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Manifesto Signatories

Five signatories of the Black Priests' Manifesto: (from left to right) Louwfant, Mabona, Mkhatshwa, Moetopele, Mokoka [1*]
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Mokoka, Gobi Clement
b. 1940
Roman Catholic Church
South Africa

Mokoka was born in 1940 in Sesobe village in Zeerust region. He went to school at St. Theresa's Minor Seminary in Lesotho, completed his matric and went on to St. Peter's seminary which, at this time, had been moved from Pevensey-Natal to Hammanskraal. The seminary started at Mariathal and was moved to a new location at Pevensey and acquired the new name of St. Peter's Seminary. [1] At first it used the buildings of the defunct Reichenau Agricultural School founded in 1928. [2]

Mokoka was ordained in 1966 and served as parish priest in Marapyane, Hammanskraal and Mabopane. He was also worked as the organizing secretary for St. Peter's Old Boys Association (SPOBA). Even though SPOBA had been formally established in July 1966, the desire to express the concerns of black clergy had existed before that. From July 4 to 7, 1966, a convention was held at Hammanskraal, with thirty-one former students of St. Peter's Catholic Seminary in attendance. Mokoka also attended this convention which gave birth to the association that came to be known as SPOBA. [3]

A number of papers were presented at the conference. The first one delivered by Fr. Oswin Magrath, rector of St. Peter's, was entitled "Unity of the Clergy in Southern Africa." In the inaugural lecture of the scholastic year in February 1962, Magrath had expressed his concern that the training of black clergy in a separate institution should not put the unity of the church at risk:
The unity of the church, and its future, ... demands that [the African orientation of the seminary] should not go so far as to produce a clergy segregated (even by their own choice or inclination) from the rest of the clergy, nationalistic or even anti-white in spirit, and even perhaps tribally divided among themselves. This would be an unhappy result. On the contrary it should produce clergy who are truly catholic, ready to serve any members of the church, ready to work with any other clergy. [4]
In his 1966 paper, Magrath was still emphasizing that clergy should unite. [5] He referred to Vatican II and pleaded for an integrated clergy. He also appealed to black clergy, asking them to help white clergy evolve in the new situation. In his paper, he declared that Africans were meant to be leaders in their churches and encouraged them to be prepared to take up such roles. Other priests also gave papers. For instance, Fr. Anthony Mabona spoke on liturgy and Fr. Finbar Synnott on the second Vatican council (Vatican II). Officers for the association were elected: Smangaliso Mkhatshwa as chairman, David Moetapele as vice-chairperson, John Louwfant as secretary, Raphael Mosiea as vice-secretary, and Thlamelo Kolisang as treasurer.

There were many reasons for forming the association. The chairman of the association, Mkhatshwa, was working with coal miners from the neighboring countries. He felt he had to reflect on his theology, his ministry, and his spirituality. As a black priest, he had benefited a great deal from the teaching of the Dominican priests who were running St. Peter's Seminary at the time. Most of them had been trained at Oxford and other English universities. They were seen as very progressive priests: "It was also at the end of the Vatican II council. In order to make sure that the spirit of Vatican II continued, we thought of forming SPOBA." [6] For Moetapele, SPOBA was formed because the kind of training they had received had probably prepared them to face the new challenges posed by the socio-political situation of South Africa. [7]

Mokoka wrote that he felt that SPOBA was formed because it could help them come to grips theologically with the pastoral and theological challenges of the times. [8]

The Petitions

The Black Consciousness Movement started flowing into SPOBA from about 1971 onwards. According to Clement Mokoka, SPOBA was "an organized platform to challenge and oppose the hierarchy's predilection to support the settler regime actively at the expense of the indigenous clergy, laity, and the oppressed and exploited community at large." [9] There was "a two stream church, namely, the quest for an autochthonous church represented by the black clergy and laity, on the one hand, and the struggle to establish the legitimacy as well as the superiority of Euro-Christians represented by the hierarchy on the other hand." [10]

