What’s in a name?

Massachusetts alternate deputy Chris Ashley is tracking diocesan resolution C040, to amend the church calendar so that the descriptive title for the commemoration of Bernard Mizeki reads “Zimbabwe” instead of “Rhodesia.”

Chris shares his take on the complicated history behind this name change and gives an update on the resolution’s progress:  

Bernard Mizeki was a great witness to the Christian faith as it first came to central Africa.  A critically important lay leader in the young church, he was prepared for Baptism by members of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, and went on to preach, teach and serve many of the neediest.  Since his martyrdom in 1896, he has become one of his country’s greatest heroes.

“His country is known today as Zimbabwe.  For most of his life, it was not involved in the Western state system, and so is difficult for us to name. Upon his death, however, it was part of the British colony of Rhodesia, and it is under that colonial name that our prayerbook lists him.

“This is an embarrasment.  Cecil Rhodes, who named the colony after  himself, was a bigot and a butcher.  The brutality of his rule turned many Africans against both Christ and his servants.  So Rhodes was arguably complicit to a real degree in Mizeki’s martyrdom, if not responsible for it.  Our diocese asked two years ago that we fix this error, changing Rhodesia to its postcolonial name, Zimbabwe.

“That name is not without its own problems.  It is associated closely with the Mugabe government, once a popular example of postcolonial vigor in central Africa, now an infamous tyranny and maker of martyrs itself.  It is plausible that this name will change in some future regime.  So the Church of England has preferred the term ‘Mashonaland,’ derived from the Mashona tribe among whom Mizeki spent his last five years.

“Aside from our diocesan efforts, larger change has been afoot in our church’s memory of saints.  A comprehesive revision of the prayerbook calendar of remembrance will come before the House of Bishops on Friday morning [July 10].  Among its changes is the substitution of ‘Mashonaland’ for ‘Rhodesia’ in Mizeki’s entry.  If the bishops and deputies approve this change, our diocesan-sponsored resolution will be moot.  But by some means or other, we can be proud as a church of doing right by this great Christian martyr’s glorious memory.”

See an icon of Bernard Mizeki by Brother Robert Lenz, OFM here.

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2 responses to “What’s in a name?

  1. Jeffrey Seamans

    I agree that using the former name of Zimbabwe, Rhodesia, is an embarassment. I prefer identifying Bernard Mizeki with Mashonaland as being more accurate than Zimbabwe, although I’d venture to guess than most people have never heard of Mashonaland and have no idea where it is/was.

  2. Patrick Blumeris

    The name Mashonaland was rejected by the then diocese of Mashonaland in the early 1980’s because it implies exclusivity as the church of the Shona people (not of the Ndebele, the whitre people, the brown people, or the Indian-origin community in within its borders). The adopted new name was Harare, intended to designate a place, not an ethnic grouping. A better compromise might be to label the Anglican provinces in which Bernard Mizeki served (CASA for the Dioceses of Southern Africa and Central Africa). This is a very wide region that confusingly does not include the Central African Republic. Zimbabwe was almost unanimous as a name choice when this was debated in Massachusetts. A name that is too specific might be Marondera, which is close to his place of martyrdom, or Theydon, which is where he died, but is likely to change and “Mangwende’s Village” of “Mangwende’s Mountain” might supplant it. This is why the authors of the resolution in Massachusetts chose Zimbabwe, which is not likely to change name even if the current government in the nation changes.