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Nongqawuse - Prophetess of Doom

Nongqawuse, who was born in the Kentani district and raised by her uncle (Mhlakaza a famed spirit-medium) was fourteen years old when she was sitting on a rock at a pool near the Gxara River. She then saw the faces of her ancestors appearing in the pool. They told her that they would drive all the white settlers out of the country. A huge wind would come up and blow all the settlers into the sea. But first, as an act of faith to prove their belief in the world of the spirits, the Xhosa would have to kill all their cattle and destroy all their crops. 

The Xhosa paramount chief Sarili was convinced of the truth of her prophecy and ordered his subordinate chiefs and those under British rule to slaughter their cattle.

Over a period of ten months the Gcaleka and other Xhosa clans killed their livestock (it is estimated that the Gcaleka killed some 300 000 to 400 000 head of cattle) and burned their crops until they had nothing left but their family.

Nongqawuse was subsequently arrested by the British near the Mbashe River and imprisoned on Robben Island, near Cape Town. After several years she was returned to a farm in the district of Alexandria in the eastern Cape. She died in 1898.

Sir George Grey, the Cape Governor used the situation to his advantage, dispossessing Sarili and his people, and giving the land to white settlers and the Mfengu people.

Today it is believed that she was under instruction from her uncle, Mhlakaza (in cooperation with Chief Sarili or Sir George Grey), to reveal a millenarian prophecy and thus influence the future of the Xhosa.

Today, the valley where Nongqawuse met the spirits is still called Intlambo kaNongqawuse (Xhosa for River of Nongqawuse).


We African religious Xhosa people all know that ancestors appears to alive people only through dreams/ ithongo, so someone dreams in a deep sleep. This story says Nogqawuse was SITING on the rock near river pool isiziba (where some clan's ancestory found) and there was/is no one able to see ancestors phisically.

My question is; Was Nongqawuse alive or asleep by that time? I also wonder what she was doing at the river?

Posted by:

Am sorry people but i dnt believe the story niether the prophecy, i would like to know more about the Nongqawuse.

Posted by: Mbikazi

I agree that this is a good story and amazing history, but my question is why this has not been written in Xhosa as it is about the Xhosa people.

Posted by: yonelaG

This is a distorted story, told by whom / written by whom? This can't be a good story, people died. The question is " Who was behind this? as Nongqawuse was still an initiate under Mhlakaza. I believe that the elders were not so dumb to do such a thing, but might had been forced by the so called chief Sarhili and his sub ordinates, who had befriended whites then.
Another question is, "Where the no other prophets, older than Nongqawuse?"
Why did the ancestors chose the little initiate for such a huge task while the were others older/wiser than her?
I don't believe this.
Let us check how other religions were introduced to us. It is sad than the Xhosas were the last to be converted to other religions, not wanting to accept any other than their own.
This could had been a strategy used, by the so called " ancestors " to force the Xhosa people to be their " objects " as they believed that they were savages.

Posted by: Lulamile Bongo Nikani

I think this is good history and that we should have learnt about this amazing history at school. It is our culture and we love it...

Posted by: Sandisa mbutuma

The story of Nonqawuse is both facinating and apealing. How strong faith can be that almost a whole nation was lead by a 14 year old girl never questioning her ways but trusting and hoping. This is no different from christianity as the people believed they're ancestors would rise as christians think Jesus would now. I am very dissapointed though that such rich history that played such a part in our lives has very little recognisation.

I am a grade 10 history student and not once have I come across this history even when we touched Xhosa history. as much as many people were ashamed of this era it is just as important as the many other stories of our history of opression. I think Nonqawuse should be made known and what she did should empower us as did apartheid and we should stop focusing on the American and European countries but come back home to South Africa and unfold all history make it public. What should we be ashamed of? This should make us proud that after all these hurdles we are still strong. It's the hurdles we pass that make us stronger.

Posted by: Anathi

Im came across this story while reading one of Zakes Mda's books. I am an 18 year old South African, born and bred and yet I knew nothing about the history of abaXhosa, my tribe. Im disappointed in our schools and for not teaching us such a rich history. I was never amused about the fact that our schools do not even touch on African History but we are always bombarded with Great European history. It really makes me mad. And as for our families...I am very disappointed. But thanks to Zakes Mda for introducing me to such beautiful things.

Posted by: Nangemso

I recall this story back in the days when I was young about how the Brits tricked Nongqawuse to mislead the Xhosas. I still battle to believe this story even now. My understanding is that back in the dark day, a woman let alone a young girl could influence policy, as in the then traditional world, a man was instrumental. Traditional as Africans we slaughter life stock as part of sacrifice but a total wipe out of 3/400 000 plus crops. Now why crops? Maybe some historian could show us example of similar mass sacrificies. But I just cant swallow this.

Posted by: Spikiri

This is a good story.

Posted by: luhle




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