Nongqawuse (1842-1898)—or Nonquase

Sy was ‘n blote kind, baie beskryf die doodmaak van vee as “selfmoord”, want heelwat swartes het hierna geen kos gehad nie.  Geskiedenis herhaal self in Afrika en elders.  En dis presies wat op die Clifton strand ook gebeur het in 2018 waartydens misdaad gebruik word as ‘n rassistiese foefie (vals vlag) en gebruik word om blankes aan te val en moordliedjies te sing.

0Z4A9677 1857- nongkause/nongqawuse, xhosa prophetess who … | Flickr


Clifton South Africa


Trekboere en die Xhosa


The “vision” took hold among the desperate people, who followed her orders.   By February 1857 more than 200 000 cattle had been slaughtered and left to rot. All the summer crops had been burnt.  The allotted day dawned and nothing happened. The weakened population began to starve and within a few months more than a third of the entire Xhosa people had died of starvation and disease.



Driving Whites into the Sea: History of the ‘Great Delusion’

In the eastern Cape, land of the Xhosa, fighting often characterized the relationships between the various larger clans like the Gcaleka, the Bomvana, and the Tembu. The Tembu (from whose ranks would arise Nelson Mandela) were at one stage threatened with war by the British authorities after their inkosi enkhulu (“paramount chief”) Gangelizwe Qeya (1840-1884) murdered a Gcaleka woman. But these, and the smaller tribes which inhabited that area of the country (including the Pondos, Pondomise, Cele, Xesibe and Fengu) soon faced an unexpected phenomenon—in the form of a young girl: who would be partly responsible for the devastation of their land and people which would destroy them as a military force and even threaten their very existence.

Nongqawuse (1842-1898)—or Nonquase, as the whites called her—was only 14 years old when she managed to convince her people to commit what amounted to national suicide. In 1856, the rather plain-looking, uncharismatic young girl was sitting staring into a pool of water along side the Gxara River, when she allegedly saw a vision of her Gcaleka ancestors. They told her, in her vision, that they were prepared to return, and drive the hated white men back into the sea from whence they had come, but first, as an act of supreme faith in their ability to achieve this, the Xhosa would have to kill all of their own cattle and consume all their own crops. Those tribesmen who refused would be magically transformed into frogs, mice and even ants, and then blown into the sea themselves, by a powerful whirlwind conjured up by their ancestors.

Nonquase told her uncle, the village sangoma (“witch doctor”) about her vision, and he, duly impressed, approached the tribal chiefs with her in tow. There, she repeated what she had “seen” in her vision and her uncle added his own notion that “the Russians” (whose army he had presumably heard had recently engaged England in the Crimean War), would arrive timeously to assist the Xhosa in driving out the whites. Of course, due to his scant knowledge of the world outside of the eastern Cape, Nonquase’s uncle did not realize that the Russians were themselves “white” men.

Delighted at the prospect of ridding the land of the whites, the
Xhosa enthusiastically set about slaughtering their own herds,
killing an estimated 200,000 beasts. Great feasts were held—
and for the rest of that year, they partied as if there was no
tomorrow. They soon consumed all their own crops, winter
arrived, and they continued feasting on their cattle. Spring arrived, and they did not bother to plant any crops; convinced that they would never have to work again—once they “inherited” the fat herds and grain stores of the whites (whom they believed would be driven back to the sea whence they had come). Summer came, and their fated day of destiny, February 18, 1857, finally dawned.

Their teenage “seer” had confidently predicted that a blood-red sun would rise that day—but would stand still above the sea, and then change course and immediately set in the east, and the hated whites would flounder and drown in the waves; leaving all their wealth to the Xhosas.

As the sun rose on that fateful day, her people sat waiting expectantly, but the sun continued along its normal course through the summer sky high above them, and finally set—in the west, as it ever had since creation. Darkness fell on the ruined Xhosa tribe. Starvation soon stalked the land, and the sight of skeletal tribesmen and their families flooding into the settler towns begging for food from the whites, became commonplace (and the theft of cattle and crops became more frequent). Despite the best efforts of the kind-hearted whites in feeding the starving Xhosas from their own, rapidly depleting stores, that self-induced famine claimed the lives of 55,000 Xhosas—about half of their entire tribe! This became known as “The Great Cattle-Killing Delusion.”

Nonquase, understandably unpopular by that stage, fled to King William’s Town for refuge, and the British authorities arrested and then shipped her off to Robben Island, for her own safety. She could not have known that a little over a century later, one of her own tribesmen, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (whose middle name “Shake the Tree” colloquially, meant “troublemaker”) would also be incarcerated on that very same bleak, rocky outcrop in the sea overlooked by Table Mountain.

Mandela would be imprisoned for, amongst many other charges, attempting to start a war that would also—his supporters hoped—drive the whites back into the sea; leaving to the blacks all their wealth, homes and farms; free for the taking. He too, although ultimately more successful in his endeavors, would in a remarkable twist of fate, also look to Russia for assistance.

