slaughtered so they would not defile the resurrected cattle of the ancestors.[25]

According to Peires, the millenarian logic of the Nongqawuse prophecy made perfect sense to the Xhosa in light of their Christian and pre-Christian beliefs concerning resurrection and an expected redeemer.[26] However, Bradford insists that the “enthusiasm for cataclysms and resurrection” which precipitated the Nongqawuse era only becomes logical within the context of “a decade of mind-numbing death, destruction and extraordinary phenomena.”[27] She criticizes the work of “respected white scholars” like Peires who utilize very few African-language sources and rely too heavily on state-sanctioned, English-language colonial records.[28] Bradford returns to African-language sources which show that, “as cattle-killers, [Xhosa] pastoralists were outranked by a European plague and war.”[29]

Whether the cattle slaughter and ensuing famine were the result of aggressive European colonists or of delusional Xhosa prophets and peasants or some combination of both, it seems clear, as Shirley Thorpe notes in her analysis, that this tragedy was “a desperate [attempt] to regain hope… when it seemed that all avenues of optimism were being closed.”[30] Beneath the complex mix of cultural, religious, political, geographical, and biological factors which led to cattle killing, this millenarian event can be seen as a “desperate cry for help”: “one ultimate attempt to be heard either by outside spiritual forces which would come to their aid, or by neighbouring fellowmen with whom they were destined to share their future.”[31]

Soga’s Initial Response

            Only one month after his return to British Kaffraria, Soga penned a letter to his trusted Scottish friend and mentor Rev. Anderson dated August 1857 which describes his first impressions of life back in his homeland after the Cattle-Killing. A sizable portion of this letter recounts Tiyo’s candid feelings about the destruction he witnessed among the Xhosa people as a result of the Nongqawuse prophecy and his interpretation of this “most critical period of the [Xhosa] nation.”[32] Soga uses very derogatory language to describe the tragedy: his “poor infatuated countrymen” have fallen prey to “an awful delusion” and are “reaping the fruits of having been the dupes of designing impostors.”[33] This extremely negative language reveals the extent of Soga’s disdain for traditional Xhosa prophets and religion as well as the distance he perceives between himself, as an educated man, and his “delusional” Xhosa peers. Soga places the responsibility for their present suffering entirely in their own hands; they had “believed a lie” and “committed national suicide.”[34] While he is shocked by the magnitude of depopulation due to famine and the inestimably high death toll, Soga’s primary reaction is an overwhelming sense of pity for these people who are lost and dying in the darkness of their customs.

As Soga continues his letter, he expresses a range of emotions about the future of the Xhosa people and his ministry among them. He finds comfort in how “thousands have taken refuge in the Colony” where “even their greatest enemies… have held out a helping hand.”[35] At the same time, he is fearful: “the continued existence of the [Xhosa], as a nation, has become problematical [because]… the present distress is fast dissolving the ties that bound the people to their chiefs,” which is “one of the most prominent features of their national character.”[36] However, his grave concern is tempered by his faith in God’s sovereign power to use even “terrible things” to accomplish God’s purposes. With eyes of faith, Soga looks upon the immense suffering of the Xhosa and can “see the future salvation of my countrymen” as they are forced to become better farmers and their “hardened hearts” are “softened” by their affliction.[37] Finally, his faith leads him to optimism. He is confident of “being flooded by starving men, women, and children” once the mission station is opened and predicts a future influx of Xhosa who will want to return to their land after their period of recovery in the Cape Colony.[38] Once the “present storm of suffering” passes, Soga assures Rev. Anderson that the land will be replenished by “an industrious and peaceable [Xhosa] population.”[39]

