CHRISTIAN MISSIONS AMONGST THE VHAVENDA

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CHAPTER 3: CHRISTIAN MISSIONS AMONGST THE VHAVENDA

Introduction

This chapter deals with the encounters between Christian missionaries and Tshivenda speakers, as well as the effects of white settlement in what is today a part of Limpopo Province in South Africa (Venda) in the late 19thcentury.
An attempt will be made to identify the causes and factors that led to the conflict created by the preaching of the Gospel within a Venda context. Regardless of the problems encountered by the missionaries, their contribution should be understood as part of the story concerning the struggle for a Christian culture in Venda. Therefore, this chapter will not only concentrate on the negative aspects of the work carried out bymissionaries, but will also look at the positivefeatures of the missionary effort.

Sojourners and settlers in Venda

Makhado town (Tshitandani) nestles at the foot of the Zoutpansberg mountain range. White settlers arrived here in 1899. The first settlement was aborted, as the greed of colonialists for land and free labour saw King Makhado Ramabulana rout them from Schoemansdal, 17km to the west. King Makhado’s palace was at Luatame on Mount Swongozwi, and he defended the kingdom of Vhavenda with his battalions.
It is possible that Portuguese hunters and traders may have entered Vendaland during the 18thcentury. However, the penetration of people of Western European origin into the Zoutpansberg area is generally considered to have begun in the 19thcentury. They were largely in search of hunting and grazing (Tempelhoff 1989:18).
According  to  Kirkaldy  (2002:  64)  the  first  sustained  contact  between  white immigrants and the Vhavenda seems to have occurred between 1810 and 1820.This was when Coenraad de Buys, a hunter and adventurer from the Cape Colony, his black wife, and their children entered the area and were given the land on the outer regions of Vhavenda-held territory by King Makhado’s father,Ravele Mpofu Ramabulana. King Ravele Ramabulana had allowed white settlers to stay at Schoemansdal in 1858.
Schoemansdal was the northernmost point of white encroachment into the rest of South Africa. It was a hive of activity, and a centre of business, where elephant tusks, skins from leopards and lions, dried meat and teak wood were exchanged for gold and other commodities.
Coenraad’s sons were also provided with wives from the royal settlement. After Coenraad’s wife died, possibly of malaria, he moved on, leaving his sons behind. His movements from thenon are unknown. However, some traditions suggest that he went to look for help from the Portuguese in Mozambique and either died there, or settled and remarried there. His sons subsequently settled at Tshikhovhokhovho, near the Blouberg Mountains and the Sand River, on the stands allocated to them by Ravele Mpofu Ramabulana.
As time went on, settlers wanted more and more land. They also wanted the Vhavenda, including the royal princes, to work for them for free. They even wantedto collect tax and in addition to take over the area and map out where King Makhado’s area would be, a reserve designating where his jurisdiction would begin and end. King Makhado would have none of it. He told the whites to get off the land and that he did not recognise their rule over Vhavenda.
By 1858, there were between 40 and 50 settlers; by 1861 there were more than seventy families at Schoemansdal. From here on, as tensions grew, whites called for reinforcements from Pretoria. They were given 400 commandos under the leadership of Commandant General Paul Kruger, who later become a leader and hero of the Boers. Their task was to dislodge King Makhado from Luatame and establish unchallenged rule over his area and subjects.
One day, King Makhado’s army commander, Funyufunyu, visited his brother who was working for the Boers at Schoemansdal. Funyufunyu witnessed how the Boers were mistreating Vhavenda people at Schoemansdal. The following day, 13 July 80 1867, the Venda soldiers assembled for the attack. They went down and killed everybody present. The only survivors were two hunters who had gone on an expedition. The destruction of Schoemansdal meant that the regime in Pretoria had lost its hold on Venda. The whites settled in Marabastad, outside Polokwane, and later established the town of Pietersburg.
On 20 November 1869, Paul Kruger, R.A. van Nispen and Commandant D.B. Snyman assembled 80 Vhavenda chiefs and headmen, who were to pledge their loyalty to the white regime. King Makhado boycotted the meeting and refused to abide by its decree. In 1887, General Piet Joubert was sent to try and convince Makhado that his land was too big for the number of people he ruled. King Makhado rejected this; he said his people could not be counted for a census and that his land did not need to be measured as he knew where it started and ended.
The settlers, together with Tsonga-Shangaan men,joined forces with a Portuguese man called Joao Albasini, and once more tried to fight King Makhado, but still they could not dislodge him, even after several fights. This earned King Makhado the nickname ‘Bull of the North’and the praise name ‘Tshilwavhusiku tsha Ramabulana’ (the night fighter of Ramabulana).
King Makhado died of suspected poisoning (allegedly poisoned at a shop owned by John Cooksley) in September 1895. The Boers grouped and attacked Makhado’s son, King Tshilamulela Ramabulana (Mphephu I), in October 1898. However, the Venda army was divided due to squabbles within the royal family. Mphephu was defeated and the Boers took Luatame,while Mphephu fled to Zimbabwe.
When the South African war broke out in 1899, the Vhavenda sided with the English and burned the town. The Boers were defeated and surrendered in 1902. Thus, King Mphephu I came back to Luatame in 1902. The Ramabulana royal family was settled in Dzanani after the 1913 Land Act was passed.
It should be noted that the primary motive for whites settling in this area was not for the purpose of bringing the Gospel to the Vhavenda. Rather, thesepeople had left the Cape Colony during the Great Trek in search of land and trade. In other words, such settlement was solely for their own benefit.
Moller-Malan (1953: 40) indicates that Coenraad de Buys’ family were coloured people, with a reddish-brown complexion. ‘They came from the north-west, from the direction of Bechuanaland, and they had fire-sticks with them. Not knowing what else to do, they bowed down to them and called them ‘The sons of the gods’.’
Although they were coloureds, the Vhavenda regarded them as whites, because this was their first contact with people of a lighter colour. Ndou (2000:23) elaborates:
The members of the Buys’ group were regarded as notorious outlaws, they were greatly appreciated in later years, as they were of great assistance to the missionaries in the spreading of the Gospel, since they stayed with the black people on a permanent basis.
The inclusion of the white settlement in this research will act as a point of reference in terms of certain particular missionary events that took place in Venda. Depending on one’s perspective, their presence could be said to have had either a positive or negative influence on the acceptance of the Gospel in Venda.
Following this, between 1836 and 1837, a number of Voortrekker groups temporarily established themselves in the general area. Their first main base was on the western side of the mountain at the salt-pan after which the Soutpansberg is named. Later, they moved to the area surrounding what would become Schoemansdal and the present-day town of Louis Trichardt. They found that the area was abundantly stocked with game for hunting and provided ample pasturage for their cattle (Kirkaldy2002: 65).
King Ramabulana came into contact with the Voortrekker leaders Louis Trichardt and Hendrik Andries Potgieter, and called on them, the Buys brothers and Tlokwa and Pedi warriors for assistance in his succession dispute with his brother, Ramavhoya. Having defeated and strangled his brother with their assistance in late November 1836, he allegedly promised Trichardt and Potgieter access to land in the area, should they desire it.

