Makiwane, Elijah (A)
Elijah Makiwane was the second black minister trained in South Africa to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church, the first being Pambani Mzimba. Unlike Mzimba, Makiwane remained in the Presbyterian Church for all of his working life, finding ways within the system to express his independence. He was never subservient and became one of the most valued Presbyterian ministers in the Kaffrarian Presbytery.
He was born in 1850 in Sheshegu, in the Eastern Cape. As a child he must have got to know Mzimba even before they went to Lovedale to study as Mzimba’s father was the teacher at Sheshegu. Makiwane’s parents became Christians some time after his birth.
Makiwane first attended school at Ncera under Joseph Mjila, a Wesleyan teacher, and then went on to Healdtown. He entered Lovedale in August 1865 and made rapid progress in his studies eventually becoming one of the top students (Stewart 1887, 163).
While still a student he was appointed an assistant teacher in the mission school, only two years after his arrival at Lovedale. He later taught the junior classes at the institution. At the same time he was busy with other activities. He became assistant editor of Isigidimi Sama-Xosa from its first publication in 1870 until 1875. In 1872 he was also in charge of the Lovedale telegraph office.
The course for theological students at Lovedale did not differ much from courses taught in Scotland. Makiwane passed well and in 1875 was licensed as a minister by the Free Church of Scotland. For two years he taught first-year theological students at Lovedale and in 1877 he received a call to be the minister of MacFarlan Mission, not far from Lovedale. In August of that year he married Maggie Majiza, an ex-student of Lovedale Girls’ School. When she and Makiwane decided to get married, Dr. Waterston, matron of the girls’ hostel wrote:
When I see her face all alight with intelligence and feeling, I know what an amount of brain and natural refinement she has got. I cannot but feel pleased that Elijah with all his deep feeling and sensitiveness has got one so well able to understand and appreciate him as Maggie is (Waterston 1983, 27).
Their marriage did not last long because Maggie died in 1883 leaving him with three children. Her obituary reads: “Mrs. Makiwane put her whole heart into her work… to all she was the same cheerful and warm-hearted hostess, sending them (visitors) away with a very vivid idea of what a native minister’s wife could be’ (Stewart 1887, 443).
The work at MacFarlan Mission prospered, although Makiwane encountered many difficulties. In 1889 he was married again, to Miss Mtywaku of Peelton. Her name also appears to have been Maggie, as the letters that they wrote to the Mission Board in Scotland are signed ‘Maggie Makiwane’. These were the years that Makiwane strove to achieve equal working conditions for black and white ministers in the Presbyterian Church. His wife believed that mission work was a partnership. She encouraged him to write to the Missionary Society to ask for the Children’s Monthly, which was sent as a matter of course to the white missionaries. In 1892 he wrote: ‘I believe that MacFarlan is the only Free Church Mission in South Africa to which these publications are not sent.’
When the building at MacFarlan needed to be repaired, he first asked the local presbytery. When no funds were forthcoming Maggie Makiwane decided to write to the children of Scotland asking for help. In 1894 Makiwane wrote to the Missionary Committee warning them that a letter had gone out from his wife, beginning: ‘Dear praying friends, we suppose you have heard of MacFarlan. It is a mission field’. She provided a photograph of the decaying buildings so that the children could see for themselves. The money for the buildings soon began to arrive.
Makiwane suffered during the schism by his old friend Mzimba from the Presbyterian Church. False charges were made against him by Gaba, one of Mzimba’s followers, and Makiwane had to write to the Mission Committee in Scotland warning them that the charges were false (MS 7801). They tried to draw away members of the United Free Church to join the new church. Then in October 1904 Makiwane and his wife arrived home from pastoral visits at villages some distance from MacFarlan to find their house on fire. His children and a niece were all asleep in the house but he managed to wake them and so a tragedy was averted (MS 7645). When Mzimba died in 1911 Makiwane was invited to speak at his funeral. Makiwane pointed out that the formation of Mzimba’s church had ‘increased if not introduced a distrust between European and Native and Native and Native… which will be a real difficulty for some time to come (Shepherd 1940, 247).
When Dr. Stewart of Lovedale died in December 1905 Makiwane took part in the funeral service as interpreter and also said a prayer, which was ‘full of quiet and deep feelings’ (MS 7801).
Maggie Makiwane died in 1917 leaving six children. Her husband moved to Tsolo and retired in 1920, after fifty years’ service as a minister. In 1927 he married Mrs Maggie Dlova, a teacher from the area. The marriage lasted only a year as Makiwane died at his home in 1928. He had always remained loyal to the Presbyterian Church and worked within the system for equal opportunities for black ministers.
J. A. Millard
MS 1208. Letter from M. Makiwane dated 30 August 1894. National Library of Scotland.
MS 7801~614. Report on the Funeral of Dr. Stewart and letter from E. Makiwane dated 5 September 1907. National Library of Scotland.
MS 7800. Letter from J. Lennox to Dr. Stewart dated 1 October 1904.
Shepherd, R. Lovedale South Africa. The Story of a Century 1841-1941. Lovedale: Lovedale Press, 1940.
Skota, T. D. M., ed. The African Yearly Register: Being an Illustrated National Biographical Dictionary (Who’s Who) of Black Folks in Africa. Johannesburg: R. Esson, 1933.
Stewart, J. Lovedale Past and Present: A Register of 2000 Names. Lovedale: Lovedale Press, 1887.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Malihambe - Let the Word Spread, copyright © 1999, by J. A. Millard, Unisa Press, Pretoria, South Africa. All rights reserved.