As the prior discussion of the Xhosa cattle killing and its aftermath shows, Soga’s sense of comfort in colonialist goodwill and his confidence in the eventual restoration of the Xhosa people to their land were dangerously naive. He was right to be fearful about the future of the Xhosa. Their history as a unified federation of chiefdoms living on ancestral lands according to their unique customs had reached a turning point from which there would be no return. Their “salvation” would not consist in a return to their territory and the expulsion of the Europeans. Rather, it would be found in their ability to adapt to life in an increasingly European society, which would necessarily include an acceptance of Christianity. As a Xhosa person who was concerned about preserving the core aspects of Xhosa society and who was also well trained in the world of European civilization and Christianity, Soga was uniquely equipped to lead the Xhosa through this difficult period of forced evolution. As William Donovan notes in his biography, Soga was “the embodiment of this principle of confidence and belief in the Black race” to “elevate itself” to a place of dignity and equality alongside the Europeans.[40] Soga knew the work ahead of him would be long and arduous, but he resolved to forge a new, hopeful path into the future for the Xhosa using “the gospel alone… [Christian] civilization alone.”[41] The written word was an essential feature of this “Christian civilization” and Soga would use it to spread his message as a way to prepare the Xhosa for transformation into a “civilized” people – which was the only available option he perceived after the devastation of the failed Nongqawuse prophecy.

Soga’s Response to the Xhosa Crisis through Indaba

            Five years after Soga wrote his letter to Rev. Anderson about his pitiable Xhosa kin and their “national suicide,” he published a very different piece of writing: an article titled “A National Newspaper” in the inaugural edition of the news magazine Indaba which was produced at Lovedale Seminary.[42] Between 1862 and 1864, Soga’s eight Indaba articles were a primary contribution towards his goal of using literacy “to create a pan-Xhosa, pan-African vision of Christianity.”[43] The first article, which was actually a letter to the editor, expresses Soga’s three-fold agenda for Indaba: first, it would become a source of fact-based news reports, especially concerning the weather, which would debunk “superstitious” explanations of events; second, it would serve as a secure collection site for hearing and sifting through Xhosa tradition; third, it would be the place where Xhosas could find advice and counsel about how to navigate the tension of  being Xhosa within the new world of European civilization. In his Indaba articles, Soga is not simply a writer; he a reliable news anchor, a mediator of cultural and historical knowledge, and a trusted adviser who “envisions Xhosa culture renewed through literacy” – and not through violent revolt or cattle slaughter.[44]

In his first Indaba article, “A National Newspaper,” Soga’s joy, anticipation, and – most importantly – his hope about the prospects of this literary resource for the Xhosa people are impossible to miss. The first pillar of Soga’s hope is founded upon the paper’s function as a voice of “truth about the affairs of the nation.”[45] In the wake of the Nongqawuse prophecy, Soga is all too aware of how the Xhosa’s love for conversation makes them vulnerable to becoming the “dupes of deceivers under the guise of relating genuine facts.”[46] Indaba would be an “enterprise for banning falsehood”[47] that “offers access to reliable, reassuring information about the future, for people weary and wary of millennial dreaming.”[48] Soga brings this anticipated function of Indaba to life in his 1863 article “Into the European Interior,” which begins by saying “to know by hearsay without seeing does not satisfy fully at all times.”[49] The article then records Soga’s first-hand observations concerning the state of tribes living farther inland who were experiencing drought at a much higher level than the Xhosa living along the coast. As a way of immunizing the Xhosa against “prophetic” explanations of the drought, Soga demythologizes the drought’s causes by making a direct link between extreme deforestation practices and changing weather patterns. His goal is to provide factual evidence that persuades the Xhosa to use their grain wisely so that they are prepared for the coming famine caused by this inland drought. Through this article, Soga uses Indaba to put Xhosa hearts and minds, which he knows “do not like to be startled by unusual phenomena,” at peace.[50]