Such were the recurring themes and cycles of life and death on the African continent. The Xhosa tribe, though devastated by the self-induced famine, would rise again, and ultimately, one of their own sons, a royal of the Tembu clan, would become the first black president of a future & “new” South Africa. [Extract (abridged) from BULALA by Cuan Elgin]

Hier word ook gepraat van Suid-Afrika, terwyl daar nog geen Suid-Afrika was nie, net Britse kolonies.  Dus word alle vooruitgang, veral voedsel ook, vernietig, sodat misdaad kan toeneem – wie wen hier?  die regering wat alles beheer.   Die Xhosa stamme het oor die algemeen hul eie vee doodgemaak en mekaar uitgewis.

Cattle in South Africa.

One morning in 1856, a fifteen year old Xhosa girl named Nongqawuse went with another girl to scare birds from her uncle’s crops in the fields by the sea at the Gxarha river mouth in the present day Wild Coast area of South Africa.

When she returned she said that she had seen a man, who had told her that ‘The whole community would rise from the dead; that all cattle now living must be slaughtered’. The girls returned home and told their families what had happened but they were not believed. Later, however, when Nongqawuse described one of the men, her uncle Mhalakaza, himself a diviner, recognised the description as that of his dead brother, and became convinced she was telling the truth.As a result, between April 1856 and June 1857, the various sections of the Xhosa people of the Eastern Cape and the Transkei slaughtered almost all their enormous stocks of cattle and deliberately killed their crops.

This apocalyptic event, rather than being some kind of ‘mass suicide’s described by early colonial historians, was actually the earliest example of a mass ‘passive resistance’ movement in South Africa. The themes and symbols of the Cattle-Killing can be found in the various resistance movements of South Africa right into the modern era.

Nongqawuse and Mhalakaza said that those who had appeared to them were the spirits of their dead ancestors, who had come back to life in order to bring the Xhosa nation back to its former glory  and to ‘render the Xhosa the assistance they required in order to drive the white man out of the land’.

A few days later Mhalakaza met with the spirits himself, and said that all the dead of the Xhosa nation would arise again, that they would come up out of the sea, bringing with them new and uncontaminated cattle, along with ‘sheep, goats, dogs, fowls and every other animal that was wanted, and all clothes and everything they could wish for to eat. . .  and all kinds of things for their houses.’

The cattle, said Nongqawuse, were at present in underground caverns waiting to arise and start a new world for the purified Xhosa people. On the day of their coming, she promised, ‘the blind would see, the deaf would hear, cripples would walk, and the whole Xhosa nation would arise from the dead’ and begin a golden age without disease, death or misfortune.

As word of the prophecies grew, the Xhosa paramount chief, Sarhili,  sent emissaries to the Gxarha river mouth to investigate the prophecies. They did not actually meet the strangers, but returned home convinced of the truth of the prophecies and immediately began killing their cattle. Sarhili then sent two of his councillors to notify the chiefs under British jurisdiction that they must sacrifice their ‘bewitched’ cattle. Once Sarhili had come out in support, the movement gained enormous momentum.

But not all the Xhosa killed their cattle. Many refused to believe the truth of the prophecies and refused to waste their corn and neglect their gardens. By the end of 1856, so many cattle had been killed that the adherents of the movement had gone too far to turn back. Searching for a reason why the dead had not been resurrected as the prophecies promised, they blamed the ‘selfish’ actions of the ‘Unbelievers’ in preserving their cattle.

As the Cattle-Killing frenzy swept Xhosaland, rumours flew. The most striking of these was that the ‘New People’ foretold by Nongqawuse were in some way connected to the Russians, against whom the British were currently fighting -and being defeated -in the Crimean War. The Russians were therefore believed to be black, and coming over the sea to liberate the Xhosa and drive the whites into the sea, whereupon a new Utopia for the nation would begin.

By February 1857 , starvation and destitution was widespread. No definite date had as yet been set for the beginning of the New World, and so many cattle had been killed there was no sense in keeping those that remained alive.Sarhili visited the Gxarha river mouth, and spoke with Nongqawuse and Mhalakaza for a long time. When he returned, he announced that the New World would begin in eight days. On the eighth day the sun would rise blood-red, before setting again, there would be a huge Thunderstorm, and then “The dead would arise”. During the next eight days the Cattle- Killing rose to a climax. The Xhosa historian Gqoba  reported that on the eighth day – ” The sun rose just like any other sun. The Believers withdrew into their houses all day, fastened tightly behind their doors, peeping outside occasionally through little holes in their dwellings until the sun disappeared.




