Early black martyr honoured

2000-08-06 17:21

Burgersfort - Thousands of Anglicans gathered at the small village of Ga-Marishane in the Northern Province on Sunday to commemorate the murder of one of South Africa's earliest Christian martyrs, Manche Masemola.

Manche was stoned to death by her own parents in 1928 after refusing to renounce her Christian faith and refusing to participate in traditional Africanist ancestor worship.

Manche's devotion so enraged her mother that the woman repeatedly beat and whipped her daughter for attending church, tried to stab her with a spear, set her hut alight and finally led a mob of relatives who stoned her to death.

Her death became an early rally point for black Christians in the region, prompting the erection of an alter and the planting of a sacred grove of trees on her hilltop grave in the small dusty village.

Manche's martyrdom is one of the first to be documented in southern Africa, and is remembered on the first weekend in August every year by Anglicans from as far afield as Pietersburg, Lebowakgomo, Seshego, Mankweng and Mahwelereng.

The Diocese of St Mark the Evangelist, which hosts the pilgrimage every year, has also erected a statue in her honour in the church's Pietersburg cathedral.

Masemola was born in 1914 in Mabuke on the outskirts of Ga-Marishane, and became an ardent Christian with a cousin, Lucia, in her early teens.

The girls initially secured permission to attend baptismal classes, but were prevented from actually getting baptised when the girls began refusing to take part in ancestral ceremonies.

Insisting that the girls' Christian activities were bringing shame on the Masemola family, her parents eventually began physically beating her every time she or Lucia attended church.

"Manche never complained though and told Father Moeke this was nothing.

ôI will not leave my faith even if they cut off my head," a plaque in her honour reads.

Her defiance at home grew as her parents tried to force her to honour local customs and beliefs, eventually sparking a dispute about traditional dress.

Friends and priests warned her that her faith was endangering her, but Manche reportedly replied: "I shall be baptised with my own blood".

Her parents and a number of other adult relatives eventually, the church says, led Manche naked to an isolated valley near the village and stoned her to death. Her body was sown into a blanket and she was given a secret traditional Africanist funeral.

Her death and grave remained secret until a group of friends, priests and church members combed the area until they found her grave hidden amongst large rocks on a Vlaakplaas koppie.

She was reburied at the foot of a great granite boulder, where her contrite father later planted a grove of Euphorbia trees on either side of the grave.

The trees have since grown into a towering wall, the boulder has had a large crucifix carved into it and a Christ Thorn with its characteristic blood red flowers has been planted on her grave.

The site is used as a shrine by local Anglicans and still attracts senior church leaders on private pilgrimages and retreats.

Manche's mother later repented for her role in the martyrdom and converted to Christianity. She died 40-years later, a sad and broken woman. - African Eye News Service