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Maboee, Austin
c.1910 to 1988
Church of the Province of Southern Africa (Anglican)
South Africa

Austin Maboee played a significant role in the history of the African clergy in the diocese of Bloemfontein as a literary figure who wrote popular novels that were used in secondary schools. He is the also only African priest in the diocese to write a theological piece of work.

Austin Maboee was the son of the first Mosotho priest of the diocese of St. John's, Daniel Maboee, who was a curate of Matatiele. [1] His father had been trained at St. Bede's and made a deacon in 1912. Austin Maboee was blessed with one son, Phamotse. Maboee's wife died in the 1980s and he later remarried. [2] Some members of his family are at Tsheseng in Qwaqwa.

Maboee trained for a teaching diploma before taking up theological training at St. Peter's College in 1943. He achieved a licentiate in theology. In 1943 he was made deacon at St. Francis in Kroonstad and became a priest in 1945.

Maboee's first mission station was Heilbron from 1944 to 1949. He became priest in charge of Thaba Nchu for a very short period between 1949 and 1950. From 1950 to 1956 he went to Modderpoort as a missionary priest. Next Maboee was posted at Hertzogville mission where he stayed from 1956 to 1967. Between 1967 and 1971 he worked at Harrismith and then went to work at St. Patrick's in Bloemfontein as an assistant priest. He later retired at Witsieshoek, where he had built a house.

Maboee corresponded regularly with church publications. His interest in educational matters is evident in the February 1943 letter he wrote while a student at St. Peter's Seminary entitled "A Child in the Church." In the letter he comments about a recent provincial missionary conference relating to religious education. He points out the need for parents as well as the church to take children in the church seriously. He stated, "The ways of living, thoughts, and ideas are not the same as they were some years ago. It is, then, the duty of the church to adapt itself into the system of the present and forge the iron while it is hot, i.e., we must focus our attention on the child as he is the future adult member of the church." [3]

In August of the same year, he wrote an article in the same vein entitled, "What is the Aim of Religious Teaching?" In this short article he affirms that parents need to supplement the teaching their children receive in church. He further suggests that the Mothers' Union should benefit from the teaching program. He notes that they "should receive addresses on doctrinal subjects from time to time at their meetings. Talks should also be given on the growing up of children from the psychological point of view. Thus armed, the mothers will be essential in co-operating with the teacher." [4]

In addition to writing letters to the editor, he wrote two novels in southern Sotho. The name of the first was Menyepetsi ya Maswabi [5] (The Tears of Sorrow) and the second, Sebolelo [6], which became prescribed works for secondary schools. The books were noted for their humor and interesting observations on human strength and moral weaknesses. Regarding his work as a novelist, Maboee stated that he found material for his novels from simply observing people and listening to them. Whenever he received a travel allowance to go to conferences, he preferred to take the train rather than a car. He maintained that he found ideas for his characters in the third-class compartment of the train and in the company of ordinary people. [7]

In addition to writing popular literature, Maboee also wrote a theological work entitled Molimo: Christian Theology in a Sotho Context [8] published by Lumko in 1982. He had written the manuscript in the 1940s but struggled to find a publisher. In this book, Maboee provides a sympathetic view of the Sesotho cultural life that stood in stark contrast with the condemnatory attitude of the missionaries at the time. He offers an interpretation of fables, ancient prayers, and proverbs which auggests that even the concept of the Trinity could be explained using this cultural material. In the Sesotho fable of Moshanyana Senkatana he finds a parallel with the story of Jesus Christ and salvation through Him. The fable speaks of a giant dragon that ate a whole nation. A young boy, Bulane, who was miraculously born as an adult to a woman, used a sword to cut up the giant dragon and to free the people and their beasts from the belly of this dragon referred to as Kgodumodumo. Bulane is later the victim of a conspiracy and is assassinated by jealous friends. Maboee suggests that the dove seen immediately after Bulane's murder can be used to explain the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, Maboee considers that the ancient prayer of the Basotho in which "the new God" has to pray to the "ancient God" points to the relationship between God the Father and God the Son. [9]

Maboee was keenly aware of the discrimination in the church and in society. At synods he always pointed out the inequities that blacks suffered in society. As a result of his views he was marginalized and always placed at poorer mission stations.[10]

He had some differences with the Society for the Sacred Mission (SSM) missionaries. He had a particularly acrimonious relationship with Fr. Wrenford. Both of them were very forthright men who asserted their positions strongly. [11]

Austin Maboee and Lloyd Maja were responsible for introducing the Bernard Mizeki Young Men's Guild [12] into the diocese of Bloemfontein. This was an evangelistic group for young men patterned after the Young Men's Guild of the Methodist Church. Maboee was responsible for translating the constitution into Sesotho and for translating a hymn relating to Bernard Mizeki from Xhosa into Sesotho.

Abraham Lieta


Notes:

1. Stanier Green, The First Hundred Years 1873-1973: The Story of the Diocese of St. John's, South Africa (Umtata: St. Paul's Mission Press, 1973): p. 145.
2. Fr. Albert Mosea, interview by the author, at Kroonstad on May 31, 2003.
3. Bloemfontein Diocesan Journal, vol. 7, February 25, 1943 (new series No.12), p. 7.
4. Bloemfontein Diocesan Journal, vol. 8, August 25, 1943 (new series No.6), p.11.
5. A. T. Maboee, Menyepetsi ya Maswabi (Johannesburg: APB Publishers, 1955).
6. A. T. Maboee, Sebolelo (King Williamstown: Educum Publishers, 1962).
7. Austin Maboee, interview by the author, June 15, 1985.
8. See the introduction of the book, Molimo: The Sesotho Concept of God, where the editor, Janet Hodgson, explains how the manuscript of this work was suppresssed by the missionaries, and how she rescued the work.
9. See A. T Maboee, Molimo: The Concept of God in a Sotho Context (Germiston: Lumko Institute, 1982). The book is also one of the textbooks prescribed for students studying African Christianity in the School of Religion and Theology at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
10. Fr. Samuel Mokoena, interview by the author at Bloemfontein on October 23, 2002.
11. Fr. Lloyd Maja, interview by the author, Qwaqwa, June 2, 2003.
12. Bernard Mizeki was an Anglican catechist originally from Mozambique, martyred for his faith in Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe). This movement has been named after this hero of the faith.



This story, submitted in January 2004, was written by Fr. Abraham Mojalefa Lieta of the School of Theology, University of KwaZulu-Natal, while researching the role of the African clergy in the Anglican diocese of Bloemfontein (1884-1963). Dr. Philippe Denis, professor of the History of Christianity at the University of KwaZulu-Natal is the DACB liaison coordinator and writing supervisor.