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Kolisang, Tlamelo Patrick Paul
1936 to 2008
Roman Catholic Church
South Africa

Tlamelo Kolisang was born in 1936 in Mafeteng, Lesotho, and baptized with the names Patrick Paul. He completed his high school studies at St. Theresa's Minor Seminary in Roma, Lesotho and, in 1957, began studies for the priesthood at St. Peter's Major Seminary, then located at Pevensey. Kolisang was ordained priest by Bishop Hugh Boyle on June 23, 1963 in the cathedral of Christ the King, Johannesburg.

After his ordination, his first appointment was at Sacred Heart Church, Natalspruit, with Fr. Sam Motsuenyane. Then from 1967 to 1971, he worked as an assistant priest to Bishop Reginald Joseph Orsmond at Magaliesburg. [1] During this time he was involved in the formation of the St. Peter's Old Boys Association (SPOBA), an association and caucus group looking after the interests of black priests in South Africa.

SPOBA was formally established in July of 1966 even though there had been a desire to form one platform as early as 1965. For instance, from June 30 to July 5, seminarians from all over South Africa met at St. Peter's Seminary in Hammanskraal. The theme of their meeting was "The priest, shepherd of the flock." The aim of the seminar was to seek answers: "The people of this country are divided--politically, culturally, linguistically and religiously. Yet the motto of the country is 'ex unitate vires' --unity is strength. This is a paradox, and a paradox calls for an answer." [2] Attending this meeting were delegates of St. Peter's, St. John Vianney, A Mater Jesu Oblate Scholasticate (Roma), St. Joseph's Scholasticate (Oblate Cedara), Salesian Studentate (Daleside), and St. Nicholas Dominican Priory (Stellenbosch).

The delegates at this meeting believed in having a united vision so that the church could speak with a single voice. In their opinion, if seminarians united, the next generation of clergy would be united and, in turn, this unity would spread to all Christians. The chairman of the seminar was Fr. Smangaliso Mkhatshwa. Kolisang was also present at this meeting and many other earlier meetings. Priests and seminarians saw the need for a new order through self-transformation--a change they hoped would affect the community as a whole. These kinds of meetings contributed greatly to the establishment of SPOBA.

In a 1996 interview, Oswin Magrath, rector of St. Peter's from 1957 to 1971 said: "This was before Black Consciousness came up, but there were some considerable gaps between the different seminaries. About the same time we were having meetings with the staff from different seminaries." [3] At one such meeting, held from July 4 to 7, 1966 at Hammanskraal attended by thirty-one priests, including Kolisang, a past students' association was established, later to be known as SPOBA. [4] Several papers were presented. As early as 1962 Magrath was thinking in terms of unity of clergy and local clergy taking up leadership positions. For instance, in his inaugural lecture of the scholastic year in February 1962 he had said: "The unity of the church, and its future, also demands that such an orientation (segregation) should not go so far as to produce a clergy segregated from the rest of the clergy, nationalistic and even anti-white in spirit, and even perhaps tribally divided among themselves. This would be a mostly unhappy result." What was needed was a truly Catholic clergy ready to serve the people. Magrath's main concern was that the training of black clergy in a separate institution should not put the unity of the church at risk.

Four years later, Magrath was still urging clergy to unite. [5] He referred to Vatican II and pleaded for an integrated clergy. He also appealed to the black clergy to help the white clergy evolve, as the control was supposed to be in the black clergy's hands. Magrath was trying to tell SPOBA at its inception to be more open-minded but at the same time not to yield to the oppressive structures of apartheid. In his paper, he charged that Africans are supposed to be leaders in their churches and encouraged them to be prepared to take up such roles. Other priests also presented papers: Fr. Anthony Mabona on liturgy and Fr. Finbar Synnott on the second Vatican council (normally referred to as Vatican II).

Officers for the association were elected: Patrick Mkhatshwa as chairperson with David Moetapele as his assistant; John Louwfant as secretary, assisted by Ralphael Mosiea, and Kolisang as treasurer. At this time Kolisang was working at Sacred Heart Church in Natalspruit, Johannesburg with Fr. Sam Motsuenyane. Later, in 1967 he was moved to Magaliesburg and worked there until 1971 as an assistant priest to Bishop Orsmond of Johannesburg.

It is interesting to note that two white priests--Fr. Oswin Magrath and Fr. Finbar Synnott--were actively involved in the launching of SPOBA. These priests were open to new ideas and very liberal. By 1966 they had written widely on the discrepancies of apartheid. [6] When the black priests came up with the idea of forming a platform to air their views through SPOBA, Magrath, as he had said in his 1962 inaugural address, urged Africans to take charge of the church in Africa because it was meant to be theirs! It was therefore, not amazing, to see them in the forefront when the association was formed.

