Church and State : a new era
For over half a century, anti-clerical sentiments in Portugal had prevented the country's religious orders from operating in Mozambique. But as Portuguese patriotism was affronted by British encroachments on the sovereignty of Mozambique, a realignment of political forces came to see Catholicism as a potential arm of the State. For the dynamic imperialist António Ennes, as well as for the newly-appointed bishop of Mozambique, António Barroso, the Catholic Church had become an important means of accomplishing the « effective occupation » of the colony47.
The policies of several of the Protestant missions stood in direct opposition to this proposed collusion between Church and State. Many missionaries were religious dissenters whose beliefs rested on a firm prohibition of State interference in Church matters. All saw literacy as a fundamental means of spreading the gospel in a personal way that was not filtered by an authoritarian priesthood. As foreigners, they were oblivious to the civilizing effects of the Portuguese language. In their experience, the most efficient means of reading was in the local languages defined, transcribed and closely associated with the missions. Zulu was also a popular language medium as it was taught on the mines and widely employed throughout Southern Mozambique as a lingua franca. In a way almost aimed to displease the Portuguese, many missionaries valued English as the language of a more virile imperial race and as the language of commerce. Another source of dissatisfaction for the Portuguese was the manner in which the Protestants encouraged their congregants to acquire organizational skills in the fields of administration and fund-raising and to take leadership roles in the Church. The assertiveness of Protestant converts and clergy had threatened the unity of the Swiss Church during the revival of the mid-1880s and would emerge again in the form of religious separatism ; but for the Portuguese this assertiveness would take the form of a political challenge.
Although the Portuguese were suspicious of all Churchmen working outside the control of the Catholic Church, the presence of the Protestant missions in Mozambique was protected by international treaties aimed at opening Africa to the « civilizing influence » of Christianity48. But in 1894 the Portuguese in the Lourenço Marques district seized upon a rebellion, that quickly grew into a war with the Gaza State, to curb the influence of the Protestants. Despite protestations of innocence, Robert Mashaba was implicated in fomenting the rebellion ; and his Methodist congregation was left to fend for itself for the next decade when he was sentenced to life imprisonment on Fogo island in the Cape Verdes. Georges Liengme, the Swiss missionary doctor, was also accused of aiding the Gaza monarch. He had indeed undergone a remarkable political transformation during his stay at Mandlakazi, the Gaza capital. On his arrival Liengme had been horrified by the savagery of his hosts. But gradually disdain had turned into respect as the nobility of the martial Gaza outshone the coarse avarice of the gun-runners, concession seekers and morphine addicts representing European civilization at Mandlakazi. When the Portuguese seized Mandlakazi, Liengme, who had refused to abandon the Gaza king, was expelled from the colony. The head of the Swiss mission, Henri-Alexandre Junod, was also accused of fomenting the war and found it wise to take a long furlough in Switzerland and a new posting in the Eastern Transvaal49. But the political interventions of Junod and Liengme had almost destroyed the work of the mission. This had highlighted the delicate balance to be achieved in a colonial situation between the spiritual and material aspects of mission work ; and had underlined the missionaries' limited ability to transform society without the approval of the colonial State.
Ironically, the departure of Mashaba and the two Swiss missionaries was accompanied by a rolling wave of conversion as people sought to harness the power of the vaguely defined Supreme Being in their religion. The importance of this force, expressed by the word Heaven (tilo), had long been spoken of by the socially and economically important veterans returning from the mines50. But until the conquest of Southern Mozambique by the Portuguese, this power had been worshipped by people living on the margins of society, often in socially enclosed mission communities. The inability of the ancestors to protect their descendents from the Portuguese, or from the terrible drought, famine and cattle epidemic that followed in their wake, encouraged people to look elsewhere for assistance. A growing number of diviners attempted to harness the ritual power of Christianity when they proclaimed Sunday observance a means of eradicating current misfortunes51. For others the power of the Supreme Being was magnified by the impuissance of the ancestors.
For those who had been oppressed by the Gaza, such as the Chopi refugees living on the edge of Lourenço Marques, Christianity was possibly associated with the liberation brought by the Portuguese. These people returned home when peace came to Southern Mozambique and quickly turned southern Chopiland into fertile soil for the gospel. Many arrived home with the knowledge and practices of Christianity nurtured and directed by the Anglicans ; and they welcomed the arrival in their midst in 1903 of John Matthews Nyoko. This indefatigable evangelist had just been ordained after three years at college in Pietermaritzburg and, in the space of eight years, succeeded in establishing eighteen mission stations and teachers in the area52. In Lourenço Marques, where the population was less constrained by traditional beliefs and the power structures holding them in place, membership of the Swiss Churches increased by 50 per cent to 1,200 during the four years to 1898. Conversion had occurred at such a pace that congregants in the town represented well over half of all the members of the Swiss Mission in Southern Africa53.
The popularity of Christianity rose further when in 1899 over sixty thousand migrants returned from the Witwatersrand, that other major site of conversion for Mozambicans, on the eve of the South African War. This wave of Christian immigration transformed Southern Mozambique into a glittering prize for the evangelical movement. Some migrants had been schooled by Methodists, Anglicans, and others on the mines, and willingly engaged in established mission work in Mozambique54. But many carried home what Bishop Smyth called « an imperfect knowledge of the truth » and a large part of the evangelical energy in the region was to be invested in the correction and disciplining of this knowledge55.
