ISAAC WILLIAMS WAUCHOPE:
SELECTED WRITINGS 1874 –1916
Edited and translated by
Jeff Opland and Abner Nyamende
with an introduction and notes by Jeff Opland
is Professorial Research Associate in the Department of Africa at the
Nyamende is a lecturer in African Languages at the
Isaac Williams Wauchope
Isaac Williams Wauchope (1852-1917) was a prominent member of the Eastern Cape African elite in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a Congregational minister, political activist, historian, poet and, ultimately, legendary hero in the Mendi disaster. As a Lovedale student he joined a missionary party to Malawi, he was instrumental in founding one of the first political organisations for Africans, a staunch ally of John Tengo Jabavu, an enthusiastic campaigner for the establishment of the University of Fort Hare, and he served a sentence of nearly two years in Tokai Convict Prison. For over 40 years, from 1874 to 1916, he was a prodigious contributor to newspapers, submitting news, comments, announcements, poetry, hymns, history and biography, travelogues, sermons, translations, explications of proverbs and royal praise poems. This volume assembles a selection of these writings, in English and in Xhosa, reflecting Isaac Wauchope's momentous and turbulent life.
Wauchope in Internatinal Order of True Templars regalia
(From Wauchope’s obituary by S.E. Krune Mqhayi)
…On 20 February 1917 the ship Mendi left
Reader, observe the frantic thrashing of people trying to save themselves! Danger of this sort was something new: they had no experience of it! Some woke befuddled by sleep and had no idea where to head for safety! It’s said there were too few lifeboats for the crowds on board. Then in an instant the ship went down like a stone! Reader, please observe your boys sucked down into a watery expanse without beginning or end! See them clutch at each other, ignorant of their actions! See them filling that boat there, more weight than it can bear, so that now all the dozens in it are engulfed by the sea! Never forget, reader, the cold of that country, and in water too! Think of the groups in that cold, their manly arms failing, their bodies sinking from sight! Never forget, reader, that the young men of your country worked wonders in that crisis, wonders in rescuing large numbers of white men who were their superiors, and lost their own lives in saving others!
Was there ever such a sacrifice?
Don’t shut your ears, reader, to the cry of your country’s children. Does a
sacrificial beast not cry because of the pain? Without it that sacrifice would
not be acceptable! The cry is a sign that the sacrifice has been accepted.
Didn’t our Lord utter a confused cry on
But wait! Please do the right thing, my friend, my reader. Where exactly is the son of Citashe at this juncture?
Those who were there say the hero from Ngqika’s land, descended from heroes, was standing to one side now as the ship was sinking! As a chaplain he had the opportunity to board a boat and save himself, but he didn’t! He was appealing to the leaderless soldiers urging them to stay calm, to die like heroes on their way to war. We hear that he said:
Now then stay calm my countrymen!
Calmly face your death!
This is what you came to do!
This is why you left your homes!
Peace, our own brave warriors!
Peace, you sons of heroes,
Today is your final day,
Prepare for the ultimate ford!