Gquma, also known as Bessie, was a South African traditional aristocrat and the Wife of Paramount Chief Sango of the Tshomane, she served as a queen of the Mpondo Kingdom, one of the kingdoms in what is now the Eastern Cape.
Gquma’s story begins around the year 1736 when, at the tender age of seven, she found herself washed ashore Lambasi Bay on the Wild Coast of the Eastern Cape. She was a castaway, the survivor of a shipwreck that left her alone on the unfamiliar South African coastline. It was the AmaMpondo people who found her, and they bestowed upon her the name “Gquma,” meaning “The Roar of the Sea.”
Gquma quickly endeared herself to her adoptive community. She embraced the local culture, adorning herself with necklaces, beadwork, seashells, and bangles. Her love for ornamentation became one of her trademarks. Beyond her outward appearance, she was known for her wisdom and keen intellect.
As Gquma reached marriageable age, she became a sought-after bride among noble families. She eventually married Tshomane, the paramount chief of the Mpondo clan and the son of Matoyi, who was the ruler of the AmaMpondo. Tragically, Tshomane passed away shortly after their marriage. However, Gquma’s story took another unexpected turn when she married his successor, Sango, solidifying her position as a queen.
During her time as the consort of Sango, Gquma ruled alongside him with grace and wisdom. Her influence was significant, even by the standards of her era. It was during her reign that the merchant vessel “the Grosvenor” ran aground on the shore of their territory on 4 August 1782 about 40 years after her own ship wrecked.
The Grosvenor was on a return voyage to England when she was wrecked, carrying a crew of 132 and 18 passengers. According to written history, 18 out of the 123 survivors reached Cape Town and at least one of its passengers is thought to have joined the Tshomanes, possibly through the influence of Gquma while others were eventually repatriated back to England.
Gquma’s reign was marked by her weighty counsel and deep compassion. Upon her passing, she was one of the few women in the tribe to receive an ancestral praise name, a testament to her enduring influence and significance.
Her legacy lives on through her descendants, who went on to establish a far-reaching dynasty that includes connections to Mpondo, Xhosa, and Thembu royalty, as well as Afro-Europeans and Camissa Africans, also known as “Coloured” people.