DNA test fails to identify Zulu rebel prince

Published Oct 11, 2004


The last resting place of the Zulus' elusive "Robin Hood", rebel prince Bhambatha kaMancinza, may remain a secret of the grave.

Last week, DNA tests were unable to prove whether hair and human remains found in a London attic belonged to Bhambatha.

Bhambatha vanished in 1906 after leading Zulu rebels against British troops in the Battle of Mome Gorge in protest against crippling taxes designed to force Zulu men off their land and into working on colonial mines.

Colonial authorities insisted afterwards that they had recovered Bhambatha's decomposing body after the battle, but Zulu nationalists and Bhambatha's family have rejected the official version of the rebel prince's death.

The DNA tests by the South African National Blood Service (SANBS) were designed to prove that a lock of hair found in an English attic belonged to Bhambatha.

The SANBS said the findings were inconclusive because the DNA extracted from the hair was 98 years old and therefore too degraded to be properly verified.

Researchers had hoped to compare the results with blood and hair samples from two of Bhambatha's granddaughters, Esther Velapi Ndlalose and Rejoice Makosazana Dlamini.

The lock of hair was found in 2002 by an English woman, Linda Atkins, in the attic of her house in a trunk belonging to the late Lieutenant-Colonel John Howard Alexander, of the Royal Engineers.

The hair was apparently taken from the head of Bhambatha's corpse, which colonial historians insist was found three days after the battle. The head was placed in a saddlebag and taken to Nkandla, where it was supposedly identified by a description of Bhambatha's features.

Descendants claim this was nothing more than British propaganda designed to squash the rebellion.

They insist that Bhambatha did not die at the battle of Mome Gorge, but escaped to Mozambique, where he started a family before returning to the Ngome forest to die in a secret location. They could be right.

The late Natal historian, Theo Binns, reported that many community leaders believed that Bhambatha had escaped. This is despite a photograph which appeared in the contemporary Nongqai magazine, depicting a skull mounted on a raised and polished shield purporting to be that of Bhambatha.

Family spokesperson Oscar Zondi said last week that the inconclusive DNA results "proved what we have known all along. Bhambatha did not die at Mome. Whoever was beheaded was not Bhambatha."

Zondi said it was important to establish where he was buried. "His spirit must be laid to rest. This has been a thorn in our flesh for a long time."

This week, Bhambatha's descendants plan to meet local government officials in Greytown, KwaZulu Natal, to petition for an expedition to

Mamba in Mozambique, where Bhambatha is believed to have descendants.

They have contacted the Mozambican consul in Durban, and plan to have the expedition coincide with the Mome Gorge battle centenary celebrations in 2006.

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