- James Anta: missionary to Mashonaland, martyr, founder  -
History of James Anta, missionary 
James Anta was a Xhosa from the Eastern Cape South Africa, he was the son of a Chief, but under the influence of the Wesleyan Missionaries that were working in the area, he got converted and was baptized James, from there on he channeled all his efforts to spreading the word of God. Due to the fact that he learnt to read and write fluently in Zulu, which was common practice in those days, many people have mistakenly assumed he was Zulu. It is not clear when he was born.
In about October 1891 Cecil John Rhodes granted Reverend Owen Watkins three farms to build Wesleyan Methodist missions in Mashonaland, to assist with the running of these embryo missions, the Transvaal district made arrangements for some voluntary African catechists. Eight African catechists were sent up from South Africa, three were of Basotho origin (of Modumedi Moleli was one) and five of Xhosa origin (of whom James Anta was one). They all arrived on the last Sunday of May 1892 and were initially stationed at Epworth, Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe). 
James Anta was assigned to establish the mission at Hartleyton, he worked entirely alone, it must been a tough life for him, living in isolation amongst a people whose language and culture was foreign to him. True to his missionary calling, Anta forged along and endured the hardships of that came along with his divine calling. He permanently established himself in Zvimba’s kraal, where he built a rough pole and mud (daka) school/church. One of his students recalled “…he used small Xhosa/Fingo spelling books for teaching spelling. He taught counting one to ten and beyond in English. The children used slates. Anta read from the Zulu Bible, doing his best to translate into Shona. There were no games”.
Despite these apparent successes, there was growing resistance to the missionary work from White Settlers and the traditionalist in the Mashona society. The White Settlers saw the missionary work as interference; they just wanted the Mashona to work in their mines. While on the other hand, the traditionalist, especially the elders, saw the new doctrine of “equality for all under the eyes of God” as being a threat for their status under the society.
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James Anta was a martyr, but not by choice. The events that conspired to the death of Anta, left him with no route to escape. The year was 1894, during a patrol to enforce the payment of new Hut tax, an issue that made no sense to the locals, Trooper Cooper was killed. This occurred at Lomagundi’s kraal, a bit of distance west of Hartleyton. A police patrol under sub-inspector Hopper was sent from Salisbury (now known as Harare) to investigate. The patrol arrived in Hartleyton on Sunday, during a James Anta led church service, being attended by all most all of the natives.
Hopper dismounted and demanded all chiefs come forward. All seven chiefs present did so, these were Gusha, Zvimba, Murumbeza, Chikamba, Chifamba, Chizwanzwariba and Umbani. Four of these innocent chiefs were murdered in cold blood including Chief Zvimba. This action shattered all trust that the locals had vested in the missionaries and the White Settlers. Many felt that Anta had been part of the plot to gather all the Chiefs so that they could be gathered and shot. As with Mizeki and Moleli, some of the people viewed Anta as being a white man camouflaged with a black skin – a foreigner to be destroyed.
The fateful year was 1896, after the reports of the Matebele rising were reaching the Mashonaland and the Mashona started to plot a rising against the White Settlers, encouraged by the spirit mediums of Kaguvi and Nehanda. None of the people had forgotten about the events of 1894. Whilst the various groups were plotting against the settlers, a number were plotting to kill Anta.
To quote one of the followers of Anta,“… when the rebellion came people arranged to kill Anta because they said it was through him that the four men, their relatives, were killed. Those who arranged to do the killing were relatives of the dead Chief’s (Zvimba’s) wife. They gathered at night at night at the kraal of the half-brother (of the late Chief)…, Matare was his name and they resolved to come at night and do the killing because they were afraid of …(one of the Chief’s sons) and Anta. They came where the congregation was singing beside the campfire. Anta knew people were coming, but thought that they were only visitors. They came up behind Anta and shot him in the neck. The bullet continued and smashed Patrick’s sister’s foot. Anta got up and ran away, shouting, ‘Someone is trying to kill me.’ He ran to the hut, but another man was waiting for him and killed him”. It was the 21st of June 1896 that James Anta was murdered. He was buried some rocky outcrop some distance from the mission.
One Wesleyan historian who in 1935 wrote “…When the full history of Mashonaland is written by some historian in the future, it may be found that James Anta and his family were the first in the noble army of martyrs, who thus suffered for their faith. He had been a faithful witness to the power of the Gospel and his spirit never shrank…”
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