The Mfecane: Beginning the inquest

Wright, John
Cobbing, Julian
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In this paper I elaborate on the argument that 'the mfecane' is a pivotal component of a 'liberal', settler, apartheid-skeletal form a new analysis. The main assertion of mfecane propaganda is that a 'Zulu-centric' revolution produced an extensive depopulation which explains in historiographical sequence: the flight of peoples into the 'liberation' of the European economy, the land division of 1913, and, since the 1950s, the configuration of the Bantustans. In reply, it is shown that the sub-continental destabilisations and transformations within black societies sprang from the synchronous and converging impact of European penetration at Delagoa Bay, the Cape, north of the Orange, and Natal. In order to disguise what had occurred the whites erased themselves from their own impact, and retrospectively inserted Shaka and other victims of the process as initiators in situations where they were absent. The chronology is lengthened far beyond the (in this context) irrelevant reign of the Zulu monarch. Particular attention is paid to the sequences of this extended chronology and to the cross-interactions between the sectors of the white advance. It is not the intention to minimise change internal to black societies, but rather to make a call for this to be researched in its proper context. The huge gaps in our knowledge revealed by this approach ensure that this task is a formidable one.
African Studies Seminar series. Paper presented 12 September 1988
Africa, Southern. History. Mfecane period, 1816-ca. 1840, South Africa. Historiography