Nicholas Nawi Tilana Gcaleka, who famously went to Scotland to bring home the skull of King Hintsa in 1996, has passed on at the age of 69.
Gcaleka succumbed to death at the East London hospital on Tuesday January 8 following a short illness. Late in 2018, he was diagnosed with pelvic cancer.
Gcaleka, also known as Mbambatho, believed that spirits and African beliefs can only be tested through indigenous methods instead of empirical methods, so was the case with Hintsa’s head.
Gcaleka was charismatic, outspoken and often challenged mainstream views about African spirituality and chieftaincy.
He also contributed to the re-writing and interpretation of the South African colonial history, including art.
The Hintsa’s skull public spate was turned into a successful and controversial stage drama by Brett Bailey’s in his iMumbo Jumbo production, which premiered at the National Arts Festival in Grahamstown in 1997 and returned in 2003.
In the play, Bailey interprets ‘Gcaleka’s’ spiritually guided mission to retrieve Hintsa’s skull as going against the grain of the rational, secular, westernised worldview.
According to Bailey, Gcaleka challenged the deficit thinking that holds that scientific method is the only way to establish the truth, and labelled those who opposed him as elites, co-opted into the modern western empirical historical method.
At the height of his business success as liquor distributor and salesman in the 90s, he sponsored school kids with free school transport and funded a burial of a destitute family of 5 who tragically died from a bus accident in Fort Beaufort, amongst others.
Gcaleka is survived by his three wives and children, Khanyisa, NoWinkie, Cindy, Sandile, Sivuyile, Mzikayise, Thabile and Ntomoxolo, Mveli, Litha, Nceba, Malibonwe.
The date of the funeral is yet to be set.