including Umlamli

Others previous parishes: Barkley East / Herschel / Lady Grey

“Silver Jubilee. Aliwal Vicariate 1923 – 1948” gives this information:

“RT. REV. MONSIGNOR DEMONT regarded  medical  work as a necessary part of  missionary activity and he aimed at estab¬lishing   hospitals  and   dispensaries throughout the Vicariate.

In 1929 when a new Mission station was opened at Umlamli, the whole mountainous district was served by one Doctor.  Monsignor T Demont therefore in the same year opened four Medical stations which were visited fortnightly by Dr. A. Heukamp, Mission Doctor resident at Aliwal North.  Soon the work increased to such an extent that the need of a central hospital became most urgent.  Whereas a few years before, it had been impossible to obtain a building site for church or school in the Reserve, a grant of land was now sanctioned for hospital purposes.

Dr. A. Heukamp, in 1930, laid the foundation stone of the new hospital which was erected by our Brothers and took three years to complete owing to its situation at such a great distance from the source of supplies.  On the 17th January 1933 it was blessed and officially opened by His Excellency the late Most Rev. Archbishop B. J. Gijls¬wijk, O.P., Apostolic Delegate.  The following were also present  at  the ceremony: Rt. Rev. Monsignor F. W. Demont, S.C.J., the Native Commis¬sioner for the Ciskei, the Magistrate of Herschel District, the Magistrate of Aliwal North. all the chiefs of the District, the Mission Doctors, most of the Fathers and all the Brothers to whose labours the building was due.

In 1932 a community of Dominican Sisters from Kingwilliamstown came to Umlamli to nurse in the hospital and teach in the school.  At the time of the erection of the hospital a Church ¬school had also been built.

On the 13th September 1932 Dr. M. Ditton arrived in Aliwal from overseas. Two days later she came to Umlamli as Mission Doctor and has ever since devoted her  professional  skill,  her energy and her time to the interests of the Natives at the hospital and through¬out the whole district.

The first Priest-in-charge of Umlamli was Rev. Father P. Platten who visited it from Teresa’s Mission where he was resident.  Rev. Father A. Maennersdoerfer supervised the erection of all the buildings and later was resident Priest there.  Rev. Fathers Hahn and Ward have also  been stationed in Umlamli and  the  present Priest-in¬-charge was Rev. Father J. Magennis who was at the same time Secretary to the hospital.  Rev. Father T. Lighton was supervising the erection of a new wing to the hospital, and he was also in charge of all the outstations served from Umlamli.”

–(SV, 34 -36) —

Mission work in the large area around Umlamli progressed and 21 August 1949 the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, in Herschel [probably],  was blessed by bishop J.Lueck.  [ later reflection: this was probably the building which at the same time served as school???]

The hospital a Umlamli was enlarged by two wings and 40 additional patients can then be accepted. (Ann.Stat.1949 )

26 July 1953 Umlamli Church, Assumption of Mary, was blessed by bishop J.Lueck. It was an asbestos prefabricated hall, in the grounds of Umlamli hospital, between the priests’ house and the hospital buildings. (In 1993 this church was no longer needed when a new church was built outside the hospital grounds and this building was therefore sold to the government).

At the Umlamli Mission Hospital a new laundry was built 1957 and a nurses’ home for 45 nurses. (Ann.Stat.1957)  1961 a new wing was added to the Mission Hospital so that now a total of 200 patients can be accomodatet. (Ann.Stat.1961) 1965 further extensions were added, especially a wing for tuberculosis patients. (Ann.Stat.1965).

In the large surrounding area several new communities and church buildings were established:

  • 30 May 1962 a new church in Blikana dedicated to St.Anthony, was blessed by bishop J.Lueck, to be served from Umlamli.  The church tower was constructed in onion-shape, copied from the SCJ pilgrimage church of Maria Martenthal of the SCJ priests.
  • 30 October 1965  the church “Mary, Help of Christians” was blessed by bishop J.Lueck at “KwaMei” near Sterkspruit.
  • 20 February 1966  the new Church at Dangershoek , dedicated to St.Aloyisius, was blessed by bishop J.Lueck, and was subsequently served from Umlamli.
  • 16 March 1969  a large new Church in Mfinci, dedicated to St.Joseph, was blessed by bishop J.Lueck, also served from Umlamli.

