Lest we forget
The Methodist Word, Celebrations Edition, Vol 2, 1891-2011
From 18 to 21 August all roads will lead to Bulawayo where the celebrations are being held. There is every reason to celebrate. So many things have happened since the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe MCZ was established here 120 years ago. Many societies have been planted. Many schools were built. Several circuits and districts are now in place. We started with Area Chairmen, and then graduated to District Chairmen and now the chairpersons are now bishops with the presiding bishop heading the church. The later was called the president. From three area chairmen we now have 12 bishops across the country.
120 years ago Methodists together with colonialists made their historic landing in what became known as Southern Rhodesia. We must not forget that Methodism was part and parcel of this historic development. Colonialists took charge of the affairs of the state while Methodists were responsible for establishing the church and schools all over the country. A church was soon pitched up in Harare and then at Epworth 11 km from the city centre. The church was given a large piece of land as part of the deal to work together in shaping the future of the new country. Several farms across the country were to be given to the church where boarding schools were built.
Cecil John Rhodes was right to work with Methodists. He was aware of the good work done by Methodists to bring sanity to the United Kingdom earlier on when the Anglican establishment had become so state controlled that it was no longer serving the people but the state and the rich. The poor were left to their own whims. Drunkenness and all sorts of vices were the order of the day even in the Church. John Wesley had earlier on in the mid 1700 and later started a movement that changed the face of Christianity in England. John Wesley died in 1791 and a century later Methodism was born in Zimbabwe in 1891. Now 320 years later Methodists in Zimbabwe meet to celebrate the awesome presence of Methodism in this country.
At its inception in UK Methodism was known for its fight against injustice. They fought for prison reform and also for fighting against slavery. William Wilberforce, a Methodist, became a champion in British Parliament fighting to stop slavery. Eventually parliament voted to abolish slavery in 1833. It is not surprising that many a Methodists have been caught in between fighting against injustice across the world.
When British missionaries, Michael Bowen, George Eva, left South Africa in 1890 travelling north they were accompanied by black evangelists, who included, Modumedi Moleli, James Anta, Wellington H. Balesi, Samuel Tutani and Josiah Ramushu to mention a few of those recorded. They landed in Fort Harare in 1891. Evangelists were in the forefront of establishing preaching points at each place they got to. There were also many Zimbabweans who had gone to South Africa to look for work and these accompanied missionaries because they wanted to return home. A number of these came from the Tonga people of the Zambezi Valley and names like Silemba (Chiremba), Solani and Simemeza were settled in Epworth.
Chief Nenguwo a polygamist quickly accepted Methodism in his area and this was followed by the establishment of Nenguwo Mission (now Waddilove Mission) through the tutelage of Rev John White. Waddilove in Mashonaland East and Tegwani Mission in Plumtree became training centres for Methodist work. Teacher training was started at these two centres followed by Kwenda Mission deeper in the heart of the country. A nursing school and an Agricultural College were also established at Waddilove. Soon a school of theology was established there again where evangelists were trained both to teach and to preach.
Those who later offered for ministry were trained at Waddilove. A martyr in the name of Rev Job Mamukwa also came through this institution. He volunteered to go to Binga where he died of malaria in the 50s. Training of ministers moved to Epworth at Epworth Theological College in 1954. This was done to train ministers close to Harare and also in association with the newly opened University of Rhodesia then. Two years later the United Methodists joined Epworth Theological College. To date, in the spirit of ecumenism, eight (8) denominations own the College under a new name, United Theological College (UTC). UTC is run by this consortium of Churches and trains ministers of religion even from other denominations who do not belong to the 8. Lay people from across the denominations are now offered a two year University of Zimbabwe Diploma in Religious Studies (DRS) which is taught at UTC. The graduates teach in Secondary schools and others do social work, etc, after completion. This year UTC has introduced a Bachelors degree, B.TH honours for ministers in training.
Another historic development was the establishment of Methodist Children’s Home in Epworth. It came into being through the sacrificial efforts of Rev Matthew Jacha Rusike in the 60s. He started looking after orphans in his home at Kwenda Mission before he moved to Makwiro circuit. The Home has now established centres throughout the country.
All the training centres died later and what was left were primary schools which then developed to High schools which the church now boasts of. As we celebrate Methodism runs a number of high schools and primary schools. It should be noted that before the 70s most of the education was in the hands of churches in Zimbabwe. The District Councils in the seventies took over most of the church schools across all denominations. Councils had discovered that they had no revenue base so they decided to take over these schools. This indeed was a tragedy in making. Their need for money did not translate to good governance of these schools.
Lest we forget, we should also remember that Methodism has contributed to the struggle for an independent Zimbabwe in a big way. Rev Thompson D. Samkange a Methodist minister became the first president of a nationalist party. Norman E. Thomas writes with passion about Samkange; “Passionately committed to a unity that supersedes divisions of tribe, region, social status, or religious affiliation, Samkange helped to found the Southern Rhodesia Bantu Congress in1938, uniting existing associations in a national political movement. He served as its president from 1943 to 1948. Under his leadership, the congress aspired for mass membership and demanded full democratic rights, which became the hallmarks of later nationalist movements.” Samkange was among the first theological students under John White at Waddilove. Joshua Nkomo who was initially a Methodist Lay Preacher became a vibrant nationalist and then lead ZAPU until his death when he was one of the Vice Presidents. Later Rev Professor Canaan Banana became the first president of Zimbabwe at independence in 1980.
From a single department the church now has several departments which range from Treasury, Evangelism, Education, MeDRA, Internal Auditing, Connexional Building, TEE Program, Research and Publications, Youth Work, Health and Social Services and National Chaplaincy to all national education institutions. This is by no means a small achievement. We say, Amhlope! Makoroko! Congratulations!
Rev Dr Levee Kadenge