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Tue, 05.24.1921

The Bulhoek Massacre Occurs

Bulhoek Massacre memorial

*On this date, in 1921, the Bulhoek massacre occurred. This episode involved a white South African police force that killed 163 Xhosa civilians.

The killings happened in the village of Ntabelanga in the Cape Province (today part of Eastern Cape). After a dispute over land in Ntabelanga, an 800-strong police force from the Union of South Africa led by Colonel Johan Davey and General Koos van der Venter gathered at Ingxingwa Ye Nkunzini in the Bulhoek valley and Ingxingwa ka Stivini, Steven's Valley. At the same time, 500 men, known as the "Israelites," armed with spears and knobkerries, and led by Enoch Mgijima, gathered in an open field, ready to defend their families and community.

After failed final negotiations between the two parties, a battle ensued. The 20-minute battle, which left an estimated 163 Israelites dead, 129 wounded, and 95 taken as prisoners, became known as the Bulhoek Massacre. The massacre resulted in a change in the state's response to prophetic movements. In 1922, the prophet Nontetha was arrested by authorities, fearful of her growing popularity and anxious to avoid a repeat of the Bulhoek massacre. She was held in mental hospitals from 1923 until she died in 1935.

Contemporary adherents to Mgijima's teachings - still known in South Africa as the Israelites - host an annual pilgrimage on May 24 to the grave where the 193 Israelites were buried. Various South African departments and politicians have also visited the gravesite to pay their respects to the massacre's victims.  

On August 3, 2016, Tsolwana, Inkwanca, and Lukhanji local municipalities were amalgamated to form Enoch Mgijima Local Municipality in honor of Enoch Mgijima. Towns like Hofmeyr, Molteno, Queenstown, Sada, Sterkstroom, Tarkastad, and Whittlesea now fall under the municipality. 


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