In December 1972 the Visitator of the SCJ Province of Germany conducted many discussions and suggested in a final document of five pages that a community of three or more South African priests should establish a community in Sterkspruit, from where they would serve the whole Herschel area, including Teresa, Umlamli, Herschel. (The document is entitled “Meeting of 10th December at Aliwal North”) The plan was not accepted at that time and became a reality only twenty years later.

1 August 1976 Umlamli Hospital was taken over by the government. As all Missions hospitals of the country were taken over, Umlamli was also taken over by the government. This was enforced especially in view of the establishment of  the “independent homelands” and Transkei was the first “homeland” to actually assume this strange status on an officially fully independent country. The Dominican Sisters began leaving the hospital. As financial compensation for the buildings the bishop asked only for a sum of R 280 000 because many of the later buildings of the hospital had been built with government funds.  1984 the last three Dominican Sisters left Umlamli hospital.

The part where the priests resided and where the church was situated remained property of the Diocese and the priests continued residing within the  hospital grounds. They also received their food from the hospital kitchen until they moved to the new parish centre in Sterkspruit. Fr Holzenkamp continued to reside in the priests house for several more years until he retired in 1992 to the new Monastery in Aliwal.

The buildings which still remained the property of the Diocese, the priests’ house and the prefabricated church, were sold to the government in 1993 for R 193 000.

Meanwhile the establishment of communities with their church buildings made further progress:

  • 1985  a small new Church was built in Emvakwentaba, served from the priest residing in Herschel.  The solemn blessing and opening was postponed and never took place.
  • 1985  a small new Church was built in Tabakoloi, served from Herschel.

1 March 1987 Rietfontein Church was blessed by bishop F.Lobinger. The church site was obtained by Fr Holzenkamp. After his retirement Fr Ntaka was in charge and completed the building, not realizing that the site was not well chosen. This made it necessary to build another church at Lekau in 1997.

April 1987  a new Church in Hlomendlini was blessed by bishop F.Lobinger. It replaced the former church which, through the resettlement of the people into new villages, was now too remote from where the Catholics lived, and was therefore swapped with the Methodists for this new church site lower down, near the main road.

Dr.Martha Ditton died 14 January 1988. In her Last Will she donated to Aliwal Diocese her premises in Sterkspruit which are very suitable for the establishment of a new parish centre in that rapidly growing town.  A commemorative plaque on the walls of the parish house,  her former residence, reminds us of her generosity:


This parish centre is named in grateful memory of Dr Martha Ditton who devoted her whole life to the health

care of the people of Herschel District. In 1932 she started Umlamli Catholic Mission Hospital. 

From there she established a regular mobile medical service for the whole of the area, 

travelling tirelessly on the bad roads of that time to the most remote places of the district to offer 

medical help to all who needed it. She thus became known to the people and loved by them as “Mathutha”.

This house was Dr.Ditton’s residence from 1950 until her death on 14 January 1988. 

In her Last Will she donated it to Aliwal Diocese.

May God reward her richly for all she did for the people of Herschel.


St Martha’s Parish Centre was blessed and opened on the 10th May 1992.

The new premises of the parish centre in Sterkspruit, at the former residence of DrDitton were occupied in 1990. On 3 January 1990 the three small priests’ houses are completed and the Sacred Heart Sisters, the recently formed animation team, moved into the renovated old Dr.Ditton house. A chapel and the large hall were also completed. A separate new convent was added in March 1991.

10 May 1992 the new Parish Centre in Sterkspruit was blessed and opened, under the name of St.Martha.

The sale of the church buildings in the hospital grounds at Umlamli made it necessary to construct a new Church in Umlamli Village. It is named “Lamla, Krestu Mlamli” according to the name “Umlamli” which Dr.Ditton gave to the hospital when it was founded. Building operations were directed by the priests who now resided at the new parish centre in Sterkspruit. In April 93 the building was completed, on 26June93 it was first used, and all church furniture was moved from the old church within the hospital grounds to the new Church a kilometer away in the centre of Umlamli village.

