Sam Matiase says the ongoing struggle to reclaim stolen land is epitomised by the events of 1921

This Land, is ‘Holy Grounds’, Marking the 94th Anniversary of the Bulhoek Massacre

Reclaiming the land from the past will require Africans to do so by appreciating and internalizing Frantz Fanon’s thoughtful conclusion that: “for a colonized people, the most essential value, because it is the most concrete, is first and foremost the land, which will bring them bread and above all, dignity.” And a proper starting point in this exercise is about remembering the Bulhoek Massacre, which marks 94thanniversary this year.

The struggle against dispossession or attempts to reclaim stolen land by any means possible including fighting against marauding colonial armies in frontal wars of resistance; protest and blatant defiance to occupation, is an on-going struggle, occurring daily 21 later, after decades of minority, racist and apartheid rule in this country.

This on-going struggle, a reality, that occurs daily to this very day in South Africa, is epitomized by the 1921 Bulhoek Massacre.

Following a long history and the spreading of Christian evangelism in the nineteenth century, especially through the missionaries, the Israelites movement in South Africa, the Church of God and Saints of Christ was also established by an Afro-American sailor, Albert Christian.

On his arrival he managed to establish branches throughout the Eastern Cape as well as in the Transvaal (now Gauteng). In the process of building and spreading the church throughout the country, the church discovered many followers and outstanding preachers like John Msikinya, his brother Henry Msikinya, and John went to the United States on church bursaries and attended the Lincoln University and came back to expand the church.

After Msikinya preaching in Queenstown, he impressed many including Samuel and Peter, the Matshaka’s brothers and others as his followers. In August 1910, John Msikinya and others were sentenced to three months hard labour in Grahamstown for vagrancy. Nevertheless, Peter Matshaka continued to grow the church to other areas around Uitenhage, Albany, Victoria East, Grahamstown, Peddie and Queenstown.

It is recorded that, Joseph Tuso, a school master, invited Samuel Matshika to discuss the church with the people of Kamastone, he baptized the first converts in the 1912, namely Joseph Tuso, Victor Ndlangisa, John Ntlangweni and Enoch Mgijima. The history of Bulhoek cannot be completed without mentioning the role, character and of a religious figure of Enoch Mgijima.

Assuming that Enoch Mgijima was born in 1868 at Ntabelanga near Queenstown, his parents had lived there two decades before his birth, it is very much understandable that he might have had a legitimate expectation and just claim over the land at which he settled only to be ‘owned’ by the Cape Colony as Crown land.

Enoch Mgijima was originally a member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church were he attracted a large personal following and was soon appointed Evangelist in Chief in Kamastone and assumed the title of Prophet among his followers.

In 1907, while still a member of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, Enoch claimed to have had visions about the approaching end of the world. Again, during 1914, he claimed to have had two other visions or revelations into his preaching. He claimed to have had the following revelations:-

First was of a stone rolling down the mountain and crushing the people at its foot and

The second was of two white goats fighting with a baboon standing by and watching them, until it suddenly intervened and broke them both

In his interpretation of the second vision, the goats represented the two white groups of South Africa (British and Dutch) and the baboon the black people (Africans). This metaphor might be problematic and not political correct, but it ought to be understood in its proper context of the era of ‘colonialism of a special type’; a colonial outpost that South Africa was and partly is even today.

It is not surprising that Enoch’s vision disturbed the parent church in the USA. It was alarmed by his visions of a ‘violent, disruptive and chaotic end’ of the world, which according to the church deviated from its more pacific prophecies. In particular, the church was disturbed by his visions that appeared to be directed against whites. He was, in 1918, asked to renounce his visions but refused and was as a consequence, excommunicated according to the Church claim ‘for preaching perverse doctrine’. After he was excommunicated from the church, his followers became to be popularly known as the “Israelites”.

The name ‘Israelites’, was presumably have been taken from the contention that black people were the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel according the prophecy on the “stone of truth” mentioned in the Bible in 1 Corinthian 1:1-2, which contains ancestral data concerning the origin of the black race. Black people, the scripture states, were descended from the lost tribes of Israel and were regarded as Jews.

It is necessary to give some brief contextual background information about the place historically called Bulhoek and now only known as Whittlesea and surrounding areas such as Kamastone, Takastad, Thornhill and others. Bulhoek, now Whittlesea, which is about 35km outside Queenstown, falls under the Tsolwana Local Municipality and is part of the Chris Hani District.