As I have attempted to show, much of the attraction of Southern Mozambique for different denominations was founded on their desire to « follow up » the large number of members converted on the mines. Miners on the Witwatersrand were equally anxious for their collections to support the evangelization by their denominations of their home areas. This led to a severe overlap of interests and competition between the Swiss Presbyterians, Methodists and, once the Chopi refugees had returned home, Anglicans south of the Limpopo. Evangelical overcrowding also pushed the mission field northwards as Methodists and Dutch Reformed Calvinists working on the Witwatersrand later sought to follow their converts into areas in the north unoccupied by missionaries.
It was not easy to bring a conformity to what Erwin Richards referred to as « all symptoms of Church wisdom » repatriated from South Africa56. The attempt to make workers' values and customs conform to those of European missionaries often provoked the emergence of forms of Christianity more adapted to local values and practices. The growing number of Ethiopian and
Zionist Churches on the Witwatersrand attracted Mozambicans to their Sunday schools, literacy classes and ubiquitous timitis (tea meetings). In 1907 Mozambicans on the mines created a provident society « to provide a purse for East Coast natives working on the Rand, out of which sick boys will be helped, boys dying friendless will be decently buried and boys preaching and teaching in Gazaland will be supported »57. Some migrants started their own Churches. Probably the most famous case is that of James Ngonyama who had been converted by A.W. Baker's South African Compounds Mission in 1896. Instead of working for Baker's mission in Mozambique, he later chose to join the Zulu Congregational Church. In 1908 Ngonyama left this movement to form the African Gaza Church which claimed links with its eponym in the Holy Land. With the financial support of Mozambican wage-earners on the Witwatersrand, this Church soon established numerous branches in the Portuguese colony58. Other men spread Christian ideas almost inadvertently through the reading charts, literature and writing materials they distributed on arriving home ; while yet others returned to their villages with the express intention of starting independent schools59.
Swiss missionaries like Henri Guye marvelled at « the almost continual procession » of migrants, many of whom, he wrote in 1904, « have converted to Christianity and wish to practise it here »60. His colleague Pierre Loze was more circumspect about the uncontrolled, independent teachings of these men which, he feared, would « fill the country »61. This was a concern shared by the Portuguese administration, the religious orders readmitted to the colony at the turn of the century and, to a certain extent, the African élite emerging in Lourenço Marques. In an attempt to restrict the uncontrolled proliferation of independent schools, the Portuguese in 1907 restricted instruction through the medium of indigenous languages to the first three years of school. Teachers were required by law to be proficient in Portuguese and were obliged to use only officially approved books. By effectively outlawing Zulu and English in the schools, the Portuguese aimed to halt the « denationalization » of Mozambique. But Protestant missionaries like Junod, especially those who came from national Churches, viewed the imposition of the Portuguese language as the cause of « denationalization. ». Like the French of the Swiss Romand, the language of the Ronga/Tsonga was central to the sense of character, self-worth and achievement of the
nation or « tribe ». For the mission to ensure the controlled evolution of the people under its tutelage, it had to fuse the best in African and European cultures ; but this social engineering could only be based on the local language transcribed and dominated by the missionaries62. In neighbouring South Africa the cultural protection propagated by Junod and others would be appropriated by liberal segregationists ; but in Mozambique, where the same policy contradicted the assimilation advocated by the Portuguese, the missions would provide a political space for opponents of the colonial regime.
The combination of congregational democracy with an ecclesiastical history of dissent generated a climate of independent thought and action. Sometimes this assertion of independence would divide the Church, as in 1918 when Muti Sikobele, who had become an important itinerant minister in the Inhambane region, left the Methodist Episcopal Mission. His popular Luso-African Church Association would, in its turn, spawn a number of other Independent Churches63. Sikobele's colleague Tizora Navess took a more political direction when he founded a branch in Inhambane of The Congresso nacional africano, the political movement modelled on the African National Congress of South Africa64. For many of this emerging African élite, Robert Mashaba became a symbol of resistance. On his release from captivity in 1902, the Methodist pioneer had been prohibited from returning to Mozambique and had worked for the Church on the Witwatersrand, and later in Swaziland and at Heidelberg in the Eastern Transvaal. During this time Mashaba's portrait hung in the offices of the Grémio africano, a largely mestizo organization calling for political reform. Members of this movement and their urban, intellectual friends celebrated when Mashaba returned to his birthplace on his retirement in 1934, and remembered his achievements long after his death five years later65.
By their nature and organization, the Protestant missions formed a separate sphere in colonial society. Several were the product of dissenting Churches with an uneasy history of relations with both the State and the established Church. As foreign missions they were not beholden to the Portuguese language and culture of the colonizer. Indeed, it might be argued that the strength of the Protestant Churches, in Africa as in Europe, came from their familiarity with the local written vernacular. They viewed literacy as an evangelical tool and schooling as a controlled means of transforming society. For the indigenous population, Protestant missions
offered an area of upward mobility and self-governance, and a bridge to South Africa. But many forms of Christianity that were beyond the control of the Protestant missions entered Mozambique across this bridge. So, too, did the independent Churches that, in 1917, the director of the Swiss mission was still to qualify as « premature »66.
History Department, University of Cape Town