Project Canterbury

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 XIII. The firing line in Swaziland

WHEN men are fighting in a just cause and God is with them, the news is always good, for provided that the men themselves are true, God will give them the courage and the skill that they need. Those who follow with interest and prayer the great "Battle of the Cross "as it is being fought in the little salient of Swaziland to-day, will find nothing to discourage them, for they know that what seems a reverse to men is often turned by God into a means of victory. But let us face the facts of the situation as it stands to-day, and weigh well the skill and power of Satan.

The worst factor in the situation is, of course, the disunion of the Christian forces. What army could hope to fight a difficult battle on a small front under eighteen different leaders a little jealous of one another, and using eighteen kinds of discipline and methods of attack, and each acting independently of the others? That is the position in Swaziland to-day. The Anglican Church, represented by the S.P.G., was the pioneer; it was soon followed by the Wesleyans and the South Africa General Mission; the Salvation Army came and withdrew; then came the International Holiness Mission or Scandinavian Alliance, now divided into two separate and mutually distrusting bodies. The Church of the Nazarene and the Pentecostal Revivalists (both American) followed; the Lutherans and the Roman Catholics were not far behind. Two types of Pentecostal Christians, speaking with tongues, were followed rapidly by Seventh Day Adventists. The Baptists next attacked the old queen's kraal; while the Zionists, who say their prayers sitting in the water and wear white and green garments at their all-night meetings, make a special appeal to the native mind. Always imitative of European methods, the Swazis themselves have produced two national churches, independent of European control and led by native ministers who had been suspended for gross immorality by European missions. They have also secured the help of the Ethiopian Church of South Africa and of America, and have invited a negro bishop from that country.

"Is this a nightmare born in the writer's brain?" asks the reader. No, it is sober fact. Why should so many religious cranks concentrate their energies on this small country? Missionary work amongst a savage people is one which demands special education, training, and character. "No thinking man is against missionary work," said the principal European resident in the country, "but let it be done in some responsible way and by responsible people."

The effect of all this upon the native is frankly disastrous. European civilisation, which has been thrust upon him so violently in the last few years, has given him mental, political, and spiritual indigestion.

But the Swazi is no fool--no Simple Simon. He knows that he must have education if he is to compete with the white man. He knows, too, that the mission ary is the only person prepared to give it to him, but he thinks that the missionary mixes it up with a lot of restraint on his conduct that he does not wish for, and that this is a peculiarity of European missionaries. Why not get men of his own race who have been educated by the missionary, but who have since quarrelled with them over these very restraints, to give him education which will not interfere with his heathen social customs, and will be a form of Christianity suited to the plane of the Swazi mind?

These native teachers are prepared to recognise the old queen as head of the Church, preach rebellion against European government and taxation, and allow, and even promote, the old heathen immorality, while at the same time they promise to provide education and to perform all kinds of wonderful things. They also teach distrust of European missionaries, whom they accuse of being in league with other white people for the exploitation of the native.

The Swaziland Missionary Conference, which is held in St. Mark's School every three years, is an attempt to induce the European missionaries to adopt a common policy. It achieves something, but does not materially alter the situation.

The Church toils laboriously on, but first Mr. Challis and then Mr. Osbourn were left with but one reliable native helper--Rev. O. Nxumalo--to supervise work over an immense area, while money and men have been freely poured out by other, and especially American, Missions. With its long experience and the prestige of Zululand behind it, the ordered discipline of the Anglican Church appeals in some ways strongly to the Swazis, but it fails through lack of means to take advantage of openings as they occur, and is holding a difficult position on one border of the country rather than making an attack. For its size it is probably the most effective and best supervised of the Missions, and fewer of its adherents have fallen to Ethiopian propaganda than those of other bodies.

The Swazi chiefs, feeling the need of education, have raised a voluntary tax of s. per head through out the country for the benefit of native schools. The Government, who are most sympathetic to all legitimate native aspirations---for Swaziland is still a Crown Colony--used part of this money for the building and equipping of a really good native school near the royal kraal. Boarding-houses were erected and everything possible was done. On applying to the Union Native Affairs Department for a good headmaster for this school, they were recommended to engage Rev. J. J. Xaba, a man of well-known character and ability. He happened to be a priest of the Church of the Province of South Africa, and in charge of an important work at St. Cuthbert's, Tsolo, but on the request of the Archbishop, the Bishop of St. John's released him and sent him to Swaziland. The Anglican Church felt the importance of the work to be done at the royal kraal, and also ts urgency and the difficulties in the path, and was prepared to make a sacrifice in order to send a valuable man.

