More than a hundred years ago a Xhosa girl called Nongqawuse's was born near the Gxarha River. She was an orphan, brought up by her uncle Mhlakaza. Nongqawuse's people had many problems. They waged wars with the British government in the Cape Colony, who wanted to rule over the Xhosa and their land. The wars killed many of the Xhosa and their cattle. Then, to make things worse, their cattle became sick. They caught a lung disease from a herd of cattle that White settlers brought from Europe. Their grain was also infected with a disease that killed the maize before it was ripe. The Xhosa believed that these diseases were ubuthi, or evil, caused by witchcraft. They also blamed the White settlers for their problems, because they took their land and tried to destroy their traditions and beliefs.
THE NATIONAL SUICIDE OF THE XHOSA
"There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." Proverbs 14:12
One of history's strangest socio-economic disasters was the case of the "cattle killing" in 1856 in the Transkei - now the Eastern Cape of South Africa. In the space of twelve months the population of Xhosaland fell by 80 per cent, mostly through starvation. What was most bizarre was how the Xhosa embraced their fate and even welcomed it. Through a form of mass hysteria the Xhosa convinced themselves of the need to kill all their cattle, destroy all their food and sow no crops for the future. It was a mass national suicide by starvation.
In April 1856 two young Xhosa girls were sent to chase birds from cornfields near the River Gxara. The elder girl, Nongqawuse, reported later that while they were drinking at the water's edge two mysterious figures materialised alongside them. They told the girls to take a message back to their kraal that a great resurrection was about to take place, and that all the people should kill all their cattle as these