30 Oct 93 the Church in Umlamli village was blessed in an African type of liturgy. The ceremony began with a very African symbolic action at the former priests’ residence. The missionary who had served the parish for many years and who was deelpy loved by the people, Fr.Holzenkamp, was “brought home” in a procession from the house where he had lived in the hospital grounds. Speeches made at his former residence in the hospital grounds, followed by a procession of the large crowd of believers who were “bringing him to the new church building”.

During the blessing of the new church in the village the anointing of the altar became an impressive highlight of the liturgy when a group of nine parishioners danced with the bishop round the altar again and again, singing rhythmically “kwa shukuma”, “the earth trembled”.

August 1993 the Sacred Heart Sisters of the Animation team moved into the new Convent which had been completed in the grounds of the new parish centre in Sterkspruit. However, due to several reasons, the Sacred Heart Sisters soon left, before the end of 1993.

During 1994 the convent building would again have remained empty and it was therefore occupied by Fr Mpambani and two pre-novices of the SCJ.

September 1994 a dormitory for lay leaders was completed for participants in training courses on the grounds of the parish centre in Sterkspruit.

In January 1995 an Animation Team of Lesotho Holy Cross Sisters arrived in Sterkspruit. Sr.Gertrud, Sr.Anna, Sr.Cornelia arrived 20 Jan 95, to work as animators in the whole of Herschel District and beyond. One of the Sisters was employed as a teacher at Teresa Senior  Secondary School which had no Sisters on the teaching staff after the departure of the Sisters of the SA Province.

All Barkly-Lady Grey-Herschel communities became part of Sterkspruit parish. 9 Sept 1995 a circular letter informed the communities and a letter to the parish team explained this creation of a large parish. The parish now comprised 25 church centres and was served the by the three priests and the three animation Sisters residing at Sterkspruit.

Fr Walter Mathis arrived in Aliwal  5 Oct 1995. Until Christmas 95 he resided in the bishops house for learning English. In Jan 96 he took up residence in Sterkspruit as one of the team of three priests and began pastoral work.

The three priests and three Sisters had by now established an efficient system of team work. Each week on Thursday a team meeting was held of the priests, sisters and the trainer catechist, in which the work of all was evaluated and planned.

During those years several of the outlying communities received new and beautiful church buildings:

  • 21 Oct 1995  Blessing of new Church in Upper Telle.  It is designed by the parish priest, Fr.M.Wuestenberg, and financed by donors of his former parish in Germany.
  • 11 November 1995  Blessing of the new Church at Voyizana, near Umlamli. It is designed by Fr Wuestenberg and financed by donors of his home.
  • 1997 New Church in Lady Grey. At long last it replaces the small corrugated iron building between the houses built of corrugated iron. Building started in June 96 at a new site in the township and it was completed in Sep 96. It was blessed on  1 March 97. The building is designed by Fr M.Wuestenberg and partly financed by donors of his home.
  • 1997 a new Church in Lekau was completed, to be blessed later.
  • Easter 1998.  A new Church was completed in Mkunyazo, to be blessed later. Fr Mathis organized the building and financed it from donations from his home. Until this time the congregation had used a different site about a kilomter away from the new site. That site had not actually been a church site but belonged to a private person who apparently did not intend using the site. A mud-wall church had been built on that site. That first church had been used for several years until it had to be abandoned because the original owner now claimed his site.
  • In  November 1999 a small church was being built at Phelandaba,  near Mkunyazo and Thyinindini. Since the congregation was quite small there had been doubts for many years whether to build a small church until there were signs that the congregation was growing.
  • In November 1998 work began on a new Church in Barkly East township for which the people chose the name “Sibabalwe, Krestu Khanyo Lwezizwe”. It was completed in March 1999. The existing church building became a hall.

28 August 1998 the site and house below the parish centre in Sterkspruit was purchased, called Erf 6. The funds were provided by benefactor friends of Fr Walter Mathis.

