Bacon & the Art of Living -> Chapter 06: Drums of Despair

Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living

The story of bacon is set in the late 1800s and early 1900s when most of the important developments in bacon took place. The plotline takes place in the 2000s with each character referring to a real person and actual events. The theme is a kind of “steampunk” where modern mannerisms, speech, clothes and practices are superimposed on a historical setting.  Modern people interact with old historical figures with all the historical and cultural bias that goes with this.

Drums of Despair

Johannesburg, December 1889

The Battle for Land

In 1889 my life was carefree! I was fully fascinated by the world I was born into. Riding transport between the Colony and Johannesburg allowed me to see a land in change. The old being destroyed by the new. I realised that this life would soon end and I had to look for a new way of earning a living.

Inquisitiveness was in my blood and more than anything else I wanted to know what forces are crafting a different world. Africa was changing in front of my eyes and it was not for the better. War and uncertainty would plague this breathtaking land for centuries. I was looking at the past to create a different life for my present and future.

Powerful European demons were doing their work on the hearts and minds of the people of Africa. I could see it and mesmerised by Africa’s beauty I could not abandon the land of my birth. Africa, I am! Daniel Jacobs whom I had the pleasure to host at my campsite was himself a dedicated student of history.  He told me about the early years of the Cape Colony from the perspective of the Dutch Reformed Church. I later learned that he always travelled with his books. To him, they were his closest companions. The night when we camped together, he read me some of his own poetry and when we spoke about the early history of the Colony, he fetched a book on the Dutch Reformed Church and read me sections from it. I was fascinated by an entry from 1795.

The DRC recorded how it saw the history, that “the colonists had been gradually spreading over the lands occupied by the Hottentot (1) and Bushman(1) tribes. These, too weak to make resistance, looked with no satisfaction on the arrival of the whites in their midst. As the latter were taking their lands, they retaliated by driving off cattle, and the Boers, taking up their long-barrelled hunting-guns, exacted bloody and cruel revenge. The colonists ground down and oppressed by those in authority, spread themselves thus, heedless of the threats and admonitions of their government. That they did not spread more widely to the north and east was owing to the fact, that along their northern line the arid deserts skirting the Orange River offered little temptation to transgress the boundary, while at the eastern extremity they were fronted by the warlike and independent Amakoze Kaffirs (1), who, far from allowing any inroad into their territory, commenced a system of aggression upon the colonists.” The “matter-of-fact” commentary by the Dutch church in Africa startled me. It was the stories about this eastern frontier which my dad would later tell me about in great detail, that convinced me that the Dutch church was wrong in their account of this part of the Colony and that the real aggressor was the white people, as he was in the rest of the land. Through the haze of history, I started to understand the thinking that drove the actions of people on both sides of the conflict which fermenting in the soil of this ancient land.

“The farms, particularly in the east, lay very remote from one another, and between them lived the Hottentots (1) in their miserable kraals and smoky huts,” Daniel continued. “They still went unclothed, only covered with a kaross. The governor had forbidden, under pain of severe punishment, that any Hottentot (1) should be enslaved. Still, it was frequently done, as slaves proper were dear to purchase. Many Hottentots (1) and slaves ran away from their masters, particularly if badly used, and formed themselves into bands to rob and murder, and make the outlying farms unsafe.” (M’Cater, 1869)

My own experience informed me that the church was right. So completely devoid of respect were the colonists of the African people that hunters could, in later years apply on hunting permits to kill Khoi Bushman on the same documents they applied for hunting wild animals. The level of brutality by invading Europeans towards the people, beasts and places of this land is hard to fathom or put in words. Not only the Dutch Boers, but the English too partook heartily in the orgy of violence. They shared in the most savage treatment of the Southern African tribes. My dad told me about the wars in the Eastern Frontier. The savagery of the English knew no bounds! I always stop myself when I say this to add that many English were fierce opponents of slavery and brutality towards indigenous peoples, motivated by the English Church. Oom Stefanus Jordaan on who’s farm I once visited told me that the continuation of the practice of slavery in the Transvaal was the spiritual motivation for the English to annex it and for the Anglo-Boer war of 1880 and 1881. (2) From the same Parliament in London terminated good as well as unspeakable evil!

