Meet Nongqawuse, The South African Prophetess of Doom
In the 1850s, a Xhosa prophetess in South Africa prophesied that if the tribe destroyed their crops and killed all their cattle, the spirits would sweep the English settlers into the sea. The tribe obeyed and it resulted in famine, killing tens of thousands.
Born in 1841, Nongquawuse was an orphan and raised by her uncle who also acted as an interpreter and organizers of her visions.
In April 1856, 15-year old Nongqawuse and her friend Nombanda who was between the ages of 8-10 went to scare birds from her uncle’s crops in the fields, When she returned, Nongqawuse told her uncle and guardian Mhlakaza, a Xhosa spiritualist, that she had met the spirits of three of her ancestors.
She claimed that the spirits had told her that the Xhosa people should destroy their crops and kill their cattle, the source of their wealth as well as food. Nongqawuse claimed that the ancestors who had appeared to them said that in return for their sacrifice the spirits would destroy the British settlers.
Aftermath of the prophecy
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 sarhili clan’s killed their livestock and burned their crops until they had nothing left but their family.
The cattle-killing frenzy affected not only the Gcaleka , Sarhili’s clan, but the whole of the Xhosa nation. Historians estimate that the Gcaleka killed between 300,000 and 400,000 head of cattle. Not all Xhosa people believed Nongawuse’s prophecies.
A small minority, known as the amagogotya (stingy ones), refused to slaughter and neglect their crops.
Nongquawuse claimed that the spirits’ promise would be fulfilled on February 18, 1857. When nothing happened, her followers initially blamed those who did not obey her instructions. But, soon they came to blame her. In the aftermath, the population fell from 105,000 to 27,000 because of the resulting famine.
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.
After her release, she lived on a farm in the Alexandria district of the eastern Cape. She died in 1898.
Today, the valley where Nongqawuse alleged to have met the spirits is still called Intlambo kaNongqawuse (Xhosa for Valley of Nongqawuse ).