My family and missionary education

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The original stone-building church at the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Mmakau Village.Built in 1918.

As the three wise men who followed the star from the East to find the new-born baby Jesus,on 3 January 1918 some seven men of the Bakgatla-Ba-Mmakau Tribal Authority headed East on a three-day journey to the sprouting,but still one-horse town of Pretoria.Like the three wise men,theirs was a journey in search of salvation,in their case to make a request to the Catholic Church in the city to come and establish a missionary station in their village.Like the three wise men,the village men arrived in Pretoria on the day of the Epiphany,on 6 January 1918.

The seven men tribal council members were Mr B Teeme, Mr D Tseleng, Mr E.M Motsepe, Mr E.L Mokgoko, Mr B Ramaboa, Mr J Nthabu and my great-grandfather Mr A Tseleng.Mmakau Village is a tiny tribal enclave outlined on both sides by the beginnings of the Magaliesburg Mountains,80 kilometers to the north-west of Pretoria.

A few months passed until the church sent a pot-bellied,bespectacled priest by the name of Fr Cammilus De Hovre to the village.A German priest belonging to the Oblates of Mary Immaculate(OMI) congregation of priests,Fr De Hovre began his fortnightly cycling trips to Mmakau from the city,spending three to four days in the village,and under the care of the men`s families before returning to Pretoria.No sooner than the villagers expected,he had begun church services and conversion to Catholicism of those amongst the village men and women who wished to become the first Christians,and custodians of the Catholic faith in Mmakau Village.

By tribal consent he was allocated a piece of land close to the Chief`s great house,and a stone`s throw from the Tseleng homestead,to begin laying the foundation for the first missionary station amongst this off-shoot tribe of the Batswana nation.He christened the station The Most Holy Redeemer Mission,and at its entrance inscribed the decree on the trunk of a mulberry tree, “From Here We Shall Never Move.”

Three years down the line a stone-building church – the stones readily collected from the nearby mountains,a rondavel for his residence and a primary school building had been built.It was at this primary school,the De-Wildt Primary School, that my grandparents Mabuse and Jane Tseleng began school,amongst the first group of students in the school.

Across the mountains in the old Lady Selbourne township of Pretoria, lying on the northern outskirts of the city, my paternal grandparents Ishmael and Velezizweni Moloantoa,were making final preparations for my father,his older brother and two of my aunts to make the journey up north,to what is today known as the Limpopo Province, to pursue their education at a variety of missionary schools.My father and his older brother Thapelo attended the Catholic boarding school Pax College in Polokwane,while my aunts Mabel and Meisie were sent to all-girls Glen Cowie Secondary School in Sekhukhuneland,also a Catholic missionary school.

My mother Ceilia followed in her parents` footsteps,and started school at the De-Wildt Primary School.

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A commemorative plague for the seven founder members stands at the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Mmakau Village.My great-grandfather is third on the list.His brother is seventh.

Close to the end of the 1980`s the family made a move to Dube Village,in Soweto,Johannesburg.We were to live with my mother`s uncle,and my grandfather-by-kinship,Arthur Tseleng. It was through my first engagements with grandfather Arthur that my immersion with the history and the heritage of missionary education and its spin-offs on South African society earnestly gained a foothold in me.

Arthur was a son of a roving Anglican Church priest.His childhood had been spent trudging from one place to the other across the country with his clergyman father and mother.Having finally realized that it did not augur well for his development and stability,his parents sent him to Addams College,in Natal,to complete his junior and high school education.

Founded by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the oldest foreign mission society in America, Addams College was a leading education centre for Africans,and also the first education institution for Africans in South Africa to offer mathematics and science as a part of its school syllabus.It was also unmatched in offering post-matriculation courses such as a teaching diploma to its successful final year students. Upon achieving his matriculation, Arthur went on to qualify as a teacher at the teacher`s training college in the school.

Upon his qualification in 1955 he took up his first,and only teaching post as a History and English teacher at Orlando High School in Orlando Township,a township of Soweto.He rose through the ranks to become the school`s deputy headmaster,and started a school library.He subsequently became involved in schools sports and served as the president of the Soweto Schools Sports Association(SSSA) between 1971 and 1975.He retired from teaching in 1976.It was during his retirement years that he related to me tales of his time at Addams College and at Orlando High School.

Our discussions had a good departure point – our own little corner of Soweto . Dube Village was named after an early pioneer of missionary education in South Africa,and amongst the early African educationists – the Reverend John Langalibalele Dube.Amongst his other outstanding milestones was that he was the founding president of the South African Native Council(later to become the African National Congress).Arthur had another factor in common with the Reverend Dube – they were both alumni of Addams College.

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Still standing – The original school building of De-Wildt Primary School.

Three years ago I was requested by the parish council at the Most Holy Redeemer Church in Mmakau Village to conduct research, and compile a booklet about the church`s origins and development over its 93 years of existence.

As I plunged into the research I discovered that not only was the history of the church,the oldest amongst Pretoria`s black Catholic churches unrecorded ,but its role in early education was also unrecognised.This led me to further excavation on the pioneership of the Christian church in education in South Africa in general,and the documentation of this important role.I discovered that the role of Cristian churches,i.e missionary education – through early mission schools such as De-Widlt Primary School,was hardly documented neither in audio,video nor through literature in book form.

I decided to make it my mission to expand the project onto a wider scale, and put together a form of a collective documentation – in book form – about the story and pioneership of missionary education centres in South Africa.It is my hope that through the project the nation,and the world will finally recognise the crucial role of these foundations of black educational excellence in South Africa.

I believe that it is of utmost importance to revitalize their memory and crucial role in the progression of South African society.It is indeed a tribute to missionary education that the first president of a free and democratic South Africa ,Nelson Mandela and many of his peers in the struggle against apartheid, were products of missionary education.

My project`s objectives are to:
– Show the impact of mission education in South Africa.
– Show the role of missionary education in the propagation of ideas such as democracy, equality and human rights in the 19th century, against the backdrop of racial oppression and colonization.
– Cover the development of missionary education and its purpose as a breeding ground for a new type of African leader, and subsequently a new African nationalism whose consequence was the development of the ideological underpinning of a century-long political offensive that would finally lead to the demise of state-sanctioned racial discrimination in South Africa.

I believe that it is our responsibility as the last witnesses of inequality based on race in South Africa to account for the role that missionary education fulfilled in the founding of the modern South African state.I believe that it is important that this memory be reclaimed, restored and reinvigorated for our benefit,and more importantly for the benefit of future generations.


4 thoughts on “My family and missionary education

  1. Molefe

    I am sitting in my office space in Mahikeng as a boy that grew up in Mmakau, a Matlou by surname and fascinated by this piece of writing on the Anglican church that still stand strong next to Mmakau Moemise primary school and MmaTjeleko Moche ‘s homestead.

    How I wish we could start a project to write more about Mmakau and its rich history.



    1. Hi Mr Matlou. I am not certain if I am correct,but are you related to the Matlous of the Matlou Store? Indeed our home village is endowed with a rich heritage and history.The church I have written about in this article is in fact,the Catholic Church up on the hill.It would be interesting to exchange ideas and see if we can put together a writing project to document our proud history as Bakgatla ba Mmakau.


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