The history of Bulhoek Massacre should be understood within the context of the above, seemingly religious evolution and the struggle between religions, in essence, it should be seen, again, through the existential praxis of a peasant’s social, political and economic reality and the struggle to interpret own existence, survival and place over their land. Furthermore, to understand this history, it is important to grasp the laws and regulations that governed and held sway over black people then. Colonial ‘draconian’ laws like the Native Location’s Act of 1884 and the Native Land Act of 1913 occasioned the Bulhoek massacre both designed to drive the indigenous African people from their land, dispossess and subjugate and render them landless.

Understanding this history, will further help to place the settlement of squatting of the people at Kama stone or Billhook as was popularly known then in a proper perspective as this community was dispossessed of land under racially discriminatory laws and system. The land occupation at Bulhoek was the antecedent of future occupation including those championed by the Economic Freedom Fighters today.

Kamastone was established in 1854 by the Cape Government in the Queenstown district. In 1874, due to complaints by other Africans to the Cape Government that Africans from elsewhere were squatting in the settlement, the area was declared Crown Land, meaning, it was now ‘officially’ owned by the Cape Colony. It was decided that those who had already settled there should be granted title deeds for the piece of land that they owned. The location was then divided into eight sub-locations, on e of which was Bulhoek. It was surveyed into the following categories; arable lots, building lots and a commonage but under the custodianship of the Crown Land.

The Bulhoek commonage was subjected to the Native Location’s Act, no 37 of 1884, which forbade squatting or any form of settlement in the area. And because of this Act, temporary structures could not be erected anywhere else without the permission being granted by authorities, with the ever-growing number of followers, there was even no land available to Mgijima for their religious and related activities. Annual passsovers could only be held after lodgment of applications through the courts.

The people’s resolve can be described as an ‘open defiance’ at Ntabelanga, accordingly, the recorded history notes that, towards the end of 1919, during a mid-day service Enoch Mgijima stood in front of his tabernacle and called out the Hlubi people, the Xhosa and other Africans groups to gather at Ntabelanga to wait for the approaching end of the world. The majority of those from North Transvaal were Northern Sothos from Waterburg area in the Nylstroom district where they were commonly known as “Ba halaleli ba Israele”.

On the arrival of the worshippers at Ntabelanga, Mgijima and his followers started to erect permanent houses on the commonage without authorization from the Superintendent of Native Affairs. This act was in direct defiance to the authority of the day. Mgijima had to enter into an agreement that soon after the Passover, all strangers would leave Ntabelanga without delay. And permission to the request was granted.

Mgijima, having called his followers to wait the approaching end of the world and now occupying the Crown Land without permission, now faced a serious dilemma. He didn’t inform the Superintendent a certain Mr. Nightingale of his plans to let his followers stay longer for the end of the world and also, didn’t want to loose the trust and respect of his followers by sending them back. So he decided to adopt delaying tactics. The Passover of 1920 was held in April as usual but extended until May 1920. Accordingly, at the end of May, dispersal did not take place way after the agreed timeframe, with the Superintendent of Native Affairs, Nightingale increasingly loosing patience.

Faced with this dilemma, Mgijima continued to shift goal posts and applying more delaying tactics to a point where he finally avoided meeting the superintendent. Mgijima’s followers informed the Superintendent that he had ordered them to construct dwellings to house the newcomers. Mgijima avoided meeting Nightingale until he was arrested. Realizing the delaying tactics and subtle defiance, the state adopted other ways of pressurizing the strangers to leave Ntabelanga. The Queenstown Magistrate was approached to issue summons and eviction orders under the provisions of Act 37 of 1884 for occupying Crown Land ‘unlawfully’ under Government Notice No 1491, dated 5 December 1906.

Twenty summonses in all were issued and handed to the South African Police to be serviced. However, on arrival at Ntabelanga the SAP met with a great deal of resistance from the Israelites there and succeeded in serving only eight out of 20 summonses.

The Queenstown Magistrate, ECA Welsh, was approached to visit Ntabelanga accompanied by a force of 100 policemen. The occupants of the land refused to their names to be registered and declared that they stood/settled on “Holly Ground” and defied the government and its attempts to remove them. What stood out and made the situation unique, was the position taken by women and children. They were equally aggressive as the men, and kept up an attitude of defiance in front of the police force.

In retaliation, the police called reinforcements from a range of sources; the Defence Rifle Association, Comrades of the Great War and the Automobile Club together with a help from surrounding white farmers. It is clear that the government had been criminal in its action however, at the end of the day, the operation was abandoned due to fierce resistance.

