Hezekiya Thawani Banda was the fourth person ordained to the full-time ministry in the Dutch Reformed Church Mission in the Orange Free State in Northern Rhodesia (now the Reformed Church in Zambia). He was a Chewa by tribe and grew up on the Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique) side of the colonial border. He was married to Eneresi Mumba.
It appears that he spent some years in Harare (then Salisbury). On his return, he found his wife attending the Nsadzu Mission School of the DRCM in the Orange Free State in the Eastern Province of Zambia. He joined her and in 1913 became a teacher. He also attended the Madzimoyo Normal School. From 1926 to 1928, he attended the Nkhoma Evangelists School in Malawi. On his return to Zambia, he was assigned to work as an evangelist at the Nsadzu Mission where he served until 1933. Afterwards, he served at Fort Jameson (now called Chipata) as an evangelist from 1934 to 1938. After two more years of study at Nkhoma, Malawi (1939-1940), he was ordained a minister of the Katete congregation in 1941. From 1947 on, he served at Maguya (then an outstation of the Chipata congregation, now Yerusalemu RCZ) until his untimely death in 1948.
In the official obituary in the minutes of the 1949 Synod of the Dutch Reformed Mission (Orange Free State) in Northern Rhodesia (now the Reformed Church in Zambia), Hezekiya Thawani Banda is characterized as a strong man, a strong preacher of the Word of God, a courageous man who “spoke reprimanding words to sinners, even if they were mafumu (chiefs), without any fear,” and also, “a cheerful and humble man who, when provoked, never allowed anger to overwhelm him.” He was known to be an outspoken man who did not hide his feelings, but quite frankly criticized whatever was against his conscience. He was not inhibited in his dealing with chiefs. “Before God there is no chief,” and “Chief Mbang’ombe is my servant,” he could say of a chief who did not belong to his flock. When Mbang’ombe wanted bricks of the Tshumbwi village church which had been moved to another place, Banda simply refused. He fearlessly took on the case of a poisoned teacher and exposed the man who had administered the bad medicine. He could rebuke chiefs who did not make good roads. Likewise, he was fearless in facing the missionaries. “We should not fear the white man–we are the same, although the skin is different,” he would tell his wife and his fellow minister Jabes Khondowe. As a young man, he was already the spokesperson for a group of teachers who had had a quarrel with a missionary at Nsadzu. When a missionary would act wrongly toward an African, he would firmly rebuke such a person. He was an independent, dynamic person and also the first minister in the Reformed Church in Zambia to buy a motorcycle.
The tsankhu–which means segregation in church and society–deeply affected him. He would stress in his sermons, “There is no segregation in heaven although there is on earth… we are one in heaven. There is no black or white, we are just one. Before God we are all one.” He sometimes played with the idea of leaving the DRCM and establishing his own church. With his aim of a church under African leadership Banda was–within his circle–ahead of his time.
At the end of his life he was physically weak. The last year he was at Maguya, he suffered from terrible headaches. Someone whispered that an enemy at Kamoto had bewitched him through a medium. “No,” he said, “It is the harshness of the Christians. Because I stop them drinking or having a second wife.”
Three times a letter was sent in vain to the missionary at Fort Jameson for medical help. The day before he died he saw an angel pass along the road. He prayed three times, then four times, together seven times, with his wife Eneresi and his daughters. After that he could speak no more and died in the night of June 2, 1948. He did not fear death. He had lost five sons and had told his wife, Eneresi, “Don’t cry.” He was buried in the African graveyard of Fort Jameson.
J. J. van Wyk
F. D. Sakala, A Study of the History of Theological Education in the Dutch Reformed Church Mission in Zambia and its Role in the Life of Zambian Christianity, unpublished MTh Thesis (University of South Africa: 1996).
Gerdien Verstraelen-Gilhuis, “Profiles of the First Ministers,” ch. 9 in From Dutch Mission Church to Reformed Church in Zambia. The Scope for African Leadership and Initiative in the History of a Zambian Mission Church (Franeker: T. Wever, 1982): 161-179.
This story, submitted in August 2003, was prepared by Dr. J. J. van Wyk, DACB Regional Coordinator for Southern and Eastern Africa.