Mokone, Mangena Maake
1851 to 1931
Mokone was the founder of the Ethiopian Church in 1892. His move from the Methodist Church to his own inter-tribal African church led in time to the formation of numerous other independent churches. Mokone took as his watchword Psalm 68:31 - "Cush [Ethiopia] shall stretch out her hands to God."
Mokone was born in Sekhkuniland in 1851, a member of the Bogaga tribe. His father, a secondary chief, was killed in the Swazi War of 1863. The young Mokone and a friend fled to Durban where Mokone found work with a Mrs. Steele who belonged to the Methodist Church. She encouraged him to attend night school and taught him to read. Mokone saw the Bible next to Mrs. Steele's bed and longed to be able to read it, which made him a keen student. Mrs. Steele also encouraged him to attend Sunday School at the Aliwal Street Chapel.
In 1870 Mokone moved to Pietermaritzburg and found work on a sugar plantation. However, after six months he returned to Durban. One day Mokone heard a local preacher, Mr. Fine, preaching about the wiles of the Devil and he was converted to Christianity. In 1874 Mokone was baptised by the Rev. Damon Hlongwana and returned to Pietermaritzburg to attend Edendale College.
Mokone became a local preacher himself and worked as a carpenter during the day while at night he preached at revival meetings. One day his congregation was so moved that they were noisy and tearful. A white neighbour told them to "vuka" ("get up") and asked that Mokone be replaced by a more moderate preacher.
When the Methodist Church decided to appoint probationer ministers at the 1880 Synod in Pietermaritzburg, Mokone was among those selected. He became a "native assistant missionary." After spending two years in Newstead, Natal, he was sent to Pretoria.
In Pretoria Mokone started a school and established a congregation. After serving his probation he was ordained in 1887. The following year he was sent to the Waterberg district, north of Pretoria. While he was there his wife died of tuberculosis, leaving him with two small daughters.
He next went to Johannesburg, where he met people such as J. Z. Tantsi who would later join him in the Ethiopian Church. During the years that Mokone worked in the Transvaal, racially segregated district meetings had become the accepted form of church government. Mokone resented this and gave racial segregation as one of his reasons for leaving the Methodist Church. At the so-called "Native meetings" the work of the evangelists and "native assistant missionaries" was discussed and tuition given to those "on trial." Mokone felt that some of the evangelists had been judged unfairly. One of these was Samuel Mathabathe who was told, after Mokone had resigned, that he was not intellectually astute enough to be ordained and had to continue to work as an evangelist (Minutes 1895). At the time of his resignation Mokone was working as a tutor at Kilnerton College.
Mokone waited for his friend the Rev. Owen Watkins to retire before he resigned. In 1892 he wrote to the District Superintendent, George Weavind, and said: "I hereby give you notice that at the end of the month I will leave the Wesleyan Church and serve God in my own way." He gave a number of reasons for his decision. Among them were the separate district meetings, lack of understanding from white ministers, no family allowances for African ministers and poor wages (Minutes 1892).
In November 1892 Mokone and twenty others held the founding service of the Ethiopian Church. Among those who joined him was Samuel Brander. He was later joined by a number of men such as J. Z. Tantsi, J. G. Xaba and Marcus Gabashane. Later Dwane and Goduka also became members of the Ethiopian Church.
Having learned from the letters of Charlotte Manye how the African Methodist Episcopal Church in America had black leadership and enough money to help educate their members, Mokone and the other Ethiopians decided to invite them to amalgamate and form a South African branch. Dwane was sent to America and returned to "reobligate" or ordain the ministers of the Ethiopian Church.
In 1898 Bishop Turner of the AMEC visited South Africa. He was welcomed by the Ethiopians and ordained a number of ministers. Mokone became an elder of the AMEC.
The following year Dwane was already restless and at a conference in Queenstown he and others resolved to leave the AMEC. Mokone remained loyal and met with the ministers who remained to try to prevent the trouble from spreading.
At AMEC conferences Mokone took a leading role, although he could not be the bishop as that position was kept for an American. He served on various committees and often led the devotions.
In 1903 the members of conference wanted to hold a "Mokone day" but he asked them to refrain from doing so while he was still alive. Three years later he was sent to America as a delegate to the General Conference. He continued to serve the AMEC and came to be respected as a "father figure" until his death in 1931.
J. A. Millard
Minutes of the District Meeting (Synod) of the Transvaal and Swaziland District of the Methodist Church 1883, 1885, 1888, 1890, 1892, 1895.
MS 15 432. Transvaal missionary papers. Cory Library, Grahamstown.
Notices of the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society 1888, 1891.
Interview with Mangena Mokone. The South African Methodist, (16 December 1885).
Roux, E. Time Longer Than Rope: A History of The Black Man's Struggle for Freedom in South Africa. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1964.
Skota, T. D. M. The African Yearly Register: Being an Illustrated National Biographical Dictionary (Who's Who) of Black Folks in Africa. Johannesburg: R. Esson, 1933.
Supplementary resolutions of the Natal Synod 1879.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from Malihambe - Let the Word Spread, copyright © 1999, by J. A. Millard, Unisa Press, Pretoria, South Africa. All rights reserved.
Encyclopaedia Britannica (complete article): Ethiopianism