Missionaries introduced formal education, Christianity

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By Onésime A Ngundu

The history of Christianity and formal education in Zimbabwe dates back to Christian missionary work. The late David Livingstone, a member of the London Missionary Society, traveled extensively in Zimbabwe, Malawi and Tanzania between 1851 and 1872. He was not only an explorer, but also a committed Christian and pioneer of tropical medicine.

On Christmas Day 1859, John Moffatt, William Sykes and Morgan Thomas of the London Missionary Society arrived at the royal household of King Mzilikazi, who and his people had traveled the northern Marico District of the Transvaal and settled in the area now known as Matabeleland circa 1837. Mzilikazi allocated land to the three missionaries on which they established Inyathi, the first Christian mission station in Zimbabwe.

The early Christian missionaries were pioneers who, with their desire to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ abroad, for the first time brought remote and isolated areas of Zimbabwe into contact with Christianity and school education. A Zulu proverb tells the story of the introduction of Christianity and African education to Zimbabwe: “No sun sets without its stories.

Formal education

Anglican Church missionaries, Cambridge University graduate Hay Upcher, and his assistant NC Panilod established the first African primary school in Harare in 1894. Along with other pioneer missionaries, they established schools for them. Africans across the country.

In addition to opening African schools in rural areas of Masvingo, missionaries from the Dutch Reformed Church were the first to introduce schools for the disabled – a school for the blind at the Chibi mission station and the first school for the disabled. deaf and dumb at Morgester Mission Station, outside Masvingo Town.

When the parents of a blind boy approached Reverend Hugo from the DRC mission for help; he asked his wife, Margaretha, if she could take care of the boy.

His response was, “I’ll try. And that became the motto of the school for the blind which was established in 1915 and registered as a school in 1927. Due to accessibility issues, in 1938 the school was moved to its premises. current next to Zimuto high school.

It became known as the Margaretha Hugo Copota School for the Blind. Today, this unique institution has a staff of 35 primary school teachers and 14 secondary school teachers. They all use braille to read and write.

When pioneer Christian missionaries from overseas first arrived in Zimbabwe, they lived among the people and ate with the locals while learning the local languages. Subsequently, the missionaries reduced the spoken languages ​​to written forms. Thus, before the arrival of Christian missionaries, Africans did not have written languages. All the Christian missionaries who brought Christianity and education to Zimbabwe have succumbed to either malaria or other tropical diseases; and they were all buried in Zimbabwe. The Portuguese Roman Catholic Jesuit, Father DeSilviera, preached the Christian message in Mashonaland in 1560. He ordained one of Munhumutapa’s parents as the first African clergyman in Zimbabwe, before being assassinated in March 1561. His body was destroyed. been thrown into the Mzengezi river.

Some Christian missionaries who traveled by boat to the west coast of Africa often packed their meager possessions in coffins knowing they would not survive the harsh heather environment of tropical Africa. And West Africa has become the “grave of the white man”. As Christian missionaries bid farewell to their families and home churches, they knew they would die on the mission field. They were compelled by the love of God to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to Zimbabwe and other parts of the world. Jesus Christ said of these Christians: “There is no greater love than this, that anyone should lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

Primary education

In 1897, civil authorities passed the first education ordinance to fund all mission schools, most of which were located in rural areas where various missionary organizations had been given places to plant churches and open schools. The curriculum for the African primary school (lower level A to level 3 and for arts and crafts in levels 4 to 6) was based on the model of European schools in the country and in the UK, with the ‘addition of the study of the vernacular. Textbooks in arithmetic, history and geography have been specially prepared to meet the needs of appropriate plans and programs.

African teachers have been trained to take responsibility for teaching. All schools were subject to the same regulations in order to ensure uniformity of procedure.

Secondary education

The government introduced secondary education for those who successfully completed eight years of primary education.

Access to schools was limited to authentic students. And students would take a two-year course, leading to the Southern Rhodesia Junior Certificate exam. The government established the first industrial training center in Domboshawa in 1920 on some 900 acres of land just outside of Harare. The state has accepted financial responsibility for the construction of African primary and secondary schools in all major urban areas. Thus, the government has played a crucial role in African school education. At secondary level, students were prepared for the Cambridge Overseas School Certificate exam, and arrangements were made for selected students to continue their studies for two additional years to take the Cambridge Higher School Certificate exam with a view to their entry into university.

The first public secondary school was opened in Goromonzi in 1946. By 1951, seven missionary institutions had established secondary courses. And in 1961, there were four public high schools, four public high schools, and 26 mission high schools. The University of Zimbabwe was opened in 1952 as the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and was initially affiliated with the University of London.

Bible translation

Along with African education, Christian missionaries were the first translators of the Bible (from the original languages, Hebrew and Greek) into Shona; New Testament in 1907 and the whole Bible in 1949. For the first time, Africans could read the Word of God to themselves in their mother tongue. In Africa, Christian missionaries have translated the Bible or parts of it into over 1,000 African languages; and in the world in 3,415 languages ​​among the 7,000 modern languages ​​of the world. Certainly, the claim that the translation of the Bible is one of the greatest Christian missionary achievements in the history of communication is valid.

Additionally, it was Christian missionaries who built mission hospitals and clinics for the well-being of Africans, especially in rural areas. In fact, whatever one might think of Christian missionaries, it was they who brought Christianity and African education to Zimbabwe.

  • Onesimus A Ngundu is an academic and former principal of Harare Theological College.



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