“This is a fascinating book…raises important questions about the writing of South African history…The significance of this book is manifold. It is a most useful contribution to South African, and Eastern Cape regional, history as well as to the history of religious movements, gender, and psychiatry in South Africa.”
Peter Limb, H-Net Reviews
“Few historians have written with such empathy and generosity of spirt as Robert Edgar…Now he and Hilary Sapire have produced an elegant and gracious book that offers a wonderfully evocative history of Nontetha and of politics and faith in South Africa…African Apocalypse does offer precious material to investigate more subtly and more creatively some of the most basic challenges to the study of South Africa’s modern history. And it does so with grace and empathy. African Apocalypse is as much a book as it is a gift.”
Clifton Crais, The International Journal of African Historical Studies
The devastating influenza epidemic of 1918 ripped through southern Africa. In its aftermath, revivalist and millenarian movements sprouted. Prophets appeared bearing messages of resistance, redemption, and renewal. African Apocalypse: The Story of Nontetha Nkwenkwe, A Twentieth-Century Prophet is the remarkable story of one such prophet, a middle-aged Xhosa woman named Nontetha. After surviving the deadly virus, Nontetha proclaimed that a series of dreams revealed to her that the influenza had been a punishment from God. Consequently, she embarked on a mission to reform her society.
She imposed numerous prohibitions and rules on her followers. In a parallel movement, in 1919, millenarian Israelites congregated in the holy village of Ntabelanga, 100 miles north of Nontetha’s area, to await the end of the world. In May 1921, police killed nearly 200 Israelites near Queenstown in a showdown over attempts to expel the settlers.
Accused of sedition by an alarmed government, Nontetha was committed to Fort Beaufort Mental Hospital in 1922. On Nontetha’s death in 1935, officials buried her in an unmarked pauper’s grave. In 1997, Edgar and Sapire located Nontetha’s grave. Of Edgar’s efforts to return Nontetha to her home, the New York Times said, “One would not expect, perhaps, that a mild-mannered professor from Howard University would turn out to be the Indiana Jones of South Africa.”
African Apocalypse touches on a variety of themes, including African Christianity, gender, protest, the social history of madness, and the engagement of professional historians in contemporary issues.
Robert R. Edgar is professor of African studies at Howard University and the editor of An African American in South Africa: The Travel Notes of Ralph J. Bunche, also available from Ohio University Press. More info →
Hilary Sapire is Lecturer in Imperial and Commonwealth History at Birkbeck College, University of London. She is an editor of the Journal of Southern African Studies. More info →
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The new South Africa cannot be understood without a knowledge of the history of the UDF and its role in the transition to democracy.This is the first major study of an organization that transformed South African politics in the 1980s. By coordinating popular struggles on the ground and promoting the standing of the African National Congress, the UDF played a central role in the demise of apartheid and paved the way for South Africa’s transition to democracy.Based
Ralph Bunche, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1950, traveled to South Africa for three months in 1937. His notes, which have been skillfully compiled and annotated by historian Robert R. Edgar, provide unique insights on a segregated society.
“No nation can win a battle without faith,” Steve Biko wrote, and as Daniel R. Magaziner demonstrates in The Law and the Prophets, the combination of ideological and theological exploration proved a potent force.The 1970s are a decade virtually lost to South African historiography. This span of years bridged the banning and exile of the country’s best-known antiapartheid leaders in the early 1960s and the furious protests that erupted after the Soweto uprisings of June 16, 1976.
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