Vicente James Mbanze was a pioneer of Shangaan hymnology for the Mozambique church. He was born at Chicumbane near Xai–Xai. His father, Professor James Mbanze started the Methodist primary school at Tavane (Machulane) in 1925 and became a Nazarene in 1930. Vicente’s mother Saiwa Machungu died a month after her son’s birth. The well where she drew water had been contaminated by jackals the previous night and they had eaten poisoned bait. Vicente was their eldest child. When he was seven, his stepmother died leaving the five children without a mother.
As a boy, in summer, he loved to gather cashew fruit, roast the nuts and mix them with the sweet oil of vukhuhlu beans for a tasty treat. In the autumn he sometimes stole cassava tubers from the fields when they were ripe. At home he learned to play very skillfully on his father’s timbila (musical instrument). His father taught the children to read Tonic-Sol-Fa musical notation before home devotions each evening. Vicente also learned staff notation.
During camp meeting in 1939 he responded to an appeal by the preacher, Rev. Simão Machava, and went forward to pray. He confessed and asked forgiveness for stealing cassava. One night he dreamed that he saw God cut a piece of bread, lick it and offer it to him to eat. He felt that the dream came true in 1941 when he was attracted to his father’s New Testament on the bookshelf while he was sweeping the dining room. He began reading it daily.
In 1945 he entered the Nazarene primary school at Manzini, Swaziland, and by 1957 he finished his schooling at Matsapha High School. He enrolled for tertiary education at Pholela College in South Africa, but due to illness he had to discontinue his studies.
In 1994 he testified as to how he found the Lord:
I had a complete washing from my sin in a Sunday morning service during March 1955 at the Tavane Church. It was after a sermon preached by Rev. Samuel Manhique on John 8:7, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” At the altar I was alone with Jesus, the Washer, praying through, and I stood before the congregation completely washed from my sins….It took me a long period of nine months - from March to December - to be convinced that there still remained in my heart a spiritual impurity called ‘the old man.’ I needed the second washing if I should be pure in heart. I agreed to go for the second washing on December 9, 1955 during the last service preached by Dr. William Esselstyn at Mavengane. I surrendered to the will of God. In one moment the Holy Spirit filled my heart. Of course, the old man was burned. My Christian life and attitudes were made pure from that day until now.
His wife was Mrs. Rosita Filipe Mandlate-Mbanze (1937 -), daughter of Rev. Filipe Mandlate who founded the church at Kwakweni in 1947. This was a rural area in the Cuaie zone. Through her father’s preaching she felt convicted of spiritual need and one Sunday she went to pray at the altar. At that time though she really did not know what to pray for. Growing up in a good home she learned to like Sunday school and other church activities. She enjoyed associating with the people of the congregation.
Rosita liked to play with her girl friends in the church yard. One day while playing, that old spiritual need began to burden her heavily and she said to the other girls, “If I die now, I don’t know where I shall be next.” One Sunday her father preached from Hebrews 12:14, “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” She tells of it: “ It was then in 1950 at the age of thirteen that I saw myself as a sinner. At the close of the message, I went to the altar in tears and asked God to forgive me my sins.”
Rosita was sickly as a child and frequently suffered from chest trouble. After the death of her father her elderly family relatives found her very sick one day. They gathered around her and awakened her on the mat where she lay. She found herself surrounded by a crowd of people and a traditional doctor who began to groan and shout frantically. He was trying exorcize the evil spirits that they believed had caused her sickness. Rosita’s heart revolted against such a healing act. After dark she got up and walked out of the house. She went straight to the Christian worship hut and slept there the rest of the night on the hard clay floor. The people who were troubling her did not know where she had gone.
1n 1953 missionary Mary Cooper started a new mission program called Mintlawa. This was for helping Nazarene girls to learn to read, write and mend their own clothing. Inasmuch as she was attracted to church activities, Rosita attended these classes whenever they were held at the Cuaie Church Centre. This constituted her education as a teenager.
