Chimurenga hangings in Bulawayo …the role of the Jesuits in their executions

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2004

CHISHAWASHA was the spiritual centre for the B.S.A. Company during Chimurenga risings.
It played a significant role in the hanging of our ancestors.
Jesuits were spiritual instructors for the Company.
Their role was to denounce our religion and ‘prepare’ our ancestors for hanging.
Chishawasha is an important spiritual centre in Zimbabwe today and Njelele a mere superstitious shrine for Murenga’s heathens.
Here is an account from the Jesuits themselves.
It is sourced from A History of Christian Missions in Zimbabwe by C.J.M. Zvobgo.
Twenty-one Chimurenga prisoners were executed in Bulawayo in May 1898.
Jesuit Fathers ‘instructed’ them to accept defeat and ‘prepare’ for hanging.
Two out of 21 refused baptism.
Four executed in May were young men aged 22 to 28 years old.
They were Mazangunga, Mandhlana, Wata and Ntansha.
Jesuit Fathers examined them before their hanging and found their answers “really very good.” Fr V. Nicot of Chishawasha described their answers as “blessed with the soothing influence of grace.
“All were calm and peaceful to the last.
“Ntansha, especially, died a death which it is a grace to have witnessed and a consolation to remember.”
Six prisoners who had been instructed with the four young men had their sentences commuted from 15 to 20 years imprisonment.
They were taken from Bulawayo Prison to serve their sentences at “some breakwater in the colony.”
Six more were brought for ‘instruction’ and execution in June.
Three had their sentences commuted.
The remaining three were baptised on August 5, half an hour before they were hanged.
They died with “dispositions of humble hope that they would soon see God in Heaven,” said Fr Nicot.
“Whatever may be said of the ignorance and callousness of these natives with regard to God or their perverted ideas of right and wrong, when they know they are to die and are told that there is only one God their Master who knows all things in which they have offended him, all these truths find an echo in their souls and by degrees, it becomes evident that truly the law of God is engraved in their hearts,” said Fr Nicot.
In early August 1898 Richartz began to prepare eight prisoners for baptism and execution.
Three were to die on August 27, two on 29, and three on the 31.
The first three were in their “prime of life and such, as a rule, never submit to instruction without a lot of urging,” said Fr Richartz.
However, “they listened attentively and willingly received baptism.”
One of them was Mugati, an uncle of one of the school boys at Chishawasha.
He was very ill.
His little nephew helped in ‘instructing’ him for hanging.
The next two were young men.
Their relatives had been living at Chishawasha since the end of the Shona rising.
Their brothers were catechumens.
Richartz did not have difficulty with them.
The other three also lent ‘a willing ear’ to ‘instruction’ saying though they thought they had been harshly treated in being condemned to die for what they had done, “they nevertheless considered themselves fortunate in obtaining the grace of baptism which would not have been theirs, but for their sentence.”
Shortly before they went to the scaffold, “their souls were washed in the regenerating waters and they all went quietly to their deaths.”
Three more executions took place in November 1898.
Among them was Gutu, “a famous chief,” who had twice succeeded in escaping from prison and on one occasion attempted suicide.
“Everybody anticipated that he would give trouble if he was informed that his execution was near at hand.
“Great care was exercised to prevent him from making a second attempt on his life.”
To avoid ‘unnecessary trouble’, Richartz waited until the last moment before telling him the hour of his death.
He took with him Gutu’s nephew, a neophyte named Francis Xavier, and a second neophyte, to help in ‘instructing’ Gutu for baptism and hanging.
The two instructed Gutu with “wonderful eloquence.
“Gutu gave no trouble whatsoever.”
The next morning, Richartz roused the condemned men from their sleep to ‘prepare’ them for hanging.
“I have every hope that they received the grace of the sacrament.
“All seemed in the best dispositions and the executions took place as quietly as possible.”
Thus, Chimurenga ancestors perished, one by one, as spiritual convicts at the gallows.
Fr A. Boos of Chishawasha celebrated their hanging as a “victory of Christianity over Heathenism”.
On one side he said “were missionaries wielding God’s punishment”, on the other was “the prophet of their god with his war-cry ‘Murenga!’”
According to Boos, “The utter failure of the rising, the falsehoods of the witchdoctor (Kaguvi) and the fact that when about to suffer the death penalty, he turned for consolation to the religion which he had tried so hard to overthrow, surely these were arguments too strong to ignore.”
The Shona rising he said “has given us deeper insight into the workings of the native mind.
“Their prejudices against our holy religion are not as deep-rooted as we had imagined.”
He said: “Black though their ingratitude may appear, it must be borne in mind that the Mashona are a nation only just emerging from the depths of the grossest barbarism in which they have been sunk for long years.”
They are “a people whose character is a mixture of avarice, sensuality and superstition, utterly void of conscience, to whom, the word gratitude is unknown”.
What impressed Boos most was that “the prime movers of the insurrection had made it their religious duty to take up arms against the white usurpers with the help of witchdoctors who issued a proclamation that Murenga, their god of war, was about to kill all white people as well as every native who should remain neutral or render them assistance.
“All who took part in the revolt were to be miraculously protected from the bullets of the whites.”
Thus, superstition, according to Fr Boos “holds the native mind in complete thraldom.
“In the case of Mashona, the incredible happened.
“This degraded, cowardly race actually dared at the bidding of their prophets to engage in a war of extermination with white colonists and though defeated again and again, continued to offer stubborn resistance from their rocky strongholds, buoyed up with their unwavering belief in the promises of their witchdoctors.”
He concluded: “If then the influence of superstition is capable of converting the weak and degraded Mashona into a strong and daring foe, may we not with reason hope that, once thoroughly imbued with the truths of the Catholic faith, he will prove a sturdy soldier of Christ, prompt and ready to make any sacrifice that may be required of him and even, if need be, to endure relentless persecution?”
Richartz also celebrated the hangings as a victory of the Church over heathens saying “there are now at Chishawasha as many people as we had before the rising in 1896.
“Our schoolboys and catechumens number about 180.
“The Sunday instructions are far more numerously attended.
“The opposition of older people to the education of their sons and daughters has been broken. “Belief in superstition has received a severe blow.
“The families of prominent rebels are asking to be admitted on the farm.
“The wife and children of Kaguvi are among them.
“Girls, who were kept away by their parents, come now in great numbers for instruction.
“Previously, no girl was allowed to think about marrying a catechumen or neophyte.
“This is altogether changed now.
“We have our first two happy couples.
“Twelve more engagements are settled.
“This means 12 more Christian couples.
“All the boys make it a condition of marriage that the girls should be instructed.”
This is where Zimbabwe is today, spiritually.
We serve the god of the white man who hanged our ancestors.
Chishawasha is an important spiritual centre in Zimbabwe; Njelele a superstitious shrine for Murenga.
Next week: Africans who helped hang our ancestors

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