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Skhakhane, Jerome
1930 to 2001
Roman Catholic Church
South Africa / Lesotho / Swaziland

Jerome Skhakhane was born on November 28, 1930, close to a small town in northern KwaZulu-Natal known as Dannhauser. He grew up as a Catholic since his parents were converted while in school. He lived in Dannhauser until the age of thirteen, then moved to Newcastle to finish his primary education, that is standard six. In 1944 he went to Inchanga to join the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. [1] As he recalled: "So in those times, if you decided to become an Oblate at that age--I was only fourteen--they would take you to a place we used to call the juniorate. So I was sent there to do my studies and then I finished my standard seven and then I went to Lesotho to begin my high school." [2]

From an early age Skhakhane had decided to become a priest mainly because of his Catholic background. By the time he went to Lesotho to begin his standard eight he was determined to pursue his vocation. Furthermore, he was also influenced by an Oblate priest who was working in his parish, as he says:

But the real thing which influenced me was the American priest. I did not know what it meant to be American or European--it was the same thing for me. But I admired him. He used to live quite a distance, about eight kilometers [fifty miles] away in Dundee and he would come to Dannhauser. My home was close to an outstation so at our homestead we were sort of guardians of this little church. So he would come especially during the time of Lent you know, leave the car there and travel with my father on a bicycle visiting every village, every person around. So when I began to realize what it meant for him, then I realized that Americans are rich people and so on, but this fellow has left all that and he is really interested in us. Then I began to ask myself: "Why shouldn't I be interested in my own people?" [3]
In Lesotho Skhakhane was actually enrolled at St. Theresa's Minor Seminary in Roma but classes for the seminarians were given at Roma High School for boys (present-day Christ the King High School). So they would attend classes together with high school boys. In 1949, he missed one year of his studies when he fell ill and went back to Natal. After his recovery, he briefly continued his studies at the juniorate in Inchanga as it was a high school by then. The juniorate was developed into a school by Fr. Jerome Mavundla and Fr. Dominic Khumalo after their ordinations in 1946. They pursued further studies and established high school level formation for future Oblates at Inchanga. The juniorate produced such Oblates as Fr. Jerome Skhakhane, Archbishop Buti Tlhagale, Fr. Stanley Tebele, former provincial in Northern Province, Fr. Benedict Mthanti, Fr. Johannes Nzimande, Fr. Michael Nkosi and many others.

In 1951, he went to Villa Maria in Lesotho to begin his novitiate which he completed the following year, making his first profession in 1953. The same year he moved to the major seminary at St. Augustine, completed in 1957. He was ordained in the same year as he expands:
We used to spend one year after ordination at the seminary. We did not study in the scholasticate--we studied in the seminary. So I finished my year at the seminary in 1958 and, in 1959, very much to my surprise, I expected to go out to a parish but was given obedience to teach at the seminary. I was so disappointed because I did not expect that. You must understand the psychological background, you have been sitting with people that side and then suddenly you are standing on the other side with the same people you were with and they would say, "You know, you are just like ourselves!" So because of this I insisted that I couldn't teach without being trained.
As a result, in 1958, he was sent to Rome to do his studies in church history. After completing his licentiate (equivalent to a master's degree) in 1965 he returned to Lesotho to teach for five years before returning to Rome in 1971 to embark on his doctoral studies. He finished these three years later, as he says: "I was assigned to educational institutions. I worked at St. Augustine's Seminary from 1960 to 1979 with two intervals in between when I went to Rome first to do my licentiate and later my thesis in church history." [4]

Skhakhane's doctoral thesis entitled: The Catholic Pioneer Attempt to Evangelize the Zulu, 1832 to 1952, looks at the Oblates' early efforts to evangelize the Zulu people. The research highlights some of the challenges faced by the missionaries. For instance, Skhakhane stresses the point that:
One could say that the missionaries did what appeared to them the best thing to do. In this they initiated the inevitable challenge of christianity to Zulu customs and traditional beliefs. As they left Natal for Lesotho, they hardly realized what they had done, because they judged the success of their mission merely on the number of converts, and they had gained none at all. Such judgement, however, fails to take into consideration the overall Christian evangelization and response. Surely the history of the Zulu, since the sojourn of the missionaries, was never to be the same again. The missionaries left the mission, but they left the Zulu with an interrogation mark. [5]
In an 1999 interview Skhakhane expanded on this point by saying that the missionaries came to Zululand with great expectations. They thought that when they came to Natal to announce this good news people would say: "Oh well, this is wonderful." [6] The whole process of converting the local people was encouraged by the founder of the Oblates, Eugène de Mazenod, who was saying: "What are you doing, why don't you have converts?" [7] So in the end they gave up and ran away to Lesotho, as Skhakhane explains:
There was still a belief that Zulu and Xhosa were savages. Furthermore the Oblates were surprised that the Zulu people were asking them questions. I remember Fr. Gerard reporting about a young man who said: "How can we leave our ancestors and pray to your ancestors? You said we have souls which are spirits, did you say that these are the spirits that go out after we are dead?" Fr. Gerard said: "Yes." The young man then said: "Now, you speak of hell, how do you burn the spirit?" Fr. Gerard saw arrogance in this. Instead of addressing the question, he would say to the founder: "You see how hard these people are!" So you can see the kind of impatience and a lot of misunderstanding of the Zulu culture. Unfortunately, this set the Catholic Church back.
The Zulu people did not understand why these people were trying to win them over to their system of religion and cultural beliefs and, at times, they expressed this confusion. For instance, Fr. Gerard reported that once someone said: "Leave us alone in our own situation." Skhakhane goes on to give three specific examples which caused some confusion: Firstly, in the case of ancestors the missionaries would show them the pictures of Joseph and Mary and they would tell them to pray to them. To the Zulu people this was a contradiction as they had their own ancestors and did not see any need to pray to the missionaries' ancestors. Secondly, the missionaries were using holy water to sprinkle, whereas the Zulus had their own water for sprinkling. Finally, the missionaries used incense, whereas the Zulu people had their own impepo (Zulu traditional incense). The missionaries could not clearly explain these clashes and contradictions to the Zulu people.

