Mogatla, David Modibane
c. 1814 to 1874
Mogatla (or Magatta, as he is known by the Methodists) established the first Methodist society in the Transvaal. He was actually involved with a number of denominations that also claim him as their pioneer- the Lutherans from the Hermannsburg Mission and the Dutch Reformed Church.
Mogatla was born in about 1814 in the Rustenburg district of the Transvaal. He belonged to one of the Tswana clans, possibly the Bagamalete. During the 1830s, when Mzilikazi and his warriors stormed across the Transvaal attacking Tswana clans, Mogatla's home was destroyed and he was taken to Mosega as a prisoner. He became Mzilikazi's personal attendant (Notices 1878, 62).
In 1836 the American Board missionaries Daniel Lindley and Henry Venables came to Mosega to try to establish a mission station among Mzilikazi's people. For the first time Mogatla heard the Gospel. Two years later a Voortrekker commando stormed Mzilikazi's stronghold and Mogatla escaped and made his way south to Thaba'Nchu, the Wesleyan Methodist mission station.
Here Mogatla was educated and later converted. David was the name given to him at his baptism. Years later he told the Methodist missionary Blencowe that he was 'born of God among the Wesleyans, I have lived a Wesleyan and I shall die a Wesleyan'. This may have been biased reporting as Mogatla continued his friendship with missionaries from other denominations.
Mogatla determined to return home to the Magaliesberg district where he found his family scattered or dead. He received a 'note to preach' from the missionary William Shaw authorizing him to preach in the name of the Methodist Church. This was probably in about 1852 as there is an English Bible at a Lutheran mission station near Rustenburg with his name and the date in it. He also worked as an evangelist for the Rev. Behrens of the Hermannsburg Mission in Bethany and the Rev. Gonin of the Dutch Reformed Mission in Rustenburg.
During the 1850s he worked as a labourer for white farmers in the Rustenburg district. He met Commandant Paul Kruger while he was working there. Mogatla decided to go to Potchefstroom and in 1865 he was listed as an evangelist on a 'Memorial' for William Shaw (John Rylands Library).
In Potchefstroom Mogatla 'preached in the streets and in their houses' and 'exhorted and commanded them to repent'. Blencowe noted that Mogatla was able to speak and understand six languages: Sechuana, Amatonga, Xhosa, Zulu, Dutch and English.
The landdrost punished and banished him for holding services, possibly because they were held at the same time as those of the Dutch Reformed Church. He wandered first in Natal and then in Sekhukuniland, where he again met Commandant Kruger. Kruger heard his story and gave him a letter granting him permission to preach in Potchefstroom.
Mogatla had been preaching without payment except for donations from his listeners. In 1871 the Methodist missionary George Blencowe arrived in Potchefstroom and met Mogatla. He gave him a stipend of twelve pounds per annum (all that he was allowed to pay without permission from Synod). Blencowe also arranged accommodation for Mogatla's congregation, who called themselves Methodists. He found that some of Mogatla's converts had begun their own mission work in the surrounding district. Blcncowe reported that he had heard 'interesting testimonies as to the purity, the benevolence, the constancy and the efficiency of David's ministry' (Notices 1878, 62).
A chapel was built in 1873, but the following year Mogatla died while on a visit to tile Rustenburg district. He was buried at Bethany where the Rev. Behrens recorded that: 'He was a man full of zeal and faith, always busy with the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.'
The Methodist Church in the township in Potchefstroom is named the David Magatta Church in his honour.
J. A. Millard
* Email message from great grandson
of David Modibane.
Crafford, D. "Die verhaal van David Mogatla Modibane." Nederduirse Gereformeerde Teologiese Tydskrif XXVII (4) (1986).
Findlay, G & W. Holdsworth. The History, of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society. 5 vols. London: Epworth Press, 1921-1924.
'Memorial' to William Shaw from the Ministers of the Southeastern Cape District on the Occasion of his Becoming President of the British Conference of the Wesleyan Methodist Church. John Rylands Library, Manchester.
Notices of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, 1872, 1876 and 1878.