There were many reasons for forming the association. For instance, Mkhatshwa, chairman of the association, was working with the coal miners from neighboring countries. He thought he had to reflect on his theology, ministry, and spirituality. Also, like many black priests at that time, those from St. Peter's SPOBA executive had benefited immensely from the teaching of the Dominican priests, most of whom came from the Dominican House of Studies at Oxford and other affluent universities. Kolisang studied at St. Peter's Seminary from 1957 to 1963. The Dominicans were very progressive, broadminded, and far ahead of their time. A new era had dawned on the church. It was at the end of Vatican II Council and SPOBA executive members thought that in order to make certain that the spirit of Vatican II continued they thought of forming SPOBA.

They also thought it important simply to meet regularly as priests who studied together at the seminary and worked in the same area. This became helpful when young priests who were sent into ministry for the first time had difficulties coping because they were on their own. The association served as a supportive platform for these black priests. The training at the seminary probably prepared them to face the new challenges in the socio-political situation of South Africa. [7]

The Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) arose in the early 1970s: "it did not penetrate the churches in a denominational fashion but eventually all black churches had what we call black caucuses." [8] SPOBA was the black caucus group of the Roman Catholic Church. The BCM started flowing into SPOBA from about 1969 onwards. For instance, in April of 1971, SPOBA met with the BCM in Bloemfontein. [9] For Clement Mokoka, SPOBA was "an organized platform to challenge and oppose the hierarchy's predilection to support the settler regime actively at the expense of the indigenous clergy, laity, and the oppressed and exploited community at large" and " a two-stream church, namely, the quest for an autochthonous church represented by the black clergy and laity on the one hand, and the struggle to establish the legitimacy as well as the superiority of Euro Christians represented by the hierarchy on the other hand. [10]

Immediately after its inception in 1966, SPOBA sent petitions to the Catholic hierarchy. Several other petitions followed in 1968 and 1969. Their main contention was "the theme of the right to self-determination on the plea of mature manhood." [11] This theme was already put to Fr. Joseph Gerard by the Zulu people when they explicitly said "Let the white man leaves us alone, to live according to our way on our own." [12] This concept is reinforced by Archbishop Peter Butelezi's summary of SPOBA: "SPOBA comes in an era of strong Black Consciousness at the end of the 1960s, when there was a danger of forming a black church of all Christian groups." [13]

As the blacks in many churches tried to assert themselves, these initiatives sometimes had separatist tendencies with people trying to form their own churches, hence, the growth of African Initiated Churches (AICs). This move had already been spearheaded by Nehemiah Tile in the Methodist Church when he formed the Thembu National Church in 1883. [14] Most of the petitions sent to the bishops were easily dismissed, either because the hierarchy felt that it was not a true representation of the black membership or, according to SPOBA leadership--Mkhatshwa, Moetapele, Louwfant, Mosiea, and Kolisang--it is probable that the bishops were not in a position to do anything about it. Lastly, it is very plausible that they did not take the SPOBA executive seriously enough and could not see the urgency of responding to their petitions.

In 1972 the Oblates of Mary Immaculate (OMI) ended their ministry in Benoni and Daveyton, and Kolisang was appointed priest-in-charge of St. Nicholas Church and the two chapels of St. Lambert and St. Martin until 1979. During this time he was very active in SPOBA and at St. Peter's Major Seminary. SPOBA greatly influenced events at St. Peter's Seminary in the mid 1970s. For instance, the executive wanted transformation at the seminary with more black lecturers. With SPOBA's pressure, on February 6, 1977, St. Peter's opened with more black staff members: Kolisang was appointed as a part-time lecturer together with Fr. A. Nolan OP, Fr. F. Synnott OP, Fr. S Whyte OFM, and Fr. N. Carroll OFM. Full-time lecturers were all black: Fr. J. Sebidi SCP, Fr. E. Mailula OMI, Fr. A. Nxumalo OMI, and Fr. B. Tlhahgale. This was victory indeed for SPOBA. However, it was short-lived as the seminary was to close indefinitely by the end of year and only re-opened as an amalgamated institution catering to white and black students in 1981.

Because he was teaching at St. Peter's while working at Immaculate Conception Church in Rosebank, Kolisang took up studies in Canon Law and in 1983 he obtained his licentiate from St. Paul's University in Ottawa, Canada. After returning to his diocese in Johannesburg, he was appointed judicial vicar for the diocese. Kolisang was on the staff of St. John Vianney Seminary from 1984 to 1985 as a lecturer in Canon Law. He obtained his doctorate in Canon Law from the Gregorian University in March of 1986. [15]

In 1992, Kolisang sought wider experience in the archdiocese of Paderborn, Germany, where he ministered until March of 1996. When he returned to his diocese he was appointed priest-in-charge at St. Michael's, Meadowlands, until July of 1999. From December of 1999, Kolisang was priest-in-charge of Our Lady of Lourdes Church, City Deep. His health started deteriorating at this time.

