Chimurenga risings: Africans who died for the cause of the whiteman


TWO questions come to mind about the role of the Church in our struggles for liberation since the First Chimurenga of 1896.
The first question is: Is the role of the Church in Zimbabwe to liberate Africans from colonialism or to deliver Africans into the hands of colonialism?
The second question is: Is the role of African priests in these churches to liberate Africans from colonialism or to help colonialism enslave Africans?
The following account from A History of Christian Missions in Zimbabwe (1890-1939) by CJM Zvobgo will help answer these questions in an honest and unbiased way.
We shall start with the Wesleyan mission in Zimbabwe.
Owen Watkins and Isaac Shimmin were the pioneer missionaries of the Wesleyan mission in Zimbabwe.
They requested Rhodes and the BSA Company for financial support.
Rhodes and BSA Company contributed a sum of 100 pounds annually for five years towards the mission of the Wesleyan Church in Mashonaland.
Rhodes also promised the Church to, “confidently count on receiving from him and his company an allotment of land in Mashonaland.”
So, the BSA Company and the Wesleyan Church had the same mission.
They came to colonise Africans and take away their land.
Rhodes gave five stands in Salisbury to the Church, four stands in Umtali, three farms each 3 000 acres, one in Umtali, another in Salisbury, and a third in Nemakonde north of Salisbury. Rhodes also promised to give enough land to the Church in every town in Mashonaland and more land for mission stations wherever the Church may require it.
A mission station was established at Hartleyton (Moleli) in Nemakonde on a farm of 11 528 acres on December 15 1891.
The purpose of the station was to be “an active centre” from which Christian teachings would radiate, “in all directions among the benighted heathens of the kraals”.
In March 1892 the Wesleyans built their permanent Church in Salisbury.
The Church cost over 300 pounds.
In May 1892, the Church secured four stands in Fort Victoria.
In July 1892, the Church established Epworth Mission Station on a 3 000 acre farm.
Nengubo (Waddilove) and Kwenda mission stations were 3 000 acres each.
In August 1892 Rev G.H. Eva arrived with eight African evangelists and teachers from Transvaal and Cape Colony.
They included Josiah Ramushu, Molimile Molele, Samuel Tutani, Wellington Belisi and James Anta.
They were immediately deployed at the new mission stations.
Their role was not to liberate Africans, but to help colonise Africans and take away their land and, if need be, lay down their own lives in furthering the church’s colonial cause.
Rev John White mourned their deaths as a loss to the white cause saying: “Two of our devoted native evangelists, Molimile Molele and James Anta have suffered death at the hands of the rebels.
“Truly 1896 has been a dark year in the history of our mission.”
Rev Isaac Shimmin mourned Anta’s death saying he was, “one of the finest teachers we had, of splendid physique, a noted hunter and most popular man in every way and successful worker of Christ”.
Rev J. W. Stanlake mourned him saying, “He died in the midst of his work, a brave man and a true missionary of the Cross.
“He left behind him a memory which will be cherished for many years among the heathen.”
The most celebrated martyr for the Anglican Church’s colonial mission in Zimbabwe was Molimile Molele.
He was killed at Nengubo (Waddilove) mission.
Shimmin mourned him as, “one of our most successful evangelists, advanced in years, but wonderfully active and energetic”.
He came from Good Hope with the first lot of teachers in 1892.
He was stationed at Nengubo.
Shimmin “introduced him to the chief and the people and explained fully the object of our mission.
“Though they understood our purpose very imperfectly, their welcome was satisfactory.
“The following year Molele’s wife came from the Transvaal and taught the Shona women and children how to live and dress like the natives at Good Hope.”
Shimmin said “Molele believed in practical Christianity and taught the MaShona by precept and example the joys and blessings of the Gospel of Christ.
“He built a comfortable dwelling and a large garden and tried to induce the MaShona to live on a high scale of civilisation.”
Shimmin said he heard the news of Molele’s death three weeks after the risings.
On Friday June 19 1896, Molele got a note from the teachers at Epworth telling him of the “unsettled state of the country.
“The following day, Molele made a small laager not far from his house.”
Later, “Nengubo’s heathen brothers arrived with a lot of strangers.
“Molele suspected that Nengubo and his friends had joined the enemy since some of them had gone back to the heathen mode of dress because the MaShona witchdoctors had commanded it.”
On Sunday June 21, Molele was told that the Shona had killed Mr James White, a farmer living about three miles away and a great friend of his.
“He decided to go over at once and investigate.
“His wife tried to dissuade him.
“But he was determined and off he set.”
He found Mr White badly wounded and helpless.
“Molele at first hardly knew what to do, but he was determined to save his friend.
“He returned to Nengubo, got a couple of his oxen and spanned them on to Mr James White’s small cart.”
He carefully lifted the wounded man into the cart and set off homewards.
“When he was about 200 yards from his church, four Shona rebels ran down towards him and killed him and the man in the cart.”
He died as a hero of the colonial cause, not of African liberation.
The most celebrated martyr of the Anglican Church against the 1896 risings was Bernard Mizeki.
Bishop GWH Knight-Bruce brought him from Cape Town in May 1891 and directly put him in charge of a mission station near Chief Mangwende’s village (Bernard Mizeki).
He accompanied Douglas Pelly on visits to various villages.
Pelly mourned him, “as a charming companion who made many a long walk bright with his interesting talk of native customs, thoughts and legends”.
Lilian Knight-Bruce mourned Bernard’s great skills in learning languages and as an interpreter which made him ‘a most valuable helper’ to our cause.
In 1894 Bernard and his pupil John Kapuya and the Zulu catechist, Frank Ziqubu, assisted Bishop Knight-Bruce in translating the Lord’s Prayer, the 10 Commandments and the Creed, into Shona.
Early in June 1896 the Rev Herbert Foster heard rumours that disturbed him.
Any Africans who were associated with Europeans would be killed.
On June 14 he sent a messenger to tell Bernard to leave at once for the mission farm at Penhalonga (St Augustine’s).
Bernard agonised over the warning and wrote to Foster saying that he had decided to stay.
On June 18 1896 three rebels arrived at the mission and killed him.
Whose heroes are these Africans?


  1. Thanks for enlightening us.
    I had always wondered at the origin of these odd sounding names Moleli, Mizeki etc.

    A friend once sent me a newspaper clip via whatsApp. It was about a British coloniser who transversed Africa trying to bend our grand parents. He was having no success. He wrote a report back to his queen, that he had seen no beggar or thief in all his sojourns across the continent. Africans were disciplined people who took care of their own. And that only religion could be the weapon best crafted to break their resolve.


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