Methodism at Marishane in Sekhukhune Circuit


by Prof M.C. Mphahlele



Methodism, like Christianity in general, had a torrid entry into many an African community in Africa.  Fortunately that was not the case at Marishane in Sekhukhune Circuit, because of the support and attitude of the traditional leader, the Chief.


Role of Chief Marishane

The founding of Methodism at Marishane in Sekhukhune circuit is associated with chief Marishane 11, who began to rule in 1881.  He did not like the teaching of the Lutheran missionaries, especially Martinus Sebushane who reported him to the Veld-Cornet that his maidens persecuted the young Christians and the chief was made to pay a fine.  Sebushane subsequently founded the Bapedi Lutheran Church.


Chief Marishane 11 sent Abram Mahlabe to Kimberly to call Lot Mahlase, who was already a local preacher.  The chief’s message was that Lot should come back to Marishane “at once”, so as to open the work of the Wesleyan Church at Marishane.  He obeyed, arrived at Marishane and made a start.  Soon trouble developed between Lot and Martinus.  The latter tried to discredit Lot to the effect that Lot was not accredited preacher, and therefore should not be allowed to preach.  The missionaries at Botshabelo are reputed to have told the chief that, “you are receiving boys as preachers”.  They said Lot Mahlase was not a preacher and therefore should not be allowed to preach.  They proposed to send a suitable, qualified preacher to Marishane.  The chief refused.  He said: “No, even if you do not recognise Lot as a preacher, I do not mind.  He is one of my people, and I shall keep him on.”


Officially Lot Mahlase became his Minister of Religion.  The chief however gathered his people and after introducing Lot formally told his people that he did not prevent anyone from joining the Lutheran Church.


Bricks were made of clay and the first Wesleyan Chu4rch was built.  Without doubt Chief Marishane played a pivotal role in the founding of the Methodist tradition in Sekhukhune.  He encouraged his own children to convert to Methodism.  One of them is Dian Selemagae Mahumake, the author’s grandmother.


In 1882, Mampuru, the brother of chief Sekhukhune, fled from the royal headquarters, on account of royal quarrels.  He had killed his half-brother, Chief Sekhukhune.  He took refuge with Chief Marishane 11.  The government sent a force to Marishane and demanded that Mampuru be given up.  The chief refused and a fight ensued.  Chief Marishane was captured and despatched to Pretoria, and ultimately St Helena.  Mampuru fled to Mapogo’s land.  Lot hid himself in the hills and managed to reach Pretoria.  He reported the situation to the Rev. Owen Watkins, the chairman of the district.


The death (murder) of Sekhukhune and capture and execution of Mampuru created a lull in the area.  That gave the missionaries to do their work freely.  The Rev. Watkins, for instance, sent word to the Rev C Franklin to investigate the quarrel between the Methodists and the Lutherans at Marishane.


Franklin investigated the disputes, reached a settlement and even baptised several converts.  He commissioned Lot Mahlase top continue preaching.  The settlement was signed by him; rev Johannes Winter of the Lutheran Church and Erasmus, Veld-Cornet.  At the end of proceedings they gave him, Franklin, a leg of an ox as a present.  The disputes over possession of land (mission farms) and preaching rivalries seemed to be things of the past.  The hatchet was apparently buried between the Methodists and Lutherans.


That was not to be.  Once more the Veld-Cornet and Lutheran Missionaries started trouble with Mr Lot Mahlase.  Once more Lot left for Pretoria to see Rev. Watkins.  Mr Watkins instructed Lot to remain in Pretoria until the end of the war between the Boers and Mapogo.  In the meantime a certain Moses Bapela,  one of Lot Mahlase’ s converts, kept the work of Methodist Church going in Marishane.  The Mapogo war came to a close in 1882.  Rev. Watkins then gave Lot a letter authorising him to preach and dispatched him back to Marishane.