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CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION
1.1. Relevance
1.2. Problem statement
1.3. Aim of the research .
1.4. Hypothesis
1.5. Methodology .
1.6. Overview of the research .
CHAPTER 2: TRADITIONAL BELIEFS, CUSTOMS, AND PRACTICES OF THE VHAVENDA 
2.1. Introduction.
2.2. Brief analysis of important concepts
2.3. Vendaregion
2.4. Language
2.5. Traditional worldview
2.6. Belief in the Supreme Being
2.7. Ancestor veneration.
2.8.Intermediary agents
2.9. Factors which affirm or negate Christian religion: Impact on Venda perception of the status of the dead
2.10. Missional investigation
2.11. Conclusion
CHAPTER 3: CHRISTIAN MISSIONS AMONGST THE VHAVENDA
3.1. Introduction
3.2. Sojourners and settlers in Venda.
3.3.Mission work amongst the Vhavenda
3.4. Missional investigation.
3.5. Conclusion
CHAPTER 4: THE RISE OF INDEPENDENT CHURCHES AND THEIR APPROACH TO VENDA CULTURE
4.1. Introduction
4.2. African Independent Churches: background.
4.3. Religious factor
4.4. The value of the vernacular heritage in African Independent Churches
4.5. Faith healing
4.6. Freedom of worship
4.7. Polygamous marriage
4.8. Kingly church leadership and inheritance
4.9. Prophetic visions.
4.11. Conclusion.
CHAPTER 5: TOWARD A VHAVENDA VERSION OF CHRISTIANITY 
5.1. Introduction.
5.2. Belief in God
5.3. Christ, the prime ancestor.
5.4. Belief in the Holy Spirit
5.5. Death is not regarded as total annihilation.
5.6. Vhavenda Christian funerals..
5.7. Christian status of ancestors after burial.
5. 8. Conclusion
CHAPTER 6: CONCLUDING REMARKS 
6.1. Recapitulation
6.2. Main findings and evaluation of the hypothesis
6.3. Recommendations
6.4. Areas for future research
BIBLIOGRAPHY 
SUMMARY.
APPENDIX
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