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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: Illustrate the meaning of "Don't Cut off Your Nose to Spite Your Face" (without using the actual phrase or litera (02/14/08)

By Kenneth Heath


Murder most foul!

The ground trembled and shook as the warriors stamped their feet in unison to the rhythm of the African drums. Bodies glowed as they sweated in the early morning sun. They were performing a war dance, a “Mguya”, a ritual dance of the Mpondomise tribe. It celebrated authority and fertility, reaffirming the heroic status of their chiefs as the descendants of men who slew leopards and who brought nourishing rains.

Advancing on their guests, they formed a large crescent shape, making mock charges and pretending to stab them. Magistrate Hamilton Hope, the “Great bull” as he was known, his two military assistants Captains Warrene and Henman and the missionary’s son Davis were the “special guests” of this “Mguya”.

The Mpondomise “Paramount Chief”, Mhlontlo had asked the magistrate to address his warriors, who were going to join with the British forces to fight the Basutho raiders who were busy killing and plundering along the border of the Cape colony. It was early in 1880 and trouble was brewing along the frontier, with many clans wanting to join the Basutho. The Magistrate was a good friend of Mhlontlo, having invited him to dine with him the previous evening. As they parted after supper, Mhlontlo had shaken hands and said; “Go on and I will follow and where you die I will die.”

Magistrate Hope had been warned of Mhlontlo’s treachery, having being told that he was plunging blind-fold into a trap laid for him by Mhlontlo. He said, “ I shall be rather amused, if the chief true to his reputation disappoints everybody’s expectations; if he does not, I shall no doubt have convincing proof that everybody is right. I go strengthened,” he continued, “by the feeling that I am doing right, and that the Almighty will guide me. I have done my utmost to steer a straight and proper course in these matters, and if I fail, and have been deceived, I shall have shown that I backed my opinion.” He told his officers he was willing to proceed alone in view of the danger, but they refused saying; “ No, we will go with you, and stand or fall with you.”

Hope and his companions were seated on a horse rug in front of the dancing warriors. Suddenly, a great piercing whistle followed by a loud shout rang through the air. The warriors ceased to dance and as the dust settled, an ominous silence filled the air.

“Pondomise there is no word from me,” Chief Mhlontlo told his people, “the words you will hear are from your Magistrate. I am going to inform Sunduza (the name given to young Davis), the words I wish Mr. Hope to say.” He then led Davis out of the great curve of assembled men.

Some thirty feet away he stopped and turned around. Pointing to Magistrate Hope he cried out; “You, Pondomise! There are your chiefs!” Hearing those prearranged words the warriors lunged forward impaling Hope and his two officers on spears and then proceeded to dance around with them while they were still alive. Then six men all ritual specialists, rushed to the impaled men and killed them. They were cut open and certain body parts were removed to make “muti”, a special witchcraft medicine that when taken, would make the warriors invincible in battle. Young Davis survived because he was the son of a missionary and as Mhlontlo had said, “ he was only fighting the English Government”. The butchered bodies were then left on a hillside for the vultures to feast on. Davis was told to run for his life and the warriors proceeded to go and plunder the outlying mission stations and settlements.

The Government response was swift, troops were sent out to quell the rebellion and Mhlontlo fled to the mountains of Lesotho, his last words being, “I shall not be taken alive, a man can only die once.” His actions led to the harsh oppression of his people by the Crown. He lived in exile, in abject poverty for two decades until his capture in 1903. In court he was acquitted, “ because he was very old and because he did not actually do the killings himself”. He died in 1912, living on barren land, poor and in debt as a simple commoner. The consequences of his actions lived on into the twentieth century where as late as the 1950’s his poverty-stricken tribe still spoke of “Hope’s Curse”. Perhaps, Mhlontlo should have held his tongue!

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Member Comments
Member Date
Jan Ackerson 02/22/08
An interesting historical account, and right on topic.

I got a little bit lost in all the details; I wonder if you could just pick one moment and a few characters to highlight this story.

Very good writing.
Joanne Sher 02/23/08
A lot going on here. Very strong writing and truly frightening situation.
Norma-Anne Hough02/23/08
Good old south african history. Loved it. Well done
Keep using your talent you are blessing many. Love Norms
Dee Yoder 03/03/08
Wow! I know very little about South African history and your account of this episode in time is chilling, and an apt example of the the topic. You have a good style of writing and I'll be looking for more of your work. My only suggestion? A little more dialogue to tell your story; it's a very exciting story and would be even more so if the reader were in the moment with the action. There's a lot of impact in this tale!