Spiritual clash over land resolved

The historic Anglican St Augustine Mission near Ladybrand – also known as Modderpoort Mission – sacred for Anglicans and African Independent Church pilgrims, is an example of how land and its emotive value can lead to direct conflict. Mike Burgess visits the mission to uncover how history brought the Anglicans and African Independent church pilgrims to a head and how this has been resolved.

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A few kilometres north of Ladybrand, the almost 140-year-old Modderpoort Mission station is nestled below a typical Free State outcrop of sandstone ridges and koppies. Alongside its sandstone Gothic chapel, a whitewashed tombstone of revered Basotho war prophetess Anna Makhetha Mantsopa can be found.

She is today adored by many as a saint and early leader of the African Independent Church movement founded in the late 1800s. Her eternal presence on the mission estate has resulted in a spiritual clash over some of its sites. In many ways such a scenario is unique. Yet it remains similar to a core South African issue? often fuelled by emotion and history – land.
Mantsopa and the Battle of Viervoet Before the mission was established in the late 1860s, this part of the eastern Free State was beset with war. In fact, it is because of the battle of Viervoet in 1851 that Mantsopa emerged for the first time in historical narrative. It is said she had predicted the battle’s outcome to King Moshoeshoe of the Basotho. ”battle of hail”, as she called it, took place on 13 June 1851.

British soldiers, white farmers, Kora and a large group of Baralong auxiliaries under the command of Major Warden marched into sight of Viervoet, resolute to resolve border disputes between the British and Basotho that could not be settled diplomatically. At dawn, the mountain was stormed, but by midday Basotho warriors approached the area in search of Warden’s army. Confident of Mantsopa’s prophecy they attacked, immediately routing the force and butchering over 100 Baralong trapped on the precipices of Viervoet, a detail that Mantsopa had predicted. With a total victory over Pax Britannica, became a national Basothosymbol of resistance and a propagandist for future wars.

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The following December, the British under Sir George Cathcart were again defeated by the Basotho before abandoning the Orange River sovereignty to the Boers. Wars against strong Commandos went badly for the Basotho though and Mantsopa’s reputation took a serious knock. As if trying to recapture the days of her fame, she returned in the 1870s to the site of her greatest prophecy, Viervoet Mountain. By this time she was a Christian, baptised by the French Protestants at Mabolela where an Anglican mission had been established. She died in the early 1900s at around the age of 111.

The Anglicans and Modderpoort I n the 1860s, the Anglicans acquired the tract of land still farmed today for the church under the supervision of reverend Willem Vermeulen, but delayed settling on it because of the raging final Free State/Basotho war. When the mission was officially founded between 1868 and 1869, the devastated land and buildings were rebuilt by the founding fathers Canon Frederick Beckett, James Douglas, Arthur Byrd, Bernard Garret, Henry Sanderson and James Carmichael. According to Tom Stanage, former reverend at Modderpoort, ”They were great men who under trying circumstances offered their lives to the service of God and the communities around them.”

Today they rest in the shady chapel cemetery forgotten by many but not the Anglican Church. Beckett wrote about their arrival. ”After unloading a wagon, we turned our attention to the ordering of a cave, in which we have made our temporary home’’. he brothers lived and worshipped in the damp cave, damaging their health before repairing the nearby gutted Boer homestead. They then began building the Chapel – the centre of a spiritual and educational institution that did much to educate African communities countrywide.

The cave, home to the yearly St Augustine celebrations, has since been a symbol to Anglicans of the adversity these men had to endure. The clash M antsopa became popular amongst African Independent Church Christians for resisting colonialism and her perceived acceptance of Christianity within an African context. his connection made Modderpoort a site of mass pilgrimage.

The cave or Rose Chapel, with its prison-like doors and windows, has symbolised this ongoing doctrinal clash between Anglican and African pilgrims at Modderpoort Mission. Her baptism within the context of Orthodox Christianity is probably the most ironic act of her life after having fought western influence so bitterly in her earlier years. Stanage believes Mantsopa had accepted western orthodox Christianity. ”She would not have been baptised by the French or buried in the traditional Anglican rite if the fathers had not been sure of her credibility at the time of her death in 1906,” he explains.

According to reverend Modlatse Mamane from the Third Mission Apostolic Church in Ladybrand, however, her baptism is seen as her acceptance of Christianity within an African context. ”She continued to perform miracles and venerate her ancestors while living in the cave, and will always be accepted as an important link to the collective wisdom of the ancestors.” Mantsopa’s cave, grave and a spring at the base of Viervoet, where she spent most her time, are still inundated with offerings left by pilgrims. These include slaughtered stock, crockery, food, money, lotto cards, and written appeals left in hope of a blessing. Clay is often collected, believing it will bring good fortune.

Until recently, tension between the Anglicans at Modderpoort and African pilgrims often arriving unannounced on the isolated premises, had reached breaking point. Compromise But amazingly Modderpoort’s confrontations ended in cooperation between involved parties. ”Visits are becoming more controlled and respectful,” says Vermeulen. ”We have all realised that compromise is necessary.” The Anglican Church has learned to benefit from Mantsopa’s enduring influence at Modderpoort Mission. They market her unique contributions to Modderpoort’s history by bottling water from ”her” fountain under her name. Their most faithful market is, not surprisingly, pilgrims that believe in the spiritual cleansing properties of the water.

The Anglican Church has also transformed the old institution into a lodge, conference and wedding venue to generate an alternative income to farming. ”Sometimes it has been frustrating to adhere to architectural stipulations by the heritage council,” explains Meyrick Kretschmer, sub-warden at St Augustine’s Priory. ”We are happy with the end result, offering luxury accommodation without compromising the historic credibility of the buildings.”