Repository logo

War, memory and salvation : the Bulhoek massacre and the construction of a contextual soteriology.

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



South Africa is in many ways a traumatised society and the Bulhoek Massacre of 24 May 1921 in which about two hundred people were killed in a matter of minutes was one such traumatising experience. What makes this massacre special is that the victims were a clearly identi~able christian grouping who dared to question and resist the overpowering might of the state by cleverly establishing an utopian community which lived in a new and resistant time, with counter values and an alternative lifestyle. One of the key ideas which shaped the establishment of this utopian commune by Enoch Josiah Mgijima on what was declared Crownland were this-worldly views of salvation and the destruction of the world. Mgijima offered people a practical and pragmatic way in which they would be saved from this impending destruction. A lot of water as gone under the bridge since that fateful morning in May 1921. This study investigates present views of salvation among the Israelites, the followers of Mgijima, and the role of the memory of Bulhoek Massacre in the construction of these soteriological notions. The thesis argues that inspite of the extreme trauma and apparent disconfirmation of the original vision and hope of a counter society, present views of salvation must stand in continuity with the hope and vision of those who fell in 1921. Furthermore, the thesis argues and demonstrates that though they seek to transcend the limits and constraints of the present commodified structuring of social and material relations, present views of salvation necessarily have their basis in the' material context of domination, thereby rendering the soteriology of the Israelites as a contextual soteriology. Using the methodological framework of depth hermeneutics the thesis probes and interprets the various reading methods and henneneutic strategies that the Israelites utilize in the construction of their soteriological notions. These methods and strategies are focused on all four ritual festivals of the Israelites, viz. pesach, the Fast of Esther, the commemoration service of the Bulhoek Massacre, and the commemoration of the life ofEnoch Mgijima These methods and strategies establish a dynamic and organic link between the two biblical festivals and the two Israelitic festivals across time and space, through a contextual appropriation of the two biblical festivals which have freedom as their key motif. What becomes clear through this appropnanon is that though the Israelites do not view themselves as a political movement per se, freedom from domination is key to their theological self-understanding and identity. The thesis demonstrates the manner in which the memory of the Bulhoek Massacre serves to facilitate the insurrection of the soteric knowledges which the perpetrators of the massacre sought to subjugate. What the study also reveals with respect to the Fast of Esther is that the narrative and interpretive strategies of Esther's soteric agency is determined not only by her identity as a woman in a kyriarchal context in Persian exile, but also by the gender-biased interpretative interests and commitments of the present Israelite readers. For this reason male Israelite define her soteric agency along domesticating, patriarchal and macho lines whereas the Israelite women are silent in respect of this and choose instead to underscore the spiritual depth of her soteric agency.


Thesis (Ph.D.)-University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 1997.


Salvation--Biblical teaching., Holy innocents, Massacre of the., Ntabelanga (Eastern Cape)--Massacre, 1921.