our own african culture will always stay alive thanks to our great fore fathers.
Although generally not well remembered today, the Swiss missionary Henri Gonin played an important role in the conversion of the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela, a Tswana tribe living in the Pilanesberg area. Born in 1828, Gonin was recruited at the age of 29 in 1857 by the famous Rev Andrew Murray of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC). Gonin, who was still a first-year theology student in Geneva, Switzerland at the time, was specifically recruited to come and do missionary work among the indigenous population in South Africa
After Gonin and his wife arrived in Rustenburg, it took two years before they eventually settled in the Pilanesberg to begin their missionary work among the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela under Kgosi Kgamanyane. There are various reasons why Gonin had to wait so long before being allowed to proceed. Firstly, by the beginning of July 1862, the political situation in the Transvaal was, as Gonin himself reported, "more and more in disorder," as it was under the threat of "civil war". This was a period of intense religious and political upheaval in the Transvaal among Afrikaners. Secondly, by early August 1862, Kgosi Kgamanyane among whose people Gonin was going to work, was still out on a long hunting expedition and the Gonins also had to wait for his consent. Therefore, at the end of 1863, Gonin visited the Pilanesberg where he was well received by some Bakgatla who also requested him to work among them. Kgosi Kgamanyane afterwards personally requested Paul Kruger to allow Gonin to settle and work among his people.
However, at the time, local Boers were very suspicious of foreigners doing missionary work among the indigenous tribes. But most probably because they were Swiss and not British and therefore considered least likely to instigate trouble, the Gonins and their three children finally received permission from Paul Kruger and the Volksraad in to relocate to Saulspoort, about two to three hours away from Rustenburg by horseback. This is where Kgosi Kgamanyane's headquarters was and also where the Bakgatla were more concentrated.
Gonin was well aware of the general landlessness of Africans in the area and on his arrival in June 1864, he bought the farm Welgeval, also known as Welgevallen, and located within the circular ring of mountains in the Pilanesberg near Moruleng, from a certain David Putter for the sum of œ150. This he saw as a means of attracting African settlers and in July the Gonins began to preach and conduct Sunday services there.
Within two years, Gonin had attracted a small black Christian congregation, of mainly "inboekelinge" from the surrounding farms and settlements. The term inboekelinge referred to black Africans who had been captured and apprenticed to Boer masters. Some of these inboekelinge resided on the mission station and many of them were already literate in Dutch, Sesetho or Setswana, having been taught to read the bible by their Boer masters. Those early Christian adherents of Gonin who lived on Welgeval enjoyed some security of tenure and were not required to pay rent.
Members of the Welgeval community undertook much of the work of spreading the gospel and Western education in the Pilanesberg. These teacher-evangelists worked with Gonin in Saulspoort, while the majority manned the many outer stations dotted all over the Pilanesberg.
Several generations of Oorlam Africans (those acculturated Africans who spoke Dutch and later Afrikaans) grew up on the farm. However, Kgosi Kgamanyane himself never accepted conversion to Christianity all his life, because a kgosi was a key figure in many indigenous rituals, such as rainmaking, which were unacceptable to Christianity. Gonin died and was buried in Saulspoort in 1911, having served there continuously for 46 years.
Kgosi Linchwe, the first son of Kgosi Kgamanyane, ruled the Bakgatla-ba-Kgafela both in the Pilanesberg, South Africa, and Mochudi, Botswana from 1876 until his death in 1924. During the late 1880s, Kgosi Linchwe began attending baptism classes and was baptised into membership of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1892. Consequently, he publicly announced that he would divorce two of his three wives, prohibit traditional customs and decided "to follow the precepts of the Christian faith and to rule as a Christian kgosi for the rest of his life."
In practice, however, his people still continued to carry on their traditional customs and while he himself would not allow his heir, Kgafela, to attend the boys' initiation ceremony in 1902, he stipulated that Christian parents could decide for themselves whether or not to allow their sons to attend. The impact of Linchwe's decision to become a Christian had an immediate impact as scores of the Bakgatla followed his example and the church grew spectacularly.
As a practising member of the DRC, Linchwe gave considerable moral and material support towards the spread of the gospel as well as education in the Pilanesberg. At the turn of the century, Linchwe, for example, personally paid the teacher-evangelist, T Phiri's annual salary of œ45. When Phiri's house was burnt down with the rest of the border village of Malolwane by the Boers, during the Bakgatla-Boer war (1899-1903), Linchwe made a donation towards its rebuilding.the traditional customs of bakgatla ba kgafela was revived by the son of kgosi linchwe after linchwe's death his son linchwe two took over and revive their traditional customs in 1975 he revived circumsion when kgosikgolo put out the call (morero wa bojale and bogwera ) about 3000 men responded and 1200 women responded, kgosi nyalala pilane was also initiated together with a large number of Bakgatla ba kgafela from moruleng.
the renewal of this practice has brought great pride to the bakgatla ba kgafela. in his speech at the graduation ceremony. kgosikgolo kgafela said , in life you need dignity and love if these two are there nothing else matters. in 2009 after 20 years of no initiation kgosikgolo kgafela reinstituted it in mochudi as a way of encouraging people to partricipate actively in community building.
In the 1970's the farm Welgeval was appropriated by the then Bophuthatswana government to make way for the creation of the Pilanesberg Game Reserve. visit mphebatho Cultural Museum in Moruleng North west to learn more about the history and rhe pride of bakgatla ba kgafela (ba bina kgabo)
(Sources: Historical Encyclopaedia of South Africa's Northwest Province, its People, Places and Events and The Mphebatho Cultural Museum).