SPOBA started sending petitions to the hierarchy immediately after its inception in 1966. Several other petitions followed in 1968 and 1969. Their main theme was the "right to self-determination on the plea of mature manhood." [11] This theme had already been put to Joseph Gerard, the Oblate missionary, by the Zulu people when they said to him, "Let the white man leave us alone." [12] The same theme was identified by Archbishop Peter Butelezi in his summary of SPOBA's history: "SPOBA came in an era of strong Black Consciousness at the end of the 1960s, when there was a danger of forming a black church of all Christian groups." [13] As Moetapele emphasized: "Hey man, all sorts of things were happening. We were questioning the leadership of the church in South Africa. The majority of Catholics in South Africa are blacks but the leadership of the church is white. How come? This is an anomaly which must be rectified." [14]

These petitions were dismissed by the hierarchy because they did not regard them as being a true representation of the black membership of the church. Another reason, according to Mokoka, was that the bishops were not in a position to do anything about them. Lastly, it appears that they did not take the petitions seriously enough and did not see the necessity of responding to them as a matter of urgency. So the black priests did not receive any response to most of the petitions which were sent to the bishops.

By the late 1960s, Black Consciousness had entered both the major and minor seminary in Hammanskraal. Its insertion was going to make the seminarians very vocal politically and theologically. Furthermore, Mokoka was working in Marapyane, Hammankraal, and Mabopane and this made his involvement in the Black Consciousness, the seminary, and politics very important as he was close to where the black caucus groups in the church held their meetings.

Black Consciousness in the Church

Black Consciousness had a great impact on South African society and the churches were no exception. Its origins were deeply rooted in Christianity. In 1966, the Anglican Church under the incumbent, Archbishop Robert Selby Taylor, convened a meeting which later led to the foundation of the University Christian Movement (UCM). This was to become the vehicle for Black Consciousness.

In 1968, at a UCM meeting in Stutterheim where blacks were in the majority, Steve Biko started canvassing for an all black university movement. [15] A situation arose where the black delegates met alone to discuss "the problem relating to a clause in the Group Areas Act which ruled that blacks may not be in an urban area for more than seventy-two hours without a permit." [16] The forty black participants used this opportunity to discuss an all black student movement. This resulted in the formation of a black caucus group. The membership consisted of university students, teacher training college students, seminarians, and pastors.

In December 1968, the students at the Medical School of the University of Natal in Durban (present-day University of KwaZulu-Natal) convened a conference which led to the launching of the South Africa Students' Congress (SASO). This conference took place at Mariannhill High School, run by the Catholic Church. SASO formally broke away from the National Union of South African Students (NUSAS), a student organization run by white liberal students. NUSAS survived as a multi-racial organization which acted as a platform for political issues for English-speaking and black campuses but it was not seen as an organization that adequately addressed the needs of black students.

The SASO policy manifesto gave the following definition of Black Consciousness:
Black Consciousness is ... an attitude of mind, a way of life. The basic tenet of Black Consciousness is that the black man must reject all value systems that seek to make him a foreigner in the country of his birth and reduce his basic human dignity. The black man must build up his own value system, see himself as self-defined and not defined by other. The concept of Black Consciousness implies the awareness of the black people of power they wield as a group, both economically and politically. Hence group cohesion and solidarity are important facets of Black Consciousness. It will always be enhanced by the totality of the oppressed people. Hence the message of Consciousness has to be spread to reach all sections of the black community. [17]
At the religious level, Black Consciousness finds its expression in Black Theology. This movement is essentially a re-examination of the black man's religious make up and an attempt to unite the black man to God. SASO sees Black Theology as an existential theology that grapples with the black man's day-to-day experience. [18] Black Consciousness became very effective in the 1970s. In many churches, a change was beginning to occur through the philosophy of Black Consciousness and through Black Theology.

Furthermore, in the Catholic Church the second Vatican council (Vatican II) brought about drastic changes. Also influential was Pope John XXIII's social teachings as spelled out in his pastoral letters Pacem in Terris and Mater et Magistra. There was new unconditional support for the human rights of all people irrespective of civilization or culture. In 1972, the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC) published a document entitled A Call to Conscience. This publication was greatly influenced by Vatican II. The bishops made positive recommendations about trade unions, minimum wages, welfare, redistribution of wealth, and the church's responsibility to the poor. They also spoke out for the detained, banned, and restricted. The effects of Black Consciousness and Vatican II were deeply intertwined. They fed on each other.

