Mzimba, Pambani Jeremiah
Mzimba, an ex-Lovedale graduate, was the founder of the Presbyterian Church of Africa. He was born at Ngqakayi in the Eastern Cape halfway through the nineteenth century. His father, Ntibane, was an old Lovedale student and he and his wife were baptised by the Rev. James Laing of the Free Church of Scotland in 1852. Ntibane later became a deacon in the Lovedale Native Church where his son, Pambani, would one day serve as a minister. So it may be seen that Mzimba’s roots were firmly grounded in the Lovedale Presbyterian Church.
Mzimba entered Lovedale as a student in 1860. He remained there until 1875 when he was ordained, the first South African-trained black Presbyterian minister to achieve this status. During his time as a student he worked in the telegraph office to help pay his fees. Like Makiwane, he was a teacher of biblical studies.
The year before he was ordained Mzimba married Martha Kwatsha, a member of the Soga family. She came from Burnshill Mission in 1868 and was a pupil at the girls’ school until 1875, when she spent a year in Scotland with Mrs. Stewart. She married Mzimba when she returned (Stewart 1887, 435).
Mzimba was ordained on 2 December 1875. Stewart was not among those present and Dr. Waterston chided him saying: ‘Your being away for Pambani’s ordination gave me great pain … Mpambani said little about it … but he felt it. He has such deep feelings … I have known Mpambani go off like some wounded animal to some solitary spot where no human eye can see his pain’ (Waterston 1983, 97).
Although Stewart was absent, there were others who appreciated the importance of the occasion. The Christian Express, for which he had worked for a time, published an account of the ordination and how he had been elected by the Lovedale congregation as their minister. The Rev. Bryce Ross conducted the ordination service and preached on the office of the Christian ministry from Ephesians 4:11. The girls from the school gave him a gold chain and his fellow students a gift of money (Christian Express 1876, 11 ).
The year that Mzimba was ordained he and Makiwane volunteered to go to the Livingstonia Mission in Malawi, but neither of them was chosen. Instead, Mzimba served the Lovedale congregation and taught at Lovedale Institution.
The year 189l was Lovedale’s Jubilee Celebration. Mzimba was chosen to deliver one of the sermons. In the Jubilee Report he was recognised as a modest and capable minister, a satisfactory pastor and a successful evangelist.
Two years later he was sent to Scotland as a delegate to the anniversary of the Free Church severing its ties with the Scottish government. Mzimba wrote to Dr. Smith of the Missionary Society: ‘God in his goodness has at last given me my long desire to see Scotland and be in the General Assembly’ (MS 1093). He wanted to know what aspect of the mission they wished him to speak about. The delegates were interested in what he had to say, but there is a note of paternalism in the way they received him. One of the delegates wrote: ‘The Rev. Mpambani Mzimba … is a splendid specimen of what the grace of God can produce in the African race’ (MS 1120). Mzimba collected a large amount of money in Scotland, some of which he hoped would be used to rebuild the Lovedale Church. Stewart thought his plans too grandiose.
The year 1896 was a busy one for Mzimba. A theological school was started at Lovedale and he and Makiwane taught biblical studies. He went to Johannesburg with Stewart to act as a mediator in the Tsewu affair and he continued to serve the Lovedale congregation.
The first National United Presbyterian Assembly was held in 1897. Mzimba was a delegate at this too. The Kaffrarian Presbytery felt that they could not accept union with the other presbyteries if their African ministers did not receive equal recognition.
A year later Mzimba, after twenty-two years in the Presbyterian ministry, felt he could no longer remain a member of the Free Church of Scotland and formed his own independent church. Stewart’s biographer wrote that Stewart felt ‘peculiar sorrow’ because Mzimba had been like a son in the faith to him and ‘the matter aged Dr. Stewart perceptibly’ (Wells 1906, 295). Wells had nothing to say about Stewart’s non-attendance of Mzimba’s ordination.
The congregation at Lovedale Church was mainly of Mfengu origin and they decided to leave the church and remain with Mzimba. They called themselves the true ‘Free Church’ and ‘joined Mzimba wholesale’ (MS 7801, 804). Makiwane had trouble with Headman Bovani Mabandla of MacFarlan village who joined Mzimba. There were disputes over property and Lennox wrote from Lovedale that: ‘Mzimba’s people were very active in asserting that all South African property would pass, or rather had already passed into the hands of the Free Church [Mzimba’s Presbyterian Church of Africa] and that they, the Mzimbatites were to have the use and possession of it’ (MS 7801, 652). Many were even convinced that after the death of Stewart Lovedale would belong to them. These disputes resulted in ill feeling between the Presbyterians of the Kaffrarian Presbytery and those of Mzimba’s Presbyterian Church of Africa.
Mzimba died in 1911 and his son became head of the Mzimbatite Church. The formation of Mzimba’s church had a direct influence on the formation in 1923 of the Bantu Presbyterian Church ~ the African branch of the Presbyterian Church of South Africa.
J. A. Millard
The Christian Express. 1 January 1876 and 1 January 1898.
Lovedale Institution Missionary Reports 1891.
MS 1093. Letter from P. Mzimba to Dr. Smith dated 11 May 1893 and from R. Horne dated 29 September 1893 - National Library of Scotland.
MS 7801. Letters from J. Lennox to Dr. Somerville dated 17 February 1906 and 4 February 1907 - National Library of Scotland.
Skota, T. D. M. 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 Two Thousand Names. Lovedale: Lovedale Press, 1887.
Wells, J. The Life of James Stewart. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1906.
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.