Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Khumalo, Dominic Joseph Chwane

Catholic Church
South Africa

Dominic Joseph Chwane Khumalo was born on February 15, 1919 in Maphumulo, Kwa Zulu Natal. As a young man he enjoyed serving at mass for Fr. Joseph l’Hôte OMI, his Oblate parish priest, [1] who later was the inspiration for his vocation. He was particularly inspired by Fr. l’Hôte’s spirit of prayer and his love for the people. He frequently recalled how Fr. l’Hôte cared for them during an epidemic of malaria when Dominic was a young boy. When he was thirteen years old he told Father l’Hôte that he wanted to be a priest because he wanted “to do what Father did.” [2] As he says: “When we expressed our desire to be priests there were no other priests that we knew of except for the Oblates. For instance, the priest who was my parish priest, he baptized my mother, as a little girl. He baptized all of us and lived until I was made priest. We had no idea of any other priests.” [3]

In 1934, he was sent to the minor seminary in Roma, Lesotho to complete his schooling. In 1940, together with Jerome Mavundla, he was sent to the Oblate novitiate at Inchanga and in 1941 he made his first oblation [4] at Inchanga, before Father Joseph Kerautret OMI, vicar of missions. As Khumalo recalls: “When I was in the novitiate, we were two, we were going to be the first Zulu Oblate priests in South Africa. It was Fr. Jerome Mavundla, who died several years ago and myself. We were at Inchanga. We made our first profession as Oblates on February 17, 1941. Then immediately, we went to continue our studies at Roma University in Lesotho.”[5]

Khumalo and Mavundla were sent to the Oblate scholasticate in Lesotho to begin their preparation for the priesthood: “We were sent to Lesotho as there was no seminary here. In Lesotho, the seminary was started by the Oblates. But there were many other candidates from the Orange Free State (present-day Free State) who did not want to become Oblates but belonged to the diocese. We had candidates from Transvaal (present-day Gauteng), Johannesburg and Pietersburg (present-day Polokwane). We even had seminarians from Cape Town, Aliwal North, Port Elizabeth, and Queenstown in the course of the years.”[6]

The seminary catered to candidates who belonged both to religious orders and dioceses. Luckily, the priests who ran the seminary were Oblates. So they helped Khumalo and Mavundla to prepare themselves and keep their interest in becoming Oblates. Khumalo emphasized the point that the seminary in Roma was mixed–diocesan priests as well as priests of different religious orders and races. Towards the end when he was finishing his theological studies, two white candidates from Johannesburg joined them as students at the seminary. The training consisted of two years of philosophy and four years of theology.[7]

He was ordained a priest, together with Father Mavundla on July 2, 1946 by Bishop Delalle OMI of Durban (1904-1946). When Bishop Dellale sent them to Roma he said: “I want you to go there and study and learn everything you can learn including the language.”[8] Khumalo was pleased with this as he was keen to learn new languages. This was the last ordination the bishop conferred before his death later that year. [9] Bishop Delalle had earlier decided not to ordain any other black priests until he retired.[10] Europeans and missionaries believed that the African culture was a hindrance to the local people accepting Christianity and even becoming priests. In his case, Bishop Delalle believed that the “natural and traditional culture of the Zulu made them ill fitted for priestly work.”[11] As Khumalo expanded: “When the missionaries came here they thought the black man was a savage, a man eater, they were afraid. I don’t accept this as the truth, they should have taken steps to evangelize the Africans. All they knew is that we were savages, who had been fighting and killing whites. That is why our history is so incomplete. I don’t know if there will ever be anybody who will really write the true complete picture of the church of those times, I don’t know!” [12]

He was the second Zulu Oblate priest, after Father Mavundla who was the first by a matter of seconds! As Khumalo says: “There were no black priests in the Oblates. We were the first ones and we were ordained in 1946.”[13] His first obedience was to the Oblate community at Inchanga. He remained there for twelve years. Mavundla and Khumalo were asked to pursue further studies since the Oblates wanted to establish high school level formation of future Oblates at Inchanga. They both agreed on condition they could continue their pastoral work among the people. So they became full time teachers from Monday to Friday. They also served in some parishes as assistant priests. Khumalo found this experience very useful because he learned a lot from the priests in charge. Also, for many of those years he was boarding master in the juniorate that produced such Oblates as Archbishop Buti Tlhagale, Fr. Stanley Tebele, former provincial in Northern Province, Fr. Benedict Mthanti, Fr. Johannes Nzimande, Fr. Michael Nkosi and many others.