In addition to claims that they ‘stood on holly grounds’, after extensive engagements, deputation after deputation, the Israelites demanded to meet with the then Prime Minister, General Smuts than any person instead, and furthermore, stood firm in the conviction that “they wished to obey the law of the land, but Jehovah was more powerful than the law and they feared to offend Him by disregarding His wishes and obeying the laws of men.”

That was a very profound statement made at the height of colonial and apartheid consolidation of power through forceful dispossession, brutal removal of the Africans from their land – subjugating the whole people. After the shooting, approximately 200 people were killed by the colonial police becoming the largest number of people ever, men and women, to die in the hands of a discriminatory, fascist and racist state.

From its formation, the EFF has put the land question firmly at the center of public discourse and places cogent emphasis on the land question and traces it as far back as from 06 April 1652. The land issue is the most critical pillar of the Founding Manifesto. The Manifesto identifies the land as the most fundamental grievance amongst the dispossessed African people in this country and asserts first and foremost the centrality of this pillar as “expropriation of land without compensation for equitable redistribution in use.”

The EFF’s approach to the land question is that “all land should be transferred to the ownership and custodianship of the state”¦this pillar [among others] should inspire the EFF-led economic emancipation movement towards realizing and consolidating economic freedom in our lifetime.”

The historical significance of the courageous and bold actions of the people of Ntabelanga, squatting at Bulhoek was that, it served as a catalyst and groundbreaking act of courage in the struggle for land ownership between the dispossessed, subjugated and oppressed and the settler community in South Africa. The Church of God and Saints of Christ brought about an early definition of progressive theology, which was always ready to be on the side of the truth and interpret that truth using religion. And that was exactly what Enoch Mgijima was ready to do.

It is evident why the ruling party never bothered to accord national recognition to the Bulhoek massacre and this was clearly for politically expedient reasons.

First in that, in 1920, the Secretary for Native Affairs, Mr. E. Barrett invited several influential African leaders with association with the ANC, like J, Tengo Jabavu and others to dissuade ‘squatting’ people from illegally occupying of land.

Second, the ANC was fed and believed the propaganda of white liberal historians who maintained that “Enoch Mgijima misled his innocent followers in believing that 1920 would be the end of the world”.

Third, to this very day, ANC maintains that occupation of any piece of land is illegal and not its ‘official policy’ and,

Four, squatting by Mgijima’s followers was on the basis of ‘religious fanatical beliefs’ which was essentially self-serving on the part of Enoch Mgijima, which is not entirely true. The truth is, Africans were dispossessed and driven away from their land or kept in barren reserves without any hope of maintaining proper livelihoods. And in one way or another, the system of rendering black people landless, had to be confronted and fought by whatever means possible, including resorting to employing religious scriptures as a medium for worshipping.

In 1921, the then African National Native Congress (ANNC), was very weak, thus it couldn’t provide any hope nor intervene in the situation, which would lead to a confrontation. It is due to this objective organizational weaknesses and absence of leadership, people often resort to seek solace and hope from mystical interventions.

However, whiles the original cause of the occupation was on the basis of religious factors and beliefs, these allegations do not justify the ruling ANC’s and its fellow traveller’s position on the Bulhoek massacre. In fact, the ruling ANC’s view is an act of ‘moral ugliness’ and shame.

But why is the ANC’s view an act of moral shame? It was an act of moral shame because the basis of ANC’s formation in 1912 was a direct response to firstly, the Union of 1910 which ensured the exclusion of blacks participation in any meaningful public affairs which concerned them and secondly, a direct reaction to land dispossession of African majority which it sought to halt. However, the land question is rather a sticky issue for the ruling ANC.

In that, the ANC historically, has lacked any comprehensive articulation of the narrative of the land question in this country except its repeated although now adondoned Freedom Charter’s clause on land which says “The Land Shall be Shared Among Those Who work it”¦restrictions of land ownership on the racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it to banish famine and land hunger”, despite this bold declaration, the ANC has been exposed to be lacking a coherent narrative beyond this point. There are two things that the ruling party has done for the victims and families of those killed in Bulhoek, namely;

- building of a monument to honour the victims at Ntabelanga and;

- payment in land claims to 2300 families (or households) in the tune of about 390 million rand

Today, as if it means nothing, the Bulhoek massacre is presented by the post-1994 democratic government, as it was with the apartheid, only in museums and memorials with great deal of half-heartedness. Nothing meaningful has been done to improve the living conditions of the people in order to erase the 1921 emotional, psychological, physical and geographic scars. Since 1999, the government has been repeating hollow phrases and making meaningless promises by declaring the “strategic importance of rural development and land reform as a lever for improving the lives of the previously disadvantaged people”, all of these have come to naught.

