Again memory conjures up my mind the return journey over the familiar paths. It is a long trip back but a welcoming light is burning in the dusk-wrapped home. Alas, there is not that spontaneous joy in my heart that you would have expected. When you come into your own warm home again after a long day riding through the mountains and leading services, a contented glow should descend upon you. And when your wife holds out your first child so that you may kiss her, and the dog wags his tail in happy greeting, while the little African boy leads your tired horse off, you should surely thank God that He bestows so much blessing upon you. But if, in the depths of your heart you are not yet at peace with Him, you will even at such a time be short tempered and will make extreme fatigue your excuse.
After a quick wash in a basin of hot water brought from the kitchen, we sit down to supper. Scarcely have I cut into a slice of egg and bacon pie when a discreet cough sounds on the verandah. This is the customary sign of a visitor announcing his arrival, among the Zulus. My wife, in her loving concern for her exhausted husband, strives not to give way to impatience.
‘I expect that is Zefanja Buthelezi – he never gives you any rest. Tell him to wait till tomorrow. There is surely no hurry.’
But no, with a deep sigh I push back my chair and go outside to receive the evangelist. He lifts his hand in greeting saying:
‘Yes, what is it?’
‘No, it is nothing.’
‘All right, come in and tell me.’
I invite the faithful old man into my study where he sits down on the polished floor.
‘No, it is only a very little matter,’ he explains. ‘Henoch Mbata has recently returned from the gold fields. Sara is now expecting. I suppose the Mfundisi knows that they are engaged?’
‘Yes, I know’ – and then I ask in typical way of a white man, seeking to shorten the conversation, ‘when will the church meet to discuss the matter?’
In the bedroom next door I can hear mother and child preparing for the night. Why is it that the men always bring home trouble from the gold fields? We unfortunate missionaries have then to preside over endless church council meetings, although secretly they are welcome. They are exciting anyway. When the heart is empty, excitement becomes a necessity of life.
‘The assembly of men meets tomorrow when the sun has turned,’ answers Buthelezi, then he continues:
‘Henoch is angry that I am reporting the matter to Mfundisi.’
‘All right, he will have to humble himself or his family will have to leave the Mission Station.’
Buthelezi makes no reply. He knows that the families do not like to move away and what effect this threat of the missionary will have.
The next day all the men of the council gather together. They are reclining on the big stones under the saligna trees and waiting for me. Eventually I leave my study and walk over to the gathering. Sitting down on one of the boulders I keep silent. Henoch is sitting somewhat peevishly a little bit further away, dressed in a modern suit, his hat perched cockily over one ear. The council duly beings. Everything down to the minutest detail is being discussed. I sit quietly, listening, and watching the lengthening shadows in the gorge on the opposite side. My business is to listen in silence until, right at the end, one of them will ask me to give my verdict.
It is obvious that Henoch has been warned to keep quiet. This, reinforced by the threat of severe punishment from Mfundisi, has the desired effect of quelling him. Accordingly, he promises to marry Sara as soon as possible and to submit to church discipline that he will hand over the cattle which are to be given to the bride’s clan so that the wedding might be arranged at an early date. He agrees that he will have to pay eleven head of cattle for her, and not being able to pay the full price straight away, he asks leave to bring six, the remaining animals to be paid later on when the first daughter of Henoch is to be married.
This arrangement having, at length, been reached, it is felt that the matter is most satisfactorily settled. All that is left is for me to pass sentence. Accordingly, I pronounce as follows:
‘Henoch and Sara are to be put under ban. Only after their marriage are they to be freed again. They are not to partake of Holy Communion, nor to stand sponsor to a child. They are to be denied the privilege of sitting with the congregation on the benches or shaking hands with anyone. Moreover they are not permitted to have a marriage feast, veil, wreath or flowers, and are allowed to invite only married people to the reception. They themselves will not be free to accept any invitation to a wedding in the meantime.’ The men rise, greeting each other, and walk into the evening back to their kraals where the fire is already burning under the iron cauldrons. They are satisfied. Discipline in the church has not yet ceased.