At a tax gathering, Lot Mahlase was summoned to appear before Mr Erasmus, the Veld-Cornet.  When he arrived he found Martinus Sebushane there.  False reports were lodged against him by the German missionaries.  He was arrested.  But when he was being handcuffed he produced the Rev Watkins’ certificate authorising him to preach, and handed it to Mr Erasmus.  After examining it, Mr Erasmus said to him: “You are a preacher, do not live like a chief.  I am afraid of this letter.  But if you are not careful, I will be on your track again.”  He then set Mr Lot Mahlase free.


After gaining a footing at Lobethal, a part of the Mooifontein (Marishane) farm, the German missionaries demanded that the Wesleyans must leave.  It was not true that they had bought Lobethal.  They were just deceitful.  But the Wesleyans moved to another farm.  Another Veld-Cornet, Mr Trichardt, stopped the Methodists from building a church on the same site.  They had no permission, he said.  He actually wanted to arrest Mr Lot Mahlase, as leader of the Wesleyans.  He, however, hesitated.


In 1885, George Lowe was appointed to Good Hope in Pietersburg and Owen Watkins accompanied him to this new station.  The Rev. Watkins decided to return to Pretoria via Sekhukhuneland.  When he reached the Olifants River (Lepelle) he found it in flood and he to be carried across.


First African Preachers (Evangelists)

Reference has already been made to May Lot (Lothi) Mahlase.  He had been converted in the Cape Colony on the one of the LMS (London Missionary Society) Mission stations.  He joined the Methodist Church because the LMS had no representatives in the Transvaal.  We must be grateful to the LMS for that.


Abram Mahlase was “tall and strong”.  There was great excitement and rejoicing at Marishane on his arrival.  He was given an ox and he gave them one pound with which they bought a sheep from a Dutchman at the cattle post.  The sheep was slaughtered for the feast.  Services were held, many were married and baptised, but no fees were charged.  Rev. Watkins, however, explained that in the future feed would be charged by Rev Lowe.


Later he (Watkins) was taken to Lydenburg, where he published a banns of marriage of Mr Lot. Mahlase at the magistrate’s office.  The people from Marishane did not leave until he climbed into the coach which conveyed him back to Pretoria.


Shortly thereafter the situation at Marishane became intolerable.  Thus Lot consulted Rev. Lowe who advised Lot to report the matter at the Synod.  Lot was permitted to leave and settle on the Farm Boshhoek, near Waterberg. He took with half the Christian community as well as class books, as he thought that Marishane was closed for ever to the work of the Wesleyans.  But four men kept the church open until 1889.  They were: Miga Mangwanatale, his younger brother Thomas Mangwanatale, Phillip Mahlase and Sofia Matema.  Rev. Lowe sent Mathabathe to be their minister.  That was in 1889.


A happy event at that time was the release of Chief Marishane 11 from Pretoria prison.  Travelling back home, he passed through a place where the Wesleyans were then settled.  He told the leaders that they must return to Marishane and restart the work of the Methodist Church.  He promised them protection; they obliged and rebuilt a church near Lobetathal.


Most unfortunately Chief Marishane 11 died in 1889.  Between the chief’s death (1889) and 1904 the tribe, for whatever reasons, moved their locations four times, eventually settling on the farm Mooifontein with the permission of the Native Commissioner.  Fortunately Marishane has survived.


The name that readily comes to prominence is that of Samuel Mathabathe (1844 – 1913).  He was converted by the Rev. J. Allison in Pietermaritzburg in 1867.  He was taught to read and write.  After seven years he returned to the Mphahlele village to preach.  He met opposition from the chief and traditionalists.  For four years he taught secretly, from house to house.  Then Christian women gave birth to twins.  According to tradition one of them (usually a girl) had to be killed, Mathabathe refused.  He, together with 600 followers, left the village and settled in Setau, renamed “Good Hope” with the “hope” that they would not be followed and persecuted.  The Church bought the farm forR1900-00 only.  It was declared a “black-sport” by the Apartheid government.  (1948) and sold to the Boers very cheaply.