The Black Priests' Manifesto

On the morning of January 23, 1970, The Rand Daily Mail published a manifesto entitled: "Our Church has let us down." The document was just the tip of the iceberg. Since the black clergy had received no response from their petitions to the bishops since 1966, by the end of 1969, they had no alternative but to express their concerns publicly through the printed media. The Manifesto aired their grievances, by saying that all avenues which the authors had tried before had been closed to them. They mentioned the petitions of 1966, 1968, and 1969. The five signatories to the Manifesto were Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, David Moetapele, John Louwfant, Clement Mokoka, and Anthony Mabona.

The five priests emphatically stated: "We want to state that the African is capable of an agonizing 'Enough! Enough!' In spite of our ordination, we have been treated like glorified altar boys." [19] The Manifesto then moved on to the issue of Africanization. In his address to the African Bishops in Uganda, Pope Paul VI had said, "You can give the church the precious and original contribution of négritude (a consciousness of and pride in the cultural and physical aspects of the African heritage) [20] which she needs particularly." [21] Emphasizing similar sentiments, Cardinal Zoungrana "reminded his colleagues that before they could realize the pope's ambition, it was imperative to rediscover what he called the African soul." [22] However, despite the fact that the pope and a cardinal encouraged the African bishops to proceed with Africanization, not much had been done to implement Africanization in southern Africa.

Another issue which the Manifesto dealt with was apartheid. On the surface the Catholic Church tried to show they condemned apartheid: "Yet, in practice, they cherish it. The church practiced segregation in her seminaries, convents, hospitals, schools, monasteries, associations and churches long before the present government legislated against social integration." [23] The clergy itself was divided on the question of apartheid. Some were non-conformists like Archbishop Denis Hurley. Other white priests were sympathetic to the government's apartheid policy. As far as the five signatories were concerned, as Christians, they believed in a multi-racial society. They felt that this was the "only way" in which real Christianity could be practiced. [24] In other words, the African needed to assert himself in the light of all these challenges, that is, apartheid and segregation. What the black priests wanted was that society be normal again. It had to become a multi-racial society instead of a divided society. [25]

Having set the scene, the signatories enumerated grievances which encompassed the process of Africanization. They suggested, among other things, that bishops widen their approach to the apostolate. An African Affairs Department had to be created to "look after the interests of black Catholics." [26] The black priests preferred to "manage or mismanage" themselves, otherwise they would forever remain "black boys under the rectorship of white boys." [27] The last suggestion was directed at the white priests when they said, "Let our white colleagues cease to pretend to be impeccable angels at our expense." [28]

Steve Biko said that white liberals "are claiming a monopoly on intelligence and moral judgment and setting the pattern and pace for the realization of black man's aspiration." [29] It was time for blacks to liberate themselves. Blacks experienced their own particular problems in their institutions. [30] The Manifesto expresses many facets of Black Consciousness. We see the priests breaking the tradition that said "Africans have infinite patience." [31] This was attributed to the African's laziness, generally identifying him to be inferior to the white man. The priests questioned this paradigm (which I will call the "race paradigm"), trying to see a way out and suggesting solutions when they said: "The African wants to rediscover his personality and identity. He wishes to develop all his faculties--mental, physical, aesthetic. We wonder whether he can achieve this in the midst of white people. Competition will always be in their favor." [32] This, in essence, was the philosophy of Black Consciousness. Mamphela Ramphele said that blacks were supposed to see themselves as black first and foremost and commit themselves to the struggle. By discovering their mental faculties they would be themselves--black! [33]

In 1971 Clement Mokoka started working within the Black Consciousness Movement that had, as one of its aims to socially uplift people. In conjunction with BCM leaders like Dr. Ramphele Mamphela, Mokoka started adult education projects in the Winterveld that included Mokoka's parishes in Mabopane and Marapyane. [34] The government viewed these projects as venues for political agitation and Mokoka was sent to jail. In 1976, he escaped from prison and fled to Holland where he stayed for eighteen years in exile. While in the Netherland he became the external representative of the Permanent Black Priests' Solidarity Group (PBPSG).

