Manche Masemola, a young Pedi woman, passed her short life in Sekhukhuneland, an area to the northeast of modern Johannesburg. The Pedi people were confined to reserved lands that were barren, and they worked hard to eke out a living there. For some decades German and then English missionaries had settled among them, and by the early twentieth century a tiny Christian community had been formed, which was widely viewed with anxiety and suspicion by those among the Pedi who adhered to the faith and customs of their forebears.
Manche Masemola was born in about 1913, in Marishane. She grew up with her parents, two older brothers, a younger sister, Mabule, and a cousin, Lucia. She did not go to school but worked with her family on the land and at home.
In 1919 Fr Augustine Moeka established a mission at Marishane, where the local chief was content to see missionaries of all churches live and work. It was with her cousin Lucia that Manche Masemola first heard Moeka preach. She wished to hear more and began to attend classes twice a week.
Manche Masemola’s parents sought to discourage her, fearful that she would leave them, or refuse to marry. When she defied their prohibitions they beat her. On a number of occasions Manche remarked to Lucia and Moeka that she would die at their hands. Then, on or near 4th February 1928, her mother and father took her away to a lonely place and killed her. She was buried next to a granite rock on a remote hillside. A few days later her younger sister, Mabule, became ill and then died at the nearby mission hospital . She was buried beside Manche. In remembrance, their father planted euphorbia trees to mark their graves.
In 1935 a little group of Christians made a pilgrimage to the grave. Another followed in 1941; a third in 1949. In 1969 Manche’s mother was baptized into the church. In 1975 the name of Manche Masemola was added to the calendar of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. Now, hundreds visit the pilgrimage site every August.
Modern Martyrs of the 20th century
Manche Masemola is one of the ten Modern Martyrs of the 20th century. The Martyrs were unveiled in 1998 above the west door of the Abbey.