Remembering a martyr

2009-03-12 00:00

“Sengiqedile” (I have finished), said Maqhamusela Khanyile after his captors allowed him to say a prayer on top of Mpodweni Hill near kwaMondi, the Norwegian mission station east of eShowe, on March 9, 1877.

“Now I am ready. Kill me,” he said to King Cetshwayo’s executioners. A young man pulled the trigger of a musket. It misfired and Khanyile said: “You should not shoot me because you are related to me, but you must hurry now because a storm is brewing.”

A shot was fired and the first Christian martyr of the Norwegian Lutheran Mission Society in Zululand was killed. He died for his belief in Christ. He became the mission’s first martyr, and this incident became another “reason” for the British invasion of the Zulu Kingdom in 1879.

The Zulu people named the mission “uMonde” after Ommund Oftebro, the superintendent of the Norwegian Mission Society.

The station was situated on a beautiful site. The large church building consisted of plastered sun-dried bricks with a corrugated-iron roof. The church had a bell tower and a clock. There was a large house with a veranda and a thatched roof, a school building, a storeroom and a workshop. The gardens contained a large orange orchard, peach trees, lemon trees and granadillas. Fresh water was provided by a bubbling stream, which still flows today.

On the day before Khanyile’s death, Oftebro informed him that he personally had an interview with King Cetshwayo in order to obtain the king’s permission to baptise Khanyile. The king was friendly towards Oftebro but declined to give his permission before consulting with the local chief.

Khanyile knew that his life was in danger and he said to Oftebro: “If he now has me killed, I will rejoice in it. I am not afraid. Is it not good to die for Christ’s name? Did he not die for me? He will give me a little place in his kingdom up there.”

After the murder, Khanyile’s wife and his son and 30 amakholwa (Zulu Christians) had to seek refuge inside Oftebro’s manse as the executioners wanted to kill them as well. The refugees then fled south across the Thukela River to find sanctuary in Natal.

Khanyile broke with a very long-standing Zulu royal tradition when he decided not to present himself for military service.

In 1874, Reverend Gundvall Gundersen of the Norwegian mission at eShowe reported: “You should know that Maqhamusela Khanyile wants to become a Christian believer as a true Zulu. He wants to serve the king with his body as all other Zulus, while giving his heart to God, thus showing that Christianity does not lie in clothing and that it does not rob the people from the king, thus was his speech and intention last year. But no royal service has materialised, even while scores of boys and men were executed for not turning up promptly for such service. He is now safe under our protection and calls himself, ‘our man’. He considers himself freed from royal service.”

The Zulu ibuthu system was built on the institution of compulsory age-set military units called amabutho, which grouped men and women together for economic and military service.

King Shaka devised the ibuthu system as the centre pillar of the Zulu state. Once a year, the boys were assembled at the royal palace where the first-fruits ceremony was celebrated. The king then formed them into ibuthu with orders to build a new military kraal like emaNgweni (Empangeni).

Women were part of the military system to form the agricultural system and to regulate marriage. The king gave permission to members of the ibuthu to be married.

Zulu state power was based on the labour supply drawn from everyone of the ikhanda in the Zulu Kingdom. From the age of puberty until late in their 30s, these men worked for the king.

The ibuthu system ensured that the surplus of grain was stored and distributed according to the needs of the people and that the king’s cattle, the nation’s wealth, were protected. The ibuthu system also produced 30 000 armed warriors to protect the nation against invaders.

After the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879, the ibuthu system collapsed and several years of brutal civil war followed.

Inkosi Zibhebhu killed 59 of the most prominent amakhosi of the uSuthu (followers of the king). He massacred thousands of the king’s followers at the battle of the Msebe valley and forced the uSuthu to flee into caves. He prevented the uSuthu from cultivating the lands and starvation followed.

The Zulu kingdom was destroyed in the civil war and the former warriors had to sell their labour on the farms of Natal and on the gold mines of Transvaal.

When the Christian martyr Khanyile defied the traditional royal Zulu ibuthu system by refusing to do military service, King Cetshwayo used the accepted remedy for maintaining discipline in the kingdom by ordering Khanyile to be executed.

The Christians of eShowe did not forget Khanyile.

In 1926, a committee chaired by K. S. Zungu and Reverend L. O. Aadnesgaard started to collect funds to put up a memorial to Khanyile. The man in charge of the eShowe mission, Reverend S. Solberg, designed the monument to be erected on Mpondweni hill close to the place where the execution had taken place.

In 1937, Reverend P. A. Rodseth interviewed many people about the life and death of Khanyile and he reported his findings in The South African Church Weekly Newsletter of March 3, 1937. He also made an appeal for funds for the monument.

In 1939, they erected a concrete cross on Mpondweni hill. The inscription read: “At this place Maqhamusela Khanyile died before his time, believing in Christ.”

In 1951, the Lutheran Bible School was named after Khanyile and on March 3, 1981 a new cross of steel replaced the concrete cross. A Newcastle parish has made March 9 a day of thanksgiving for the martyr and, in 1993, the liturgical calendar of the Church of the Province of South Africa dedicated March 9 to Khanyile.

The Premier of KwaZulu-Natal, Sbu Ndebele unveiled the new monument on March 11, 2007.

However, a mystery about the first Christian martyr remains. His body was never found.

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A dispute has broken out over the condition of the monument to Maqhamusela Khanyile. Because the memorial has been vandalised, earlier this year Amafa CEO Barry Marshall asked uThungulu District Council mayor Stan Larkan to remove the damaged cross until such time that a decision could be made about its future. Last week, Premier S’bu Ndebele accused Larkan of desecrating the memorial, and Larkan has demanded an apology for what he feels is an unwarranted attack. But who was Maqhamusela Khanyile, and why must we remember him?

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