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Ezekiel Masunyane
19th/20th century
Primitive Methodist
Lesotho / Zambia

Ezekiel Masunyane who served for nearly twenty years in the extremely hot Zambezi Valley among the Valley Tonga people was one of several African missionaries who worked in the Primitive Methodist Mission in Central Africa. He came from some part of Lesotho for he went there on furlough 1913 [1] but was sent on his missionary travels by the Primitive Methodists of Aliwal North, South Africa.

Aliwal North was not far from Lesotho and many Sotho speaking people lived there. Some had experienced Christianity in Lesotho through the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society but others became Christians through the Primitive Methodist Mission that had been at Aliwal North since 1870. Ezekiel had been in Aliwal North long enough to be a church worker and to marry a daughter of the oldest local preacher in the circuit. [2] He offered to join the Central African Mission as a teacher/evangelist and he and his wife were assigned to the new work in the Zambezi Valley. This had been started in 1901 by a Scot, Walter Hogg, and Daniel Mukuena from Aliwal North. The Zambezi Valley was notable for its great heat and isolation but the seasonal rise and fall of the river meant that the people had fertile gardens which provided most of their needs. Ezekiel and his wife joined Hogg in 1903 and Mukuena transferred to the Ila mission. [3]

Hogg and Ezekiel worked together in developing the mission. They faced many obstacles--climate, disease and culture were all strange to them. The language was different too though not so alien to Sotho speakers as to Europeans as Bantu languages Tonga and Sotho had similarities of structure. Both Hogg and Ezekiel acquired a working knowledge of the language. As far as local culture was concerned an old Tonga remembered that they discouraged traditional religious practices and did not accept polygamy. [4]

Hogg worked extremely hard, building, preaching, and teaching but his labors were cut short when he died suddenly in 1905. Ezekiel conducted the burial and then looked after the work in the Zambezi Valley. The Rev. Stones came for a short time from Livingstone but made no mention of Ezekiel and left after a few months.[5] Until the arrival of Rev. John Fell in 1907 Ezekiel was in charge of that remote station.

Edwin Smith, an energetic young missionary among the Ila, 150 miles north of the Zambezi, toured the area in 1906 to report on the situation following Hogg's death and was impressed by Ezekiel's work in both church and school. "We got a very good impression of the evangelist Ezekiel Masunyane and his wife. I consider they deserve great credit for keeping on the work all these months. It is no light thing for a man to sustain such work alone, amid such unhealthy, discouraging, conditions and that without a word of complaint." [6] Ezekiel had not been paid since the Rev. Stones left so Smith made good the arrears and ensured that future payments would be made. Smith also noted that the people were nowhere near as responsive as Hogg had thought and Ezekiel had difficulty in maintaining a small school and congregation. Smith had a great respect for his friend Hogg from their time in South Africa but was unimpressed by Hogg's knowledge of Tonga. His inspection of Hogg's notes convinced him that Hogg "had but the very slightest knowledge of the language." [7] By contrast Smith, who was very particular about linguistic matters, found that "Ezekiel has a fair knowledge of the language" [8] but did not appear to preach in it. Indeed, a service Smith observed had a mixture of languages. Ezeziel's Sotho prayer was incomprehensible locally, his Xhosa sermon was translated into Tonga by a man who had picked up some of that language in the mines. Language training was clearly a priority. Nevertheless, after a few more years Ezekiel's competence in Tonga had increased to the extent that he did translation work and in 1917 it was reported that he had "translated eight New Testament books into the vernacular, also the Rev. J. W. Price's Chila book on hygiene, and a number of hymns." [9]

Ezekiel remained in the valley until 1921. He had to work with European missionaries, all of whom could be described as rugged characters. John Fell, who came in 1907, was probably the most dynamic and difficult of the bunch but Ezekiel worked with him as he did with John Kerswell who also served in the Kanchindu area. As well as working with such people in a foreign culture there was the hostile climate--temperatures were well above 40°C in the hot season.

In 1911 Ezekiel was moved to "Sinang'ombe in order to start a school there and to build the mission out-station at the nearby Loongo." [10] He remained in that post until at least 1917 by which time his salary was £65 a year, a quarter of that received by John Fell. [11]

It is said that Ezekiel went to Kafue in 1921 and then returned to Aliwal North [12] after nearly twenty years of service in Zambia. The Primitive Methodist mission eventually dispensed with Sotho teachers and used locally trained Zambians when Kafue Training Institute came on stream by the 1920s. Luig remarks that "their cultural and linguistic background was relatively alien." [13] That may be so but it was not as alien as that of the European missionaries so they did have some cultural advantages for the mission work. Also, as fellow Africans, they showed that it was acceptable for Africans to embrace the Christian faith. Along with other Africans [14] Ezekiel Masunyane is to be recognized as a genuine missionary to Zambia.

W. John Young


Notes:

1. PMMS report 1913, lxxvii.
2. Note with photo in Edwin Smith Photograph Collection, MMS Archives, SOAS.
3. Peter Bizo also came but stayed for a short time. Interview with Johane Siamayuwa, Jan. 9, 1979. Luig's account of the Methodist Mission in the area lists missionaries and teacher/evangelists separately and from that list and others mentioned in his text we see that there were six Sotho teachers in the Zambezi Valley. Of the first four only Ezekiel was there by the time of Hogg's death in 1905 (Luig, Ulrich, Conversion as a Social Process; A History of Missionary Christianity among the Valley Tonga, Zambia, Hamburg, LIT Verlag, 1997, 87, 276-9). Thomas Siavwela who came in 1909 from Bulawayo was a Tonga and Jonasi Mapesa also came from Bulawayo.
4. Interview with Johane Siamayuwa, Jan. 9, 1979.
5. Stones, T., Striking Stories of African Missions, London: Hammond, n.d. 61ff.
6. Smith Papers, MMS Archives SOAS, Fiche 559.
7. Smith Papers, MMS Archives SOAS, Fiche 560.
8. Smith Papers, MMS Archives SOAS, Fiche 560.
9. PMMS Annual Report, 1917-18: 37. Quoted by Luig, 110.
10. Luig, Ulrich, Conversion as a Social Process; A History of Missionary Christianity among the Valley Tonga, Zambia, Hamburg, LIT Verlag, 1997, 112.
11. UCZ Archives, Kitwe, File 720.
12. Interview with Johane Siamayuwa, Jan. 9, 1979.
13. Luig, Ulrich, Conversion as a Social Process; A History of Missionary Christianity among the Valley Tonga, Zambia, Hamburg, LIT Verlag, 1997, 111.
14. I have written more about this in W. John Young, African Missionaries in Zambia. (http://www2.div.ed.ac.uk/other/mms/form1.htm). Paper number 71 on http://www2.div.ed.ac.uk/other/mms/mmspapers.htm


Sources:

Methodist Missionary Society Archives, School of Oriental and African Studies, London. (MMS Archives, SOAS) United Church of Zambia Archives, Kitwe, Zambia. (UCZ Archives, Kitwe).
Luig, Ulrich, Conversion as a Social Process; A History of Missionary Christianity among the Valley Tonga, Zambia, Hamburg, LIT Verlag, 1997

This article, received in 2008, was researched and written by Reverend W. John Young, retired Methodist minister of Wellington, Somerset, England who served in Zambia, 1977-1982. He has written about Edwin Smith (e.g., The Quiet Wise Spirit: Edwin W. Smith [1876-1957] and Africa, Peterborough, Epworth Press, 2002), is interested in Primitive Methodist Missions and is involved in the Methodist Missionary Society History Project.