Historical Figures

Historical figures

The Northern Cape has a history as colourful as the people that inhabit it. From noble characters such as Sol Plaatje and Henrietta Stockdale who have done much to contribute positively towards South African society, to the dominant and infamous Cecil John Rhodes and the likes of Scotty Smith, ‘the Robin Hood of the Kalahari’, who’s story makes for an interesting read, despite his deplorable way of life.

Sol Plaatje ( 9 October 1876 – 19 June 1932) was an intellectual, linguist, translator, politician, journalist and writer. Written in 1919 but only published in 1930, Mhudi was the first English novel written by a black South African. He also translated the works of Shakespeare into Setswana, served as editor of numerous newspapers and authored documentary books.

He devoted much of his life to the struggle for the enfranchisement and freedom of African people and was a founder member and first Secretry General of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) which later became the ANC. In this capacity he travelled to England to protest the 1913 Native Land Act and later to Canada and the US, where he met Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois. He died in 1932.

His house in Angel Street is today a museum and a national monument.

Kgosi (Chief) Galeshewe was posthumously admitted to the Order of Mendi for Bravery in Gold by the South African Presidency. Born in 1840, this chief’s heroism and bravery were inspired by his love and respect for the people he led in the vast area now named after him in Galeshewe, Kimberley, in the Northern Cape. The South African Navy has also named one of its ships after Galeshewe.

For nearly nine months in 1878, Galeshewe displayed his battle skills as he led an armed force in a rebellion against the repressive rule of the time. He was captured following an attack on Cornforth Hill near Taung and he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. He was again imprisoned in 1897 for his part in the uprising known as the Langeberg Rebellion.

As the then government rejoiced over his arrest, his own people saw him as a hero who risked his life for their good.

Henrietta Stockdale (born 9 July 1847, Nottinghamshire – died 6 October 1911, Kimberley, South Africa), a member of the Anglican Nursing Order, was the founder of professional nursing in South Africa. She arrived in Kimberley in 1876 and worked as district nurse in the mining camps, and then at Kimberley’s new Carnarvon Hospital.

She returned to England to recover from typhoid and then did further training at London’s University College Hospital. She went back to Kimberley in 1879 and established Southern Africa’s first training school for nurses at the Carnarvon Hospital. Returning as Matron of the Carnarvon Hospital in 1879. The first state registration of nurses in the world resulted from her efforts to establish professional standards.

In St Cyprian’s Cathedral in Kimberley, you’ll find a stained glass window that commemorates her life and work, as well as a statue of her in the cathedral grounds.

In the words of Lawrence G. Green, “WI L D E S T of all the reckless men who rode the Kalahari frontier was Scotty Smith. Every country has its Robin Hood, Dick Turpin or Captain Starlight – highwaymen of varying degrees of courtesy and crime. Scotty Smith was South Africa’s most notorious outlaw for many years, a legendary figure whose exploits live after him.”

Born in 1845 as George St Leger Lennox , the illegitimate son of a noble Scotsman, he studied as a veterinary surgeon and then travelled to Australia (in search of gold) and India (to fight for the British) before arriving in South Africa in 1877 to join the Frontier Armed and Mounted Police. Not being one to be contravened by rules his military career ended and he took on the nickname “Scotty Smith”. Smith he claimed was the name of a fallen comrade (whose papers he took) and Scotty because of his Scottish heritage.

When in South Africa he got involved in gun-running, horse theft (a particular favourite of his) general theft, elephant hunting in Botswana (then Bechuanaland). He was also involved in legal and illegal diamond buying in the diamond fields, and highway robberies. He was caught and sentenced several times for these crimes, but, always managed to escape rivaling Houdini with his skill in this matter.

Scotty was once asked how he managed to slip in and out of Kimberley so often when the police were looking for him and there were warrants out for his arrest. “Police?” scoffed Scotty. “There was nothing to fear from those boobs, and there was not a cell in the place that would have held me overnight. I was as safe on the diggings as in the Kalahari.”

Scotty Smith was an incredibly talented actor. Once when he was arrested near Kimberley, he managed to slip his handcuffs; overpower the plain clothes detective escorting him and then turned the tables, by handcuffing the policeman. Having an extraordinary amount of chutzpah, he then delivered his captive at the Kimberley jail to be locked in a cell where the policeman had a hard time convincing the authorities that he was not Scotty Smith!

In the early Eighteen-nineties he moved into the Kalahari north of Upington and at 46 he married a 19 year old Afrikaans, Miss van Niekerk, with whom he raised a family of 5 daughters and two sons. He named his farms “Kings Rest’ and Leitland‘s Pan and kept his stolen cattle and horses there until the government which had begun to survey the Gordonia District, discovered that he had no title deeds to the land which he occupied.

As a result, he moved with his family to a plot on the Orange river, in Upington, where he spent his last years. He died during the 1919 flu epidemic, at 73 and is buried in the town.

Cecil John Rhodes arrived in South Africa from Britain when he was 18 years old and founded the De Beers diamond mining company, taking over diamond mines in Kimberley and using the profits to further enrich himself when gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand. Described by Dr C. Magbaily Fyle as, “ a violent and brutal racist who used forced labour tactics as a means of founding De Beers and other portions of his lucrative success”.

Rhodes helped set up the apartheid system in South Africa and the pass laws – based on the Jim Crow laws of the United States. Pass Laws, colonial taxation of African people to force them to work as near slaves in the diamond mines.

In a document called Confessions of Faith he wrote, “ Africa is still lying ready for us, it is our duty to take it. It is our duty to seize every opportunity of acquiring more territory and we should keep this one idea steadily before our eyes: that more territory simply means more of the Anglo-Saxon race, more of the best, the most human, most honourable race the world possesses”. The journalist WT Stead reported that Rhodes told him “ I would annex the planets if I could. I often think of that.” And when asked by Jameson how long he expected his name to endure, he replied, “ I give myself four thousand years.”

With Zimbabwe and Zambia previously being called by his name (Northern and Southern Rhodesia) and monuments, towns and scholarships named after him, he certainly stamped his persona on the land of Africa.