The Permanent Black Priest Solidarity Group (PBPSG)

SPOBA, started on July 6, 1966, was changed into the PBPSG in 1976 (except in Natal) with a strong Black Consciousness flow from 1970 onwards. [35] Later, ROBA (Roma Old Boys Association) also came to be associated with PBPSG. [36] The PBPSG became a pressure group within the churches in South Africa, but it did not have the great support from priests that SPOBA had had. Other people involved in the PBPSG were Anglicans like Fr. Geoff Moselane and Fr. Drake Tsankeng. As Fr. Peter Lenkoe, an Anglican priest in Soweto, stated: "You had RCC and Presbyterian Church of South Africa (PCSA) who were prominent in the PBPSG. This was a way in which the churches were saying we are not immune from what is happening in society. There was a lot of pain in 1976. The church had to say, we are part of that. We cannot just be content with burying people without sharing their pain and stories and their lives. The church was saying that we are pledging our solidarity to the people." [37]

The PBPSG first started as a Catholic black caucus group in Soweto, but this did not last long because other churches felt that PBPSG was expressing what they felt they should be doing--that is to be in solidarity with the people. In the end, many churches were involved. The PBPSG was a small but very powerful group, putting pressure on the church to such an extent that most of the improvements today were brought about by the PBPSG. The group was feared by the church authority primarily for two reasons: "Firstly, the Black Consciousness people supported us, so although we did not have the majority of the black priests behind us we had the Black Consciousness Movement behind us, which was a big movement--we were theologically leaders of Black Consciousness. Secondly, we occupied a high moral ground because the concerns we expressed were in agreement with the gospels." [38] It was a small group because some priests were afraid to join, having been indoctrinated into obedience by the training they had received.

The PBPSG was also formed in response to the external political situation. Many people like Mokoka were banned, imprisoned or in exile and there was a feeling of anger towards white people. This is seen in the incidents which happened on and after June 16, 1976.

While in the Netherlands, Mokoka studied for his doctorate in pastoral theology at the Catholic University of Nijmegen in the Netherland. He wrote a thesis entitled: "Black Experience in Black Theology: A Study on the Roman Catholic Church Missionary Endeavor in South Africa and the Search for Justice," published in 1984.

Mokoka worked hard to master the Dutch language and after completing his doctorate he worked in a number of Dutch parishes. The church in the Netherlands was very different from the one in South Africa in the sense that: "The laity, he said, was more empowered and had great influence in policy and decision making at parish and diocesan levels." [39] For instance, before a priest is assigned to a parish he has to be interviewed by the parish council, who asks him questions related to his views on the role of the church in the modern world and its social teachings. Mokoka, whose main interests were catechesis and liturgy, said that there was much the South Africa Church could learn from the Dutch: "Especially in empowering the laity in running the affairs of their parish and in general policy framing." [40]

Mokoka returned in November 1995 to the Rustenburg diocese in South African where he was born. In mid 1996, it was taking time for him to settle in the life of the new South Africa. [41] He was appointed as priest of Bethani parish in the Rustenburg diocese and also worked as a consultor in the diocese of Rustenburg. [42]

George Sombe Mukuka


Notes:

1. The new place was located at "Pevensey which was at the foot of the Sani Pass in Natal." Cf. the Sermon at the Jubilee of Fr. Joseph Sonaba (on July 10, 1989) by Oswin Magrath. Southern African Dominican Archives, Springs.
2. [Hermann], A., Reichenau Mission, (Mariannhill: Mission Press, 1990), p.19-21.
3. Gobi Clement Mokoka, "Black Experience in Black Theology. A Study of the RCC Missionary Endeavor in South Africa and the Search for Justice" (Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen Catholic University, October 1984), 53.
4. Oswin Magrath, "St. Peter's Seminary at the Service of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa. Inaugural Lecture for the Scholastic Year 1962," typewritten document, 4 pages, Southern African Dominican Archives (SADA).
5. Oswin Magrath, "St. Peter's Seminary at the Service of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa. Inaugural Lecture for the Scholastic Year 1962," typewritten document, 4 pages, Southern African Dominican Archives (SADA).
6. Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, interview by author, December 12, 1995, Edenvale, tape recording.
7. David Moetapele, interview by author, November 24, 1997, Pretoria, tape recording.
8. Gobi Clement Mokoka, "Black Experience in Black Theology. A Study of the RCC Missionary Endeavor in South Africa and the Search for Justice" (Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen Catholic University, October 1984), 53.
9. Gobi Clement Mokoka, "Black Experience in Black Theology. A Study of the RCC Missionary Endeavor in South Africa and the Search for Justice" (Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen Catholic University, October 1984), 53.
10. Gobi Clement Mokoka, "Black Experience in Black Theology. A Study of the RCC Missionary Endeavor in South Africa and the Search for Justice" (Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen Catholic University, October 1984), 53.
11. Gobi Clement Mokoka, "Black Experience in Black Theology. A Study of the RCC Missionary Endeavor in South Africa and the Search for Justice" (Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen Catholic University, October 1984), 54.
12. Gobi Clement Mokoka, "Black Experience in Black Theology. A Study of the RCC Missionary Endeavor in South Africa and the Search for Justice" (Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen Catholic University, October 1984), 46.
13. Archbishop Peter Buthelezi, interview by author, July 8, 1996, Bloemfontein, tape recording.
14. Moetapele, same interview.
15. Steve Biko was one of South Africa's most significant political activists and a leading founder of South Africa's Black Consciousness Movement. His death in police detention in 1977 led to his being hailed as a martyr of the anti-apartheid struggle.
16. Takatso A. Mofokeng, The Crucified Among the Cross Bearers: Towards a Black Christology (Kampen: Uitgeversmaatschappij, 1983), 8.
17. J. G. E Wolfson, Turmoil at Turfloop: A Summary of the Reports of the Synman and Jackson Commission of Inquiry into the University of the North (Johannesburg: South African Race Relations, 1976), 9.
18. Barney Pityana (ed)., Bounds of Possibility: The Legacy of Steve Bantu Biko and Black Consciousness (Clarement: David Philip, 1992), 118.
19. Rand Daily Mail (January 23, 1970). The Manifesto was re-edited in the African Ecclesiastical Review (AFER), vol. 12 (1970), pp. 175-77. 20. "Négritude was both a literary and ideological movement led by French-speaking black writers and intellectuals. The movement is marked by its rejection of European colonization and its role in the African diaspora, pride in "blackness" and traditional African values and culture, mixed with an undercurrent of Marxist ideals. Its founders (or les trois pères), Aimé Césaire, Léopold Sédar Senghor, and Léon-Gontran Damas, met while studying in Paris in 1931 and began to publish the first journal devoted to négritude, L'Étudiant noir (The Black Student), in 1934. The term "négritude" was coined by Césaire in his Cahier d'un retour au pays natal (1939) and it means, in his words, "the simple recognition of the fact that one is black, the acceptance of this fact and of our destiny as blacks, of our history and culture." Even in its beginnings négritude was truly an international movement--drawing inspiration from the flowering of African-American culture brought about by the writers and thinkers of the Harlem Renaissance while asserting its place in the canon of French literature, glorifying the traditions of the African continent, and attracting participants in the colonized countries of the Caribbean, North Africa, and Latin America". See "A Brief Guide to Négritude" http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/5666 (accessed March 21, 2009).
21. Rand Daily Mail (January 23, 1970).
22. Rand Daily Mail (January 23, 1970).
23.Rand Daily Mail (January 23, 1970).
24.Rand Daily Mail (January 23, 1970).
25. Rand Daily Mail (January 23, 1970).
26. Rand Daily Mail (January 23, 1970).
27. Rand Daily Mail (January 23, 1970).
28. Rand Daily Mail (January 23, 1970).
29.Steve Biko, I Write What I Like (London: Heineman, 1978), 56.
30. William Justin Beinart, Twentieth-Century South Africa (Cape Town: OUP, 1994), 219
31. Rand Daily Mail (January 23, 1970).
32. Rand Daily Mail (January 23, 1970).
33. Mamphele Ramphele, A Life (Cape Town: David Philips, 1993), 56.
34. Mamphele Ramphele, A Life (Cape Town: David Philips, 1993), 56.
35. Gobi Clement Mokoka, "Black Experience in Black Theology. A Study of the RCC Missionary Endeavor in South Africa and the Search for Justice" (Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen Catholic University, October 1984), 53.
36. For detailed discussion on this see George Mukuka, The Impact of Black Consciousness on the Black Catholic Clergy and Their Training from 1965 to 1981 (Unpublished masters thesis, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 1996).
37. Peter Lenkoe, same interview.
38. Lebamang John Sebidi, interview by author, December 7, 1995, Braamfontein, Johannesburg, tape recording.
39.Southern Cross, August 11, 1996.
40. Southern Cross, August 11, 1996.
41. Southern Cross, August 11, 1996.
42. Diocese of Rustenburg. South African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC). Http://www.sacbc.org.za /Site/index.php?option=com_content&task =view&id=15&Itemid=37 (accessed April 22, 2009).