Soga envisions a second, even more significant and hopeful function for Indaba as a “beautiful vessel for preserving the stories, fables, legends, customs, anecdotes and history of the tribes.”[51] He calls on the “veterans” of the Xhosa tribes to “disgorge all they know. Everything must be imparted to the nation as a whole.”[52] Soga makes his vision very clear to the Xhosa people: “Let us resurrect our ancestral fore-bears [emphasis added]” by bringing “all anecdotes connected with the life of the nation… to this big corn-pit our national newspaper, Indaba.”[53] According to literary scholar Jennifer Wenzel, Soga wanted to “reanimate the buried Xhosa past” in a new way for a new time that was fast approaching:

This exhortation to fill the “national corn-pit” effects an ancestral return different from that promised by Nongqawuse: Tiyo Soga reverses the causal logic of Nongqawuse’s claim six years earlier, that by emptying grain pits, believers would prepare the way for ancestors who would return to fill them. Tiyo Soga directly confronts Nongqawuse’s prophecy and its costs… The singular image of the newspaper as national corn pit reflects Tiyo Soga’s commitment to stewarding (or editing) the Xhosa past through a critical, paradoxical moment: the technology of literacy facilitated such archival impulses, yet the ideology of literacy, as part of a civilizing project, threatened to sweep away the culture constituted in orality.[54]

 

Soga himself participates in this literary practice of resurrection by contributing two articles that recover and preserve Xhosa culture. In an article titled “The Death of Namba, Son of Maqoma,” Soga provides a highly detailed account of his experience at the homestead of the dying chief Namba. He provides very little commentary in the article; emphasizing how his goal is simply to “tell the story” for all to hear. Soga does chime in to berate “witchdoctors” who fail to diagnose the ailing chief and also to remind his readers of the chief’s respected position in Xhosa society.  In another article, he retells an old Xhosa story called “Gxuluwe and the Bushmen.” The story is set in old times and involves a young Xhosa boy named Gxuluwe who “outwits (and outwaits) a group of aggressive San” tribesmen he meets while roaming through the bush.[55] It was an entertaining story that Soga hoped would “instill in his literate Christian audience an identification with pre-Christian Xhosa history.”[56] In these articles, Soga acts as a cultural and historical mediator who “stewards” Xhosa customs and traditions in a way that would preserve the dignity of the unique Xhosa heritage among a people whose very identity was being challenged and reshaped by its encounter with the unrelenting force of European civilization.

The third and final purpose that Soga identified for Indaba is not stated explicitly in his inaugural letter to the editor, but it becomes apparent through his later contributions which comprise his largest set of material in the paper. In his final four articles, Soga looks critically upon imported European practices and offers his wisdom on how Xhosa people should avoid or interact with these features of European society, but he also turns a critical eye towards Xhosa people who disrespect foundational Xhosa customs which are essential for their identity. Soga was using his cultural knowledge, which he hoped to collect and store in Indaba, to invite “all Xhosa to participate in the conversation about how to evolve for the future.”[57] Soga’s two articles focusing on the potential harm caused by uncritically adopting European ways – “Intoxicating Liquor” and “Loans and Debts” – “turned the civilising project on its back” by cross-examining “the cultural assumptions that underpinned it.”[58] In “Christians and Chiefs” and “Mission People and Red People,” Soga directed his energy towards healing the compound fractures of Xhosa society by arguing that “Christians could be faithful both to God and their ‘heathen’ chiefs” and by “urging [Xhosa “mission people”] to create a spirit of cooperation in their exchanges with non-Christian [“red”] Xhosa.”[59] As he identified “positive and negative qualities to both Xhosa and [European] behaviour and ‘custom’ alike,”[60] Soga used the Xhosa-European integration experienced in his self-identity to serve as an adviser and counselor for the new life among the Europeans he foresaw for the Xhosa people.