Even in my lifetime, visiting Boer farms in the Transvaal left me with a bitter-sweet taste in my mouth and I could certainly see that the attitudes of the farmers were steeped in a long tradition of oppression and destruction.  On the one hand, these people were the warmest and heartiest people I knew. Rugged, industrious and hard working with a faith that almost moved mountains. On the other hand, I was angry to see the little black kids, indentured by people like the Jordaan’s on account of the fact that they were caught on their farms or captured when the Boers raided native villages or bought as “black ivory” on auctions like you would trade cattle. Slavery was alive and well in the independent Boer republics even after the Anglo Boer War and the treatment of black people in this way was a source of great anguish for me. It was and could never be right that any person treats any other with such cruelty and disdain. This knowledge was one of my earliest childhood memories, the horror I felt when I saw people being mistreated.

The Reply of the amaXhosa

It would be the stories of the frontier wars in the East of the Colony that would provide me with the clearest picture of what the invasion by the colonists did to the pshyci of the locals. Back in Cape Town, I spoke to my dad about the Jordaans’ and what I learned from Daniel. He told me that the Boers religion gave them the justification in their eyes to “leave” the Colony where they felt marginalised and treated unfairly and trek to the promised lands where they had, according to the belief of many, the right to dispossess the heathens (as they saw them) who occupy it. Their actions caused the development of a theology among native tribes which does not bode well for the future. Like the Jews developed their Messianic theology in slavery and the Apostle John penned the book of Revelations under intense persecution by the Romans, so the soul of the black African, desperately trying to make sense of the rape of his culture and the persistent onslaught upon his existence, found solace in their deep spirituality which was progressed to bring hope. In so doing, the drums desperation and dispair would be heard for generations to come in this magnificent land.

A theology evolved among the amaXhosa in direct response to the brutality of the English and the Boer. It was then when he told me about one of the many Frontier War in the Eastern districts of the Colony which he knew as Makhanda’s war which took place between 1819 and 1820, long before I was born.

The Cruelty of the English and the Faith of the amaXhosa

My dad loved telling stories. A good story, as I learned, must have a goood beginning, middle and end. My dad’s story began with the arrival of a new leader for the Colony at the Cape of Good Hope in Lord Charles Somerset, the second son of the fifth Duke of Beaufort, a direct descendant of King Edward III of England. He arrived in Cape Town on 6 April 1814 as the new governor. Emotions ran high on the eastern front of the Colony preceded by 4 bloody wars with the amaXhosa as the Colony expanded and continued to dispossess their land. As Summerset arrived, war was again looming on the eastern front.  To stabilise it, he first sorted out matters with the Boers. After a small Boer uprising was put down and the ringleaders dealt with, believing that he firmly entrenched English supremacy and their new rule over the Dutch, by 1816 he turned his attention to the amaXhosa.

In Summerset’s estimation, he had two options in dealing with them. He could either completely conquer the amaXhosa and rule over them as subjects being part of the Colony or they had to be driven out beyond its borders.  The amaXhosa continued to raid farms into areas that previously belong to them.  Somerset, from his English- and Eurocentric perspective, believed he could “civilize” them. He looked towards the missionaries to teach them improved agriculture and more peaceful Christian existence. My dad told me that Somerset said to Earl Bathurst that through these interactions “civilization and its consequences may be introduced into countries hitherto barbarous and unexplored.” My dad, as a follower of Alexander von Humboldt, did not share Somerset’s English and Euro-centric view of the superiority of their culture or and had great respect for the sophistication of the indigenous peoples of the land and their technology which, according to him, was above all, in balance with the natural laws governing our world.

In the end, Somerset chose intimidation as his first direct engagement with the amaXhosa as he tried to end their cross border raids. He arranged an audience with the chiefs who ruled to the east of the Kei River, Ngqika and Ndlambe with some minor chiefs. So I introduced to two iconic figures in the life of the amaXhosa. Somerset incorrectly assumed that they speak for the entire amaXhosa nation who were ruled by two houses since the time of Phalo, the son of Tshiwo, the son of Ngconde, son of Sikhomo, son of Nkosiyamutu, son of king Xhosa. Since the time of Phalo, there has been a Great House under his son Gcaleka and a right-hand house under his son Rharabe.  It was Rharhabe who crossed the Kei River with a number of followers who fought a bitter war against the Khoi in the area over land and cattle and eventually killed their king Hinsati. He negotiated the sale of land for his tribe from the Queen, Hobo between the Keiskamma and Buffalo rivers.