While teaching at Inchanga, the apartheid policy affected his job in several instances. After the apartheid government came to power, they started to withdraw subsidies from schools run by the Catholic church . This was done in four stages. They reduced them by twenty five percent in 1955, then fifty percent in 1955, seventy-five percent in 1956 and finally, in 1957, the government withdrew all subsidies from Catholic schools. Apartheid was applied more strictly from the beginning of 1958.[14] At that time, the South African society was not ready for apartheid and they did not properly comprehend what it entailed and how it was going to affect them. The government was manipulating everybody and most white Christians believed the government’s view that society was better off if races were separated. So when the bishops wrote a pastoral letter against apartheid most white Catholics were disturbed by what the bishops were saying: “The bishops appealed to every Catholic in the country, white or black to support the Catholic schools and these schools were hundred percent black. The Catholic church needed money to pay the teachers who were teaching there. The bishops’ letter had a profound effect, I know. At that time, I was teaching and I was principal of a big school at Inchanga. For my teachers, it was their first time to ask what it meant to be a Christian morally responsible for their life.”[15]

The South African government required that all young priests register and obtain a certificate in order to bless marriages: “As a priest, we all were told that the young priests must qualify in the eyes of the government in order to bless marriages, that is having some examinations. Then you find a magistrate who will pass you and your results were sent to Pretoria and you got a certificate as a marriage officer. This is what we did. If you do not do that, the government would not allow you to perform any marriages. We were given manuals to study and we prepared with Fr. Mavundla. Also, many whites priests who came from overseas at that time were not allowed to perform marriages until they were registered.”[16]

Since Khumalo had left home when he was young to join the Oblates he did not know some of the traditional ways of performing some ceremonies, like marriage. To perform marriage in the South African government system he needed the abovementioned certificate. When it came to Zulu customs, Khumalo met Fr. Andreas Mdontswa Ngidi, who was ordained in 1907, and asked him when the traditional Zulu marriage was declared valid. Ngidi replied by saying that: “There is a point when the marrying people are asked whether they want to be married, and when they say ‘yes,’ that is the time when the marriage is complete. Then, there is a big dancing in the typical traditional Zulu marriage, big dancing almost half the day, feasting, eating and drinking. The following day, they assemble–this is an important part of the marriage. The man is now in charge. Later, the government put police officers, and they would ask the couple whether they wanted to get married. If they said yes, then there was another big dance which appreciated that the marriage was now official.” Khumalo further inquired stating that: “Suppose the second part was not performed, after the whole day of feasting, will the marriage be valid or not?” Ngidi replied: “It (marriage) will not be there.”[17]

In 1962, Khumalo was appointed parish priest of Inanda. Then from 1964 to 1970, he devoted his time to preaching missions, largely in Zulu, throughout South Africa.[18] Much of this was done together with Father Mavundla. Khumalo and Mavundla worked well together, complementing each other. Mavundla was a great storyteller who would evangelize by recounting in great depth many stories of his experiences, some of which, in the words of one of his Oblate brothers “were possibly true!” Dominic presented a warm heart and sound doctrine.

