William Wellington Gqoba (1840-April 26, 1888), a Xhosa intellectual of the late 19th century, edited the leading Xhosa journal of the day, Isigidimi samaXhosa (“The Xhosa Messenger”), and often contributed to it. In his work, he analyzed the relationship between his Xhosa heritage and white philosophy.
He was born near Gaga, in the Cape Province. He attended Lovedale Mission, near Alice, from 1853 to 1856. He was a talented writer and was fluent in English. After working for some years as a wagon-maker, he worked from 1863-70 as a teacher and interpreter, mostly with the Rev. Tiyo Soga, at Gwali. In about 1870 he married. From 1870 to around 1880, he taught and preached in various parts of the eastern Cape. He also worked as a translator at Kimberley for four years. He then returned to Lovedale to help teach translation classes.
At Lovedale, he wrote essays and poems for Isigidimi. His most famous essays were his account of the Xhosa cattle-killing of 1857, which he had witnessed, and his history of the Zulu conquest of the Xhosa, ImBali yaseMbo (“History of the Northeastern Peoples”).
Gqoba’s most famous poetic allegories were Discussion between the Christian and the Pagan and Great Discussion on Education. These poems show that he doubted the superiority of Christianity and western education, since his “traditional” Xhosa characters built stronger cases than his nominal “heroes.” Perhaps this was because the wars of the 1870s and 1880s contradicted the missionaries’ message of peace, which Gqoba could not support, despite his wish to do so. Other Xhosa writers openly criticized whites in Isigidimi. This alienated the missionaries who controlled the publication, and when Gqoba died it was discontinued.
Gqoba tried to combine elements of two cultures in order to draw Africans and whites together. His attempts were, however, frustrated by the discrepancy between the whites’ philosophy and their actions, and he was not respected by other Xhosa writers because he supported Christianity.
Leonard Leslie Bessant
A.C. Jordan, Towards an African Literature, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California, 1973; Donald E. Herdeck, African Authors: A Companion to Black African Writing: 1300-1973, Washington, D.C.: Black Orpheus Press, 1973; Albert S. Gerard, Four African Literatures: Xhosa, Sotho, Zulu, Amharic, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California, 1971, African Language Literatures, 1981.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Three: South Africa- Botswana-Lesotho-Swaziland. Ed. Keith Irvine. Algonac, Michigan: Reference Publications Inc., 1995. All rights reserved.