St Wendolin’s: 1914-1945


1 History of St Wendolin’s: 1914-1945

1.1 First World War 1914-1918
1.2 Spanish Influenza Epidemic 1918-1919
1.3 Cultural Conflict
1.4 Peoples Bank and Agricultural Show
1.5 Land Act 1913 and Freehold Titles
1.6 Storm of October, 1939
1.7 Education 1928-1961
1.8 Priests at St. Wendolin’s Church
1.9 Second World War 1939-1945
1.10 References

History of St Wendolin’s: 1914-1945

Compiled by Hazel England 27-03-1993. Pinetown Museum, Updated 1996

First World War 1914-1918
Events in Europe overshadowed the building and pastoral work at St. Wendelin’s. The war between England and Germany broke out in 1914, and threatened the existence of the German Mission in pro English Natal. Cut off from the Motherhouse and financial donations from Europe, the German missionaries were confined to Mariannhill. A neutral passenger ship, the “Lusitania” was sunk by a German submarine in May, 1917 with over a 1,000 people drowned. Angry Pinetonians sought revenge. They mobbed Mariannhill intent on burning it down. A fortuitous rain storm prevented damage, but the missionaries realised that their lands could be easily confiscated, as had happened to other German nationals in Natal. Any change of ownership would dramatically alter the rental and status of Black tenants and land owners. The Vatican in Rome intervened and all Mariannhill Land was declared “International Ecclesiastical land” in 1916. All the land purchased had been with money sent by benefactors, and the Church had no claim to the lands but the Pope proclaimed it “church land” to safeguard ownership. Mariannhill Mission and privately owned Pinetown villages had been preserved for Christianisation (23).

Spanish Influenza Epidemic 1918-1919
Peace in Europe in 1918 should have brought an end to fear and death, but the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 replaced the ravages of war. In 1914 a Convention at Mariannhill had concentrated on the conflict between traditional Black medicine, witchcraft and Christianity. Healing of the sick in Mission hospitals complemented Christian teaching and counteracted superstition about the origins and treatment of disease. Mariannhillers were diverted from existing work, and three small hospital buildings were completed before the epidemic reached the Umhlathuzana basin.

Fr. Schimlek described the effects of the epidemic among the Africans. “The people died by their hundreds of thousands; they died on their fields and in the bush along the roadside. Entire families were overcome by the epidemic; they had no food reserves in their huts; they had no fuel; there was no one to fetch water from the river; there was nobody to cook or to attend to the sick. The people were stunned and terror stricken.”

Many Mariannhill villagers went to traditional healers who performed “ukulahlwa kwezingane” – the burial of the children in riversand to the neck. After the ceremony the children were removed from the sand, but often both the patients and the healers died. Hospital staff worked under difficult circumstances managing to comfort the dying and often saving lives (24).
No records of the exact number of deaths at the Mariannhill villages could be found. Mr Herbert Luthuli researched the area in 1993 and interviewed Mrs Anna Hlongwane, the oldest resident at St Wendelin’s. She recalled that “in certain kraals all the inmates were found dead, leaving only the animals.” In 1919 Father Bernard Huss asked the African students at St Francis College to work as volunteers among the sick. It is possible that students from St Wendelin’s were included in this unnamed band of helpers (25).

Cultural Conflict
Natural disasters, personal misfortune and family crises awakened the inner conflict between traditional and Christian values and solutions. “Christianity and Education which always went together have, no doubt, been the most conspicious factors of change (in Zulu society)” (26). The traditional and Christian solutions to the Spanish influenza epidemic, were supplemented by those Africans and settlers who went to Charlton’s Chemist in Railway Street for medication without any religious or cultural connotations. Mr Dennis Charlton, son the original chemist recalled how people often died in the street and at the Pinetown station before they could get assistance (27).

These cultural differences continued throughout St Wendelin’s history. Zulu Christians were known as Amakholwa, and embraced the new values and way of life. The Amagxagxa are traditionalists in outlook and rejected Christian values and lifestyle.
Mariannhill of the 1920s faced changes which demanded new attitudes and policies.Forty years of missionary work increased the number of Mission stations and brought the Mariannhillers into contact with problems faced by post war South Africa.
African education, housing, health, land ownership and industrialization were the most challenging aspects. Father Bernard Huss was given the post of head of St. Francis’ College in 1915. He wrote books on economics, psychology, improved farming and religious ethics. “Better fields, better homes and better hearts,” was his motto for an improved African society (28).

Peoples Bank and Agricultural Show
Contour ploughing, better seeds, fertilization, crop rotation, tree planting to serve as windbreaks and superior cattle breeds were the main agricultural improvements aimed at the revitalisation of the soil to increase production. Community involvement and financial backing were encompassed in the Co-operative Credit and Farming Societies formed by Dr Huss. The People’s Bank of Mariannhill was started in 1927, with 4 Pounds. Development capital rapidly increased as a result of farmers thrift and profits. Farmers were encouraged through competition at the Annual Mariannhill Agricultural Show, to improve the quality of their produce. Started in 1924 and held annually except for 1938 when rain prevented outdoor activities, the show was a central feature of the Pinetown magisterial district until the mid 1960s. The Agricultural exhibits included maize, amabele, amadumbe, sweet potatoes and rice. Livestock was exhibited on the final day, after the girls and ladies needlework, knitting and beadwork competitions. St. Wendelin villagers were always present (29).

