From con­gre­ga­tion­al­ism to pen­te­costal­ism: Rev Geoffrey Mk­wanazi’s ded­i­cated ser­vice to the Assem­blies of God Church

Sunday News (Zimbabwe) - - Culture/arts/education -

Cul­tural Her­itage

Pathisa Ny­athi

ARISE! Go and preach the Gospel to the world. These thun­der­ing and heart rend­ing words by the en­er­getic preacher filled the mas­sive hall within the Trade Fair grounds in Bu­l­awayo. In front of the man de­liv­er­ing the Word of God is a mas­sive wooden cof­fin in which lies the life­less body of Rev­erend Geoffrey Bizeni Mk­wanazi the Spir­i­tual Leader of the Assem­blies of God Church in Zim­babwe.

The 19th of Au­gust was a bit­terly cold day. De­spite the chilly weather, hun­dreds upon hun­dreds of mourn­ers braved the nippy con­di­tions to pay their last re­spects to the spir­i­tual icon that loomed large over the Zim­bab­wean re­li­gious land­scape. A pi­o­neer in the es­tab­lish­ment and nur­tur­ing of Pen­te­costal­ism in Rhode­sia (now Zim­babwe), Rev­erend Mk­wanazi who passed on on 19 Au­gust 2017 had groomed and nur­tured sev­eral young Pen­te­costals who to­day are lead­ers of nu­mer­ous Pen­te­costal churches in Zim­babwe. Ini­tially, he had em­braced con­gre­ga­tion­al­ism as es­poused by the Lon­don Mis­sion­ary So­ci­ety (LMS) to which his par­ents be­longed.

Rev­erend Mk­wanazi did leave be­hind a vis­i­ble track record of his life of ser­vice to fel­low men. All that was courtesy of Mrs Eu­nice Dlamini (neeNko­mazana) who com­mis­sioned this writer to pen the Man of God’s bi­og­ra­phy. That ex­er­cise was duly un­der­taken and the book, ti­tled “Ded­i­cated Ser­vice: The Story of Geoffrey Bizeni Mk­wanazi of the Assem­blies of God Church’’, was put to­gether and pub­lished by Amagugu Pub­lish­ers in 2013. He and his wife Eleanor were to al­lo­cate nu­mer­ous hours of in­ter­views which, in con­junc­tion with lit­er­a­ture re­view, archival re­search and fur­ther in­ter­views of those who knew him, re­sulted in the writ­ing of the said bi­og­ra­phy.

Rev­erend Mk­wanazi was born on 30 Au­gust 1929 in a fam­ily of eight chil­dren. His fa­ther was Bizeni, okaMo­geli who lived at the vil­lage of In­tunta whose chief was Mhaba­haba Mkhwananzi. In­tunta was part of Am­nyama which lo­cated where present Bushtick is sit­u­ated west of Fal­con Col­lege is. Mo­geli’s (he be­longed to Im­bizo) fa­ther was Nku­cu­lana whose daugh­ter Zi­fosi got mar­ried to Mdilizelwa Fuyane the chief of Isizinda Vil­lage who had suc­ceeded his fa­ther Chief Maphisa. Mk­wanazi’s mother was Selina Hla­ban­gana whose mother was one MaXaba from Intshamathe where Xaba was chief.

Esigo­dini where In­tunta was lo­cated fell un­der the LMS which, from Hope Foun­tain Mis­sion, spread its wings to sev­eral ar­eas such as Tji­mali, Cen­te­nary, Mat­shet­sheni, and Za­many­oni in­ter alia. Rev­erend Sit­shenkwa Hla­ban­gana was LMS min­is­ter in the area. It was not long be­fore the peo­ple of Esigo­dini area were evicted. The Land Ap­por­tion­ment Act of 1930 took ef­fect fol­low­ing rec­om­men­da­tions of the Carter Com­mis­sion of 1925. Peo­ple from En­tun­teni went to Mberengwa un­der Al­son Ngungum­bane Mkhwananzi while an­other group un­der Matha­lazana Mkhwananzi went to Nkayi. Mk­wanazi found him­self and his par­ents mov­ing across the In­siza River to a place called Tshunkun­yane. Rev­erend Hla­ban­gana, fa­ther of the Rhode­sia’s first black uni­ver­sity graduates Ten­nyson and Cephas con­tin­ued to min­is­ter to the peo­ple who had con­tin­ued to hold on to (SDA), the Brethren-In- Christ Church (BICC) and the LMS.