The present writer took Mr. Xaba down to the royal kraal on his arrival, and told him that the religion, politics, and morality of the old queen's court being what they were, a big contest was inevitable.

Mr. Xaba survived an attack on grounds of sectarian jealousy--and at the present time the whole of the European missionaries are behind him--but had to dismiss a subordinate teacher for gross immorality. The old queen resented this in her school. Such action reflected on herself and her court. The native Ethiopian adventurers at the kraal saw their opportunity. If they could get Mr. Xaba dismissed a valuable billet might fall into their hands. The Government supported Mr. Xaba, whereupon the old queen ordered a "strike" of all children attending the school. This lasted six months, and Mr. Xaba still stood his ground. At last the Government, wearying of the struggle, promoted Mr. Xaba to a new school which they are about to build in the Hiatikulu district and near an enlightened chief, and meanwhile provided him with a good house in Mbabane and employed him and his daughter to teach a native school there. This is held temporarily in the little native church of St. Mark, but will probably soon outgrow that building. In June, 1922, he was sent back to Mbabane by the British Government to teach in a native school there.

To sum up and to count the loss and gain; in the first place, we can rejoice that Christ is preached in Swaziland. As the Swazis are being brought more and more into contact with our semi-Christian civilisation, through the opening up of the country to settlers and the migration of natives to work on the mines in Johannesburg, Christianity is making a serious attempt to convert the nation. The attack may not always be well directed, but it is an attack, and it is being pressed at many points. It is carried out by earnest Christian people, and the Holy Spirit, the only real force that can convert a human soul, is leading into truth the followers of Christ. There is more real agreement amongst the teaching of the various Missions than might appear on the surface, and if one body presses one doctrine of the Catholic faith somewhat disproportionately, another presses the concurrent truth equally strongly. As the present writer has listened to the preaching of the Gospel by members of other Missions, he has felt strongly how much positive teaching the Catholic Church loses through this disunion. These preachers have sometimes a real force and power in bringing out truths which the more orthodox may pass lightly over.

The desire of the native to found his own national Church, and to be independent of European control, is a right desire, and one which all missionaries desire to see eventually carried out. But the attempt to carry it out has come too quickly---the time is not ripe. Catholic Christianity must be the basis of the African Church, but not catholic Christianity as seen through European spectacles. The native cannot he expected to understand the reasons for the divisions of European Christendom, or to appreciate them even if he did understand them, but he can be expected to take and retain what is really catholic and Christian in each. He is quite clear-headed enough to see that immorality and Christianity are inconsistent, and even now he prefers discipline and order in his religion. He seeks education from any source, but he prefers religion to be untainted.

"The people at the royal kraal have for years heard preaching of all kinds, and prayers and singing, but if they see a man leading a really Christian life, they will follow him," said the writer to Mr. Xaba, when he first went to Zambodi. And although the chiefs and old queen were against him for political reasons, the people, and especially the children, followed him.

We have reason to be thankful that this native priest of the Anglican Church, who was placed in the most difficult missionary position in the country, did not fail. He fought the battle of all the other missionaries against the immorality and political sedition of Ethiopianism in its stronghold, and fought it with patience, courage, and skill. He has proved that the native can, like St. Athanasius, stand out against his little world. He has also demonstrated the value of the long training which he received from saintly European missionaries.

But we can also see how utterly useless to their people is the royal kraal of Swaziland. It is the centre of moral and physical filth--the dirtiest place in Swaziland, says every visitor. Instead of leading the people forward, these royal kraals are the back-bone of reaction. Native adventurers, loafers, and hangers-on are here engaged in deluding an old woman, who is ignorant and greedy. The forces of civilisation will soon sweep away the last remnant of their power, and there is no doubt that their failure has proved both to the Government and to every European in the country, who is well disposed to the true interests of the native, how great a failure the rule of native chiefs really is, and has hastened its downfall. In the sweeping away of this barbaric idea of self-indulgent and selfish royalty a breath of better, sweeter air will come to the whole Swazi people.

Before concluding this brief sketch of work in Swaziland, I would like to add a few lines which may be read by some of its readers in England, and which have to do with the reception which the missionaries from Swaziland and elsewhere get when, from time to time, they return home on furlough, and with the attitude of those at home towards missionaries in general.

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