Land Act 1913 and Freehold Titles
Prosperity in the agricultural sector brought renewed hope for the registration of land owners’ properties. When the Missionaries approached the authorities to finalise freehold titles, they were dismayed to find that the Land Act of 1913 precluded Africans from owning land outside the Native Reserves (Tribal Trust Lands), and Mariannhill was not a Native Reserve. Undeterred by the legal restriction, land was sold for 10 pounds per stand by the Mission. Between 1930 and 1960 approximately 80 freehold titles were sold to permanent residents. This led to some unpleasant incidents in 1937.
Christians approached the Mission for land, and once the transactions had been completed the so called Christians separated themselves from the Church. Fellow African villagers felt that the ex-Christians had violated the requirements laid down by Abbot Francis Pfanner, and that retribution would follow (30).

Storm of October, 1939
A violent hail storm devastated St. Wendelin’s on the 24th October 1939, killing 22 people. Residents described the storm in Biblical terms; “the day became as a night”, and it was believed that God was punishing the unfaithful for turning against Him. Most of the houses were destroyed and the Mission provided food, blankets and clothing to the destitute villagers. A stone cross was erected near the Church to commemorate the tragic loss of life (31).

Education 1928-1961
Teachers from the Christian Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi helped at the village school from 1928-1961. Among the prominent teachers were Sr. Radebe, Sr. Bernadette, Mary Sibeko, Sr. Conradine and Mary Ngcobo. Both M.S. Mtshali and E.J. Gumede were responsible for upgrading the standard of education at the school, during their terms as principal. They were followed by Mr C.S. Ngongoma and the present principal Mr H Luthuli (32).

Priests at St. Wendolin’s Church
Regular visits were made by priests from Mariannhill to conduct the services at St Wendelin’s Church, and render pastoral assistance within the community. Father Ambrose, Father Cyprian, Father Bruno, Father Roman, Father Beda, Father Vitalis Fux, Father Jacob and Father Paulinus were remembered for their contributions to St. Wendelin’s, during the 1982 Centenary Celebrations of Mariannhill Mission (33).

Father David Brian was the first resident Priest at the village. Miss Ellen, who later married Mr Clement Gcwacela, was Fr. David Brian’s assistant. The Gcwacela sons, Gerald and Herman are well known to St. Wendelin’s residents. Father William Kick edited the Zulu newspaper at Mariannhill, published as “Ndabazabantu” (Home Affairs) later renamed “UmAfrika”. During the early days of Mariannhill, the newspaper was printed in a building near the water mill, on the ridge above the 1st Sacred Heart Chapel, currently the site of the Streetwise Centre. During his years at the mission, Father Kick enlarged the church and built a new school opposite the old one. Children enrolled in the junior and senior primary school numbered approximately 2,000. “Ntshebe” (The Beard) was the Zulu name for Father Severine Starchl, who with the help of his African assistant Stephen Masango, followed Father William Kick (34).

St Mary’s Seminary Started in June 1930, to train African priests for the Mariannhill Mission Stations. Among the first graduates in 1939, was a St. Wendelin’s resident Solaneus Ndlovu. He was ordained on the 10th December 1939 and went to St. Wendelin’s to celebrate his first Mass. Tragically he was involved in a motor car accident near Klaarwater station after the service, and was killed (35).

Second World War 1939-1945
The Second World War slowed down the progress at all the Mariannhill stations, as most of the German and Austrian nationals were removed to detention camps. As a result of intervention with the authorities, many Missionaries returned to confinement at the Mariannhill Motherhouse near Pinetown. Restriction placed on the missionaries included no contact with Africans, and reporting once a week to the Pinetown magistrate. Faith and hard work saw them through these very difficult times (36).

23. Adelgiza, Sr. M.CPS. 100 Years Mariannhill Province. Pub. Mariannhill Press. 1983.24. Schimlek, Fr. F. C. M. M. Medicine versus witchcraft – Pub. Mariannhill Press 1950.25. Schimlek, Fr. F.C.M.M. Against the Stream-The life of Father Bernard Huss. CMM. Pub. Mariannhill Press. 1949.26. Vilakazi, Absolom. Zulu Transformations – a study of the dynamics of social change. Pub. University of Natal Press 196527. England, Hazel. Visit from the Charlton family to the Pinetown Museum. 28-12-199328. Gamble, Helen Mariannhill Pub. Mariannhill Mission Press 198229. Bantu show successful at Mariannhill. Highway Mail. 15-07-1960. Page 5.30. Donald, Sheila; A situation with no solution – South Africa’s hardline policy towards spontaneous settlement. BSc. Honours Thesis. Pub. University of Natal. 29.31. Adelgiza, Sr. M. CPS. 100 years Mariannhill Province. Pub. Mariannhill Press. 198332. Luthuli, Herbert; The First History of St. Wendelin’s Mission. 1982.33. Luthuli, Herbert; The First History of St. Wendelin’s Mission. 1982.34. Luthuli, Herbert; The First History of St. Wendelin’s Mission. 1982.35. Adelgiza, Sr M. CPS. 100 Years Mariannhill Province. Pub. Mariannhill Press. 1983. pg 7536. Adelgiza, Sr M. CPS. 100 Years Mariannhill Province. Pub. Mariannhill Mission Press 1983.
More on: St Wendolin’s: Prehistory | St Wendolin’s: 1882-1914 | St Wendolin’s: 1914-1945 | St Wendolin’s: 1945-1996

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