My dad’s story was my first introduction to Ngqika and Ndlambe and the story of these chiefs and their spiritual advisors would become the bedrock of a profound breakthrough in understanding the underlying forces at work in the Colony and even across the southern African region. It had a direct impact on my decision to embark on the adventure of bacon curing and to turn my back on riding transport.

Ngqika was the grandson of Rahrabe or the son of his great house. Since he was a minor when his father died, Mlawu, the son of Rharabe, was placed under the oversight of Ndlambe who was appointed as the ruler of the Right Hand House after the death of Cebo, the Right Hand son of Rahrhabe who died without children, but who was actually the brother of Mlawu and therefore the uncle of Ngqika. Somerset was completely oblivious to any of this.

Like a complete fool, he staged the meeting with Ngqika and Ndlambe as a theatre-like-production intended to intimidate. He sat on a chair with his soldiers in full arms present while the chiefs had to leave their soldiers behind. Somerset sat on a chair while the amaXhosas had to squad on the floor. Ngqika was the senior chief present, but could not make binding agreements on behalf of the other amaRharhabe chiefs. Ngqika explained to him that in their culture, this was not possible. Somerset wanted none of it. He lost his temper and with gifts and threats coerced Ngqika into an agreement which the chief could not enforce. Confident that he solved the problems of the Eastern Frontier, the foolish Somerset returned to Cape Town.

Despite the seniority that Ngqika should have had, he attached the great house of Gcaleka to the east of the Kei River in 1795. Hintsa, who was only 5 when his father died in 1794 was imprisoned by Ngqika, had by this time come of age and turned out to be a good and popular leader. Under his leadership, the Great House of the amaXhosa reestablished itself and was now intent on asserting control over the chiefdoms east of the Kei. Of course, this meant settling a score he had with Ngqika and he naturally supported Ndlambe as the chief of the amaRharhabe. This support from Hintsa and new support he received from his powerful son, Mdushane gave him great courage. The other factor and the actual point I want to make is the support he received from a powerful war-doctor, Nxele.

The story of Nxele would become one of my favourite tales of this great land as it speaks to deep spirituality, creativity and courage, distilled in a truly remarkable man! Nxele was “spiritual”, even as a child. The great scholar, Tisani, a friend of my dad, says about Nxele that he “was a solitary, mysterious child, often wandering off by himself. When he grew older Nxele went to live in the bush for extended periods. He fasted there and on occasional visits home he refused food because, he claimed, it had become unclean during preparation through the sins of his people.” (Tisani, 1987) Early on in his life, he was already recognised as a diviner who called out the sin of his people.

He led the mourning ceremony after Chief Rharhabe and his son Mlawu passed away. Long before he learned about Christianity, he was spiritual leader, at least in the same league as the Missionaries he would later encounter. His creativity would prove him to be not only on the same level but superior to them in his natural ability and perception of the divine narrative.

He started to meet the men whom Somerset so relied on to bring about a peaceful British takeover, the English missionaries. He stayed with Chief Ngquika at Joseph Williams’s mission station for a week where he was exposed to elements of Christianity and its messengers. Williams mentions that there was tension between them and we know that Nxele later used concepts he was exposed to here and in other settings since he started preaching against witchcraft, theft, adultery and blood-shedding. He was able to take from Christianity that which he felt was enhancing his own spirituality. These were concepts which resonated with him and his culture and were in his view as well expressed by the Christians. At one point, for example, he chastised Chief Ndlambe for having more than one wife. He was not opposed to the total teachings of the missionaries and as a result of his influence, the missionaries were accepted among the amaXhosa.

Chief Maqoma. South African History Online. March 7, 2013.

