For The People

“God is a man on a horse with a gun”

Horses, Guns and Volcanoes: Reconsidering the “Time of Troubles” South Africa, 1780-1840 A public Lecture by Jan-Bart Gewald (African Studies Centre, Leiden University)

Visiting professor of African Studies, Jan-Bart Gewald, hosted a public lecture at the central campus of Sol Plaatje University (SPU) on Friday, 18 October 2019.

The lecture entitled: From the Ashes Reborn: Reconsidering the “Time of Troubles” in Southern Africa in the Context of Global History by Prof. Jan-Bart Gewald from the African Studies Centre, Leiden University, The Netherlands, explores the multiple and complex social, political and economic changes within Southern Africa which led to the “Time of Troubles”. The “Times of Troubles” or Difaqane or Mfecane, which constitutes the period of widespread chaos and warfare among indigenous ethnic communities in Southern Africa  during the period between 1815 and 1840.

Gewald asserts that the “Time of Troubles”/Mfecane is more complex in origin and consequence than the activities of a single man, Shaka Zulu, or a single ethnicity. Mfecane can be better understood in the context of global interactions, allowing us to reconsider the Mfecane in the context of:

  • Population growth brought about by the introduction of New World Crops.
  • Climate change and resulting crop failures brought about by volcanoes, such as Laki in Iceland (1784) and Tambora in Indonesia (1815).
  • Mass-migration brought about by famine.
  • The transition of the Cape in the context of the Global Napoleonic wars.
  • Rapidly industrializing Great Britain, in which massive population growth, mass-migration and professional standing armies were the norm.
  • Mass-migration of Boer settlers from the Cape in the Groot Trek of 1836

According to Gewald, one of the leading causes of upheavals and chaos in Southern Africa was inflicted as a result of guns and gunpowder launched upon spear wielding natives.

Gewald’s paper, drawing on history, archaeology and anthropology, seeks to place this period of Southern African history in a broader global context.

Jan-Bart Gewald is a historian specializing in the social history of Africa. He is a Professor of African History and the Director of the African Studies Centre, Leiden, since September 2017.

His research has ranged from the ramifications of genocide in Rwanda and Namibia, through to the socio-cultural parameters of trans-desert trade in Africa. In addition, he has conducted research on Pan-Africanism in Ghana, spirit possession in the Republic of Niger, Dutch development cooperation, Africa in the context of globalisation, and social history in Eritrea. For the past 15 years his prime research focus has been on the socio-cultural history of central Africa. Of late, he has become interested in the “Animal Turn” in history, and is seeking to apply this in his research and supervision. Furthermore, he has a particular interest in archaeology, and has participated in archaeological research in Southern Africa.

Jan-Bart Gewald has acquired research funding from a wide variety of sources and was awarded research funding by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) for research programmes within the social sciences and humanities that dealt with the role of technology and consumption in African societies.

Not sure how to edit this sentence as it is grammatically correct, however it is void of context. Is it referring to food insecurity/security or arguing that “New World Crops” are a determining factor in the growth of the human population?

Comments are closed, but trackbacks and pingbacks are open.