Ephraim Bhova Shongwe was born and grew up in a non-Christian Swazi home at Nkiliji near Bhekinkosi in the Manzini area. He was the eldest child and his father died when he was fourteen. Chief Maqondatsheni took him from his parents and said Ephraim was to be his boy and he went everywhere with the chief. He had never heard the gospel until his chief once took him to Pigg’s Peak and he visited a Nazarene Church there.
He later joined the police and Rev. Solomon Ndzimandze used to preach at the police camp at Pigg’s Peak. Shongwe and other policemen would attend services at Hhelehhele, where Ndzimandze pastored. A message about the rich man and Lazarus once touched his heart and he wanted to believe.
While visiting an aunt at Ermelo (Mpumalanga, South Africa) at the age of eighteen, Ephraim committed his heart to Christ at a Swedish Alliance Mission. Then one day he went out to pray alone and God called him to preach. He saw Swazis dying in their sins. While there he worked for a white farmer. He would clean the house, peel vegetables, wash windows and do other housework. He was a faithful young man and did not want to spoil his life. He enjoyed his new Christian life and went home to share it with his family.
When he arrived back home at Bhekinkosi he was surprised to find that his younger sister and mother had both found Christ. They attended the Ensingweni Church where Samuel Dlamini pastored. At the Endzingeni Camp Meeting Ephraim met God at the altar. One bench of the altar was designated for those who sought to be sanctified and another for those that needed God’s healing touch. He needed both so he knelt between the two benches. That day he was baptized with the Holy Spirit and also healed of bilharzia.
His mother, Mrs. Maria Tikholisile (Ginindza) Shongwe (?-1963), became a believer when she visited Piet Retief in 1924 and attended the Swedish Church. Back home she would walk over fifteen kilometres and cross the crocodile-infested Black Mbuluzi River to go to church at Ensingweni. There was no bridge. In summer when the river was in flood she could not make it. She was the first Christian at Bhekinkosi and she began the Church of the Nazarene there. Maria continued with the Lord and was filled with the Holy Spirit. She was always victorious and was a great blessing to many. She was a leader of women and an effective preacher. When her son, Ephraim, wanted to go back to work she advised against it and he agreed.
Early in 1924 Shongwe left his home and went to Endzingeni where he joined the Church of the Nazarene. At that time he could neither read nor write. He was a good handyman and a hard worker. Because of his experience at Ermelo he worked in the kitchen. At the age of twenty-four he started school classes and was a good student. He was happy when he could read his Zulu Bible. Then he went on to learn English.
Pursuing God’s call to spread the good news of the Word of God Shongwe attended Bible School at Pigg’s Peak in 1925. He made outstanding progress and was one of the first Swazi Nazarenes to pass the Natal school-leaving examination. He was in the first class at the Bible College at Siteki in 1933. That year he married Miss Martha Makhobeni Dlamini (1910-1996). She was a strong Christian who grew up at the Endzingeni Mission, where she was a teacher of beginners. The Shongwes were blessed with six children. Shongwe worked hard to pay for schooling for his children. Martha could sew and she made clothes for the family.
The Shongwes first pastored at Nhlambeni during the depression years. The mission subsidy was cut to twenty-five cents per month. They did not have land on which to raise mealies and vegetables for subsistence and to sell. Living was very difficult, but they were among those that faithfully persevered. Shongwe was an outstanding singer. He and Martha sang very well together and were often requested to sing for special occasions. They were good examples and everyone in the church loved them.
While pastoring at Siteki, Shongwe used to ride a horse for his visitation work. Malaria and black water fever were serious hazards in those days. He was ordained by General Superintendent Hardy Powers in 1947. From 1955 to 1962 he was the pioneer leader in the mining compounds in South Africa. After a few years he was appointed to lead the Northern Zone of the church. Rev. D. H. Spencer worked with him.
Martha was always supportive and she led many people to the Lord. One of them was a blind boy. She helped him to attend school for the blind and he became a preacher.
Shongwe was elected in 1964 as the first District Superintendent in Swaziland. He really caught the vision for the Swazi church becoming self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating. He was a wonderful man of God and laid a strong foundation upon which his successor, Rev. Leonard Sibandze, could build and lead the Swazi church on to become a regular district. As a leader Rev. Ephraim Shongwe was loved by his colleagues. Even when things were difficult he continued to trust Jesus. In 1968 he was the first African delegate to General Assembly.
In 1969 Rev. Ephraim Shongwe retired at the Bhekinkosi Church about fifteen miles northeast of Manzini. Many Sundays he could be seen driving the Sunday School “bus,” a farm tractor pulling a trailer, full of children. Their last days were very difficult and they were very poor. Martha became sick and Rev. Thwala, pastor of the church, cared for and helped them. He visited them and supported them morally, financially and spiritually. Three of their children are active Christians in the Church of the Nazarene.
Paul S. Dayhoff
Dr. Robert Perry, notes (Manzini Archives, 1985); Elisha M. Mdluli, RFM Hospital Administrator, report on Bhekinkosi; “Report on the Funeral of Mother Maria Gininda Shongwe,” Mutwalisi (The Herald), Shangaan/Tsonga magazine of the Church of the Nazarene in Mozambique and South Africa, (Florida, Transvaal, South Africa: Nazarene Publishing House, November-December 1963), 12.
K. Dixon, letter, (10 March 1992).
W. C. Esselstyn, letter (Rockton, Ill, 7 May 1995); Umphaphamisi (The Herald), Swazi-Zulu magazine of the Church of the Nazarene for Swaziland and South Africa, (Florida, Transvaal, South Africa: Nazarene Publishing House, September-October 1960), 1; Umphaphamisi (January-February 1965), 6.
Mrs. Orah (E. V.) Dlamini, daughter of Rev. Ephraim Shongwe, reports submitted by Ralph Kunene and Malachi Makhubela, (16 July 1995 and 24 March 1997); Bill Moon, notes (14 August 1995); Cariot Shongwe, (11 September 1995).
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.