Address by Minister Nathi Mthethwa on the occasion of the celebration of the Centenary of the Bulhoek Massacre, Ntabelanga, Komani, Eastern Cape

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24 May 2021

Programme Director:
The Mgijima Family.
Hon. OL Mabuyane, Premier of the Eastern Cape.
MEC’s present.
Mayors present.
Iinkosi Nezibonda ezikhoyo.
Members of the Provincial Legislatures.
Leadership of Israelites congregation.
Various religious organisations present.
Descendants of those who fell on this ground.
Distinguished Guests.
Members of the Media.
Ladies and Gentlemen.

I extend my warmest greetings to all of you present. It gives me great pleasure to be with you today, to celebrate the centenary of the Bulhoek Massacre. This does not mark a happy occasion, but a reminder of where we come from as people.

Amongst other objectives of our struggle, was a fight against forgetting. Today we have gathered here to fulfil that solemn commitment. However, this gathering takes place under extremely difficult circumstances that has been transmitted to us by nature.

We live in extra-ordinary times. As humanity we face unprecedented times due to COVID-19. The impact of this pandemic, is still unfolding. More than three Million {3Million} people globally have lost already their lives due to the Corona Virus.

No part of the globe has been spared, every nation has been negatively affected, and the poor everywhere have been affected more than the rich, while developing nations are bearing the brunt of the suffering more so than others.

It is important that at all material times for us to survive this scourge, we need to observe all the health protocols as outlined by the World Health Organisation and our Government through the Department of Health.

Context of the events of that day.
The resistance displayed by the Israelites under the leadership of Enoch Mgijima on that fateful day of 24 May 1921, was a continuation of the struggle against colonialism and apartheid.

Racism and Colonialism within the Church was very obvious. All those early Christian converts were treated as children by their white missionaries. They refused to ordain black priests, if they finally ordained them, they must always be supervised by a White Priest.

The early Christian converts noticed that the white missionaries had different views on matters of Christian faith, that communicated a message to these converts that themselves, have the capacity to articulate their views on the matters of faith.

Patriots by the names of Nehemiah Tile, Isaiah Shembe and Mokone were amongst the first to break away from the missionaries and establish an independent church.

In the case of Nehemiah Tile was punished for being part of protest march against a white magistrate imposed by the colonialists and the donation he made to the King of Abathembu for a traditional ceremony. The church was a mirror of what was happening in a broader society.

As the German Scholar of note Karl Marx, put it:
“The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living”.

Enoch Mgijima and his team were walking on the footsteps of those who came before them. When the Israelites occupied this piece of Land of Ntabelanga, were engaging themselves in the struggle to regain the lost land.

The role of the Union Government.
The Unionist government under Jan Smuts had grown increasingly warry of Enoch Mgijima and his followers as the government was under the impression that Mgijima and his followers were occupying Crown land that they had no authority to occupy.

The Native Locations Act 37, of 1884 forbade squatting or any form of settlement in what was known as Crown land. Thus temporary structures could not be erected anywhere without permission by the colonial authorities, thus leaving Mgijima and his congregants no space whatsoever to hold their religious gatherings.

A gathering of hundreds and thousands of worshippers under Mr Enoch Mgijima was viewed with suspicion by the colonial authorities and had to be quashed at all cost.

The colonial government resolved to remove Mr Mgijima and his followers by force. An 800 strong police and paramilitary force led by Colonel Johan Davey and General Koos van der Venter led the attack on Mgijima and his congregants.

On the 24th of May 1921 the Union of South Africa police and army shot and killed 200 worshippers, 100 were wounded and 141 were arrested including Enoch Mgijima.

A Socialist newspaper titled: The International of 17 December 1920, anticipating the coming massacre, stated the following:
“Preparations are being made by Capitalism to commence a wholesale slaughter”.

This demonstrate that the incidents of the 24 May 1921 were not accident but planned and executed with a clear command from Jan Smuts government.

The editorial of The Star Newspaper that appeared shortly after the incident said the following about these events:

“The full and gruesome details of the bloody affair at Bulhoek have created a painful impression…We are dealing with a phrase-maker and visionary, but with a practical man of affairs who, as the head of government, assumes full responsibility for the acts of his servants, Colonel Truter and General Van Deventer.

The Star continues:
“On other hand, we can conceive of nothing more calculated to do permanent harm than any impression that the Prime Minister – who is also directly responsible for looking after the interest of the Natives- regards such grievous loss of life as occurred at Bulhoek with much less concern than if European had been involved, or is determined to shield subordinates who may be proven to have been guilty of a gross error of judgement”.

The two newspapers cited above demonstrated in clear terms of the view of the then government towards the African masses.

Ladies and gentlemen, the massacre of 200 South Africans at this site in 1921 was a continuation of the colonial authority’s brutalisation of indigenous people after stealing their land over centuries.

Ladies and gentlemen let us use today’s memorial commemoration not only to celebrate and remember the two hundred South Africans who were brutally mowed down in this area in 1921. Let us intensify the struggle for the second and most critical part of our struggle, economic freedom and the return of the land that was stolen from our foremothers and fathers.

Mr Mgijima and his congregants were brave freedom fighters who stood up to the colonial authorities who had stolen their land and had made them squatters in the land of their birth.

Thank you very much for your attention.