November 2000 to June 2001 large building alterations are undertaken at St.Martha Parish Centre. The present hall becomes the main Church while a new hall is added to it. Six new garages are built next to the hall, while the two old garages are pulled down. The need for the alterations arose from the increase in crime which made it necessary to create a central security area where the garages face the residences and where a strong security fence protects this central area. At the same time a fourth flat for a priest is added. The alterations also became necessary because the town of Sterkspruit is growing and the number of Catholics is increasing. They are now a congregation of their own and conduct Sunday services with their own leaders when there is no priest. The room where they had conducted their services is now too small for them. It had originally been designed as the future sanctuary and the division wall between that room and the main part of the church is now removed so that the whole area is now the church. — The new hall is solemnly opened 4 November 2001 during Community Week.

4 November 2001 the new hall at St.Martha Parish Centre is solemnly blessed and given the name “Father Buti Pascalis Motsamai Memorial Hall” in remembrance of the many retreats he had given here for the training of leaders. The new congregation of St.Martha is recognised when the bishop gives the solemn blessing to its first nine leaders. The new congregation consists mainly of professionals who built houses in the new suburbs of the town. Sterkspruit town now has three churches and three congregations: Mokhesi, Tapoleng and Sterkspruit itself.

30 November the new church at Mkunyazo is solemnly blessed by the bishop.

In May 2003 Fr Wuestenberg leaves to join the staff of Lumko Institute. Fr Walter leaves and returns to his home diocese in Switzerland. Fr Joe Kizito becomes the team leader and Fr Boniface Kasale joins the team. Fr Wuestenberg had introduced a pastoral system in the whole parish which will probably continue for many years. He and Fr Walter had collected funds from donors of their home areas for building about ten churches and parish halls.

22 October 2005, the new church at Jozana, Sterkspruit parish, is blessed by Bishop Lobinger. It is the first church not built by contracting a building firm but by putting up the steel structure with roof, and then allowing the people to complete it.

At Herschel, on 7 Nov 2005 the stone building in the church grounds is solemnly opened as a MASABELANE HOSPICE for the treatment of AIDS patients. In 2003 the hospice work and work with home-care-givers had started. A contract was signed for the time the buildings are used as hospice until the building is returned to church use.

22 April 06 the new church in Kromspruit is blessed by bishop F.Lobinger.

20 May 2006 Blessing of the church in Lekau, already in use since 1997.

Priests serving Umlamli-Sterkspruit Parish:

  • 1932 Hahn – 33
  • 34 Hahn – 36
  • 36 Hahn, w. Maennersdoerfer – 38
  • 37 Hahn – 48
  • 45 Platten – 47
  • 46 Lighton –
  • 51 C.Holzenkamp -88
  • 55 C.Holzenkamp with Rosenbaum(Herschel) – 71
  • 71 C.Holzenkamp with Komsthoeft –
  • 86 C.Holzenkamp with Ntaka
  • 86 M. Ntaka – 92
  • 87 M. Ntaka with Z.Mpambani -90
  • 90 M. Ntaka with M.Morar Feb90 – Jn93  >> in Jan 90 the priests move fr Umlamli to Sterksprt
  • 92 M.Wuestenberg – with M.Morar
  • 93 M.Wuestenberg, M.Morar, Z.Mpambani
  • 94 M.Wuestenberg, Mark Przybys
  • 95 M.Wuestenberg(until May 2003), G.Pitso(until Jan 2002),  W.Mathis(until Dec 2002)
  • 2001 Fr Mathias Nsamba joins the team in June
  • 2002 Fr Charles Matumbwe joins the team in March, Fr Emmanuel Nkunyane in July
  • 2003 Fr Boniface Kasale joins the team but Fr Charles leaves for Tafile.
  • 2003 Fr Joe Kizito becomes the team leader after Fr Wuestenberg leaves and Fr Walter Mathis
  • 2003 FrNkunyane joins the team, and from June. Deacon Mojalefa Everustus Makoa also.
  • 2004 Joe Kizito, Boniface Kasale, Matthias Nsamba,
  • 2005 Joe Kizito, Matthias Nsamba, William Ketso (as from June 2005)