At the age of twenty Rosita attended the Annual District Assembly at Tavane. She tells of this experience: “In one of the meetings I saw a short young man who was leading the singing. I felt a wonderfully bright light shining and knew intuitively that this young man, Vicente James Mbanze, was to be my future husband.” The following year she was a student at the Tavane Nazarene Bible School and she helped in the home of Miss Mary Cooper. Vicente Mbanze also enrolled at Tavane Bible College in 1958. Rosita continues the account:; “For three days after I received the marriage proposal from him, I prayed very much and then believing that it was God’s will I accepted the proposal.”
One day missionary Lorraine O. Schultz emphasized the need of the experience of entire sanctification in the heart of a Christian. Rosita says: “I realized that the “old self” was living in my heart. In that holiness class I went forward to the altar. The Lord purified my heart and right up until now in the year 2000 I continue to love the Lord with all my heart.”
Mbanze and Rosita participated in the scheduled three-day revival at Tavane that year which lasted for six great days when God poured his Holy Spirit over the entire student body. They were married in 1959 and began a lifetime of serving the Lord together. They had nine children (six sons and three daughters): James, Lula, Carlos, Filipe, Jeremias, Amelia, Julio Vasco and Rachel.
In 1961 Mbanze completed the fourth year advanced course in Bible College. This gave him the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in theology. He continued as a faculty member at Tavane through the years until it was closed in 1977 when the mission was nationalized. He assisted greatly in the production of study materials in Shangaan and Portuguese.
Apart from lecturing, he served as secretary of the Tavane Church of the Nazarene, treasurer of the then Tavane District (which included Gaza and Maputo Provinces) and served as District Sunday School President. As the Sunday School President he traveled long distances on foot. For example he went to Macuacua, Mavengane, Kwayi and Vuchopi. One day coming back from Kwayi, one kilometer from home, an angel of the Lord appeared and said to him: “Do not enter home!” He obeyed and sat down and asked: “If I do not enter what will happen to my family?” Minutes later the angel allowed him to enter. He had been protected from a military ambush. Many times God protected him from such ambushes and death.
In spite of the anti-religion policy some government agencies actually sought out believers for employment. Mr. Julião Mausse reported that the reason for this was that the believers were recognized as people who were honest. They did not smoke, they were dedicated to doing their work, they were not susceptible to intrigues and they lived on a higher moral level than the general functionary. Vicente Mbanze, the outspoken assistant director of the Nazarene Bible school at Tavane, was approached and asked to join ranks with the government. Because he could speak English, they wanted him to accept an ambassadorial position, but he refused.
Some of the people at the Tavane Mission tried to get Mbanze to leave the church in order to cooperate with the government, but he adamantly refused. Mbanze and his family also refused to participate in the Sunday work programs such as building latrines or working in the communal gardens. He did his required work during the week. He was never castigated for taking a stand on that issue.
In July 1979, all of the Bible College library books were burned and later that year government officials returned again to the mission and confiscated all of Mbanze’s personal furniture and possessions because he had “collaborated with the missionaries.”
After the government nationalized the Tavane Mission Station, Prof. Mbanze and Rev. Mathe remained at Tavane and began extension Bible School classes and in 1982 he was transferred to Maputo. The Mbanzes moved to Maputo in 1983 with their nine children. Mbanze directed the Mozambique Extension School that began in Maputo in 1980. He worked with Rev. S. Mandlate, Rev. E. Moiane and Rev. M. Tshambe. There were 138 students registered in 1991 including 61 ministerial students. The college also tried to serve about thirty-six ministerial students from outside the Maputo area. He continued to teach in the new Bible College at Laulane, Maputo, established after the war. When Rev. Mandlate went to Swaziland for further studies, Prof. V. Mbanze served as the interim principal of the Seminário Nazarene em Moçambique. Two of the things that he did as the interim principal were: (1) he established a Nazarene Primary School and (2) he sent many students to Swaziland Nazarene Bible College (now Nazarene College of Theology). Besides that he established the Caravane in Mozambique. In 1994 Mbanze retired from the faculty of this Theological College in Maputo but continued to serve in various fields as a counselor, lecturer and educator.
