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Book Reviews, Literature, Matimu

Book Review: Historical relationship between Amashangaan & Vatsonga between late 1800s & early 1900s

“History is made by those who read and write”

This is a review of “Africains, Missionnaires et Colonialistes: Les Origines de l’Eglise Presbyterienne du Mozambique (Mission Suisse), 1880- 1896”, an extensive book, about the presence of the Swiss Mission (now called The Presbyterian Church) in Mozambique, authored by G. Jan van BUTSELAAR and  Francisco da Cruz

  • The book has a Portuguese version, titled: “Fundadores Da Igreja Presbiteriana de Moçambique – 1881”. Not certain if there is an English translation of the book.

Contrary to popular trend in a colonial set up, most Vatsonga archives were not made by the British, the Portuguese or the Dutch (the three colonial countries that took parts of Vatsonga land). French speaking Missionaries from Switzerland own extensive archives about Vatsonga as a people.  Before we go farther, people may be confused on why we speak about Swiss Missionaries and yet, no Swiss language. The Swiss Missionaries, who settled among Vatsonga spoke French.

Africans, Missionaries and Colonialists: The Origins of the Presbyterian Church in Mozambique (Swiss Mission), 1880-1896; is a book centered in the period between 1880, around 60 years after the Nguni invasion that displaced Vatsonga, and drifted them into a state of near total identity crisis that has lasted up to today. The book is a sort of a biography of many characters and events before the creation of the borders that divided/separated Vutsonga (Tsonga Country) in 1885. The book does relate with detail, the first Nguni invasion led by Manukusi, whose nom d’guerre is Sochangana (Sochangana, ochanga imizi ya madoda nabafazi // He who raids other men’s homesteads), and the reasons of the Manukusi Nguni arrival among Vatsonga. Also, the brutal bloody civil war between Sochangani’s sons, which left tens of thousands locals dead, is detailed.

Unlike other Europeans (British, Portuguese and Dutch), the Swiss, were playing the role of “observer” and they were never wanted by the British, the Dutch and the Portuguese as they were seen as fronting for a French colony. The book details the hostilities of the three colonial powers (British, Portuguese and Dutch) towards Vatsonga, and how Portugal used the Gaza entity to subjugate Vatsonga, who had proved not to be loyal to colonialism, and who competed strongly with all Europeans in terms of trade and farming. As per agreement between Natal and Portugal, and between Transvaal and Portugal, Gaza was used to;

  • Destabilize all Tsonga Chiefdoms,
  • Capture Tsonga slaves,
  • And render Vatsonga vulnerable.

In turn, Gaza rulers (from Sochangani to Nghunghunyani) would be given protection to prevent any Tsonga uprising against the Nguni. The attitude of the Nguni and the Europeans were the same towards Vatsonga; though, the Europeans used this for divide and rule, the Nguni were under the impression that they were building a “Kingdom”. In a true historical context, Gaza was a mercenary force unleashed on Vatsonga, by Britain (who wanted to snatch the land) and Portugal (which was already in control of the great chunk of Vatsonga land).

This book highlights the tensions between the rulers of Khoseni and Gaza rulers on one hand, and Portuguese colonialists on the other. When missionaries arrived, they mostly settled south of Vembe River, with Antioka and Rikatla as main stations, as such, they were very much exposed to the political climate in this region. Also, it highlights the tension when the church made a station in Mause, a N’wanati stronghold, for the Gaza people saw that as a threat since Gaza was at the time allied to the Portuguese colonial settlers, whose church was the Roman Catholic. Therefore, the presence of Swiss missionaries who were neither loyal to Portugal nor to Transvaal and Natal, was very hostile to Gaza.

The book attempts to legitimize the Swiss Mission as an “African Church”, which was only started by Europeans, and not as a European church; although failing to remove Christianity from Europeanism. One of the interesting parts in the book tells how many Vatsonga were already involved in trade, even though they had not been “converted” to Christianity. The book also mentions the fact that there were a couple of Vatsonga who had been economically well established to the envy of the colonial settlers, and since they had never been “converted”, the Swiss Missionaries saw potential allies in them.

The book details how Tsonga women enjoyed a degree of social freedom and responsibility, which did not exist in the European society, where women were seen as inferior people. It details how it was difficult to convert women into Christianity. However, after the Berlin Conference in 1885, Nghunghunyani starts to have a relationship with the Swiss Mission. The relationship was based on the fact that Tsonga Chiefs, who were his subjects, were not to have any contact with the Swiss Missionaries without his consent. This affects the Missionaries to expand north of Vembe River. Initially, the Swiss Mission, being a Protestant church, had never intended to have contact with Nghunghunyani, after he had made it clear to an American Missionary named Richards, that he only is to deal with Roman Catholic Catholic (Portuguese) Missionaries as per agreement. After Hosi Magudzu refused to be baptized by both Roman Catholic Missionaries and Swiss Missionaries, it was evident that the task of the Missionaries would be tougher in the Khoseni land. However, Hosi Magudzu allowed the Swiss Mission to build schools in his land. This was used by the Portuguese as a sign of open rebellion inside their colony.

The Portugal-Gaza War is detailed in its proper context; two political entities were fighting over land which was not theirs, and the land owners were caught in the cross fire. Both armies boasted numbers of Tsonga men in their ranks. Both Gaza and Portugal detested Tsonga wealthy men, and were faced with constant attacks. Tsonga men began to deal in weapons in order to defend themselves against Gaza and Portugal.

The book details how Europeans nearly went to war against each other in order to colonize Vatsonga;

  • Britain had wanted to use Gaza as a front to annex the Vatsonga land. In this feud, the Portuguese consul in Pretoria, pushed a motion so that Gaza is recognized by Britain as a Portuguese vassal Chiefdom and not as independent Kingdom, stated in the “Staats-courant der Z.A. Republiek” treaty.
  • John Cecil Rhodes made Nghunghunyani believe that he will protect him against the Portuguese; however, Nghunghunyani had to wage war against Tsonga people to prove worth of British support. Rhodes had promised to make Nghunghunyani a British subject, just like Lobengula. Rhodes had made it clear that he wanted to annex the whole southern Mozambique to be a British colony; he had two obstacles, The Portuguese colonial government and the Tsonga ethnic group.
  • Germany also wanted to annex the whole southern Mozambique due to fertile land and strategically placed Delagoa Bay (Today Maputo).

All in all, the Swiss Mission had placed itself as a “saviour” to Vatsonga because it had not ‘openly’ taken sides with Gaza, Portugal, Britain, Germany and Holland. There are many eyewitnesses interviewed in the book, from Switzerland, Mozambique and South Africa. The book used extensive archives from Switzerland, France, Portugal, Mozambique, Britain, and South Africa. It is a good book for those who want to know the historical relationship between Amashangaan and Vatsonga, between late 1800s and early 1900s, a period which shaped everything until today.

The book alsp details the presence and work of Paul Berthoud, Alexandre and Henri Junod, Grandjean and the physician Liengme.

Those who are members of the EPCSA in SA, know very well about the Maphophe and Mhalamhala families. Whatever is said about the Swiss Mission (if I may use the old name), Rev Matsivi Calvin Maphophe is always mentioned, the same is said about Rev Hakamela.

Author: G. Jan van BUTSELAAR,  Francisco da Cruz

Printed by: Tempográfica For “Comissão de Literatura e Comunidade da Igreja Presbiteriana de Moçambique

Year: 1988

More information on all editions and formats, go to Worldcat.org

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