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Matshai, Solomon
1909 to 1992
Church of the Province of Southern Africa (Anglican)
South Africa

Solomon Matshai was an outstanding church leader in the Anglican Church in the diocese of Bloemfontein and served as missions director in several areas. In the segregated era in which he lived, this was the highest position an African priest could hold.

Matshai was born in 1909 to Lokisang Daniel Matshai and Mmatshekedi Sophia Matshai. He married Mmaserame and they were blessed with three girls and four boys. One of his sons, Lesley, is a retired school principal. [1]

Matshai was trained at St. Peter's College, Rosettenville. In March 1942 he was ordained, being one of the first African clergy to obtain a licentiate in theology. It is possible that he had been trained as a teacher earlier because he first served at St. Monica's Mission at Tala in Thaba Nchu where he was a priest-teacher. He took six months off to go to St. Patrick's to prepare himself to take on a full pastoral role. He stayed at Tala till 1949.

Matshai was secretary of the African Clergy Association in 1942. This association tried to stand for the interests of the African clergy. Among the issues which they discussed was the disparity between the stipends for black and white clergy.

Matshai left to become the first African priest-in-charge of Goldfield. He stayed there for three years, leaving in 1952 for St. Mary's, Odendaalsrus. Matshai was later appointed missions director for Winburg from 1954 to 1960. From 1960 to1964 he was missions director--once again the first African to be appointed to this position--for the Kroonstad mission district. He left the diocese of Bloemfontein in 1964 for the diocese of Johannesburg where he settled at Rustenberg as a curate. In 1970 he was transferred to Saulsville, in Pretoria.

Matshai retired in 1981. He died on December 29, 1992.

It would seem that Matshai had quite a stormy relationship with the Society for the Sacred Mission (SSM) [2], which may explain his departure from the diocese in 1965. Problems within the parish of the Resurrection in Kroonstad may also have played a role. [3] In a conversation with his son, the strained relationship between Matshai and the new bishop, Bill Burnett, was mentioned as another possible cause because the two "did not see eye to eye." The son explained:

My father had a good relationship with the previous bishop, Bishop Howe-Browne but he did not get along with the new bishop. Another problem was that my father was the first African priest coming after a string of SSM white priests. Now there were some African members of the parish who had got used to having white priests around and who were not keen to have an African as their priest There was opposition from some members of the council. My father received no support from the bishop. That is why he left. [4]
Matshai was a pioneer African missions director in three places: Winburg, Odendaalsrus, and Kroonstad.

Abraham Lieta



Notes:

1. Mr. Lesley Matshai, telephone interview by the author on September 7, 2003.
2. Mr. Edward Seema, interview by the author on October 24, 2002 at Sekameng in Lesotho. From obituary notice published in the Quarterly Paper No. 265:94.
3. Fr. Albert Mosea, interview by the author on May 31, 2003 at Kroonstad.
4. Mr. Lesley Matshai, interview by the author, September 7, 2003.


This story, submitted in January 2004, was written by Fr. Abraham Mojalefa Lieta of the School of Theology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, while researching the role of the African clergy in the Anglican diocese of Bloemfontein (1884-1963). Dr. Philippe Denis, professor of the History of Christianity at the University of KwaZulu-Natal is the DACB liaison coordinator and writing supervisor.