It does come not as surprising that the ANC cannot offer let alone participating in a constructive discourse on the land question because it has sold out. It fails to deconstruct ta colonial past instead, it strives to restore this ‘colonial past’ and interwoven it with the present attempts to land reform processes in order to appease its foreign masters. The ANC has contributed to land failures in such graphic forms thanks to a policy approach that has led to almost R69 billion spent wastefully through some ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ or what it now calls “a just and equitable principle for compensation’’ in land reform programme. This shows a lack of a comprehensive narrative and cogent policy solution by the ruling ANC’s government.

It would be entirely wrong and politically disingenuous to dismiss the group of people involved in the Bulhoek massacre as ‘religious fanatics’ and apolitical and as a totally isolated self-seeking. At best, they were part of the movement of Ethiopian or independent black churches and represented black resistance towards white dominance. They were the forerunners of radical black theology.

The confrontation with the police by the members of the Church of God and Saints of Jesus under the leadership of Enoch Mgijima which led to the Bulhoek Massacre on 24th May 1921, left horrible memories and permanent physical, emotional and political scares in the minds of many South Africans. Just as Mgijima his people stood firm in the face of an ‘adequate’ coercive show of stately and military force, he declared: “All my people will gather together for that journey to the promised land,’ and if this is the place, Bulhoek, no earthly power can interfere”¦” regardless.

The significance of the Bulhoek massacre in the present day South Africa, is marked by government’s failure to transfer – by any means possible – land through various legislative and regulatory instruments at its disposal owing to limitations imposed by the property clauses of the constitution. Currently, there are countless land claims, which remain unresolved in instances where they are partly resolved, paltry and contemptuous financial compensations are being paid out. The massive failure is illustrated by re-opening of land claims for new lodgement after the initial 31 December 1998 cut-off date. We shouldn’t loose memory of the most important aspect of the Bulhoek massacre as having been about fighting for a fundamental birthright – land!

Our land is our natural inheritance and essential asset – a fundamental right, which was forcefully taken away and denied to so many dispossessed African people for too long. Thus, making the Bulhoek Massacre the most violent, post the Union of South Africa’s recorded state sponsored mass killing of defenseless people majority of whom Christians of peasant backgrounds.

The Church of God and Saints of Christ in the areas of Queenstown is the key custodian of all processes relating to commemorating the cowardice and brutal massacre of their brothers and sister in fellowship of Christ. Furthermore, the church observes this day through various activities like annual pilgrimage and in different forms leading to the 24th of May each year.

It is proposed that the Bulhoek Massacre should be elevated to an important historically incident which is a pioneer of all attempts by Africans to claim back their land from colonial and apartheid thieves. It is again proposed that EFF should take up the opportunity of commemorating on the 24th May; THE BULHOEK MASSACRE, which marks the fateful killing that, took place at Ntabelanga and Bulhoek.

EFF should, out of necessity, initiate and lead the commemoration of the Bulhoek massacre and secure it as an annual calendar event to pay homage and tribute to those unsung heroines and heroes of the struggle for land occupation. In oral societies even more than in literate ones, it is the victors who write or record the history, particularly if the losers become reconciled to their defeat. The struggle for economic freedom, should out of necessity, be about correcting the colonial and historical distortions by means of seizure of political power and control of and ownership of the means of production through the non-negotiable 7 cardinal pillars of the Economic Freedom Fighters.

The land victims of Bulhoek Massacre stood on ‘Holly Grounds’, lest we forget. Reclaiming this holy land from the past, especially from colonial theft, will require Africans to do so and depart from Frantz Fanon’s profound conclusion that: “for a colonized people the most essential value, because it is the most concrete, is first and foremost the land, which will bring them bread and above all, dignity.” And a proper starting point in this direction is by remembering the Bulhoek Massacre, which marks 94th anniversary this year.

We are compelled to cast away our illusions; to realize that the most essential value, which can ever be acquired by a people emerging from centuries of bondage and slavery; which brings bread, shelter, and above all, dignity, is our holly land. Lest we forget!