In July of 2006, Kolisang retired from active ministry. In 2008 he died from a heart attack while driving his car in Soweto:
The funerals of Fr. T. P. Kolisang and Fr. Barnabus Mbatha OMI, were celebrated together on Friday, March 7, 2008. Archbishop Buti Tlhagale OMI, Archbishop of Johannesburg, was the principal celebrant at mass concelebrated by over sixty priests, confreres of the deceased, at St. Charles Parish, Victory Park. Father Sam Kataka OMI, priest-in-charge of St. Mary's Church, Munsieville, delivered the homily and members of the families and the clergy gave tributes. The two priests were laid to rest at priests' section at West Park cemetery in Johannesburg. [16]
Kolisang contributed to the struggle against oppression in the Catholic church by participating in the early black caucus groups that were fighting for the rights of black Catholic priests in South Africa. Later, he concentrated his efforts on teaching at the major seminary and parish ministries in Gauteng.

George Sombe Mukuka


Notes:

1. See www.catholic-johannesburg.org.za/diocesan_news/2008/diocesan_news_200805_wp.pdf (accessed January 29, 2009).
2. Southern Cross (June 23, 1965), 1.
3. Oswin Magrath, interview by author, July 19, 1996, Cedara, Pietermaritzburg, tape recording.
4. Gobi Clement Mokoka, "Black Experience in Black Theology. A Study of the RCC Missionary Endeavour in South Africa and the Search for Justice" (Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen Catholic University, October 1984), 53.
5. From the paper entitled, "Unity of Clergy in Southern Africa," presented by Magrath (Springs: SADA, 1962).
6. The Southern Cross (1957 onwards)
7. Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, interview by author, December 12, 1995, Edenvale, tape recording.
8. Reverend Peter Lenkoe (Anglican priest from in Orlando West in Soweto), interview by author, July 19, 1996, Pietermaritzburg, tape recording.
9. Barney Pityana (ed.), Bounds of Possibility: The Legacy of Steve Bantu Biko and Black Consciousness (Clarement: David Philip, 1992), 125.
10. Gobi Clement Mokoka, "Black Experience in Black Theology. A Study of the RCC Missionary Endeavour in South Africa and the Search for Justice" (Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen Catholic University, October 1984), 53-54.
11. Gobi Clement Mokoka, "Black Experience in Black Theology. A Study of the RCC Missionary Endeavour in South Africa and the Search for Justice" (Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen Catholic University, October 1984), 53-54.
12. Gobi Clement Mokoka, "Black Experience in Black Theology. A Study of the RCC Missionary Endeavour in South Africa and the Search for Justice" (Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen Catholic University, October 1984), 53-54.
13. Buthelezi, Peter, interview by author, July 8, 1996, Bloemfontein, tape recording.
14. Daryl Balia, Black Methodists and White Supremacy in South Africa (Durban: Madiba Publication, 1991), see chapter on Nehemiah Tile.
15. The university is called Pontifical Gregorian University (Italian: Pontificia Università Gregoriana - also known as the Gregorianum) is a Pontifical University located in Rome, Italy. Seewww.catholic-johannesburg.org.za/diocesan_news/2008/diocesan_news_200805_wp.pdf (accessed January 29, 2009).
16. See www.catholic-johannesburg.org.za/diocesan_news/2008/diocesan_news_200805_wp.pdf

Bibliography:

Pityana, Barney (ed.). Bounds of Possibility: The Legacy of Steve Bantu Biko and Black Consciousness. Clarement: David Philip, 1992.
"Obituaries of two Senior Priests of the Archdiocese". Archdiocesan News, May 2008. www.catholic-johannesburg.org.za/diocesan_news/ (accessed January 29, 2009).
Lenkoe, Peter. Interview by author, July 19, 1996, Pietermaritzburg. Tape recording.
Magrath, Oswin. Interview by author, July 19, 1996, Cedara, Pietermaritzburg. Tape recording.
Magrath, Oswin. "Unity of Clergy in Southern Africa" Springs: Southern African Dominican Archives, 1962.
Mkhatshwa, Smangaliso. Interview by author, December 12, 1995, Edenvale. Tape recording.
Mokoka, Clement G. "Black Experience in Black theology. A Study of the RCC Missionary Endeavor in South Africa and the Search for Justice" (Ph.D. diss., Nijmegen Catholic University, October 1984).
Southern Cross (June 23, 1965).
The Southern Cross (1957 onwards).

This article, received in 2008, was written by Dr. George Sombe Mukuka, a faculty research manager at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa, and 2008-2009 DACB Project Luke Fellow.