A 16-year-old Xhosa girl had a vision that to defeat the British soldiers the tribe should kill all the cattle and destroy the crops. Tens of thousands died in the resulting famine
“The great Cattle-killing was a millennialist movement which began among the Xhosa in 1856, and led them to destroy their own means of subsistence in the belief that it would bring about salvation by supernatural spirits.
In April 1856 the sixteen-year-old Xhosa prophetess Nongqawuse began to declare that she had received a message from the Xhosa people’s ancestors, promising deliverance from their hardships. She preached that the ancestors would return from the afterlife in huge numbers, drive all Europeans into the sea, and give the Xhosa bounteous gifts of horses, sheep, goats, dogs, fowls, and all manner of clothing and food in great amounts. They would also restore the elderly to youth and would usher in a utopian era of prosperity. However, she declared that the dead ancestors would only enact this on condition that the Xhosa first destroyed all their means of subsistence. They needed to kill all of their cattle and burn all of their crops.
At first no one believed Nongquwuse’s prophecy and the Xhosa nation ignored her prophecy. But when Chief Sarhili began to kill his cattle, more and more people began to believe that Nongquwuse was an igqirha (diviner) who could communicate with the ancestors. They too killed their cattle and destroyed their crops. The cult grew and built up momentum, sweeping across the eastern Cape. The government authorities of the Cape Colony feared chaos, famine and economic collapse, so they desperately appealed in vain to the Xhosa to ignore the prophecies. They even arrested Nongqawuse herself for disturbance caused.
The return of the ancestors was predicted to occur on 18 February 1857. The Xhosa, especially chief Sarhili of the Gcalekas, heeded the demand to destroy food sources and clothes and enforced it on others throughout the country. When the day came, the Xhosa nation waited en masse for the momentous events to occur, only to be bitterly disappointed. With no means of subsistence, famine set in.
The cattle killings continued into 1858, leading to the starvation of thousands. Disease was also spread from the cattle killings. This gave the settlers power over the remainder of the Xhosa nation who were often forced to turn to the colonists for food, blankets and other relief.”