Bibliography:

African Ecclesiastical Review (AFER), vol. 12 (1970).
Beinart, William J. Twentieth-Century South Africa. Cape Town: OUP, 1994.
Diocese of Rustenburg. South African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC). Http://www.sacbc.org.za/ Site/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=15&Itemid=37 (accessed April 22, 2009).
[Hermann], Adelgisa. Reichenau Mission. Mariannhill: Mission Press, 1990.
Magrath, Oswin. "St. Peter's Seminary at the Service of the Catholic Church in Southern Africa. Inaugural Lecture for the Scholastic Year 1962," typewritten document, 4 pages. Springs: Southern African Dominican Archives (SADA).
Magrath, Oswin. "The Sermon at the Jubilee of Fr. Joseph Sonaba (on July 10, 1989). Springs: Southern African Dominican Archives (SADA).
Mkhatshwa, Smangaliso. Interview by author, December 12, 1995. Edenvale. Tape recording.
Moetapele, David, Interview by author, November 24, 1997. Pretoria. Tape recording.
Mofokeng, Takatso A. The Crucified Among the Cross Bearers: Towards a Black Christology. Kampen: Uitgeversmaatschappij, 1983.
Mokoka, Clement G. "Black Experience in Black Theology. A Study of the RCC Missionary Endeavour in South Africa and the Search for Justice." Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen Catholic University, October 1984.
Mukuka, George. The Impact of Black Consciousness on the Black Catholic Clergy and TheirTtraining from 1965 to 1981. Unpublished masters thesis, University of Natal, Pietermaritzburg, 1996.
Pityana, Barney (ed.), Bounds of Possibility: The Legacy of Steve Bantu Biko and Black Consciousness. Clarement: David Philip, 1992.
Ramphele, Mamphele. A Life. Cape Town: David Philips, 1993.
Rand Daily Mail (January 23, 1970).
Sebidi, Lebamang J. Interview by author, December 7, 1995. Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Tape recording.
Southern Cross, August 11, 1996.
Steve Biko, I Write What I Like. London: Heineman, 1978.
Wolfson, J. G. E. Turmoil at Turfloop: A Summary of the Reports of the Synman and Jackson Commission of Inquiry into the University of the North. Johannesburg: South African Race Relations, 1976.
Photo:

Photo:

[1*] Five signatories of the Black Priests' Manifesto: (from left to right) Louwfant, Mabona, Mkhatshwa, Moetopele, Mokoka. Photo from Magrath private file: Southern African Dominican Archives, Springs.

This article, received in 2009, was written by Dr. George Sombe Mukuka, a faculty research manager at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, and 2008-2009 DACB Project Luke Fellow.