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Dawn in Swaziland

By Christopher Charles Watts, M.A.
Archdeacon of Swaziland

London: The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, 1922.

Chapter X. History of missionary work in Swaziland

IT is over fifty years ago since the Rev. R. Robertson, "The Apostle of Zululand," wrote to S.P.G. that he had been a long journey of exploration in his waggon, and from Ingwavuma Mountain, on the extreme edge of Zululand, had seen the unknown Swazi country stretching out in front of him. He hoped that at some future time it might be possible to do some thing for its evangelisation. As, however, he was working alone in a vast and savage country distracted by native wars, the prospect of opening up work there seemed but an empty dream. Ten years later, however, European civilisation pushed up nearer to the south-east border, and the Rev. J. Allison, the pioneer Wesleyan missionary, pressed in and established himself at Mahamba, and the Christian attack upon heathenism began. However, owing to native disturbances, he retired after a few months, and did not again return. Bishop Wilkinson, the first Bishop of Zululand, was anxious to establish work there, and finally two farms were bought. One was at Endhlozana, near Piet Retief, and touching the border of Swaziland on the one boundary, while on the other it was surrounded by the Boer farms of what was known as the "Little Free State," described in a previous chapter. This farm was named "Holy Rood." The other, which was called the Komati Farm, was in the Lake Chrissie district, near the Swaziland border, and formed part of the New Scotland settlement. Both farms were inhabited by Swazis, were healthy, and would make good "jumping-off" places for an entry into the country itself.

It was from Holy Rood that Rev. Joel Jackson and Mr. Hailes, both S.P.G. missionaries, rode into Swaziland and obtained from Mbandine a large tract of land on the banks of the Usutu river, in the centre of the country, and not far from the royal kraal, on which to establish a Mission station. To them belongs the honour of being the actual pioneer missionaries in the country itself. Both were active, resolute, and capable men. Soon the first white man's house in the country was built, and the regular work of a Mission station established. Mr. Hailes returned to Holy Rood, but Mr. Jackson remained for twenty years in Swaziland, where his name still stands high amongst the older Europeans and Swazis. Twenty years is a long spell of a man's life, and during that time Mr. Jackson saw great changes. His first work was to make his own road for a distance of thirty-five miles from Holy Rood, to do which he had to negotiate the steep sides of Mankayana Mountain, and to find a suitable crossing of the big Usutu river. The Swazis in those days occupied themselves solely in raiding and in hunting, and could not be got to undertake work of any kind, so a small colony of Christian natives had to be imported from Natal. The only products of the country were cattle and native corn, and even the simplest necessaries of life had to be brought in the Mission waggons by road from Durban. The expenditure of time upon this was very great, and Mr. Jackson, being but poorly supplied with money, had perforce to win for himself a living from the soil. The development of the Uutu Mission station under his care was remarkable, and soon the country was provided with an object-lesson to show what a pioneer Mission station should be.

Substantial well-constructed buildings were erected, and a wonderful garden with thirty kinds of fruit trees, sugar-cane, bamboo, flowering shrubs, and many kinds of vegetables, came into existence where before had been bare veld. A deep trench was dug to keep off the depredations of the white ants. A school was opened, and native girls were protected and taught. At one time over thirty of these were sleeping in the Mission buildings under the care of Mrs. Jackson. Services were held and medicines dispensed, and the place became a hive of Christian faith and industry. To-day, after thirty years, Mr. Jackson is still called by the Swazis "a father of the people," o green has his memory remained. As his reputation increased, the heathen around began to come in, and with them came many difficulties. Natives fleeing from justice or from the cruelty of Mbandine sought and were given protection, and they settled around the station. At one time the king's son, running, away from his father's vengeance, was hidden by Mr. Jackson under the rafters of his house, while an armed impi made search for him. A supply of shields and spears had to be kept ready to arm the natives in case of need. But these were not the only difficulties to be faced. European adventurers and traders were pushing up fast into the country, following in the steps of the elephant-hunters of days gone by. Gin could be sold to the natives without restriction, and the royal kraal teemed with concession-seekers. The gold mines at Piggs Peak and Forbes Reef had started work, a little settlement at Bremersdorp was forming: the white man had arrived to stay. Mbandine appointed a committee of Europeans to help him deal with their interests, as he felt unable to understand and cope with them.

