Black womanism in South Africa

Princess Emma Sandile
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Width: 148CM
Height: 210CM

About the book

Princess Emma, as she became known in colonial circles, was the eldest daughter of the Rharhabe chief Mgolombane Sandile, leader of the Ngqika tribe - western amaXhosa in the 19th Century. This book focuses on the life of Emma Sandile from her early years to her adulthood.

Her story reads like a novel except that it is all true, based on archival sources, press reports and fieldwork. After the Cattle Killing in 1857 Governor Sir George Grey and Bishop Robert Gray planned to educate the children of the Xhosa elite as English gentlemen and women loyal to the Empire. This included Emma and her brother Gonya, Sandile's heir, who were sent to Cape Town in 1858. Emma attended the Anglican Zonnebloem College until 1863; her school mistress described this time in an unpublished journal. In 1859, Grey granted Emma and Gonya farms in the Eastern Cape to cover their schooling, making Emma the first black woman private landowner in Southern Africa.

As the first black woman landowner in Southern Africa, as the earliest black woman writer in English, as the only woman to attend the Land Commission, Emma was one of the pioneers of black womanism in our country.

Her courage in bridging her African tradition and the imposed western culture was without precedence. It is hoped that this window on Emma’s world will give some understanding of the problems involved in religious and social change. Perhaps her courage in fighting for her rights as she weathered the storms of fluctuating fortunes will be an inspiration to those who are following in her footsteps today.

About the author

Janet was born in Retreat, Cape Town, in 1936. She lived in the Cape on farms for the first 50 years of her life. She obtained her BSc Agriculture (cum laude) from Stellenbosch University in1957, an MA in Religious Studies (with distinction) from the University of Cape Town in 1975, followed by a PhD in 1985. She lectured part-time in Religious Studies at UCT while bringing up four children.

Janet's initiation into African Studies took place during her extensive field trips across the Eastern Cape and beyond for her academic work. During this time she had the privilege of listening to the life stories of a wide range of black African women from whom she gained considerable wisdom, insight and knowledge. The oral traditions they shared were of particular importance, the more so as most of them would now be dead. Much of this material was incorporated into her writing and teaching.

Janet spent fourteen years as a mission theologian in Britain This included national work as well as serving as the missioner in the Diocese of Durham. Here too it was her work among the seriously deprived working class women in the North-East of England that made her aware of the prevailing sexist, racist and class-based attitudes within the local communities and the established church. She also spent a year in Canada to research Native American cultural traditions. Once again it was her close association with women from many different Native American nations across the country that enabled her to witness their gender-based subjugation. She also participated in their people's' struggle for justice in trying to recover their homelands.

Having worked in solidarity all her life with women from around the globe who have suffered from oppression based on race, gender and class, Janet comes to us well equipped to narrate the story of Emma Sandile from a fresh perspective. In addition to her numerous academic articles and chapters in anthologies she has published 13 books in England, Canada and South Africa. These have been on a wide variety of subjects ranging from mission to African and Native American studies, indigenous spirituality, liberation theology and biographies.

Despite her fast failing eyesight due from age-related macular degeneration (AMD) she continues to write with sighted assistance from her daughter Carol. She now lives in Somerset West in the Western Cape of South Africa.


“The story of Princess Emma is one that many black women in South Africa today would identify with. Like Emma long ago, they are involved in the struggle for their liberation from forces outside as well as inside their family and community circles.”- Leah Tutu






Chapter 1: Emma’s Early Years

Chapter 2: A College for the Children of African chiefs, 1857–8

Chapter 3: Beginnings at Bishop’s Court, 1858–9

Chapter 4: Fundraising and Farms

Chapter 5: ‘Zonnebloem Is Sunnyflower’, 1860

Chapter 6: The Girls and Their Teachers, 1858–63

Chapter 7: Chief Sandile’s Visit to Cape Town, 1860


Chapter 8: The Bishop and the Bridewealth, 1862–3

Chapter 9: Princess Emma in Grahamstown, 1864

Chapter 10: The Marriage Negotiations, 1864

Chapter 11: Qeya and the Thembu Chiefdom

Chapter 12: Mixed Tidings from Glen Grey

Chapter 13: ‘A Maiden All Forlorn’

Chapter 14: Teacher at St Philip’s Mission, Grahamstown, 1864–7

Chapter 15: ‘Return to the Red Clay’

Chapter 16: Emma’s New World

Chapter 17: Literacy and Land Issues


Chapter 18: The British Takeover

Chapter 19: Sandile’s Last Stand, 1877–8

Chapter 20: Gonya’s Captivity

Chapter 21: Disarmament and Deposition

Chapter 22: Stokwe’s Rebellion, 1880

Chapter 23: Emma’s Farm

Chapter 24: A Great Lady

Photo Gallery

Epilogue: What Became of Emma’s Family



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