‘Your calling as pastors is dangerous’

The funeral service of the Mphithi family members at Orient Theatre in Quigney, East London. Picture by BHEKI RADEBE.
The funeral service of the Mphithi family members at Orient Theatre in Quigney, East London. Picture by BHEKI RADEBE.

“We are heartbroken as the Seplani circuit. And we are still asking ourselves questions about this incident. Your calling as pastors is dangerous, and you have enemies, some of whom you are unaware of.”

Those are the words of Pastor B. Zantsi of the Seplani circuit under the King Hintsa district in Cala.

Zantsi was speaking to a crowd of people on Tuesday this week at the Orient Theatre in Quigney, East London, during the funeral service for the five Mphithi family members who were all burned to death last week in the church missionary house in Seplani.

The family members who died are the appointed pastor in this circuit, Mandisi Mphithi (46), his wife Dudu Mphithi (29) and their three children, Khololwethu (5), Ziminathi (3) and Yololwethu (11 months).

Pastor Mphithi is a native of Duncan Village in East London; almost all of the speakers described him as a man of few words who was loving, humble, and had leadership qualities.

Pastor Zantsi said that when something was good, he [Mphithi] would applaud it; however, when something was not good, he was not afraid to say so.

Mphithi joined the church as a Guild member and was suddenly forced to become an elder due to his calling. It was easy for him to take the lead in the circuit.

Lulama Mpahla, who spoke about the deceased’s childhood, said that he was not surprised when he learned that Mandisi had chosen a career as a pastor because the signs were there since his childhood. Mpahla and Mphithi attended Qaqamba High School and were members of the student union. He said that they had formed a traditional dance group when they were boys in the township.

“We did everything that boys do when they grow up, except we did not drink or smoke. We all went to the initiation camp together. He was a gentleman, which demonstrated that he came from a caring family and that his father was firm,” Mpahla stated.

Mandisi’s sister, Nombongo, described it as a great loss because Mandisi was like a father to them because they ran to him and his wife Dudu when they had a problem, and he was their counsellor at home. She claimed that their brother was never a rowdy person in the house and that he was not much of a talker.

Dunyiswa, also known as Dudu by her family and a native of Kirkwood, was the last born and the only girl among boys.

Dudu’s brother, Yanga Zulu, said that they treated Dudu like an egg in their family and watched over her because she was the only girl.

“Because she was the only girl child at home, we were very protective of her. That’s why the brother-in-law discovered her childless. She was a well-behaved child who did not say much.”

P. Mngcita, a district Missionary Union member, said that Dudu was not a talkative person but smiled like her husband. Despite her quiet demeanour, she possessed leadership qualities. And she emphasised cooperation between women. Dudu stood by her husband in difficult times and adored her children.

Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane, who attended the service, said the Methodists are facing a tragedy because this is not the first time such an incident has occurred in a Methodist building.

“This is a tragedy that will take a long time to recover from, similar to the one that occurred in Scenery Park, where multiple children died at the same time. We came to express our sympathy to the Seplani family. I expected death to slow down after so many people died from Covid-19.

“Here we are left by a leader, the father of children, and Dudu’s husband. We are left by someone who was healing the broken-hearted,” Mabuyane said.

Mabuyane advised family and friends to accept the situation because it cannot be changed.

The congregation, as well as the relatives of those who died, expressed their grief and sadness at the incident.

Pastor Mphithi continued his studies at the University of Fort Hare, which was also a part of this service.

As of now, no one has been arrested in connection with the burning incident in the missionary house because no trace has been found.

Police have stated that they are awaiting test results.