Samuel Mathabathe then visited Marishane.  He remained there until 1895 and when he was transferred back to Good Hope, the rev Lowe replaced him with August Thole from Moletlane.  Thole remained at Marishane until shortly before the Anglo-Boer War (1899 – 1902).


Aaron Ngwanamadila Mphahlele, the author’s grandfather, was at Kilnerton when the war broke out.  They were travelling on foot those days.  The war disrupted their studies.  They went back home and in 1900 Aaron was sent to Marishane.  His father Simon Kganki Mphahlele was one of the leaders of the “great trek” from Mphahlele to Setau (Good Hope).  Rumour has it that they were served manna from heaven on their way, through the Chuenespoort.


Aaron Mphahlele was more of a teacher than a preacher.  But those days one could not do one and avoid the other, preaching and teaching were two sides of the same coin.  From the Baroka (Ba-Mphahlele) there were two other tribesmen who succeeded him in bringing light to the Marishane people.  They were Micah Makgwale and Modulathoko Cornelius Kgaka.  Aaron died blind after seeing (viewing) “koma” (Initiates), it is alleged!


White Missionaries at Marishane

The White Methodist Missionary who left indelible footsteps at Marishane was he Rev George Clifford Moseley.  During the Anglo-Boer War the Marishane tribe moved to Ntswelemusi for security reasons.  The Rev. G.C. Moseley found them there in April 1904.  In that year the Sub-native Commissioner, Mr F.W. Armstrong, allowed the tribe to return to the farm Mooifontein where it has remained to this day.


The Rev. George Clifford Moseley laboured at Marishane (Mooifontein) for many years.  He lived in four rondavels near the church and the fountain “mooi“ spring, from which the place has derived its name.  Rev. Moseley was the first and the last white minister to labour at Marishane.  The Rev. J.E. Reeves once served as Superintendent of the Zoutpansberg and Sekhukhune Circuits, but not as minister, and not resident at Marishane.


In those days ministers and preachers travelled the country on donkey carts.  They preached to small congregations in small churches, some hidden behind stony koppies.  They even reached the Lulu Mountains, to encourage their followers “to keep the faith.”  Despite reverses and disappointments the good work continued.  The people called Methodists are known, not only for their “methods” but for their dedication, resilience, and resolution.


By the 1920’s Marishane was made and acknowledged as the headquarters of the Methodist Church in Sekhukhune.  From there Rev. Moseley visited the preaching sites and the church schools in the circuit.

It was the wish of Moseley to be buried at Marishane.  But most unfortunately he

died away from Marishane, in Durban, where he was buried.  But the school and the area around the church are named after him.




1863:     Lucas Lentsoane of Marishane was converted in the CAPE Colony

1881:     Abram Mahlabe became Local preacher and Evangelist

1882:     Lot Mahlase was called back home from Kimberley by Abram Mahlase on Chief Marishane’ s instructions

1885:     Owen Watkins crossed the flooded Olifants River on the shoulders of Abram Mahlabe, a strong, tall man.  At Marishane he baptised many people and conducted marriages, followed by a feast.

1885:     Lot Mahlase and many followers were forced to flee because of Lutheran and local government’s hostilities.  He settled at Boshhoek, near Waterberg, Miga Mangwanatale, Thomas Mangwanatale, Phillip Mahlase and Sofonia Matema continued the work at Marishane.

1889:     Chief Marishane ii died.  Samuel Mathabathe was appointed to Marishane.

1900:     Aaron N. Mphahlele was dispatched to Marishane as preacher – teacher.

1926:     Ordained ministers were appointed at Marishane regularly.

1963:     Good Hope Mission was established.

1980:     Headquarters (Superintende3ncy) was moved to Motetema, near Groblersdal.

1996:     New Church at Marishane dedicated and named after Bishop S.M. Mogoba.