Mr. Jackson was one of the members, and incurred the hatred of the concessionaires by openly advising the king not to give way to their requests. Person ally, he seems to have been popular amongst them, and would run his waggons in company with McNab and others, but in public matters he was their enemy. The old queen often says, "I am she who poisoned my people, for I persuaded Mbandine not to listen to Mr. Jackson, and would not let my son be educated by him in old days." Politically, he supported England at the royal kraal as against the Boer republic. The natives on the station were not of the best quality. Those he brought with him from Natal grew enervated by the heat of the climate and by fever. The Swazis who came to him were refugees, and had in some cases been driven away from their homes for good reasons. Yet, in spite of all, an industrious, orderly Christianity was established, and Mission stations were started. Few men have better reason to be proud of their work than Mr. Jackson. Not only has his work been the basis of all the missionary activities since his time, but by making a civilised life possible in Swaziland, and by introducing fruit trees into the country, he helped to open it up for his fellow white men. After twenty years of strenuous and noble work he retired to Natal, where he spent the few last months of his life.

In 1890 the South African General Mission sent up the Rev. J. Baillie and a little staff of workers, who established themselves near Mr. Jackson at the Usutu. No missionary history of Swaziland would be complete without mention of Mr. Baillie, who is at the present time the "Father of the Missionaries" in Swaziland. The original idea was that the South African General Mission should prepare the way for more highly organised Christian bodies, and then, after handing over their converts, should move on. But this method of work proved to be impossible, and the Mission has now a complete organisation of its own, with laws and rules of membership. Under the guidance of the saintly and gentle Mr. Baillie, its members have maintained their own principles unimpaired, and have managed to keep on the best of terms with all the other Christian bodies in Swaziland.

The Wesleyans who returned to Mahamba established a good school, and soon began to throw out Mission stations and preaching centres, but they suffered from a scarcity of European workers. To day they are a powerful body with a large member ship. The Scandinavian Alliance, which is recruited largely in America, sent out devoted workers in large numbers. In more recent times, the Pentecostal Revivalists (American) established work at Stegi and Piggs Peak, the latter station being especially well equipped with workers and with money. In 1912 the Roman Catholics sent the members of an Austrian Order to establish a strong work at Mbabane and in the bushveld. At the present time this is probably the best-equipped Mission. Coming late to the country, they were able to enter into the labours of their predecessors, and to reap where others had sown. They had also the advantage of starting on a large scale and with a big staff of devoted workers.

The Lutherans (Berlin Mission), in the eighties, had sent in a little colony of native Christians from Ermelo to establish themselves on the Swaziland border near Forbes Reef. The idea was that these people, who had been well taught and trained, should be the means of spreading Christianity amongst the Swazis around.

The scheme seemed an excellent one, but it did not work out in practice. The colony remained Christian, and did not lose the elements of civilisation its members had acquired, but at the same time, they neither evangelized their fellows nor made any advance themselves. At the present time, the German missionary visits them from time to time, and has managed to establish another small station near the royal kraal. In 1910 the Pentecostal Church, whose main tenet is speaking with tongues, established a station at Nomahasha, near the Bishop of Lebombo's School of St. Christopher. As, how ever, the European members of the Mission feel it a matter of conscience not to take quinine or other medicines, several deaths have occurred, and the work remains small. As a matter of fact, all missionary work which is, like this, of a highly emotional character, is dangerous amongst a barbarous people. Periods of great religious excitement are frequently followed by orgies of immorality. The Baptists, who are represented by two native ministers who had been excommunicated by their Church, tried to establish themselves at the royal kraal, but as Burza objected on grounds of morality to their having all-night discussions with the female members of their congregations, they were thrashed by his heathen bodyguard and ejected. The Salvation Army established a small work in Swaziland some years ago, but have retired. The Church of the Seventh Day Adventists and Zionists (very loosely controlled bodies with revolutionary tendencies) are dangerous and mischievous native sects, and are spreading rapidly. They have an extraordinary ritual and costume, and shouting and dancing in religious transports are features of their all-night meetings.

Their existence alone demands the work of properly controlled Missions in the country. Civilisation is, perhaps, driving the seven evil spirits out of the heathen mind; but if the house be swept and garnished, and sound teaching does not take their place, the native will learn new ways of evil, and his last state will be worse than the first. Two independent native Churches have also sprung up as a result of the spiritual indigestion produced by religious anarchy. These consist mainly of converts who have been ejected for immorality by other bodies, and teach a religion, in their own words, "suited to the plane of the Swazi mind," i.e., without any restraints on conduct.

Meanwhile the Anglican Church Mission, which plods patiently on, though under-equipped and under staffed, is making steady progress. At the Usutu the Rev. W. A. Challis played the part of a reformer, and not only ruled the people well and justly for twelve years, but succeeded in establishing several new stations. At Holy Rood, Canon Mercer worked steadily for nearly twenty years, and by means of his excellent school produced a generation of Christians, who have settled in various parts of Swaziland and form the basis of the church work in the country.

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