Nxele was, however able to take what he saw as good in the message and not be blind to the deceit of many of the messengers in their own failure to live up to their own beliefs. At the heart of the missions of the whites was a belief that they were “better”. Their message, their God, their culture, their language, their music, their laws were in their mind “better” and in their view, the African was inherently inferior.

It disappointed Nxele greatly! Where he respected them for their spirituality and their pursuit of the good in humans, they did not reciprocate. The missionaries saw him as inferior to them. The “we alone are right” and “we are better” attitude of many Christians is something that I find odd to this day and at odds with the heart of their own messages. Nxele’s respect for the Christian message and his disappointment in the messengers is something that I would experience myself in the years to follow and his disappointment resonates with me.

He correctly saw the Missionaries as equally zealous to proselytise the amaXhosa to the English culture and customs as much as to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Missionary saw Europeans as inherently superior to the amaXhosa, socially, politically and spiritually and Nxele saw it! In an astonishing demonstration of his creativity and spiritual sensitivity, Nxele expanded on the belief system of the amaXhosa. He developed a theology where two Gods exist, Thixo and Ndaliphu. According to his teachings, Thixo is the God of the Whites and Mdalidiphu, the God of Blacks. Mdalidiphu is superior to Thixo and the world was the battleground between the two – the age-old struggle between good and evil.

Nxele’s theology taught that Mdalidiphu would prevail against Thixo and punish him and his sinful followers. Nxele’s next progression reminds me of the sermon on the mount of Jesus when he said, “you have heard it taught in of old, but I say to you. . .” In other words, I now give a new law thereby becoming a lawgiver myself as the son of God. Nxele did something similar when he said to the amaXhosa, “you have heard it said of old, but I say to you. . .” He too became a lawgiver. According to him, Tayi was the son of God and in an extraordinary move, like Jesus, he proclaimed himself as the son of God when te taught that he is the brother of Tayi. According to him, Tayi was killed by the white people and for this, they were thrown into the sea. They emerged from the sea in search of land, the abantu abasemanzi. Nxele was, therefore, the agent of Mdalidiphu and his son and it was he who would drive the white man back into the sea. His teachings were remarkable and powerful to a nation where the fabric of its society was being assailed on all sides.

One can see the comfort that this message brought to people, dispossessed from their lands and brutalised in every way possible. The hope that it inspired in the hearts of young and old reminds me of the hope the Messianic prophecies brought to Israel in exile in the land of Babylon. The fact that one people could inflict such suffering on another to precipitate a shift in theology stands as a testament to the cruelty of humans and at the same time, the resilience of the human spirit which is able to carve out hope amidst the most desperate situations! It speaks to the brilliance of Nxele! It also speaks to a cultural device that oppressed people have used, probably from the time the first cognitive and conscious humans roamed Africa, in which the human mind develops mythology to gives hope amid desperate circumstances. It connects us with the universal consciousness and allows us to look beyond our immediate circumstances. This is the exact same device which sprang Christianity itself.

My dad’s point is that if we now juxtapose the position of Pretorius and the fundamental Calvinism of the Boers who saw the land before them as a gift of God to be taken and from who all who do not serve their God must be driven with the teachings of Nxele, the clouds of war which I saw from the actions of the Boer and the Brit, becomes drums of war which declare the certainty of a bloody struggle. Locked up in the beating of the drums was a plea for recognition and humanity. On the one hand, I marvel at the teachings of Nxele and at the same time, fearful for the future. It was, after all, a theological development directly in response to the aggression and relentless persecution by the Colonists which now painted white people with a brush which calls for push back and annihilation.

My dad did not have contact with tribes from the north and could not know their theological leanings, but he told me that he would not be surprised if the same fundamental religious developments were taking place in the black consciousness across the region as proud owners of the land, setting them up, in the most fundamental way against the colonial people and their drive to disposes the African tribes politically, culturally and in terms of land. Whenever I brought up the history of brutal attacks of Voortrekkers venturing into the interior by local tribes, my dad’s response was always the same. “What did they expect? How would they respond to invaders into their own lands?” My dad had only harsh words to Voortrekker icons, but reserved his harshest criticism for people like Summerseat and later Rhodes as the enemy of humanity itself and examples of the most wicked of humans.

