The Pilgrimages of Grace

Nontetha's followers organised several "pilgrimages of grace" to Pretoria to be nearer to her and to lobby for her release.

Newspaper reports

A mad prophetess

Followers trek to Pretoria

• Also see images of the original article: Page 1 | Page 2

About eighteen women and eighteen men arrived in Pretoria yesterday from the Cape, whence they started out on foot on November 23 for the purpose of visiting Nonteta, the Israelite prophetess, a Xhosa woman at present an inmate of the Mental Hospital. Some years ago she was the leader of a native movement in the Cape, near King Williamstown. This movement resembled in many respects the Israelite movement, which resulted in the Bullhoek affair. Nonteta was found to be mentally deranged, and was removed to the Mental Hospital at the capital. Her following number several hundreds at the Cape, and her thirty-six visitors have trekked up to the Transvaal with the avowed intent of obtaining her release from the Mental Hospital, but it is not expected that their hopes will be realised.

The movement of which Nonteta is the leader is not approved of by the Government on account of its politics. It is opposed to the white races, but in some other respects their tenets are fairly sound. They are definitely opposed to the sale of Kaffir beer, and have strong temperance convictions, but the church comes under the ban of their disapproval, their view being that that body is a money-making concern. On political grounds their teaching is entirely against the Government and, indeed, to any form of progress. They predict that the Day of Judgment may be expected at any time. [- Reuter]

- Daily Dispatch, January 14, 1927. Newspaper clipping. National Archives, Pretoria: BAO 6605 11/328


"Prophetess" among philistines

Native follower's passive resistance

To rescue Nonteta, their prophetess, from the hands of the "Philistines", her followers have shown that they are prepared to endure insults, hardships and tribulation, and are now busy in demonstrating to the authorities in Pretoria the extent to which they are prepared to sacrifice personal comfort and convenience for the sake of what is to them an ideal.

Nonteta, as already reported in the "Rand Daily Mail", is in the Pretoria Mental Asylum, and recently 36 of her followers arrived from Kingwilliamstown, having walked all the way, to try to secure her release.

The authorities have proved adamant, and the latest development in this curious battle is the adoption of passive resistance tactics by Nonteta's followers. They definitely refuse to leave Pretoria until Nonteta is released.

As a result, twelve were arrested and charged under the pass-laws on Monday, being fined £1 each, the sentence to be suspended for 24 hours on condition that they left Pretoria. Late yesterday afternoon the period of suspension terminated, but they were still in Pretoria.

They will now be arrested, and will probably be charged under the Urban Areas Act.

- Rand Daily Mail, February 10, 1927. Newspaper clipping. National Archives, Pretoria: BAO 6605 11/328


Arrest of native pilgrims

Stopped by police on Free State border

Aliwal North, Tuesday - This morning the Mtetes, chanting hymns, made a procession through the town preliminary to crossing to the Free State. A crowd of natives accompanied them to the river, and a number of Europeans crossed to the other side to see what happened when the natives arrived in Free State territory. The District Commandant of Police warned the Mtetes, but they persisted in crossing the river.

A dozen police constables waiting on the Free State side stopped the procession. The Commandant asked the men for their passes. As they did not have any, they were placed under arrest. The women, however, were told they could proceed, as they did not require passes.

The whole gathering returned across the bridge to the police station, where the men were charged with being without passes. Thus ended the Mtete pilgrimage, which for the last two weeks has been held up here. The Mtetes are still determined to proceed in spite of the authorities.


The Mtetes appeared before the Magistrate today and were each sentenced to pay a fine of 50s or serve 30 days in prison. The fines were not paid. - Reuter

The Mtetes set out from Queen's Town a few weeks ago with Pretoria as their goal. The object of their pilgrimage was to secure the release of their "prophetess", who is at present in an asylum.

- Cape Times, March 12, 1930. Newspaper clipping. 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