The AME Church and South Africa
Evangelicalism in South Africa simultaneously inspired and restricted Mangena Mokone. A Christian from the Pedi people, Mokone had a deep desire to preach and teach. He had begun evangelizing shortly after his conversion and baptism in Durban in 1872. He worked as an unpaid evangelist for British Methodist missionaries, earning money as a carpenter’s apprentice by day and taking classes at night from the local Wesleyan school. As an evangelist, he stirred up both blacks and whites, though not in the same way. In a manner common to African Methodists, Mokone led a service one night that was loud enough to disturb neighboring whites. Upon investigation, the neighbors discovered an entire congregation of blacks on its knees in tears. In a manner common to colonial Europeans, the whites contacted the supervising Methodist missionary and demanded that he replace the “boy” who had frightened the “poor niggers, lying on their guts.” Mokone was not replaced, but he continued to feel the sting of whites in South Africa who attempted to control and limit his ministry, even as the inner logic of evangelicalism propelled him outward.1
The Wesleyan missionaries accepted Mokone as a minister on trial in 1880, but they did not permit him to enroll in their training institute at Healdtown, as he deeply desired. Nevertheless, he persisted. Even without an advanced education, Mokone displayed an array of linguistic, cultural, and spiritual gifts. He spoke Sepedi, English, and Dutch, while picking up some Xhosa and German along the way. Appointed to work in the boomtown of Pretoria in 1882, Mokone effectively expanded the work of Methodism in the socially unstable and shifting regions of the Transvaal. He planted churches, opened several mission stations, taught classes, and helped the missionaries establish the first African teacher-training school in the Transvaal. He even constructed the fittings for the school buildings himself. Eventually, the British Methodists noticed his accomplishments and appointed him principal of the Kilnerton Institute in 1892.
Even then, the two white missionaries who taught at Kilnerton could not bring themselves to relinquish meaningful authority to Mokone. Unofficially appropriating several duties of the black principal for themselves, the missionaries carried out administrative tasks without consulting him. They unilaterally