Unisa Press

Because they chose the Plan of God

Author: Robert Edgar
Published: 2010-04-05 00:00:00.0
ISBN: 9781-86888-544-2
Number of pages: 78
Prices: R 110 | $ 24 | £ 14 | € 18
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About the book

On the morning of 24 May 1921, a force of 800 white policemen and soldiers marched to a place called Bulhoek, about 25 kilometres southwest of Queenstown in the Eastern Cape. The white government had instructed them to confront an African prophet, Enoch Mgijima, and his followers, called the Israelites, who refused to leave their holy village Ntabelanga (‘The Mountain Of The Rising Sun’) where they had gathered to await the end of the world. The government was not prepared to allow them to pray and worship in peace, because it claimed the Israelites were illegally squatting on land that was not theirs. After many months of negotiating, it finally sent out an armed force to expel the Israelites. They did not want to fight the Israelites, but, if it came to that, they had modern weapons and they were prepared to use them.

When the Israelites and the police did not settle their differences, they clashed. The police were armed with rifles, machine guns, and cannons, while the Israelites had only sticks, swords, and spears to defend themselves. After the 20-minute skirmish nearly 200 Israelites lay dead and many others were wounded. This event would soon be called the ‘Bulhoek Massacre’.

To understand why this clash at Bulhoek happened we will look at the life history of Enoch Mgijima and the religous group he founded, the Israelites. We discuss the political, economic, and social background to the massacre.  We try to understand why the Israelites settled at Ntabelanga and why the government opoposed them.  We explore why the two sides were not able to find a solution to their differences.  We examine why the government decided to send an armed force to expel the Israelites from their holdy village and why the Israelites were prepared to face the policemen's guns on the plain outside Ntabelanga.  Finally we learn about how people have written and spoken about the Bulhoek massacre over the years and how the South African government before and after 1994 represented the event in museums and memorials.

About the Author

Robert Edgar is a Professor of African Studies at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  He has written primarily on twentieth-century southern African political and religious history.  Among his works are African Apocalypse: The story of Nontetha Nkwenkwe, a Twentieth Century South African Prophet (co-authored with Hilary Sapire), An African American in South Africa: The travel notes of Ralph J. Bunche, 1937, and The Making of an African Communist: Edwin Thabo Mofutsanyana and the Communist Party of South Africa, 1927-1939.