When compared to Soga’s attitude towards the Xhosa and his take on their future seen in the letter he wrote to Rev. Anderson upon his return to British Kaffraria in 1857, Soga’s writing for Indaba reveals a remarkable maturation in his approach. While he is still very critical towards the “superstitions” of traditional Xhosa religion, he comes to realize that his criticism must be matched by an equal effort to provide his people with factual data and reports which they could use to make informed decisions. At the same time, he recognizes the inherent value of the unique culture of the people he once called “delusional” and he gave himself to the work of preserving this identity. After five years among the Xhosa, he has personally experienced the deep fissures in their society and desired to work for unity around a common, shared past. Finally, Soga moves past his feelings of pity he expressed for the uncivilized Xhosas and takes up the hard work of compassion and solidarity through his attempts to bridge the gap between himself and his people. In order to work for their reconciliation, he had to re-assert his place, or perhaps create a new place, in the Xhosa community as a Xhosa first and foremost. Through Indaba, Soga uses the power of his pen to compose a song of unity, peace, and hope for a people who were crying out for help in a time of deep division, violent strife, and hopeless despair.

Conclusion

            Tiyo Soga lived during a period of extreme violence in the history of his people. This violence was manifested physically in the form of frontier wars with British colonists, but it was also experienced through the cultural violence of European missionaries whose “good news” was typically a tightly bound mixture of European civilization and the gospel of Jesus Christ. This external violence soon became internalized as the Xhosa people looked to the prophecy of Nongqawuse for hope in the midst of their struggle to retain their land and their way of life. The devastating failure of this prophecy combined with the ensuing efforts of the colonial government to use the Xhosa crisis to their advantage created a hell-scape for the Xhosa people and put their future as a distinct people in serious jeopardy. As a Xhosa person groomed on a mission station and trained as a European missionary in Scotland, Soga was given a privileged position that spared him from experiencing the same level of violence as his Xhosa kin.[61]

When Soga returned home to British Kaffraria to serve his people as a missionary after six years abroad in Scotland, the violent destruction of his people was unavoidable. His initial response was one of genuine shock and disgust at this “national suicide” mixed with a naïve belief that God would use this self-imposed “affliction” to transform the Xhosa into a “peaceable and industrious people.” He felt pity, but, as a result of his privileged status, this pity was felt from a safe distance that allowed him to think of his people more as a broken piece of equipment that required the skill of a well-trained practitioner in European civilization and Christianity to fix. Over the course of five years of mostly unsuccessful ministry, Soga came to realize that his distanced approach would not work. With Indaba, Soga used his education and European credentials – the constituent elements of his privilege – to join God’s work of salvation among the Xhosa people as they moved forward together as new kind of people into what Soga hoped would be a more hopeful future.

In a way similar to Tiyo Soga, I too have left my home to receive education and training that I hope will equip me for God’s service among the people I have left: a rural community in west central Alabama whose population is 75% African-American with a poverty rate of 38%.[62] As a Euro-American person raced as white who was raised in a comfortable, relatively wealthy household, who holds a bachelor’s degree and is pursuing a dual-masters degree, I hold – like Tiyo Soga – a relative place of privilege among many of those in my hometown. Tiyo Soga’s life, especially his work of ministry through Indaba, teaches me about the necessity of developing a ministry of compassionate solidarity that dismantles the destructive power of privilege by using the very status symbols that bring privilege to contribute towards the creation of a new community founded on equality, mutuality, and respect.


[1] Tiyo Soga, The Journal and Selected Writings of the Reverend Tiyo Soga, ed. Donovan Williams (Cape Town: A. A. Balkema, 1983), 42.

[2] J. B. Peires, “The Central Beliefs of the Xhosa Cattle-Killing,” Journal of African History 28, no. 1: 43.

[3] Willem Saayman, Christian Mission in South Africa: Political and Ecumenical (Pretoria: University of South Africa, 1991), 54-56.

[4] M. Gideon Khabela, The Struggle of the Gods (Lovedale, South Africa: Lovedale Press, 1996), 9-11.

[5] Khabela, 14.

