Mooki came from an African Independent Church background and in his search for Zion joined the New Jerusalem Church.
He was born in 1876 in the Transvaal and lived in the ‘Old Location’, near Krugersdorp. Mooki was a member of the African Catholic Church, which had been founded by John Lelepo Molife in 1908. Little is known of his history before this except that he was married to Emmie, who was very supportive of his work when he established his ‘New Church’. She housed the library of the church in her own home next door to the church in Krugersdorp.
In December 1909 Mooki was window-shopping in Krugersdorp when he saw a book in the window of a second-hand shop entitled The True Christian Religion by Emmanuel Swedenborg. He was intrigued and bought the book and started reading. Swedenborg, who wrote the book in 1771, was a Swedish scientist. He applied his own interpretation to texts in his search for ‘the inner meaning contained in the inspired texts of the Bible’ (Kingslake 1981, 12). Swedenborg taught that a new church was being formed lo replace the church of his time. It was called the ‘Church of the New Jerusalem’.
Swedenborg appeared to have an understanding of Africans even though he had never been to Africa. He wrote: ‘Africans are the best, gentlest and most intelligent of all the gentiles … They long for information and rejoice when they get it’ (Evans 1991, 10). Again he wrote: ‘because Africans are of this character (i.e. spiritual) a revelation has this day been made to them, which is spreading in all directions … ‘ (Swedenborg 1771, para. 840, 387). Mooki believed that he had found the answer to his search and had soon read the whole book. He decided to try to find people who belonged to the New Church and wanted to start a branch himself. In 1911 he established the New Church of Africa.
Mooki did not give up his search for the Swedenborgians. He wrote to the printers of the book, who furnished him with the address of the British General Conference of the New Jerusalem Church in England. In 1917 he was able to establish links with the church overseas. The British church sent him literature and brought his church under the direction of the Foreign and Colonial Missions Committee. His church became known overseas as ‘the New Church (Native) Mission in South Africa’.
Mooki had to wait another two years before a New Church minister came to South Africa. By this time his church was a thriving organization. The Rev. James Buss instructed the New Church members in the Swedenborgian doctrines. He ordained Mooki on 23 January 1921, and nine days later nine other ministers were ordained.
Through the efforts of Mooki and Buss the New Church expanded as far afield as Basutoland (Lesotho). There were also branches of the New Church in Nancefield Location (Pimville) and other parts of the Rand.
Mooki died of enteritis on 2 April 1927. The missionaries continued the work until Obed Simon David, Mooki’s second son who had been born in 1919, had completed his education. Obed then took over his father’s work. Under Obed Mooki and his wife, Eulalia, the New Church grew even more. A church and a school, known as the Mooki Memorial Church, were erected in Orlando East. Obed Mooki became a leading member of the African Ministers’ Association as well as serving on the Johannesburg Joint Advisory Boards.
Obed Mooki saw many changes take place in the New Church. The Mooki Memorial College was formed in Soweto. In 1961 the New Church amalgamated with the Ethiopian Catholic Church in Zion which had been threatened with closure by the Government. The ECC in Zion had been started by Samuel Brander in 1904 and now the sons of the two founders met to form one church.
Obed Mooki was made superintendent of the new Church in 1989 and for the rest of his life remained president of the church. He died on 3 June 1990 after a protracted illness.
J. A. Millard
Evans, J. A History of the New Church in Southern Africa 1909~1991 and A Tribute to the Late Obed S. D. Mooki. Johannesburg: a New Church publication, 1992.
Kingslake. B. *Swedenborg Explores The Spiritual Dimension. * London: Seminar Books, 1981.
Millard, J. “The New Jerusalem That Was Not Zion.” Missionalia, 24 (2) (August 1996).
Skota, T. D. M., ed. The African Yearly Register: Being an Illustrated National Biographical Dictionary (Who’s Who) of Black Folks in Africa. 3rd edition. Johannesburg: CNA, 1965.
Swedenborg, E. The True Christian Religion. London, 1771.
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.