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Mochochoko, Walter Lefa
1880 to 1959
The Anglican Church / The African Church
South Africa

Walter Lefa Mochochoko achieved fame as a church leader in two different denominations. For the first thirty years of his priestly ministry he was honored as an effective leader of an important African mission station at Winburg in the Orange Free State in the Anglican diocese of Bloemfontein. In recognition of the excellence of his work in the Anglican Church he was given the position of canon of the cathedral. In the African Church, which he joined in 1939, he was elevated to the position of bishop of the Orange Free State. [1]

Mochochoko was born on January 20, 1880 in Bloemfontein. He attended school at Patrick's in Bloemfontein and later undertook a three years' teacher training course at the Primitive Methodist Training Institute in Aliwal North in the Cape Province. [2]

Mochochoko married a daughter of the Mosia family of Cradock in the Cape. [3] Together they had seven children (five boys and two girls). Two of the boys (Alan Neo and Selby) later went into the ministry. Neo became a priest in the Anglican Church at Ermelo in the diocese of Johannesburg in the late 1930s and Selby later followed in his father's footsteps as a priest and bishop in the African Church. [4]

Mochochoko was active as a layman in the church, as was most of his family. For instance, a Micah Mochochoko appears in church publications as a catechist-teacher at Kabi in what was then Basutoland. [5] There is also an Edward Sauer Mochochoko who was a church warden in Winburg. [6]

In 1908 Mochochoko was made deacon. He became a priest in 1909 and started work at St. Patrick's in 1910 where he worked until 1912. The length of his period as a deacon was remarkably short as it took him only a year to serve his title. Most African clergymen served their title as deacons for a long time, sometimes as long as ten years.

Mochochoko had a very illustrious career, achieving a number of "firsts" in the ministry. In 1913 he was posted to Winburg, St. Clement's Mission as the first African priest-in-charge. He stayed there for the rest of his ministry in the Anglican Church--a total of 26 years until 1939 when he left the church. This was a record because most priests stay for an average of ten years at one mission station.

In 1921 he preached the ordination sermon at a service where six Africans and one white man were ordained deacons. [7] He was the first African to preach at an ordination service in the diocese. He was quite articulate in his views and wrote letters to church magazines and other newsletters. [8]

There are elements of Africanist ideology in Mochochoko's writings. For instance, an analysis of the letter he wrote to Bishop Carey reveals an implicit criticism of the status quo. [9] He wrote that Carey was a bishop for both black and white priests, indicating that he was aware of the differential treatment each group received in the diocese. Furthermore, Mochochoko has been described as someone who argued for African self-determination within the church. This quality can be seen in this copy of a letter he wrote:

My Lord,

We, the undersigned, on behalf of the congregation of the mission district of St. Clement, Winburg, have received, with deep regret, the news of the resignation of Your Lordship from the See of Bloemfontein.

It pains us more to part with Your Lordship when we remember that Your Lordship was the first bishop of this diocese to ordain native priests. All native priests in this diocese are ordained by Your Lordship, and four are now in the diocese of Kimberley and Kuruman. We thank God and owe you a great debt of gratitude for building up a native ministry in this diocese, in spite of hostile criticisms.

Your Lordship was father-in-God for all black and white. Your Lordship's resignation came at a time when we needed Your Lordship's guidance, for we always believed that under Your Lordship's leadership as impartial father we should have our right place in the affairs of the church of this diocese. We had a hope that, in pursuance of the resolution passed in the last diocesan conference, we should have native (sic) lay representatives in the next diocesan synod. We are now at a loss as to whether such will be the case without your Lordship's influence.

Your sympathy was always worth more than gold. We believe that Your Lordship is aware that we are building a new church here. We have raised the sum of 700 pounds without any outside help. We still want 500 pounds to finish the church. Your lordship, we hope, will appeal on our behalf among the friends in England.

We thank God that the trust you put in our black priest has not been put in vain. We pray to God that we may get another Chandler who will be a bishop for blacks and whites

Your Lordship knows how we are treated in this our fatherland. It is needless to remind Your lordship of the state of landless natives in South Africa, particularly in the Orange Free State. The iniquitous "Color Bar" practiced by the Union Government is repugnant to the ethical principles of British freedom and liberty and to the spirit and purpose of the Christian religion.

Please think of us sometimes.

We are, my lord,

Signed: Walter Mochochoko
Churchwardens and Lay-readers
An elderly lady about seventy-five years old, former member of the St. Agnes Young Girls' Guild at Winburg during the late 1920s, remembers Mochochoko as a hard-working, high-tempered priest. [10] A deacon from the African Church recalled that Mochochoko criticized discrimination in the church by describing, for example, how the white priest at a baptismal service pronounced the blessing while the African priest held the African baby. He also remembered that Mochochoko was the only African priest to own a car fully paid for by his parish. Mochochoko told his parishioners that they had to be self-supporting. The deacon went even further and said that he suspected white priests were jealous of Mochochoko's success. [11]

Mochochoko was reportedly quite eloquent in English. He did not get along with the members of the Society for the Sacred Mission (SSM) of whom he was rather dismissive. However, he cautioned younger priests not to follow his example and leave the Anglican Church but rather to fight for their rights within the church. [12]

Although his mission station was at Winburg, it actually included quite a number of neighboring towns: Brandfort, Hertzogville and Theunissen. The size of his parish grew as the towns and villages in the Free State also grew.

