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Missiological musings inspired by Die Derde Oorlog teen Mapoch

12 December 2019

Die Derde Oorlog teen MapochDie Derde Oorlog teen Mapoch by Hans Pienaar
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Last year at our monthly literary coffee klatsch this book — the title, translated, means The Third War against Mapoch — was mentioned (see Postfiction/Truth? Literary Coffee Klatsch | Khanya), but I didn’t think much more about it until I found a copy in our local library. It turned out to be an amazing and eye-opening book, from which I learnt a great deal, facts both trivial and important.

Among other things I learnt how the town of Roossenekal got its name — two heroes of the first Anglo-Boer War, named Roos and Senekal, on different occasions stuck their heads into caves where members of the Ndzundza (Mapoch) tribe were hiding during the Second War against Mapoch, and had them blown off by snipers within.

I learnt how peach brandy came to be called mampoer — the Second War against Mapoch in 1883 was when the government of the South African Republic (ZAR) made war on the Ndzundza people whom they accused of harbouring a murderer, Mampuru, who had killed his brother and rival ruler of the Bapedi. The ZAR army was made up mainly of mercenaries who had been promised that they could have the land of the Ndzundza people once they had been conquered. They didn’t want (or know how to) farm the land, they were mostly speculators. So when they took over the land, which was planted with peach trees, the only thing they could think of to do with the peaches was make brandy, which they named “Mampoer” after Mampuru.

That story also indicates how the book can help to explain the background to the vexed land question in South Africa today, which is partly about how competent black farmers were dispossessed, sometimes violently as in this case, by incompetent white ones.

The Third War against Mapoch took place a century after the second one, in the 1980s. For all that time the Ndzundza people had no land at all. Their fate was to become landless labourers on land they had previously owned and farmed. Other tribes had “reserves” and “locations” but the Ndzundza people had nothing. When the apartheid government decided to establish the KwaNdebele “homeland” there was therefore a rush, mainly of the landless farm labourers, and its population grew rapidly.

The South African government wanted KwaNdebele to be “independent”, which would mean that most of the people would lose their rather tenuous right to work in South African cities. So the “war” was between the puppet parliament of KwaNdebele and the South African security forces on the one hand, and the tribal leaders of the Ndzundza clan and the people of KwaNdebele on the other.

Hans Pienaar has documented this, and its historical background, extremely well. As I said, I learned a great many things from it. It is not a formal history, and so, rather to my regret, it lacks some things I wish it had — footnotes, an index, and a bibliography. Pienaar explains this in his acknowledgements section, where he refers to his main sources. He says:

This book does not pretend to be a scholarly investigation. It is rather a journalistic report, and not even that, because it includes my own interpretations of a set of facts derived from a wide historical investigation. My own personal experiences were often more important to me than the striving for objectivity (my translation).

It is thus a mixture of many different kinds of book. Chapters of sober history are interspersed with biographies of some of the main characters in the story, and others with information about Pienaar’s own experiences in gathering the material.

So, for example, he not only gives the content of his interviews with Brigadier Lerm, who was in charge of the police in KwaNdebele at the height of the war, and whose main aim at the time was to suppress any opposition to KwaNdebele independence; he also describes the atmosphere of the interviews, right down to a description of the furniture and ornaments in Lerm’s house.

So the book is three genres in one, and in my view that adds to its value and gives the reader a fuller picture. If you want to understand Afrikaner nationalism, and how the ideology of apartheid developed, and how apartheid still affects South Africa today, read it. It’s an excellent account of all this. I’d still like to have had an index and footnotes, though.

In the spirit of Pienaar’s writing, I will also add to my review on GoodReads. There I wrote a more or less straightforward review, but the book is also mingled with my own experiences. I became personally involved in KwaNdebele for at least part of the time, and in reading it I found the story Pienaar was telling was interwoven with my own experiences.

At the end of 1982 I was appointed Director of Mission and Evangelism for the Anglican Diocese of Pretoria, and at one church meeting the Revd David Aphane, who was then Rector of the parish of Mamelodi West, reported on the growth of KwaNdebele. He had tried to hold services for the Anglicans there, but it was growing so fast and in so many directions that he could not cope, since he was also responsible for a large urban parish.

We arranged for David Aphane to lead the diocesan mission committee on a tour of KwaNdebele, which took place on 6 September 1984, and he took us on a long trip which covered several rapidly growing settlements — Ekangala near Bronkhorstspruit, Elandsdoorn near Dennilton, Siyabuswa and Boekenhouthoek. By then it was getting dark, so we could not see Kwaggafontein and Tweefontein, but we counted 320 Putco buses bringing commuters back from working in Pretoria, 90km from Kwaggafontein and 120km from Siyabuswa/Valschfontein.

We developed a plan for church planting in KwaNdebele, which involved bringing the Revd Alphaeus Ndebele from Swaziland, who was a talented evangelist, and working to raise up local ministries in each of the settlements, using the principles of the Anglican missiologist Roland Allen. It was a rather ambitious plan, and it failed, partly because some people in the Diocese of Pretoria did not understand the Roland Allen method, and partly because the Third War against Mapoch was gaining momentum and many of the local communities were in chaos.

Eventually I wrote my masters dissertation in missiology on The iViyo loFakazi bakaKristu and the Anglican mission in KwaNdebele but at the time I wrote it I was not aware of Pienaar’s book, which would have been enormously useful as a source.

One of the first things we did in starting the mission was to conduct community surveys. What kind of people lived in those places. We gathered volunteers from several Anglican parishes in Pretoria, gave them a crash training course, and went to Ekangala one Saturday. We sent out 75 teams of three people. Each team had at least one male and one female, one black and one white. In South Africa in 1985 it was rare for people in a place like Ekangala to be visited by a mixed group of people, but the principle there is that when predictability is low, the impact is high; when predictability is high, the impact is low.

The 75 teams visited 100 homes that Saturday afternoon. We found that most of the families were young couples who had previously been living with their parents on the East Rand (another long commute). They belonged to 50 different denominations, none of which had a church in Ekangala, Only two families had a member working in nearby Ekandustria, the showpiece of apartheid “border industries”. The reason? The wages paid in the factories in Ekandustria were less than the rents in Ekangala. The people who worked in Ekandustria commuted an equally long distance from Kwaggafontein and points north.

Alphaeus Ndebele started holding services in his house at Ekangala, and soon had a large and lively congregation.

So Pienaar’s book didn’t only give me a better understanding of South African history, it gave me a better understanding of my own history.

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