The effect of the Bulhoek Massacre on Nontetha's fate

The Bulhoek Massacre had a persistent impact on government attitudes to prophetic movements and African spiritual leaders.

"The memory of the Bulhoek Massacre of May 1921 was still vividly etched in the minds of government officials, who were anxious to nip Nontetha's movement in the bud before it escalated into a greater threat.

"The Bulhoek massacre left an indelible imprint on official attitudes toward prophetic movements. That is why despite the fact that some officials recognised the redeeming features of Nontetha's movement, the perception of an anti-white message on her part set off alarms and convinced factions in the government that if she were not removed from the scene, her movement could mushroom into even more of a menace. No official wanted to be scapegoated if Nontetha and her followers proved to be an embarrassment to the government.
No official wanted to be scapegoated if Nontetha and her followers proved to be an embarrassment to the government.

"This apprehension on the part of many white officials, especially the police, grew into such a consuming security psychosis that sounding the tocsin of Bulhoek was all that was needed to override other considerations.

"Writing about Nontetha and her adherents, the Superintendent of Natives at Berlin stated: 'Their persuasion is identical with that of the Israelites, which ended so drastically at Bull Hoek.'"

- Robert R. Edgar and Hilary Sapire. 2000. African apocalypse: The Story of Nontetha Nkwenkwe, a twentieth-century South African prophet, pp. 23-24


The nervous native commissioner

In a letter to the Secretary for Native Affairs in Pretoria, the Chief Native Commissioner refers to Nontetha as the "Israelite" prophetess. The letter is dated November 22, 1926.

• See an: image of the original letter.

Application for passes by followers of the Israelite prophetess "Nontetha"

In forwarding the enclosed copy of a minute from the Magistrate, King William's Town, I have to report that the ten applications for passes to which he refers are part of a larger project for a general "Pilgrimage of Grace" from neighbouring districts. Five applications have been made from the Newlands Location, East London, and others may be expected from Queenstown and elsewhere.

The applicants have interviewed me, and are men to whom I should certainly grant passes as individuals if they were travelling on ordinary business. They propose, however, to walk all the way to Pretoria and carry with them food for the whole expedition. They are to be accompanied by women - I have the names of two.

"Nonteta" has a very powerful influence still, some of which is good, e.g. in favour of strict teetotalism, even from Kaffir beer. But on the political side her teaching is entirely opposed to Government, and to any form of progress.
On the political side her teaching is entirely opposed to Government, and to any form of progress

The pilgrims would start without money and would very likely require assistance at some stage or other.

The applicants have been told to return in ten days' time to hear the Government's decision.

I think it very undesirable to grant any facilities for the pilgrimage, but submit the matter for favour of instructions.

- National Archives, Pretoria: BAO 6605 11/328

back to the Nontetha Nkwenkwe memorial page

"Nontetha is walking in a trance, eyes closed, waiting on the word of God"
Lynnley Watson
Nontetha Nkwenkwe, painted by Lizo Pemba
Picture: Courtesy of the church of the prophetess Nontetha


In this lesson plan, learners are asked to decide whether the prophetess Nontetha was incarcerated because the authorities thought she was mentally ill, or whether they had political reasons for branding her as mad. Learners will be examining a medical report, letters from Nontetha's followers and the response from the Native Affairs Department.

Lesson plan
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Images from Notetha Nkwenkwe's life
A selection of images from Nontetha Nkwenkwe’s life and of the memorial to the prophetess outside the King William’s Town magistrate’s court.
The reburial of prophetess Nontetha
In 1935, the prophetess Nontetha Nkwenkwe died at Weskoppies mental hospital where she had been incarcerated for preaching politically incendiary messages in the Eastern Cape. Fifty-three years later, in 1998, after a long search for her grave, she was re