In 1856 and 1857, in response to a prophet’s command, the Xhosa people of southern Africa killed their cattle and ceased planting crops; the resulting famine cost tens of thousands of lives. Much like other millenarian, anticolonial movements—such as the Ghost Dance in North America and the Birsa Munda uprising in India—these actions were meant to transform the world and liberate the Xhosa from oppression. Despite the movement’s momentous failure to achieve that goal, the event has continued to exert a powerful pull on the South African imagination ever since. It is these afterlives of the prophecy that Jennifer Wenzel explores in Bulletproof.
Wenzel examines literary and historical texts to show how writers have manipulated images and ideas associated with the cattle killing—harvest, sacrifice, rebirth, devastation—to speak to their contemporary predicaments. Widening her lens, Wenzel also looks at how past failure can both inspire and constrain movements for justice in the present, and her brilliant insights into the cultural implications of prophecy will fascinate readers across a wide variety of disciplines.