Vicente Mbanze once used a discription of dishwashing in a rural home to illustrate his teaching. A washing platform is erected outside near the kitchen on which is placed a large washing dish. The dirty dishes must be washed twice. The first time they are washed with soap to remove food particles. Then the washing dish is filled again with pure water, and a second washing is performed. This time a clean dry cloth is used instead of soap. In this second process, the minute particles of impurity are cleansed and purified. The dishes are then ready to be used for another meal. He explained that this is the way the heart is brought to a state of complete salvation from the power of sin and its corruption.
Mbanze’s greatest contribution however has been in the production of church music. He has written many original Shangaan hymns along with music for them. He has also translated many hymns into Shangaan. The value of this in promoting revival and in the ongoing life of the church is incalculable.
He passed away just a week before Easter 1 April 2007. The Mbanzes had twenty-one grandchildren and he knew them all. Three of their nine children, Vasco, Lula and Amelia, proceeded him in death. Mbanze lived an exemplary Christian life as husband, father, brother, uncle and grandfather. Daily he conducted two family devotions, one in the morning and the other in the evening.
In 2006, Mbanze’s health began to decline. He frequently experienced respiratory problems and was often very tired. One day in January, 2007, he collapsed while coming home from his garden plots outside the city and was hospitalized for a week. One day, when he was unable to attend church services he wept and said, “They are worshipping God without me!” On Saturday, March 30, he looked up and said, “I see the beauty of the city!” On April 1, 2007, Rosita visited him and she said, “His face was beautiful and bright.” She prayed with him and a few minutes later, when she had left the room, he breathed his last and passed away. It was just one week before Easter.
The Mbanzes had twenty-one grandchildren and Vicente knew them all. Three of their nine children, Vasco, Lula and Amelia, preceded him in death. Mbanze lived an exemplary Christian life as husband, father, brother, uncle and grandfather. Daily he conducted two family devotions, one in the morning and the other in the evening.
Vicente Mbanze’s funeral service was held on April 7, 2007 in the chapel at Seminário Nazareno em Moçambique. The family sang one of the songs that he requested before he died: Ndza Tiva Vito la li Sima Ngopfu (I know a name greater than all). Two of the hymns sung were Swa Nandziha ku mu Tshemba(Tis so Sweet to Trust in Jesus) and Lexihambanweni (The Old Rugged Cross). His son, Carlos, paid this tribute to his father, “The Church of the Nazarene in Mozambique has lost a great man and we are already missing him. However, it is good to know that Prof/Papa Vicente J. Mbanze is with the Lord together with many others who have gone before him. (…) He had a tremendous impact on the lives of many people. (…) May the Lord help us to continue the legacy that he left.”
Paul S. Dayhoff
Mrs. Rosita Vicente Mbanze, “The Story of my Christian Life”, report of November 1, 2000.
Restrick, Doctoral Dissertation, 2001, p. 308.
Restrick, Doctoral Dissertation, 2001, p. 317.
Restrick, Doctoral Dissertation, 2001, p. 318.
Vicente Mbanze, handwritten autobiographical sketch sent by Lorraine Schultz. “Mozambique Extension School in l2th Year,” Trans African, (Florida, Gauteng, South Africa: Africa Nazarene Publications, May-June 1992),12.
Vicente James Mbanze, “Blessed are the Pure in Heart,” Trans African,, September-October 1994), 1.
Theodore P. Esselstyn, Cut From the African Rock: A Portrait of the Church of the Nazarene in Africa - 1974, (Kansas City, MO: Nazarene Publishing House, 1975),127.
Carlos Mbanze, e-mail message, April 16, 2007.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Living Stones In Africa: Pioneers of the Church of the Nazarene, revised edition, copyright © 1999, by Paul S. Dayhoff. All rights reserved.