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The very strange case
of a Black missionary

Sedition? Or plain bloody-mindedness?

Keith Tankard
Knowledge4Africa.com
Updated: 14 October 2009
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Reverend Richard Moko was a Seventh Day Adventist preacher in the East Bank Location at East London. He was accused by the Location Superintendent of preaching sedition to the residents. A close examination of the case, however, indicates sinister motives on the part of the Superintendent himself.

Reverend Richard Moko was an evangelist of the Seventh Day Adventist Church who, during October 1903, began work amongst the Xhosa community at East London. He acquired a hut in what was known as the East Bank Location and took up residence there, to live amongst his congregation.

Although his evangelical work was not a spectacular success in that he acquired less than thirty converts, what makes him an interesting figure is the circumstance in which he was expelled from the township within six months of his arrival.

TROUBLE AND STRIFE

From almost the very moment that Moko set foot in the East Bank Location and began his pastoral work, he proved to be a controversial figure. Already in mid-October the Presbyterian Church petitioned Location Superintendent Charles Lloyd that the evangelist was preaching heresy.

It was claimed that he was making believers accept that Saturday was the Sabbath Day instead of Sunday which, the petitioners pointed out, was a Jewish custom.

He was also persuading the "younger sex [sic]" to stay away from work on Saturdays which, the petitioners claimed, was "causing discontent" amongst their families.

The Church body therefore requested that Moko be expelled from the township and Superintendent Lloyd immediately aligned himself with the petitioners.

Without even going through the motions of an investigation, the Location Superintendent recommended to the Town Council that Moko be given one week's notice in which to vacate the location.

Yet Lloyd was quite aware that such action would be illegal and even took the trouble to point out that there was no location regulation covering such action. Indeed, since the evangelist was a registered tenant in the East Bank Location, he was quite entitled to be there unless he contravened the law.

Despite that, however, Lloyd was in favour of his instant expulsion. The Town Fathers, on the other hand, decided to act with greater prudence because, they pointed out, such drastic action as expelling a person from the Location merely because he was exercising religious freedom could have established a serious precedent.

Lloyd was therefore instructed to serve notice upon Moko, calling upon him to "desist from causing discontent" amongst the township residents otherwise he would indeed be evicted in terms of Section 13 of Act 11 of 1895.

Moko, however, refused to abide by the Council's directive and was soon in further trouble -- but this time of a different nature.

At the end of February 1904, a location resident -- John Smith -- complained that the evangelist had shaken his fist in his face during a dispute over religion. Another resident -- Hans Matross -- reported that Moko was responsible for a verbal altercation outside his hut which was so serious, he said, that a large crowd had gathered, giving his house the appearance of a "riotous place".

He could no longer "possibly live in the location with such people," Smith said, and he would therefore have to leave "for the sake of [his] family's character".

The Town Council was convinced of the seriousness of the situation and sought legal advice from its attorneys. They suggested that Moko be given a week's notice to vacate the township on the grounds that he was causing discontent amongst the residents and that he had no permit to be there.

Despite a last minute appeal from Moko's superiors that the evangelist would be leaving of his own accord within two weeks, the Council refused to soften its stance to give the evangelist time to wrap up his mission work. Moko was duly expelled from the East Bank Location at the end of March 1904.

THE CASE AGAINST MOKO

The case against Reverend Moko was a flimsy one. Indeed, the legal basis for the expulsion was an instance of twisting the law to suit municipal purposes.

Section 13 of Act 11 of 1895 -- in terms of which Moko was first warned to "desist from causing discontent" -- did not in fact apply.

That section of the Act was headed "Procedure against persons unlawfully in location" and it was applicable only to "any person not being a resident within any such location, or being no longer entitled to reside within any location, or not having otherwise any right or authority to be in any such location".

Such a person could indeed be expelled but, as the Location Superintendent had already pointed out, the clause was not relevant because Moko was, to quote Lloyd, "already registered as a Lodger" in the East Bank Location. His residence was therefore perfectly legal and he could not be expelled in terms of the Act.

The attorneys, however, found a loophole which probably would not have held up in a Court of Law had Moko decided to contest the action. He could be expelled, the attorneys advised, on the grounds that he did not have a permit to reside in the locations.

It is clear, however, that the permit referred to must indeed have been issued when the evangelist first took up residence in the location or else the Superintendent Lloyd could have expelled him in October 1903 without even seeking advice from the Council.

The permit, however, was issued for only two months in the first instance. It was thereafter renewed "from time to time" provided that the Superintendent was satisfied that the holder was "following some legal calling", and that the holder had not committed any crime or misdemeanour or a breach of any municipal regulations.

