The Ward System: Redefining chiefly jurisdiction in the Lower Tugela Division (LTD) of Natal, 1906-1909

Presented by
Seminar Date
September 10, 2008
In February 1908, the Governor of Natal, Colonel Sir Mathew Nathan, with the powers bestowed on him by colonial statutes as the ‘Supreme Chief’ of the ‘Native population’, approved the adoption of the ‘Ward System’ in the Lower Tugela Division (LTD). Described by its main proponents as ‘tribal reorganisation’, the intention was to redefine chiefly authority: from ‘personal to territorial.’ Such interference in the Native political establishment, ranging from setting up chiefdoms to destroying them and redefining borders, did not begin or end with the ward system; nor was it a phenomenon confined only to the South of the Tugela River part of the British Empire. Indeed, there was a clear connection between the latest manoeuvre and the events of the 1906 Maphumulo Uprising. The ward system reduced the number of chiefs in the division from nineteen to nine and ultimately eleven. Given the background, it is logical to locate these developments within the context of ‘indirect rule’ and to see the scheme as further attempts to deal with the constant ‘headache’: the ‘Native question.’ However, it is not sufficient to stop there. An analysis of the ward system which merely views it as yet another manoeuvre to control the natives, runs the risk of overlooking the prevailing interconnected conditions and events within the division, the colony and outside informing the ‘tribal readjustment’ in its particular design and implementation. Furthermore, seeing the scheme from a teleological perspective which sees uniformity in colonial administration has the potential to cloud the intended massive political implications of the ward system. Moreover, there is also the danger to miss out on the interconnected conditions making it implementable in the form approved by the Governor and the clear connection between the scheme and the recommendations of the Natal Native Affairs Commission.
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