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HSRC Press :: History, Humanities & Liberation :: The Deaths of Hintsa

The Deaths of Hintsa 

The Deaths of Hintsa

Postapartheid South Africa and the shape of recurring pasts

Premesh Lalu

Format198mm x 148mm (Soft Cover)
ISBN 100-7969-2230-0
ISBN 13978-07969-2233-5
Publish Year2009
RightsWorld Rights
DescriptionRelated ProductsEmail To A FriendProduct RatingCustomer Reviews

The Deaths of Hintsa :: Postapartheid South Africa and the shape of recurring pastsFree DownloadThe Deaths of Hintsa :: Postapartheid South Africa and the shape of recurring pasts
PodcastTwo years into the transition to democratic rule in South Africa, a little-known healer-diviner, Nicholas Tilana Gcaleka, stumbled onto the stage of history. He claimed to have brought the skull of Xhosa king Hintsa back to South Africa from Scotland, where he said he had traced it. Amidst a flurry of media attention, the skull was confiscated from Gcaleka and handed to a team of scientists to “prove” its authenticity. They declared the cranium was that of a human female, and definitely not Hintsa. Gcaleka was proclaimed, at least, laughable, and at worst, a liar. This event therefore poses the question: is South African history developing an authentic new discourse or is it stuck in the colonial archive? Through mining a rich field of research, from colonial archival material to contemporary museum exhibitions, Lalu states in his book 'The Deaths of Hintsa: Postapartheid South Africa and the shape of recurring pasts' that overcoming apartheid has required coming to terms not only with the effects of history, but with the discourse of history itself. Hear the views of Professor Lalu, along with those of historians Leslie Witz and Ciraj Rassool, in this podcast.

Duration: 9 min 10 sec


In 1996, as South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission was beginning its hearings, Nicholas Gcaleka, a healer diviner from the town of Butterworth in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa, set off on a journey to retrieve the skull of Hintsa, the Xhosa king. Hintsa had been killed by British troops on the banks of the Nqabarha River over a century and a half before and, it was widely believed, been beheaded. From a variety of quarters including the press, academia and Xhosa traditional leadership Gcaleka's mission was mocked and derided.

Following the tracks of Nicholas Gcaleka, author Lalu explores the reasons for the almost incessant laughter that accompanied these journeys into the past. He suggests that the sources of derision can be found in the modes of evidence established by colonial power and the way they elide the work of the imagination. These forms and structures of knowledge in the discipline of history later sustained the discourse of apartheid.

The Deaths of Hintsa argues for a post-colonial critique of apartheid and for new models for writing histories. It offers a reconceptualisation of the colonial archive and suggests a blurring of the distinction between history and historiography as a way to set to work on forging a history after apartheid.

List of Illustrations
Introduction: thinking ahead

1. Colonial modes of evidence and the grammar of domination
2. Mistaken identity
3. The properties of facts or how to read with a grain of salt
4. Reading 'Xhosa' historiography
5. The border and the body: post-phenomenological reflections on the borders of apartheid
6. History after apartheid

About the Author/s

Premesh Lalu is Professor of History at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). He is also Director of the Centre of Humanities Research and convenes the Programme on the Study of the Humanities in Africa at UWC. Lalu is also Trustee of the District Six Museum.


Professor Leslie Witz, History Department, University of the Western Cape

"Lalu's unique and pathbreaking approach impels those who are interested in trying to understand South African pasts to question their frameworks and assumptions. It is a book that can change history."

John Mowitt, University of Minnesota an author of Re-takes: Postcoloniality and Foreign Film Landscapes

“Lalu brilliantly weaves together recent themes of western critical theory – the problem of historical agency, the power of discourse, the contradictions of postcolonial nationalisms, among others – with instructively disputed ‘facts’ about the past and present in South Africa.”

Dipesh Chakrabarty, Lawrence A. Kimpton Distinguished Service Professor, University of Chicago

“Premesh Lalu’s quest for a post-apartheid history results in a fascinating series of engagements with archival material, postcolonial theory, and the writings of the Subaltern Studies Collective. Scrupulously grounded in South African history, Lalu’s text crosses disciplines and national boundaries with admirable ease.”



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