It would seem, therefore, that the attorneys were recommending cancellation of Moko's permit for two alleged misdemeanours: that of shaking his fist at a resident, and of causing a riotous disturbance in the location. Yet a thorough examination of the facts suggests that the evidence was unsubstantiated.

THE REAL PROBLEM

John Smith's complaint against Moko was, in fact, largely on religious grounds. Moko, he reported, had appeared one Sunday evening and had attempted to convert Smith by advising him to cast aside his Church and ministers who were "leading [him] to destruction".

Moko had returned the following morning and, on being told that Smith had no desire to be converted, had allegedly used abusive language and had shaken his fist in Smith's face. There were no witnesses -- and Moko denied this charge.

Hans Matross's complaint was also essentially one of religious differences. He had been married for five years, he reported, and had always "got on well" with his wife until Moko came along and converted her. Since then, he reported, there had been no peace in his house, "there being continual wrangling and quarrelling".

On the day in question, Moko had appeared in the company of a White man and had requested permission to speak to Matross and his wife to "make peace". Matross had ordered them to leave his yard but the two evangelists had appeared to be reluctant to do so.

A crowd had then appeared which, Matross said, gave his house the appearance of a "riotous place". He had therefore lodged a complaint with Headman Minnie who in turn took it to the Location Superintendent.

Moko's testimony, on the other hand, paints a different picture.

He had gone to Matross's house, he said, in the company of another missionary called Mr Shone. The purpose of their visit was to attempt to bring about peace between Matross and his wife because Matross had called her out of Church the previous day and had assaulted her with his fists.

Mr Shone spoke to Matross for a few minutes but, when he saw that the man was recalcitrant, they decided to leave. They then found themselves surrounded by a hostile group which followed them up the street shouting abuse.

A person by the name of Percy Prince suddenly leapt forward, fisted Moko in the mouth and had to be restrained by the crowd. Later Moko attempted to lay a charge of assault against Prince but it was dismissed in the Magistrate's court for lack of evidence.

The evidence against Reverend Moko would appear to have been circumstantial and yet the Town Council took it seriously, acted upon it and expelled Moko from the Location.

PREACHING SEDITION

Probably the best explanation for the action appears in Headman Minnie's report.

Minnie had been Headman in the Location for fourteen years, he stated, and during that time had seen very little trouble there. In November 1903, however, he had been called upon to investigate several cases of quarrelling between husbands and wives, and between parents and children.

The problem, Headman Minnie said, was Reverend Moko's preaching his "Seventh Adventist [sic]" religion which called upon the people to refrain from working on a Saturday. He knew of at least nine people who no longer worked on Saturdays, regarding that day as the Sabbath Day.

"This I can plainly see," Minnie concluded, "is leading to people remaining from work on Saturday which will cause and is causing shortness of labour at East London."

Minnie made no mention of Moko's supposed threat to Smith nor of his causing a disturbance outside Matross's house despite the fact that the report was supposedly about those very incidents.

The disturbance which Moko was allegedly causing appeared therefore to relate solely to his preaching of Saturday as the Sabbath Day, the day of rest. Such preaching flew in the face of a directive issued by Superintendent Lloyd that no person could reside in the Locations unless he or she was employed for six days in the week, including Saturday.

The seriousness in which Moko's preaching was viewed can been seen from testimony which Superintendent Lloyd delivered before the Lagden Commission earlier that very year.

He believed, he said, that the locations existed purely to supply labour, and that wages to the Black people should be held at such levels as to force them to work. East Londoners, he said, tended to pay "extravagant wages" which enabled a man to work only a few days a week and "to lie idle at home" for the rest of the time.

Lloyd personally put a stop to that, he boasted, by never allowing a man to absent himself from work for more than one or two days a week without serving an eviction order on him. His "general view", he told the Commission, was that it was "not reasonable" for a Black man to rest every Saturday.

In Superintendent Lloyd's eyes, therefore, Reverend Moko was preaching sedition and the clergyman therefore had to go. Indeed, he was quite willing to expel the evangelist in October 1903 at the very first hint of the content of his preaching.

When the Smith and Matross cases were brought to his attention in February 1904, therefore, Lloyd was prepared to take them at face value. Despite the fact that there was no evidence to justify Smith's testimony, nor that Matross's claims were flimsy and untested, Lloyd was prepared to act upon them.

Reverend Richard Moko was duly expelled from the location. Injustice was seen to be done.

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