The Kilnerton Story

The Kilnerton Story

By Dr Joan Millard


My presentation is what one can call the Kilnerton story.  Kilnerton Training Institution fondly called KTI during the Sixties was without doubt one of the premier Black schools of its time. This will be illustrated by the impact which its Alumni had on the Southern African sub continent.


Kilnerton opened its doors in 1886, but the story that led up to its opening started a long time before. Perhaps the story goes back as far as John Wesley (1703 – 1791) the founder of Methodism. He had a vision of the world as his parish and his preaching led to a revival in England and a missionary outreach that eventually reached countries all over the world. As Kilnerton is a South African institution, we shall go back to 1795 four years after Wesley’s death when Methodism was proclaimed as a separate denomination. This was the year that we have the first mention of Methodism in South Africa. It was also the year that t the British troops occupied the Cape of Good Hope.


It was from the Methodist mission in Natal (now Kwazulu Natal) that Methodism came to the Transvaal (now Gauteng and Limpopo provinces)


In 1880 the Rev. Owen Watkins started a “Trial Mission” in the Transvaal which was based in Pretoria (now Tshwane).One unique feature of the Methodist mission in the Transvaal was the role played by local Christians in planting the Gospel before the arrival of the Missionaries. These men greeted Rev. Watkins, pleased that a Missionary had arrived to help them. They showed him t6he small societies they had begun and Watkins encouraged them. There was Samuel Mathabathe in Soutpansberg Hans Appie and Klaas Ndlovu in Pretoria and John Klaasen in Potchestoom.All these men had travelled to the Cape or Natal to earn moony to buy blankets and guns, and came into contact with Christians friends and were converted.


In 1880, the year that Watkins established the “Trial Mission” in the Transvaal, the Rev. John Kilner, secretary of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society (WMMS) which had been established in 1813 by Dr Thomas Coke, arrived from England for a visit.  During his visit to Natal and the Transvaal he was accompanied by Watkins.  Kilner became aware of how few ordained African ministers there were in the Methodist Connexion in South Africa.


In November 1880 Kilner and Watkins visited the Governor of the Transvaal  Sir Owen Lamjon who promised land in Pretoria and elsewhere for educational purposes, if they opened a normal school(teacher training college).When the time came to start building Kilnerton they did not build on land donated by the Governor but on land bought by the Methodist church.


By 1885 the need for a training Institution for African ministers had become urgent.  As Watkins and his colleague Weavind were looking for a suitable place to establish a new institution, they heard of the sale of the farm Koedoespoort.  The original price was about 4000 pounds, but when they heard that the price had come down to 1500 pounds they immediately made a commitment to buy and wrote a letter to Kilner who agreed and thus the farm was bought to establish the school called Kilnerton.  (It was about 6000 acres in extent)


There was also a request from local chiefs for the Methodist Church to provide land where they could safely settle.  When the institution was established these people settled at what became Kilnerton village.



1886 – Kilnerton opens its doors to the first leaners

1889-1902 – Kilnerton closed during the South Africa war

1903 – Kilnerton once again in operation with a growing number of leaners.  Theological classes


1922 – The girls’ hostel and domestic science school opened by Princess Alice from England.

1927 – The report from the Inspectors was that training at the school was of a very high standard.  Apart from the missionary teachers most of the local educators were trained at the local Kilnerton training college or Healdtown Institution.

1929 – The chapel consecrated for the use of the Kilnerton leaners and staff and the surrounding community.

1940 – The High school built.  This was used as part of the John Wesley College buildings.

1946 – 1953 The student body doubles in size.

1953 – The government took over church schools and Kilnerton also affected.

1962 – Kilnerton forced to close down by the government as the area in which it was situated was declared “white”

1994 – Kilnerton re-opened as John Wesley College to train Methodist probation ministers. This era is over with the opening of the Seminary in Pietermaritzburg.


EMMU (THE EDUCATION FOR Mission AND Ministry Unit) is still housed in Kilnerton.  The Limpopo District office with the office of the Bishop is housed in what was once the administrative block of the old Kilnerton Institution.


The old High School buildings are used as a conference centre and other plans are made to use these buildings more profitably.



Kilnerton produced many great men and women who served their communities and South Africa with dedication.  Prominent among the high achievers are the following:

Rev Sefako Makgatho – founder of the Transvaal Teachers Association, Past President of the African National Congress.  (Former President Nelson Mandela was so pleased with Rev Makgatho that he named his son Makgatho)

Dr Mary Malahlela – first woman doctor in South Africa

Dr N H Motlana – medical practitioner, and member of the Soweto Committee of Ten

Dr Machupe Mphahlele – obstetrician in the United Kingdom and South Africa

Prof J N Mafojane – first black head of the neurology department at the University of Pretoria

Dr Isaac Thapeli – neurologist in the USA

Dr S M Mogoba – Past President of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, winner of the Methodist Peace price and Past  President of the Pan-African Congress

Judge Dikgang Moseneke – Deputy President of the Constitutional Court of South Africa

Prof A Nkabinde – former Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of Zululand

Dr S K Matseke – head-master, inspector and Director of Education

Mrs Zodwa Fanele – nursing sister who founded the Zodwa School for the mentally handicapped in Atteridgeville

Prof Khabi Mgoma – served as a teacher at Kilnerton and later established the Department of Music at the University of Zululand.