The Bluff’s link with Umgababa

PRIOR to white settlers taking up residence, the Bluff peninsula was the home of the Thuli people under Chief Mnini.

They claimed to have lived there for almost four generations, possibly since around 1770.

But prior to and in the wake of the Byrne settler scheme (1849-1851), the Thulis’ welfare came under pressure. In 1847, without any consultation, 4,500 acres of Thuli territory was granted to a Mr Ogle. In turn, he rented out those lands to tenants, who then accused the Thuli people of being ‘squatters’.

Matters worsened when in 1851, again without any consultation, 1,500 acres of the Thuli lands were advertised for sale in the Natal Government Gazette, priced at between £1 and £2 per acre.

Alarmed at the plunder of his land, Chief Mnini met with the Secretary for Native Affairs, Theophilus Shepstone. He complained that his Bluff lands had been so reduced that they could no longer support his 600 people who were also being harassed by Ogle’s tenants; also that there was insufficient pasturage for his cattle and that access to springs of water was being denied.

Stephen Walcott, secretary of the Colonial Land and Emigration Office, was extremely concerned at this development and stated that the ‘territorial rights’ of the Native should be seen as a “very delicate” issue. He believed a bad precedent was being set if a Chief’s “hereditary possessions cannot be secured” and recommended compensation for Mnini in the form of “a liberal grant of land in (a) new location.” In so doing, Walcott, argued that the colonial rulers “must not let any other consideration shake the confidence in the Native mind as to the justice and generosity of the white man”. In endorsing Walcott’s view, Sir John Pakington, the Secretary of State for Colonies, instructed that the land given in compensation to Mnini be greater than that “of which he has thus been deprived”. He also specified that “the most rigid good faith be observed in all land transactions with the Natives.”

That is how Mnini and the Thuli came to occupy the Umgababa area. They were relocated there after 1853 and given almost 8,000 acres compared to the 6,000 they previously occupied on the Bluff. In terms of an agreement signed in 1858, the Mnini lands were placed in a Trust which has survived to this day. Unfortunately, few subsequent land resettlements or relocations adhered to the spirit and guidelines which characterised Mnini’s experience.

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