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European Traders and the Mpondo Paramountcy, 1878-1886

William Beinart
The Journal of African History
Vol. 20, No. 4, White Presence and Power in Africa (1979), pp. 471-486
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/181773
Page Count: 16
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European Traders and the Mpondo Paramountcy, 1878-1886
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Abstract

For a brief period between about 1878 and 1886, European traders in Eastern Pondoland played an important role in the politics of the chieftaincy. In these years the formerly amicable relationship between the Mpondo chiefs and the Cape Colony broke down. An expansionist colonial government confiscated the Mpondo port at St Johns, took control of an area claimed by the paramountcy, and threatened the political independence of the chiefs. The traders, especially a few larger wholesale firms, allied themselves with the paramount in his struggle to regain his land and port. Some traders feared that colonial encroachments would affect the concessions they had obtained from the paramount and that customs duties charged by the Cape at Port St Johns would undermine their competitiveness. Others, faced with an acute trading depression in 1882-3, sought to increase their share of the Pondoland market and hoped that conflict between the Cape and the Mpondo would stimulate a new boom. The chiefs, on their side, were receptive to the political overtures of the traders. As traders penetrated the area, they began to lose control over production and became increasingly dependent on taxing trade and granting concessions. They had lost confidence in missionary scribes and looked to the traders to provide secretarial skills. Various groups of traders could also give aid in the prosecution of Mpondo diplomacy by supplying firearms, opening negotiations with the imperial authorities, and establishing a new port. The alliance was formed at a specific moment in the penetration of merchant capital into an independent African polity. It serves to illustrate that some traders were prepared to act independently of the colonial powers in order to protect their interests.

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