[6] Donovan Williams, Umfundisi: A Biography of Tiyo Soga 1829-1871 (Lovedale, South Africa: Lovedale Press, 1978), 12-13.

[7] Ibid., 19.

[8] Williams, 24-26.

[9] Tolly Bradford, Prophetic Identities: Indigenous Missionaries on British Colonial Frontiers, 1850-75, (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2012), 138.

[10] John A. Chalmers, Tiyo Soga: A Page of South African Mission Work, 2nd ed. (Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot, 1878), 430.

[11] Adam Ashforth, “The Xhosa Cattle Killing and the Politics of Memory,” Sociological Forum 6, no. 3 (September 1991): 581.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Steve Kowit, “The Mass Suicide of the Xhosa.” Skeptic 11, no. 1 (March 2004): 53.

[14] Ibid.

[15] J. B. Peires, The Dead Will Arise: Nongqawuse and the Great Xhosa Cattle-Killing Movement of 1867-7, (Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1989), 319.

[16] Kowit, 56.

[17] J. B. Peires, The Dead Will Arise, 321.

[18] J. B. Peires, “’Soft’ Believers and ‘Hard’ Unbelievers in the Xhosa Cattle Killing,” The Journal of African History 27, no. 3 (1986): 443.

[19] Ibid., 460.

[20] Ibid., 460-61.

[21] Ibid., 457.

[22] Kowit, 54.

[23] Helen Bradford, “Akukho Ntaka Inokubhabha Ngephiko Elinye (No Bird Can Fly on One Wing): The ‘Cattle-Killing Delusion’ and Black Intellectuals, c1840-1910.” African Studies 67, no. 2 (August 2008):  209-210.

[24] Peires, “The Central Beliefs of the Xhosa Cattle-Killing,” 63.

[25] Ibid., 45, 63.

[26] Peires, “The Central Beliefs of the Xhosa Cattle-Killing,” 45.

[27] Helen Bradford, 216.

[28] Ibid., 210-211.

[29] Ibid., 217.

[30] Shirley Thorpe, “Religious Response to Stress: The Xhosa Cattle Killing and the Indian Ghost Dance.” Missionalia 12, no. 3 (November 1, 1984): 126.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Chalmers, 137.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid., 138.

[36] Ibid., 139.

[37] Ibid., 140.

[38] Chalmers, 138, 140-141.

[39] Ibid., 141.

[40] Williams, 101-103.

[41] Soga, 39.

[42] William Donovan, ed. Journal and Selected Writings of the Revered Tiyo Soga  (Cape Town: A. A. Balkema, 1983), 150.

[43] Tolly Bradford, 97.

[44] Jennifer Wenzel, Bulletproof: Afterlives of Anticolonial Prophecy in South Africa and Beyond (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 50.

[45] Soga, 151.

[46] Ibid., 152.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Wenzel, 49.

[49] Soga, 163.

[50] Ibid., 153.

[51] Ibid., 152.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Soga, 153.

[54] Wenzel, 48, 51.

[55] Tolly Bradford, 96.

[56] Ibid.

[57] Tolly Bradford, 142.

[58] Ndletyana, Mcebisi. “Tiyo Soga” in African Intellectuals in 19th and Early 20th Century: South Africa, ed. Mcebisi Ndletyana, 17-30 (Cape Town: HSRC Press, 2008), 26.

[59] Tolly Bradford, 144, 96.

[60] Vivian Bickford-Smith, “African Nationalist or British Loyalist? The Complicated Case of Tiyo Soga,” History Workshop Journal 71, Spring 2011: 88.

[61] While this paper only briefly mentions it, the racism Soga experienced from British settlers and colonists in British Kaffraria should not be ignored or devalued. Even his education, missionary credentials, and his marriage to a Scottish woman were not enough to privilege him above the reach of degrading forms of racism.

[62] Quick Facts, “Sumter County,” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/01/01119.html, (accessed August 1, 2013).

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