Featuring original police and medical reports, letters and newspaper articles, our archive shows how Nontetha’s charismatic preaching unsettled the authorities, who believed she was on an anti-white crusade. She was "pathologised" and confined to mental asylums until her death. Not even her followers, who walked from King William’s Town to Pretoria to lobby for her release, could secure her liberty.
RESEARCH: Text/archive — Theresa Collins | Images — Nhlanhla Mthethwa
» WHY DID NONTETHA’S POPULARITY THREATEN THE ESTABLISHMENT?
Unlike 19th-century Xhosa prophets such as Nxele and Mlanjeni, Nontetha attempted to seek some sort of accommodation with the Europeans, and her prophecies focused on the necessity for unity. Despite this they came to be seen as anti-white, and the authorities came up with a plan to silence her.
» THE RELUCTANT PROPHETESS
Despite her attempts to resist the calling, Nontetha continued to preach after she was told that, if she failed to do so, God would start speaking through her daughter.
» THE EFFECT OF THE BULHOEK MASSACRE ON NONTETHA’S FATE
The Bulhoek Massacre had a persistent impact on government attitudes to prophetic movements and African spiritual leaders.
» DETAINED FOR "SEDITIOUS ACTIVITIES"
Although the authorities and local headmen initially regarded Nontetha as nothing more than a troublesome leader, as her power grew a decision was taken to "pathologise" her as mad.
» RECORDS OF NONTETHA’S CONFINEMENT AT FORT BEAUFORT AND WESKOPPIES ASYLUMS
Several harrowing psychiatric reports document Nontetha’s confinement at Weskoppies asylum. Perhaps most poignant is the observation that, despite her initial feistiness, after a year inside her fighting spirit seemed to be quelled.
» THE PILGRIMAGES OF GRACE
Nontetha’s followers organised several "pilgrimages of grace" to Pretoria to be nearer to her and to lobby for her release.
» THE CHURCH TODAY
Despite the authorities’ attempts to silence Nontetha and stamp out her following, the church is still going strong today, with between 20 000 and 30 000 members.