During this time he also assisted people with the Catholic Africa Savings Union (CASU). This union was linked to Fr. Bernard Huss, a priest from the Congregation of Mariannhill Missionaries in Natal. It encouraged black people to save their money by putting it in a savings account. This savings program succeeded in some parishes as many Africans put their money in CASU but it was later phased out, as Khumalo explained: “It died after Vatican II. But I think what caused it to die at the beginning was that it was not Fr. Bernard Huss’ idea to do it. I met him after we were ordained priests and we were sent to Mariannhill to train as school teachers. Fr. Bernard Huss stayed with us for one year–he was already retired. So we used to go and ask him a lot of questions and he told us about the CASU.” Furthermore, people became less interested and there were other changes in the churches and society as well.

In 1970 he was appointed parish priest of Esigodini in Pietermaritzburg and also taught in the catechists’ school there. At various times, he was a provincial councilor of the Oblates in Natal Province. In May of 1974, he was appointed episcopal vicar of Vulindlela. On May 4, 1978, he was ordained bishop of Buxentum and appointed auxiliary bishop of Durban.[19] His principal consecrator was the Archbishop Denis Eugene Hurley OMI; the other principal co-consecrators were Bishop Mansuet Dela Biyase and Bishop Pius Bonaventura Dlamini, F.F.J. Khumalo was the second Zulu Oblate to be appointed bishop in the church after Archbishop Peter Butelezi, thus continuing his charism of number two! [20]

Rome’s policy was to push for a black bishop whenever possible. When Khumalo became bishop, there were very few black priests at that time: “But Rome has always been behind getting indigenous clergy and leaders of the church. South Africa was late in having local leaders. Apartheid began earlier than 1948 and the white government was in power. But today (1998) we are less that thirteen indigenous bishops out of thirty one bishops. We were thirteen but Butelezi died. When these white bishops die most of them will be replaced by blacks, if we have them.”[21]

Khumalo’s leadership style was to be close to people and to care for them. He had a big heart and took an interest in individuals. He epitomized the manifestation of African Christian values in the church. These included respect for people, the building of community, care and support of African Christian structures in the church and spending time being with people in their communities, at local events and celebrations.[22]

He did a lot of work to help support and encourage the African women’s organizations in the archdiocese. He also worked for the development of local associations of lay women involved in the church. In these ways, his life and activity were a witness to true African inculturation. [23]

He did experience negative attitudes from some people when he was bishop during the apartheid era as he explains: “Personally, I had one or two of the worst experiences of apartheid. For instance, I remember we organized prayers for Archbishop Hurley. We prayed in the church and I preached and said mass. After that we went to the hall for tea and a group of white women came to me and said, ‘Excuse me, bishop, we don’t like what you are saying in the church in your sermon about justice.’ I turned around and said, ‘Are you Catholic?’ They said, ‘yes.’ Then I told them that the doctrine of the Catholic Church talks a lot about justice and not against justice. ‘Are you saying that what we have said as bishops is unjust?’ Then the other incident is when I visited a white parish. After mass they came to me saying, ‘Are you the bishop for blacks?’ and I said, ‘No! I am a bishop in the Roman Catholic Church.’ These are the incidents I remember very well. But there has never been a direct attack on me because I am black.”[24]

On March 3, 1999, L’Osservatore Romano announced that the Holy Father had accepted the resignation of “Bishop Dominic J. Khumalo, the auxiliary bishop of Durban”[25] who was 81 years old at that time. Khumalo had been auxiliary of Durban since 1978–first with Archbishop Denis Hurley and later with Archbishop Bishop Wilfrid F. Napier. His health started deteriorating and he passed away on April 27 (Freedom Day), 2006 in Nazareth House, Durban after a long illness.[26] He was 88 years old, having been a priest for fifty-nine years and eight months and a bishop for twenty-eight years. [27]

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 Eugene 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. See accessed 01.26.2009. .

  3. Dominic Khumalo, interview by author, March 25, 1998, St Mary’s Cathedral, Loop Street, Pietermaritzburg, tape recording.

  4. The word “Oblate” has the same origins as “oblation”. It means a person whose life, by special dedication, is offered in service to the Lord.

