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Ndebele: Martyrdom of M Khanyile commemoration (11/03/2007)

11th March 2007

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Date: 11/03/2007

Source: KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government

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Title: Ndebele: Martyrdom of M Khanyile commemoration


Speech delivered by Mr Sibusiso Ndebele, Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, during the 130 year commemoration of the Martyrdom of Maqhamsela Khanyile, Eshowe


We are assembled here today to commemorate 130 years since the death of Maqhamsela Khanyile. He was born of non-Christian parents and died a Christian convert under what is now called the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa (ELCSA). He grew up like all other men of the time and joined the army of the Zulu King.

Khanyile grew up at a time when Zulu social order was characterised by social cohesion; a culture of respect for authority and distaste for shameful behaviour. The elders were valued and they guided the youth through life. The youth formed social bonds, and through ukubuthwa, maintained these social networks for life. The age group system ensured maximum accountability for each individual because they always thought and acted as part of the group. The group was at times the extended family or the age group regiment to which he belonged. The idea of an individual acting alone was therefore somehow foreign.

The Zulu religious system like all other African religious systems put the home or family as the centre of religious practice. The thin line between day-to-day life and religious life facilitated and sustained strong social bonds among groups and individuals, and created a solid line of communication between the living and the dead. This was further enhanced by social bonds created by inter-clan and sometimes cross?clan marriages. The permanent seeking of bonds and relations was the general character of pre-colonial African life. Then the state, religion and society were one in a well-structured hierarchy.

Khanyile was killed on 9 March 1877 because he had taken a conscious individual decision to be Christianised through baptismal. Kings Mpande and Cetshwayo had earlier, for strategic reasons accepted that the missionaries could establish mission stations and preach in Zululand. People could go to church and listen to such sermons. However, there was a general understanding that the last step baptismal was prohibited. The rationale was that it represented a point of no-return and would somehow disturb the social bonds, formed and cemented over many years. A person so baptised, it was argued, would be lost to the social system of the Zulus.

The missionaries started arriving in the Eastern Cape as early as the 18th century. They started arriving in KwaZulu-Natal in the mid 19th century. We must recall that the missionaries were generally people of integrity, driven by a deep personal experience of salvation. Most were driven by a desire to form associations for the intensive worship of the Lord. Most came here and elsewhere in the world in search of partnerships and opportunities to spread the word of God. They also had a deep desire to evangelise both at home and abroad. That was the basis for missionary work. It was founded on sacrifice.

Strong missionary societies like the Moravian Society in Norway and the British Bible society saw value in establishing religious networks whose motive was to spread the religious message at home and abroad, and to promote the socio-cultural values of sacrifice and non materialism.

In the 19th century Europe the missionary movement gained ground. In a way, by promoting the Christian message it challenged the European status quo of Napoleonic wars, instability and pursuit of material wealth promoted by industrial revolution. On the other hand the economic successes of the post-Napoleonic era boosted the missionary movement, in that the new middle class, with money to subscribe to Christian magazines, buy bibles, make donations was generally supporting the church.

For the internal organisation of the church, missionary work posed a very strong challenge to clerical hierarchy. Most missionaries were young and well-educated and were quite aware of the complexities involved in introducing a new religion to people who were already a spiritual society.

The first missionary came from the Norwegian Missionary Society to settle in Zululand, H P S Schroeder or uMankankanana, as King Mpande would call him. He had a Bachelor of Divinity degree. He had also studied lay medicine and was able to help the King heal rheumatism. Their interpretation of the Biblical message of peace, of equality, of equal creation of all people by one God, and of salvation of all, irrespective of race, colour and gender through one God contrasted very much with the European stereotype of the time. It saw the Europeans as representing a cultural advancement and the rest as representing cultural inferiority.

The missionaries were often aware that the spread of the mission message would take more than just preaching what the Bible said. To be successful the missionaries had to possess other skills. They had to command technology, medical skills, trade, and teach people to read and write. They also had to be of use to the economy.

In Zululand, for instance, the economy was agricultural, by way of crop and stock farming. Knowledge of fertilisers and efficient methods of farming came in handy and created harmony between the missionaries and the local communities, even those who were non-converts.

Through sheer determination the missionaries saw language as the most important medium of communication. You cannot converse with people unless you know their language. So, the missionaries would learn IsiZulu first, speak and write it fluently. Then they would translate the Bible and even teach local people to read and write.