In 1974, he returned to St. Augustine's major seminary and taught for one year before he was appointed rector of Pius XII house which was the beginning of the National University of Lesotho (NUL):
The origins of the National University of Lesotho go back to April 8, 1945, when a Catholic University College was founded at Roma by the Roman Catholic Hierarchy of Southern Africa. The establishment of this college was a realization of a decision taken in 1938 by the Synod of Catholic Bishops in South Africa to provide African Catholic students with post-matriculation and religious guidance. The Catholic University College was founded in an isolated valley thirty-four kilometers from Maseru in a temporary primary school building at Roma Mission. In 1946 the college moved from the temporary building to the present site. This was made possible by the allocation of some fifty-two acres of land to the college by the paramount chief. In 1950, the Catholic University College was ceded to the Congregation of Oblates of Mary Immaculate. [8]
The college prepared its students for external degrees granted by the University of South Africa (UNISA). By September 27, 1954, Pius XII was granted a status of "associate college" after it satisfied the academic requirements of an academically viable institution. Then UNISA entered into a formal agreement and granted degrees to students graduating from the college. So between 1954 and 1960 the academic and physical growth of the college expanded. Fathers Beaule, Quirion, and Guilbeault (then Rector), actively participated in the early development of the college. Skhakhane summarized the development of NUL:
I moved over to the University of Basutoland, Botswana and Swaziland. It is now known as NUL. Now I was appointed rector of Pius XII house which is a continuation of the beginning of NUL. It began as Pius XII College, then it grew, was put under the Oblates and the Oblates could not manage it anymore. It was eventually taken over by the Basotho government. To continue the name of Pius XII there was a house of Oblates within the campus and I was superior of that house. When Botswana and Swaziland broke off from the establishment, NUL was formally established.
When NUL was established Skhakhane was elected chairman of council until 1979 when he moved to Swaziland and where he was appointed lecturer and then later head of department of theology. In 1980, he became professor and dean of the faculty of humanities at the university of Swaziland. As a dean he was invited to the university of North Carolina in the United States as a visiting professor for one semester. He continued to work at the University of Swaziland until 1985 when he was called back to NUL where he worked until 1987.

He moved to South Africa and worked as a parish priest in Imbali township, also teaching church history at St. Joseph's Theological Institute in Pietermaritzburg. In his words: "I came to Imbali in 1988 after a sudden death of a young priest who was working in this parish. I was asked to help out during the weekends." [9] The ministry in Imbali was very challenging and sometimes difficult for Skhakhane. In the late 1980s, there was a lot of political violence in Natal midlands between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Inkhatha Freedom Party (IFP) [10]: "It was not easy in the sense that, for instance if you are preaching you really did not know what people would make out of your preaching. It was a time when people would use any occasion for politics. It was also difficult in the sense that there was so much animosity between the parties, especially the ANC, IFP, and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU). Skhakhane expands:
We had the misfortune of having a geographical division as well. Perhaps it was better that way. There is a small river which divides the township near the old brewery. One side of the river was ANC and the other side was IFP. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise in the sense that if they were together there would have been more friction and fighting so it was better that there was this natural boundary. So since the church was in the ANC area, the people who were living on the IFP area could not come to church as they were afraid that they could be killed. Personally, I crossed the river and conduct services in the IFP area and this was badly taken by people on the ANC side. They said I was siding with the IFP. [11]
After the election in 1994, the situation improved in Imbali and people started working together. For instance, in 1997 there were floods in Pietermaritzburg and people from the ANC area came to help people in the IFP area. It was God's children working together. But Skhakhane stressed that some thugs were still taking advantage of the political situation and coming to people's houses to steal electronic appliances. In concluding his ministry in educational institutions and in the parish Skhakhane noted:
In general, there is one thing I would like to mention about my ministry. I find that in spite of all my efforts, I still feel that I have not really yet, achieved my ideal. Because this ideal is to see at the stage when the church will feel at home in Africa. Or rather the other way, Africa feeling at home within the church. I find that this is still very far and I am struggling, trying to show people that their cultural background should not make them feel that they are strangers as Christians. You can be truly a Christian and truly a Zulu or vice versa. We are still far from that! [12]
Skhakhane died on February 3, 2001 and is buried in the cemetery at St. Joseph's Theological Institute in Cedara, Pietermaritzburg.