The supernatural world had failed to deliver and the amaXhosa was faced with two options. Either they had to rise up against the white invaders with the help of the divine or they had to submit themselves to the new order as preached by the missionaries who laboured among them. In the world of the amaXhosa, Ndlambe was recognised as the leader of the chiefs to the East of the Kai River and he had the support of the powerful Nxele. Each Rharhabe chief, however, had the freedom to choose his own spiritual counsellors and in reality, they did not all agree with Nxele. Chiefs chose councillors who mirrored what path they themselves favoured. This was nothing sinister or to be frowned upon. It was custom, and truth be told, in line with how these matters were being handled in Europe. Not that this matter as some kind of a higher standard, but it must be said for Europeans who would frown on this, forgetting their own history! It was the practice that the spiritual counsellor would limit his dialogue between the chief and the supernatural to what the chief was willing to accept.

King Sandile, Nienaber, C and Hutten, (2008) L. The Grave of King Mgolombane Sandile Ngqika: Revisiting the legend, The South African Archaeological Bulletin

The two rivals Ngqika and Ndlambe represented two opposing choices to the nation. Ngqika appointed Ntsikana as counsellor who was a Christian convert. His message was one of peaceful coexistence with Europeans through submission. Ndlambe, on the other hand, had the independent-minded Nxele who did not see himself as subservient to the Christian Missionaries; who was longing to see the awakening of black identity and prophesied that the amaXhosa would prevail against the white man. These notions were fundamentally part of the being of Nxele as we have seen from the theology he preached.

Nxele, patronised by Ndlambe grew in political power and wealth. He encouraged his adherents to, as it were, “go forth, multiply and fill the earth.” He taught that he would bring back to life the black people who had died and their cattle. He had a large and prosperous future for his people in mind, built upon resisting the invaders of their land!

Nxele served a useful purpose to Ndlambe in building support from other chiefs against Ngqika. Ngqika was married to Thuthula, Ndlambe’s wife whom he abducted and Nxele preached against him as an adulterer and their marriage as an incestuous relationship. This served the purpose of Ndlambe well.

In contrast to this was the theology of Ntsikana’s. He was driven by a vision he had to preach the Christian message to the isiXhosa using Xhosa imagery and traditional forms of music. He used the image of God as a cloak which protects all true believers and the way to peace was submitting to his will. Initially, he approached Ndlambe to be his patron, who wanted none of it. It was after this that he turned to Ngqika. Ngqika never converted to Christianity and never had a sizable following. Still, Ngqika saw his teachings in line with his own view of cooperation with the white colonists and appointed him as a counsellor. Ntsikana, in line with his theology, encouraged him to seek an alliance with the British. Ntsikana passed away in 1821 and his small group of followers were entrusted to the care of the British Missionaries.

This was the setting for another bitter war on the eastern frontier, the first where Somerset would be involved. I discovered that not all good stories need to have a beginning, middle and end. That it really depends on what you want from the story and if you have what you wanted, sometimes its good to leave it there. So it is with this story. My intention is not to re-tell the story of the war. It is the development of the Black contentiousness in response to the colonial aggression which was the point my dad wanted to convey and the fact which informed my decisions about my future. In the mind of the colonial invaders was a deeply entrenched view of the native African which was religious in nature and their mythology represented their world view! They completely confused nationalism, lust, pride, laziness and culture for religion and excused every sin they committed by a complete misuse of the Old Testament of the Christian bible. Or, one can say that they used religion as it is always used as an expression of the hopes and beliefs and aspirations of a people. The mental view of the European was after all the result of bitter struggle and immense suffering of their own at the hands of leaders and invading forces, poverty and disease. Their religion, inextricably connected to their culture; what was once the source of comfort and faith to keep going on against all odds had become the instruments of terror they unleashed upon people from around the globe.

They justified their treatment of the African peoples through their religion and what developed in the African consciousness of the time was a reaction to the treatment they received which was, in the end, also entrenched through religion. Thinking drives action and thinking which denies the other a rightful place in this world would be a basic tenant in the belief system of both groups for years to come. I looked at this and prayed to God that He will be merciful upon us and our descendants for bringing this about!

