Chief heading for trouble over skull of murdered tribal king

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The Independent Online
ROBERT BLOCK

Johannesburg

Chief Nicholas Tilana Gcaleka, perhaps the most publicised headhunter of all time, is in big headhunter trouble.

Less than one week after his triumphant return to South Africa from Scotland with what he claimed was the 161-year-old skull of King Hintsa - the Xhosa ruler killed by British-led forces in 1835 - Chief Gcaleka has been accused of being a fake and liar by tribal elders.

The chief responded yesterday by calling on President Nelson Mandela and the Anglican Archbishop, Desmond Tutu, to come to his aid.

The controversy over Chief Gcaleka's find in Inverness last week reached fever pitch when the present Xhosa king, Xolilizwe Sigcau, and his court refused to sanction the planned burial of the skull because they said it was not the disembodied head of Hintsa. The king said that Chief Gcaleka's skull displayed a bullet hole above the right ear and was intact, whereas the historical record indicated Hintsa was shot at point-blank range behind the left ear and his head was shattered.

The king called on South Africans not to be fooled by Chief Gcaleka. Adding insult to injury, the king then said that Chief Gcaleka had acted without proper authority and was not even a member of Hintsa's clan and therefore had no business getting involved. Chief Gcaleka says that he is the great-great nephew of Hintsa and was called on by the spirits of his ancestors to go to Scotland to find Hintsa's head.

There is no historical evidence that Hintsa was decapitated, although his body was mutilated; his ears were supposedly cut off and some teeth pried out by British soldiers in the Sixth Frontier war.

Until now the chief has refused to allow a forensic examination of the skull on the grounds that the ancestors "could be angry" at such undignified treatment of the king's remains. He said at the weekend he still planned to bury the skull on 12 May - the 161st anniversary of the king's murder - at a grave site beside the Nqabara river, where Hintsa died.

But Chief Gcaleka's call for help yesterday to President Mandela - who has lent his moral support to the chief's mission - and Archbishop Tutu was viewed by many Xhosa experts as an act of desperation.

Jimmy Matyu, a Xhosa journalist in the eastern Cape, said before the chief left that he was playing with a highly emotive issue which could backfire if he found anything but the legitimate head of Hintsa. "If he doesn't bring back the real thing or tries to fool people, they will be crying for Gcaleka's head instead," Mr Matyu said.

t The trial of the former defence minister General Magnus Malan and 19 co-defendants for 13 apartheid-era murders was postponed for a week yesterday in order to give the defence time to study amended charges.

The delay was welcomed by General Malan. "We've got a good case, we've got a good judge. That's why I'm smiling, my conscience is clear."

The indictment says General Malan and the other former senior officers accused were involved in a covert operation to turn the Inkatha Zulu movement against the African National Congress. The operation is alleged to have led to the massacre of 13 people in 1987.

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