Original Research

The place of the Bulhoek massacre in South African history

Robert R. Edgar
New Contree | Vol 90 | a246 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/nc.v90i0.246 | © 2023 Robert R. Edgar | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 17 May 2023 | Published: 30 October 2023

About the author(s)

Robert R. Edgar, University, Stellenbosch, South Africa; and, Department of African Studies, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Howard University, Washington, DC, United States


24 May 2021 marked the centenary of the Bulhoek massacre in which government police and soldiers killed about 200 members of an Eastern Cape religious group called the Israelites who had been called by their prophet, Enoch Mgijima, to prepare for the end of the world. This essay examines Mgijima’s life, his apocalyptic visions, his call in 1919 to his followers to come to a holy village, Ntabelanga, near Queenstown, and their clashes and negotiations with government officials over their right to occupy land. It discusses the government decision to use armed force to expel the Israelites and what happened on 24 May 1921. Finally, it draws a comparison with a United States (US) massacre in May 1921 in which white vigilantes attacked a black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Contribution: This essay narrates how the Bulhoek massacre resulted from a century of white land conquest and dispossession and some Africans turning to apocalyptic visions to understand their plight. Since then, the South African state has used force on numerous occasions to suppress both black and white dissidents. This essay draws a transnational parallel with the commemoration of another white massacre of blacks that also took place in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the US in May 1921.


Enoch Mgijima; Bulhoek massacre; Israelites; Jan Smuts; Ntabelanga

Sustainable Development Goal

Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions


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