Skhakhane will be remembered for his contribution to higher education in Lesotho, Swaziland and South Africa. Most importantly, however, his greatest contribution is his quest through his sermons, writings, conferences papers and lecturers for the Zulu people to feel at home in a church that preached equality and yet, at times, practiced segregation during the colonial and apartheid era.

George Sombe Mukuka


1. The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) is a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church founded on January 25, 1816 by Saint Eugène de Mazenod, a French priest from Marseilles. It was first recognized by Pope Leo XII on February 17, 1826. Originally established to revive the church after devastation by the French Revolution, the religious order now serves in various countries around the world. Though they originally focused on working with the poor, they became known as a missionary and teaching order as well. In 1938, Pope Pius XI called them "specialists in difficult missions."
2. Jerome Skhakhane, interview by author, February 9, 1999, St. Joseph's Scholasticate, Cedara, Pietermaritzburg, tape recording.
3. Jerome Skhakhane, interview by author, February 9, 1999, St. Joseph's Scholasticate, Cedara, Pietermaritzburg, tape recording.
4. Jerome Skhakhane, interview by Charles Mandivenyi and Martin Rosner, September 30, 1994, Imbali, Pietermaritzburg, tape recording.
5. Jerome Skhakhane, "The Catholic Pioneer Attempts to Evangelise the Zulus" (Unpublished doctoral thesis, Gregorian Pontifical University, Rome, 1974).
6. Jerome Skhakhane, interview by author, February 9, 1999, St. Joseph's Scholasticate, Cedara, Pietermaritzburg, tape recording.
7. Jerome Skhakhane, interview by author, February 9, 1999, St. Joseph's Scholasticate, Cedara, Pietermaritzburg, tape recording.
8. Historical Note of the National University of Lesotho, http://www.nul.ls/about/history.htm (accessed March 19, 2009).
9. Jerome Skhakhane, interview by Charles Mandivenyi and Martin Rosner, September 30, 1994, Imbali, Pietermaritzburg, tape recording.
10. "Gatsha Mangosuthu Buthelezi, a former member of the ANC Youth League, founded the Inkatha National Cultural Liberation Movement (INCLM), that later became the Inkhatha Freedom Party (IFP) in 1975. Buthelezi used a structure rooted in Inkatha, a 1920s cultural organization for Zulus established by Zulu King Solomon kaDinuzulu. The party was established in what is now KwaZulu-Natal, after which branches of the party quickly sprang up in the Transvaal, the Orange Free State, and the Western Cape. Because of Buthelezi's former position in the African National Congress, the two organizations were initially very close and each supported the other in the anti-apartheid struggle. However, by the early 1980s the IFP had come to be regarded as a thorn in the side of the ANC that wielded much more political force through the United Democratic Front (UDF), than the IFP and the Pan Africanist Congress." See: www.wikipedia.com (accessed April 4, 2009).
11. Jerome Skhakhane, interview by author, February 9, 1999, St. Joseph's Scholasticate, Cedara, Pietermaritzburg, tape recording.
12. Jerome Skhakhane, interview by Charles Mandivenyi and Martin Rosner, September 30, 1994, Imbali, Pietermaritzburg, tape recording.


Skhakhane, J. Z. "The Catholic Pioneer Attempts to Evangelize the Zulus 1832 to 1952." Unpublished doctoral thesis, Gregorian Pontifical University, Rome, 1974.
--------. "The Oblates in Southern Africa." Vie Oblate Life 35:1976. 111-119.
--------. "Missionaries in the World Today." Vie Oblate Life 46: 1987. 219-228.
--------. "African Spirituality." Grace and Truth 10 (3-4): 1991. 148-155.
--------. "The Beginnings of Indigenous Clergy in the Catholic Church in Lesotho," in Denis, P.(ed.). The Making of an Indigenous Clergy in Southern Africa, 115-123. Pietermaritzburg: Clusters Publications, 1995.
--------. "African Spirituality." In M. Makobane et al. (eds.), The Church and African Culture. Germiston: Lumko, 1995.
--------. "Catholics and Southern African Traditional Healers." Grace and Truth 16 (1), 1999:4-11.

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.