In the summer of 1869 to 1870 even Prince Cetshwayo attended literacy classes under Reverend Ormond Oftebro, uMondi, and learned to read and write his name.

Conversion is often packaged as a private personal decision which must be visible to the public. This notion at times contrasted with group philosophy of the local population. The idea of breaking away from the group was seen as being tantamount to treason. Group psychology and philosophy were very strong. Thus the idea, that one could sin and be saved as an individual, posed the greatest challenge for the missionaries to explain.

This is the context in which the conversion of Maqhamsela Khanyile was seen. When he accepted Christianity and sought baptismal he was breaking away from the group and was to carve a new identity based on his individual needs and beliefs. This was totally unheard of and in contemporary reasoning of the time, deserved punishment by death.

The Provincial Government of KwaZulu-Natal through the Office of the Premier has taken a decision to acknowledge that some of our collective history was distorted, especially during the years between 1879 and 1994. Under colonial and Apartheid rule we were seldom consulted about our history, our culture and our heritage. Our personal identities were crafted on our behalf, and we had no say.

We are a free people today. Our present and our future are completely in our hands. It is now time to reflect and to put right that which was wrong. In 2006 we commemorated the 1906 Bhambatha Uprising and reinstated Inkosi Bhambatha Zondi. We also commemorated Mahatma Gandhi's Satyagraha and further strengthened our relationship with the people of India.

This year we are commemorating 40 years of our leader Inkosi Albert Luthuli who mysteriously died at KwaDukuza on 21 July 1967. He was a teacher, a preacher, a politician, a farmer and a traditional leader. In 1960 he won the Nobel Peace Prize, but was not recognised by the Apartheid government.

As part of the Luthuli celebrations we are today commemorating 130 years since the death of Maqhamusela Khanyile. He was a stoical individual who converted to Christianity. Even in times of harassment and the threat of death, he stood faithful in his beliefs.

Maqhamusela's views were that of a non-racial South Africa. To him it made no difference that the Christian faith was brought by white people. Through his faith he saw the universality of mankind and realised that out there, there was a bigger world of multiple nations, united by a common desire to make this a better world. He was one of many, who saw religion, particularly the universality of its moral basis, as representing a new world order.

We are here today, as a people representing freedom and modernity. Most have gone to school; we can speak English. For many of us it was mission work which brought us into contact with education, literacy, liberal views and shaped our African nationalism. The founders of our liberation movement such as Dr Pixley Seme, Dr J L Dube, Chief Albert Luthuli, Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and others were products of missionary education.

Religion to them posed a challenge to ensure that every human being was accorded the same freedom and human rights. Religion, they reasoned, did not sanction the oppression of one by another on the basis of race, creed, sex or any other characteristic. We are carrying a message of racial and gender equality. Late this year we will commemorate Izintombi Zengcugce, those young maidens who in 1876, driven by vision and courage to put gender on the national agenda, challenged the status quo. They demanded that women should have a say in the choice of spouses and partners.

We believe today as the government of KwaZulu-Natal that religion can play a fundamental role in the rekindling the values of higher morality in our society. A free religion will teach us again how to be better fathers. A new found spirituality will teach the girl and boy child how to be a better citizen of the future. Spirituality will teach the rapist to stop raping, the robber to stop robbing, and the murderer to stop taking the lives of others. It will teach the community to be responsible citizens, by refusing to serve as a market and storage facility for criminals. They will no longer buy stolen plasma screen televisions, laptops, music systems and cellphones. They will also stop using stolen credit cards to purchase the latest clothes, shoes and expensive watches. We cannot depart from this script which teaches us that hard work, honesty and patience are fundamental values that will in the end make this KwaZulu-Natal a better place for all of us to live in.

The Faith Based Community (FBC) has played a major role in advancing development, peace, democracy and partnerships in this part of the country. It made significant interventions in education; created mission hostels for learners; spearheaded literacy; researched and published crucial manuscripts on our culture and history; facilitated black participation in Science and Technology; built hospitals and access roads. The Christian Church openly sided with the liberation movement and sacrificed much in our struggle for liberation. Many practising priests and people of the Church such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Reverend Mcebisi Xundu, Reverend Allan Boesak, Reverend Motlalepule Chabaku and countless other took a definite position against apartheid and stood up to be counted.

Your historic fight against all forms of injustice, your desire to establish fellowships and partnerships in the deliverance of the moral message can be extended to normalise our society in the fight against ignorance, disease and disregard for law.

I thank you.

Issued by: Office of the Premier, KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Government
11 March 2007




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