Old Tati revisited

It was an emotional experience for a Jesuit to be part of the Francixtown diocese celebration at Old Tati, the site of the first Jesuit mission of the 1879 venture to the lands bordering the Zambezi.

Anold Moyo and I were selected to respond to the invitation of Bishop Frank Nubuasah to be representatives of the descendants of the two Jesuits buried there.  The bishop wants to honour them as the first missionaries to arrive to preach the gospel, celebrate the Eucharist and open a small school.

The mission lasted just six years but this fragile start to evangelisation with the apparent casualness of the two deaths – Fr Charles Fuchs (40) died of malaria before he did anything and Fr Anthony de Wit (59) was jerked from a horse in a freak accident and broke his neck – did nothing to dampen the spirits of the hundreds who made the journey there on the 13th of October.

Parishioners from all over the diocese and visitors from neighbouring countries came together in the bush. We followed tracks wandering through the thickets of vicious thorns without a homestead in sight. An industrious retired army man has started a market garden in the vicinity and there is a primary school not far away but these were the only visible settlements in what looked like a desolate land.

Anold and I were asked to say some words to mark the Jesuit connection and Rob Burret, archaeologist, historian and one time teacher at St George’s College Harare, gave a brief explanation of the site emphasising we had pitched our tent unknowingly at the very site of the former Jesuit chapel. Later he took a few of us to see the place where the old Jesuit residence stood and I picked up a few shards of coloured glass and some rusted nails as evidence.

The Emeritus 91 year old Bishop of Gaborone, Boniface Setlalekgosi, was also there and spoke movingly, as nearly every speaker did, of the sacrifice of those early men who left home and security for a land they did not know and a people who were strangers.

I sensed a great desire, especially in Bishop Frank, to affirm the link with those early efforts.  They were fruitless to the human eye but they were the seed which dies. At the time the rulers of both the Tswana and the Ndebele were not interested in the gospel, at least as preached by Catholics,  and, in Botswana, they had to wait another forty or more years before the Society of the Passionists arrived. But none of this mattered in October 2018.  The key fact was the starting of a mission by men sent by Pope Leo who wanted the Tswana and the Kalanga to be included fully, as they had long been in preparation, among the people of God.

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