Ntsiko, Jonas A.
Reverend Jonas A. Ntsiko (c1860-1915) was a poet, a hymn composer and a catechist who became famous as a literary commentator in the pages of the IsiXhosa newspaper Isigidimi SamaXhosa, using the pseudonym Uhadi Waseluhlangeni (the Harp of the Nation), during the 1880s.
Reverend Ntsiko was born around 1860, attended mission schools in the Cape Colony and became a teacher and preacher at St. John’s Mission Station near Umtata.
Ntsiko was also a hymn composer, contributing 19 out of the 130 hymns in the Xhosa Hymn Book published in Grahamstown in 1881. A talented writer, with intellectual integrity and frankness, he upbraided the Christian church for hypocrisy and criticized the policy of the Cape settler controlled government. During the final wars of dispossession in the 1880s, unlike most Kholwa (Christian converts), Ntsiko refused to condemn African rulers indiscriminately in their struggle to retain their peoples’ independence.
In 1884 one of his articles was rejected by the editor of Isigidimi, William W. Gqoba, because it was “too hostile to British rule.” This episode led to the demise of the paper’s popularity among African readers. Many of Ntsiko’s articles were never published and are still in manuscript form in the library at Umtata.
Ntsiko was one of the early independent African thinkers who were Kholwa. Up to this time, the Kholwa intellectuals supported the actions of the Christian white government, cheered the colonial armies and criticized African rulers. Ntsiko was a pioneer, breaking away from this sycophantic mold. In 1884 he expressed his disillusionment with Christianity in a poem which epitomized the dilemma of the Kholwa:
Some thoughts till now ne’er spoken
Make shreds of my innermost being,
And the cares and fortunes of my kin
Still journey with me to the grave.
I turn my back on the many shames
That I see from day to day;
It seems we march to our very grave
Encircled by a smiling Gospel.
For what is this Gospel?
And what salvation?
The shade of a fabulous ghost
That we try to embrace in vain.
C. Tsehloane Keto
Donald E. Herdeck, African Authors: A Companion to Black African Writing 1300-1973, Washington, 1973.
Jahn Janheinz, Ulla Schild and Almut Nordmann, Who’s Who in African Literature: Biographies, Works and Commentaries, Tubingen, 1972.
A.C. Jordan, “Towards an African Literature: XI, The Harp of the Nation,” Africa South 4 (January-March 1960).
Daniel P. Kunene and Randall A. Kirsh, The Beginning of South African Vernacular Literature, Los Angeles, 1967.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Three: South Africa- Botswana-Lesotho-eswatini. Ed. Keith Irvine. Algonac, Michigan: Reference Publications Inc., 1995. All rights reserved.