  5. Khumalo, same interview.

  6. Khumalo, same interview.

  7. Khumalo, same interview.

  8. Khumalo, same interview.

  9. See Joy B. Brain, Catholics in Natal II: 1886-1925 (Durban: Archdiocese of Durban, 1982), 253 & 255.

  10. Idem.

  11. Brown, Catholic Church in South Africa (London: Burns and Oats, 1960), 325 & Brain, Catholics in Natal II: 1886-1925, p.254.

  12. Khumalo, same interview.

  13. Khumalo, same interview.

  14. Khumalo, same interview.

  15. Khumalo, same interview.

  16. Khumalo, same interview.

  17. Khumalo, same interview:

Khumalo went on to ask Fr. Ngidi about other Zulu and Sotho customs with regard to their similarities and differences. As he recalled: “I was full of ideas from the seminary. Then I asked him to tell me, ‘How free is a Zulu girl when she gets married?’–because in Lesotho they were not very free at that time. Your parents could look for a girl to marry but you may not even know the girl until they start the process and then they tell you that you have to marry so and so. And most of the time it was between some clans who might be cousins. I wanted to know if this was the case among the Zulu because I did not know. And he said, ‘No, the Zulu girls are quite free,’ and he went on to say, ‘Oh you see, the Zulus have a long time courting. A girl wouldn’t easily and quickly accept a boy who is suspected of being a weakling.’”

Khumalo was keen to learn more and he asked more questions: “That is what he told me. Oh, I was interested. Then I asked him, ‘So what about the boy, is it normal for a boy to start as early as possible and look for girls?’ And he made a typical example, ‘If you meet girls you just have to appear as someone who is interested in them–you have to say something. Fr. Ngidi said that had nothing to do with real love and marriage. It was an acceptable behavior. A young man does not just pass a girl or girls. He said that is an insult to the girls. And he said, as Christians it could be a sin because it is seriously offending the girls–it means you are of no value when a boy does not show any attention. I remember that very well. I asked him many questions and he would quote very often in Latin and explain to me.”

  1. The Catholic Church defines its “mission” as spreading the message of Jesus Christ, administering the sacraments and exercising charity.

  2. See Richard Elphick and T. R. H. Davenport, Christianity in South Africa: A Political, Social and Cultural History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997, p.209.

  3. Khumalo was ordained as the second African Oblate priest two seconds after Jerome Mavundla’s ordination. He was also ordained as the second African bishop after Bishop Peter Butelezi. So in both cases he was the second to be ordained as a black Oblate priest and second to be consecrated bishop.

  4. Khumalo, same interview.

  5. Stuart C. Bate, 1991. Evangelization in the South African Context. Rome: Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, p.80.

  6. See Natal Province OMI Update, May-June 2006; accessed January 26, 2009. .

  7. Dominic Khumalo, interview conducted at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Loop Street, Pietermaritzburg on March 25, 1998.

  8. See also Southern Cross, December 31, 1999.

  9. See also The Criterion Online Edition, “Vatican Information Service Bulletin”, Archdiocese of Indianapolis, May 5, 2006. accessed January 27, 2009. .

  10. Southern Cross, December 31, 2006.


Bate, Stuart C. Evangelization in the South African Context. Rome: Editrice Pontificia Università Gregoriana, 1991.

Brain, Joy B. Catholics in Natal II: 1886-1925. Durban: Archdiocese of Durban, 1982.

Brown, William E. Catholic Church in South Africa. London: Burns and Oats, 1960.

Elphick, Richard and Davenport, T. R. H. Christianity in South Africa: A Political, Social and Cultural History. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Web site: “Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate: Natal Province.” [accessed January 26, 2009].

Web site: “Oblate Communications.” [accessed January 26, 2009].

Khumalo, Dominic. Interview by author, March 25, 1998, St. Mary’s Cathedral, Loop Street, Pietermaritzburg. Tape recording.

Natal Province OMI Update, May-June 2006.

Southern Cross, December 31, 1999.

The Criterion Online Edition, “Vatican Information Service Bulletin,” Archdiocese of Indianapolis, May 5 2006.

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.

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