Enoch Josiah Mgijima
1868 to 1928
Enoch Josiah Mgijima (1868-May 3, 1928) was the leader of the Israelites, a religious sect involved in the bloody clash with a contingent of South African police at Bullhoek, a rural African village situated about 25 miles from Queenstown in the Eastern Cape.
The massacre, on May 24th, 1921, in which nearly 200 members of the sect were killed, was the outcome of a lengthy confrontation between the South African state and Israelites who had been called in 1920 by Mgijima to congregate at their "Holy City," Ntabelanga (mountain of the rising sun) and await the approaching millennium.
Enoch Josiah Mgijima was born at Bullhoek in 1868, the third of four sons and daughters of Jonas Mayekiso Mgijima, a Mfengu peasant. Unlike his older brothers who went to school at Lovedale Institution, Enoch never went beyond standard III. He remained at Ntabelanga where he became a small landowner and game hunter, gaining prominence in the Wesleyan Methodist Church first as a lay preacher and later as an evangelist in his region.
In 1912 Mgijima broke away from the Wesleyan Church and joined another church known as the Church of God and Saints of Christ (CGSC). The majority of his followers were African Christians breaking away from European -led denominations because of what they perceived as European missionaries' practice of racial discrimination within the church and the denigration of African customs. However, Mgijima was excommunicated from the Church of God in 1919 following his millennial predictions. Mgijima then signaled his followers to come together at Ntabelanga to await the "final day." Some 3,000 people, most of them within a 100 mile radius, eventually settled at Ntabelanga. They responded to Mgijima's call, because for years, they had been waging a losing battle to retain their independence and identity in an unstable and hostile environment. In Ntabelanga, they found a place of solace and comfort. Mgijima promised them that God had ordained that they were to play a crucial role in His plans.
For over a year, South African government officials had negotiated with the Israelites, hoping to persuade them to move off land the government claimed the sect was occupying illegally. Finally, after all attempts at negotiation had failed, and with the government suspecting an Israelite rebellion, a police contingent was dispatched to remove the Israelites. When the Israelites resisted the police opened fire, killing about 200 people. Mgijima was subsequently arrested and imprisoned for two years for his leadership of the resistance.
Enoch Mgijima returned to Ntabelanga in 1923, and in 1926 he built a large church in Queenstown. Mgijima was but one of a number of self-styled "prophets" to appear in early Twentieth Century South Africa.
Bennie A. Khoapa
Lea Allen, The Native Separatist Church Movement in South Africa, Cape Town, 1926; D.D.T. Jabavu, Lessons from the Israelite Episode, South African Outlook, July 1921; Vuyani Mqingwana, "The Israelite Movement and the Bullhoek Episode," Unpublished M.A. thesis, Northwestern University, 1975; Robert Edgar, "The Fifth Seal: Enoch Mgijima, the Israelites and the Bullhoek Massacre," Unpublished Phd. thesis, University of California, Los Angeles, 1977; Robert Edgar, Because they chose the plan of God: the story of the Bulhock Massacre, Johannesburg: Ravan Press, 1988.
This article was reprinted from The Encyclopaedia Africana Dictionary of African Biography (In 20 Volumes). Volume Three: South Africa- Botswana-Lesotho-Swaziland. Ed. Keith Irvine. Algonac, Michigan: Reference Publications Inc., 1995. All rights reserved.