Both laity and clergy spoke highly of Mochochoko who was elected or appointed to a number of diocesan committees or commissions. For instance, he was a member of a committee that investigated the stipends of the African clergy [13] and was chairman of the African Advisory Council for Ordinands. In 1925 he became the first indigenous clergyman to be installed as a canon of the cathedral. He was also one of two bishops examining chaplains in 1932. He was a diocesan delegate to several provincial synod meetings.

In 1939, a conflict ensued between him and the bishop. It is difficult to get a satisfactory explanation of what exactly happened. Popular legend has it that Mochochoko was fond of drinking African home brewed beer. It is also alleged that he was involved in the illegal selling of liquor. He allegedly hid the beer from the police in the vestry but they caught him nevertheless. The church intervened and the charges were dropped. However, the church insisted that Mochochoko be transferred to Sekubu, deep in rural Basutoland.

Mochochoko is said to have defended himself by arguing, among other things, that African beer is better than European liquor. He refused to go to Sekubu because by then he was old, had problems with his legs, and did not look forward to having to use a horse in that mountainous area. [14]

Nevertheless he signed a very restrictive agreement with the bishop in which Mochochoko agreed to resign his canonry and to have his name removed from the diocesan stipend list. The document also stated that he should no longer reside within the parish boundaries of the Mission District of Winburg. The most restrictive article read as follows:
That in consideration of his past services, and as an ex gratia payment, the committee shall pay the said Rev. Walter Mochochoko the sum of £2.5.0 (two and half pounds) on the 31st December 1939, and thereafter the sum of £3.0.0. (three pounds) on the last day of each and every succeeding month, and shall so continue provided and subject to the express condition that the said Rev. Walter Mochochoko shall submit to the Diocesan Secretary three times a year, to wit, on the 31 March, 31 July and 30 November, a certificate signed by the priest of the parish or mission in which he may be resident that he, the said Rev. Walter Mochochoko, has been of good behavior during the previous four months and that he has remained a practicing member of the Church of the Province of South Africa and has not become an active member of any other church or of any schismatic body.
A subsequent article went on to state that if Mochochoko failed to keep the terms of the agreement, he would no longer receive any payment from the diocese, and would have no right of appeal. The next article limited his monthly income to £8.15.0 (eight pounds fifteen shillings). The last article provided for an opportunity to appeal to the archdeacon in case a certificate was unjustly withheld from him.

Both the bishop and the canon signed the agreement, together with two other witnesses, on November 27, 1939. However, with such a restrictive arrangement, it is not surprising that Walter Mochochoko ultimately left the Anglican Church for the African Church, an Ethiopian-type church which had broken away from the Anglican Church in 1896. Many former parishioners joined him in the African Church.

He joined that church as an ordinary priest. Later he was elected bishop and was placed at Alexandra in Johannesburg. The archbishop who consecrated him was Mothapi. Mochochoko was later transferred to Bloemfontein, to serve as bishop for the Free State diocese of the African Church. [15]

Mochochoko was so popular that people referred to the African church as "Church-Mochochoko." The Anglican Church lost quite a large number of members as a result of his move to the African Church and still has not recovered because the Winburg Mission which was the center of the parish is now an outstation of the Welkom parish.

Walter Lefa Mochochoko died on January 25, 1959.

Abraham Mojalefa Lieta


Notes:

1. An analysis of his reasons for leaving the Anglican Church helps us to understand much more clearly the conditions under which the African clergy served. From the fieldwork research I found that elderly members of the Anglican Church were not willing to talk about Rev. Walter Mochochoko. When pressed for the reason why, it became clear that they were discouraged by the church from talking about "the rebel." I found most of the information from members of the African Church, who regard him as a hero.
2. From a letter of petition by Walter Mochochoko, in which he applies for exemption from the pass laws. (Free State Archives Box CO 154 file No.2073/03).
3. Interview with Mrs. Daisy Mochochoko, the daughter-in-law of Fr. Mochochoko at Bloemfontein on June 8, 2003.
4. From an interview with his granddaughter, Madokie Mochochoko August 25, 2000 in Bloemfontein.
5. See R. Dove, "Anglican Pioneers in Lesotho: Some Account of the Diocese of Lesotho," 1975 (Mazenod : Lesotho).
6. See QP (the Quarterly Paper for the Diocese of Bloemfontein) No.212 of 25/4/1921.
7. See Quarterly Paper No.227, page 6.
8. QP No.212 of 25/4/1925.
9. See the Quarterly Paper 212: 36-7.
10. From interview with Mrs. Euphemia Motaung at Winburg on December 22, 2000.
11. From interview with Mr. David Ramakgale at Virginia on December 22, 2000.
12. From interview with Fr. Edward Seema on October 24, 2002.
13. See QP No.229 of July 1925:99.
14. Interview with his daughter-in-law, Mrs. Daisy Mochochoko, at Bloemfontein on June 15, 2000.
15. Interview with his daughter-in-law, Daisy, at Bloemfontein on June 24, 2003.



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.