Seeds of war were germinating in the soil of Africa. The exploits of the invader and the resister alike were being calcified through their religious belief systems and in a world where neither the white colonists nor the black people would disappear or annihilate the other, it signalled a long and bitter future of deep mistrust, hatred and bloodshed. I projected that true peace would not come as long as the traditional Afrikaans church represented the majority of the white population. That the time would have to come where a new religion must take hold which is not focussed on annihilating and dispossessing and killing, but where a positive message of hope and possibilities would prevail. I could well imagine a time when many will turn their back on a religion based on differences and what it is “against”. When others will not be demonised for being different and when respect would be mutual. This would signal the start of a true reconciled future where both black and white would live together as humans and will recognise the power in unity and freedom for all, represented by a new faith!

Years later, the second Anglo Boer War would prove that I was right. Friends sent me a photo from a POW camp in India where many of the Boer POW’s were sent which angers me. Even though I could not be sure of everything that is happening in the photo, it showed me that the Anglo-Boer war did nothing for the feeling of superiority of the European, including the Boer, over other peoples. Sickening superiority oozes out of the picture!

Umballa POW camp, India. Photo supplied by Elria Wessels.

I knew my time was up to criss-cross this vast land and I had to seek out other opportunities. As I always do when I think about this, I again remind myself that not all people think with one heart and mind. Among the English, there are people who support the Boer and have compassion for his course despite many Boers refusing to acknowledge this and it is true, many English would rather see the Boer disappear from the earth. In the same way, there are many Boers who support slavery and have no respect for the native African but it must be recognised that no matter how small the group, there are some Boers who oppose slavery and who respect the black nations, just like some of the British.  Not all people are the same.

Ideas of moderation, later, became powerful currents in the black consciousness despite the fact that it would be many generations before the same ideas would take root in mainstream white thinking. Truth be told, despite small pockets of white descent against the majority treatment and view of black people, attitudes would only start to change many years later when the white man’s views threatened his own continued prosperity and existence on earth. In the context of the time when I had to choose a future I had many things to consider and on the one hand was the evil and destruction of Colonialism which I saw so clearly but on the other was my love for my own people and the culture that I grew up in which is not in itself against any nation or group of people. I could, by the grace of God, hate what was being done by white Colonial forces in Africa and at the same time still love!

One of the things I loved was science because, as I saw it, all science runs down many different hills towards one ocean of truth. African, Chinese, American and European science approached the matter of truth differently, but ultimately, it could all agree when techniques and results were better. In my mind, it formed a new religion which more and more people converted to.

On the other hand, I love people and one of the supreme cultural expressions we can all unite around is food. Different food from different regions always inspire people and even the staunchest cultural purist would effortlessly migrate between dishes from various cultures. The one dish that beautifully combined science and taste was to me, even from my childhood days, bacon! I did, however, not stumble into the world of bacon as thoughtful as I reflect upon it here in hindsight. It was far more dramatic and less “planned”.

This is how it happened. One day I embarked on another trip to the Transvaal from Cape Town. This would be the trip where a most fortuitous event would occur.  A problem that would lead to a meeting that would lead to a plan that would result in the rest of my life. On this trip, I met the most interesting Boer from Potchefstroom, Oscar Klynveld.  This trip became the transition into the greatest adventure, ever, born from the seeds of war. While the beating drums of despair would always echo in my ears, I embarked on a journey where I could dedicate my life to a new pursuit which I completely fell in love with!

Photo Credit:  Hilton, T., Flickr


  1. The words “Hottentot”, “Bushaman” and “Kaffirs” were used in the original publication and is repeated for the sake of accuracy. Today they are recognized as derogatory terms and the use of the term Kaffir are prohibited by legislation.
  2. An article, setting out the case for the First Anglo-Boer War of 1880/ 1881 and the continued annexation of the Transvaal; published in The Times (London, Greater London, England), 22 Feb 1881, page 9.


Laband, J. 2020. The Land Wars. The Dispossession of the Khoisan and AmaXhosa in the Cape Colony. Penguin Randon House.

M’Cater, J..  1869. Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa. With Notice of the other Denominations. A historical Sketch.  Ladysmith, Natal. W & C Inglis.


(c) eben van tonder

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