In 1856, as two young girls in the eastern Cape stood guarding their fields from the birds, they were approached by two strangers who entrusted them with a prophetic message:
You are to tell the people that the whole community is about to rise again from the dead. Then go on to say to them all the cattle living now must be slaughtered, for they are reared with defiled hands, as the people handle witchcraft. Say to them there must be no ploughing of lands,…The people must give up witchcraft on their own, not waiting until they are exposed by the witchdoctors.
…As the killing of the cattle went on,… everybody looked forward to the eighth day. It was the day on which the sun was expected to rise red, and to set again in the sky. Then there would follow great darkness, during which the people would shut themselves in their huts. Then the dead would rise and return to their homes, and then the light of day would come again (Jordan 70-71, 74).
Such millennial visions in Africa have varied over time and space. While some prophets predicted that great winds would arise, driving Europeans into the sea, others promised that wealthy black brethren would arrive by airplane from America to right the ills of white domination. In either case, the cataclysmic event would usher in a time of harmony, peace and prosperity. As the current millennium approaches, many scholars of Africa are voicing a comparable sense of crisis, a feeling that our understanding of the continent must be reimagined, reconfigured and reconstructed. Unlike Africans of earlier generations, however, we no longer predict a harmonious world emerging from the ashes of the old.