Alas poor Hintsa, his skull is still missing

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The Independent Online
Chief Nicholas Gcaleka's trip from South Africa to Scotland in February might have been arranged by Max Clifford. His mission was to find the skull of his great-great uncle, the Xhosa King Hintsa, who was killed by George Southey, a military guide of Scots descent, in 1835 during the war between Cape Colony and the Xhosas.

Led by dreams, spirits and historical hunches, Chief Gcaleka arrived at Heathrow's Terminal Two in leopardskins and a blaze of publicity, and announced that South Africa's crime and violence was caused by the headless king, who would only rest in peace once his skull was reunited with the rest of his body.

The chief duly made for Scotland and found a skull that he claimed was the one he was looking for. It had spent years on a shelf in a shed in Inverness belonging to Charles Brooke, who told the world, when the dream- led chief turned up on his 14,000-acre estate, that it had been in his family for 130 years. Triumphant, the chief returned to South Africa.

However, following the results of an examination of the skull announced yesterday, it looks as if the violence in the country will continue for some time yet. The chief's claims had already met with some scepticism. The present Xhosa king, Xolilizwe Sigcau, refused to sanction the planned burial of the skull because he said it was not genuine.

Chief Gcaleka's skull displayed a hole above the right ear and was intact, whereas records indicate Hintsa was shot at point-blank range behind the left ear and his head was shattered. To settle the matter, the king had the skull examined by a forensic scientist. The result could hardly have been worse for Chief Gcaleka.

The scientist announced that the skull was that of a middle-aged European woman. But disappointment in South Africa has been tempered with relief. The mayhem King Hintsa might have caused if Chief Gcaleka's wishes had been fulfilled, and his buried torso had been joined to the head of a white woman, does not bear thinking about.