At the age of ten, in 1939 Mk­wanazi at­tended Tshunkun­yane Pri­mary School where he did Sub­Stan­dard A. Bholi Mashen­gele taught at the school. He pro­ceeded to the SDA school at Sim­bithi where he did Sub-Stan­dard B. From Sim­bithi where he stayed with Elkana Ndlovu he went to at­tend Sha­banie Mine School which sub­sided (sunk into the ground) prompt­ing him to move to the sec­ond old­est LMS mis­sion, Hope Foun­tain in 1942 where Rev­erend Mn­tompe Khu­malo, okaJo­jwana, and Rev­erend Neville Jones also known as Mh­lakazanhlansi taught. The lat­ter did a lot of ar­chae­o­log­i­cal re­search in the Ma­tobo Hills. Mk­wanazi at­tended four schools in four years — a true rolling stone.

From Hope Foun­tain he at­tended Tsholot­sho Govern­ment In­dus­trial School for boys. The school, ini­tially lo­cated in Tsholot­sho, was re­lo­cated to Mz­ing­wane in 1945 fol­low­ing the malaria men­ace in the poorly drained Tsholot­sho land­scape. The Prin­ci­pal, John Ham­mond, took a group of stu­dents to the new site and Mk­wanazi was one of them. The school was the cra­dle for na­tion­al­ism and it was here that Mk­wanazi met the likes of Ed­ward Silonda Ndlovu, Stephen Jeqe Nkomo and Boy­sen Mguni among sev­eral oth­ers. At the school, Mk­wanazi did Build­ing Stud­ies, Car­pen­try and Leather­craft.

From Mz­ing­wane he pro­ceeded to Tiger Kloof, an LMS in­sti­tu­tion near Vry­burg in South Africa. There he met stu­dents such as Quett Masire, later Pres­i­dent of Botswana, Kings­ley Dube, Mt­shena Sidlile, Solomon Nki­wane and Si­las Dabengwa. Un­able to pro­ceed with his aca­demic ed­u­ca­tion, Mk­wanazi re­turned home and was em­ployed by the Sal­va­tion Army. He taught at their school called Mkhuneni west of White­wa­ter. He was there for just one year and af­ter that got em­ploy­ment with the Rhode­sia Rail­ways where he served for just one year.

Tshunkun­yane and other ar­eas were be­ing ap­pro­pri­ated and some vil­lagers fol­lowed their kins­men to Nkayi. Bizeni and his wife how­ever, chose to rent a house in Bu­l­awayo. Bizeni, a qual­i­fied car­pen­ter and builder, took part in the build­ing of Lu­veve’s Beit Hall. Now stay­ing with his par­ents in Lu­veve, at a house along Mashona Road, the ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment be­gan to get the bet­ter of the young and im­pres­sion­able Mk­wanazi. He be­gan fre­quent­ing beer out­lets, par­tic­u­larly the Big Bar in Makokoba. He was then, by all ac­counts, a so­cialite of note. In 1952 he moved to the Cold Stor­age Com­mis­sion where he was se­nior clerk. The com­pany trans­ferred him to Fort Vic­to­ria (now Masvingo). It was a move that pro­vided him with a launch pad to South Africa and also to aban­don the LMS and em­brace a new Chris­tian faith: Pen­te­costal­ism which flour­ished in the so­cially and po­lit­i­cally alien­at­ing South African apartheid en­vi­ron­ment.

To get to South Africa, Mk­wanazi re­sorted to foul means. He went un­der a faked iden­tity, that of a teacher at the Dutch Re­formed Church’s (DRC) Mor­gen­ster Mis­sion. As Misheck Ntabeni, he went to Pre­to­ria and at­tended Kil­ner­ton out­side South Africa’s ad­min­is­tra­tive cap­i­tal. It was the move to Alexan­dra Town­ship that brought him in touch with squalid and hellish so­cial con­di­tions. These were alien­at­ing and de­hu­man­is­ing and pro­vided the con­di­tions that led to the growth and de­vel­op­ment of Pen­te­costal­ism as it promised a new mean­ing to life. Africans had been up­rooted from their ru­ral homes to serve as labour­ers in the Golden City. Mk­wanazi got em­ploy­ment in the road de­part­ment. At the time, his iden­tity doc­u­ments had been stamped by the Im­mi­gra­tion De­part­ment and he was or­dered back to Rhode­sia.

Evad­ing de­por­ta­tion, he got em­ploy­ment in an in­sur­ance com­pany owned by Harry Op­pen­heimer of An­glo-Amer­i­can Cor­po­ra­tion. He se­cured yet an­other job, this time with the South African Rail­ways. The rolling stone roled on again. This time he was work­ing for a Jewish whole­sal­ing firm. For a while he watched pil­fer­ing go­ing on around him. It was not long be­fore he re­alised that, “If you can’t beat them, join them.” It was that anti-so­cial be­hav­iour that saw him in­car­cer­ated in Num­ber 4 Re­mand Pri­son where he met the Lord and turned over a new leaf — ul­ti­mately lead­ing him to em­brace Pen­te­costal­ism for which he would hence­forth ded­i­cate the rest of his life.

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