The catastrophe was aggravated by Sir George Grey , the colonial governor, who took advantage of the cattle-killing to break the power of the Xhosa, which had checked colonial expansion for more than eighty years. Grey dispersed the starving Xhosa to slave-like labor among the white colonists and imprisoned the Xhosa chiefs on the pretext that they were trying to incite war against the colony. More than 600,000 acres of Xhosa land was alienated for white settlement in the immediate hinterland of the South African city of East London.

Nongqawuse’s prophecies were embraced by the overwhelming majority of the Xhosa people. They had been militarily defeated by the British during the long and bloody Eighth Frontier War (1850–1853). Even worse, they had seen their cattle herds decimated by the alien disease of bovine lung sickness, thus giving credence to the prophetic message that “they have all been wicked and everything belonging to them is therefore bad.”

A small minority of Xhosa, known as the amagogotya (stingy ones), refused to slaughter, and this refusal was used by Nongqawuse to rationalize the failure of the prophecies over a period of fifteen months (April 1856–June 1857). By the time hope was finally abandoned, the Xhosa had lost over 400,000 cattle, as well as all their corn and seed corn for the coming season. An estimated 40,000 people starved to death, and the survivors streamed into the small colonial towns of the Eastern Cape in search of food and work.

Nongqawuse – The Xhosa Cattle Killings of 1856-57



A substantial minority, perhaps 15 per cent of all Xhosa, refused to obey the prophetess Nongqawuse’s orders to kill their cattle and destroy their corn.

This divided Xhosaland into two parties, the amathamba (‘soft’ ones, or believers) and the amagogotya (‘hard’ ones, or unbelievers). The affiliation of individuals was partly determined by a number of factors – lungsickness in cattle, political attitude towards the Cape Colony, religious beliefs, kinship, age and gender – but a systematic analysis of each of these factors in turn suggests that none of them was sufficiently important to constitute the basis of either party. The key to understanding the division lies in an analysis of the indigenous Xhosa terms ‘soft’ and ‘hard’. ‘Softness’ in Xhosa denotes the submissiveness of the individual to the common will of the community, whereas ‘hardness’ denotes the determination of the individual to pursue his own ends, even at communal expense. Translated into social terms, the ‘soft’ believers were those who remained committed to the mutual aid ethic of the declining precolonial society, whereas the ‘hard’ unbelievers were those who sought to seize advantage of the new opportunities offered by the colonial presence to increase their wealth and social prominence.

The conflict between the social and personal imperatives was well expressed by Chief Smith Mhala, the unbelieving son of a believing father, when he said, ‘They say I am killing my father – so I would kill him before I would kill my cattle.’ Certainly, the division between amathamba and amagogotya ran much deeper than the division between belief and unbelief, and the Xhosa, in conferring these names, seem to have recognized the fact.

xhosa map 1800.PNG



These wars occurred on the eastern border of the Cape Colony between the Cape government and the Xhosa tribes

1856 was a bad year for some of the Xhosa tribes.

It was about three years after the 8th Frontier War – one of the most severe. Their lands had been taken by the British, drought had withered their crops, and their cattle were dying of a mysterious disease – Lung Sickness. These tribes were desperate and hope came in the form of a prophecy from a young girl called Nongqawuse.

Related image

She received word from spirits of the ancestors who instructed her to pass on the following prediction:

The dead would arise;
all living cattle would have to be slaughtered, having been reared by contaminated hands;
cultivation would cease;
new grain would have to be dug;
new houses would have to be built;
new cattle enclosures would have to be erected;
new milk sacks would have to be made;
doors would have to be weaved with buka roots and lastly;
that people abandon witchcraft, incest and adultery.

By February 1857 more than 200 000 cattle had been slaughtered and all the summer crops burnt.

The were ready for the allotted day of 18 February 1857. The day came and nothing happened. A small minority of Xhosa, known as the amagogotya(stingy ones), refused to believe in the prophecy and did not participate in the preparations. Nongqawuse used this refusal to rationalise the failure of the prophecies.

The tribes were weakened and began to starve and within a few months more than a third of had died of starvation and disease.

The British Governor of the Cape started a labour ‘recruitment’ programme and transported thousands of Xhosa across the border into Cape Colony. At the same time the trekboer and the British settlers who were the ones actively fighting the Cape Frontier Wars supported the survivors who streamed into their small colonial towns, with food and work.

The estimated figure of those who died as result of the cattle-killing stands at 40,000 (out of about 90,000).

Nongqawuse herself survived, although several of her family members starved to death. She was arrested by the British authorities and imprisoned on Robben Island. Shortly afterwards she was released after which she assumed another name and took up residence a remote farm near the town of Alexandria until her death in 1898.

Een gedagte oor “Nongqawuse (1842-1898)—or Nonquase”

Laat 'n boodskap

Verskaf jou besonderhede hieronder of klik op 'n logo om in te teken: Logo

Jy lewer kommentaar met jou rekening by Log Out /  Verander )

Facebook photo

Jy lewer kommentaar met jou rekening by Facebook. Log Out /  Verander )

Connecting to %s