| Written at Balaza, Maxixe, Mozambique, February 1997. |
When I started working at Ifafa on the south coast of Natal, South Africa in the early 60s, I inherited a Roneo stencil duplicator from Sam Kaetzel. I cranked through thousands of sheets of paper and assembled Sunday school books and stewardship materials. I produced a monthly letter for lay preachers, UMQONDISI, with questions and suggestions for sermons. I cut the stencils on an old black upright Remington. I added the headings and illustrations using stylus, templates, shading plates and a plastic writing sheet. After a few years I bought a 3M Thermofax machine that made stencils from paper originals. The office got an IBM golfball typewriter and I was able to do some fancy "typesetting" with UMQONDISI and other educational materials.
Through my participation in ecumenical Christian education work, I learned that the Methodist Department of Christian Education had installed two Multilith 1250 offset duplicators to print Breakthrough, a Sunday school curriculum. It was a major project and the floor above their offices on Smith Street in Durban was a wonderful place of machinery, piles of newly printed materials and smells of paper, ink and cleaning fluids. The Anglican Department of Christian Education bought a secondhand Gestetner offset duplicator and installed it at Botha's Hill to produce literature for its justice and reconciliation program. It was on that machine, in a small outbuilding in the garden at "Tanglewood", that I first learned the mysteries of offset and got ink under my fingernails.
My first machine was a Multilith 80, acquired when we moved to Durban in 1970. I think it was the first offset office duplicator that Multilith made. It was primitive. The registration of the image could vary 25mm from sheet to sheet. It was slow and reliable. Like an old car, everything was accessible and transparent - you could fix it yourself. I used direct image masters -- not much different from cutting stencils. I got "professional" on occasion, having metal plates made for me at a graphics lab that served real printers. I worked in the storeroom behind the office. It was filled with crates of the Zulu hymnbook, Amagama Okuhlabelela, printed in the UK. It was dusty and pigeons roosted there, but it was my print shop. On warm humid Durban nights I ran hundreds of reams of paper through my model 80, --clunk--clakety--clunk--, late into the night. I taught my children to collate and fold paper. I was checked out by Security Branch Police who were "visiting" SASO (the South African Student Organisation) upstairs. UMQONDISI kept coming out monthly. I printed materials for Sunday schools, lay preachers, stewardship education and youth programs. The first (I believe) South African theological education by extension course, Amos, and articles explaining and promoting TEE, were printed on my Multilith 80.
When I went to work at the Zululand Churches Health and Welfare Association, in 1974, there was already a new Roneo table top offset duplicator installed. It was shiny and plastic cased. It ran smoothly and it was fast. I prepared community development educational materials. Edna Cook typed them and made the electrostatic masters which I ran off.
In Swaziland, after our arrival in 1978, I persuaded the Anglican denominational department of training for ministries in Johannesburg to donate their machine to the Diocese since it had not been used for several years. It took many nights of patient cleaning and adjusting, and frequent visits to my friends at Gestetner before the machine was recommissioned. I installed it in a minuscule building at Thokoza that had once housed a coal fired water heater. There was barely room to move around the machine. Paper had to be stored elsewhere. But I printed reams for the education program of the diocese, the bishop's newsletter and the first siSwati translations of new Anglican liturgies.
I found when I came to Balaza in 1988 that the only duplicating equipment available was a couple of highly unreliable, dirty old Gestetner stencil duplicators belonging to the Methodists at Chicuque. I arranged to do some work on them, and was grateful. I started looking for offset equipment at a price I could afford and some way to transport it to Balaza. There was a war going on at the time. I was primarily engaged in teaching and did not have a lot of time to devote to looking for machinery. I began to review what material was in print in Xitshwa and to collect examples of what was out of print. I began to put together what have been the two most significant publishing jobs I have done.
In 1992, the treasurer of the United Church Board for World Ministries, Myles Walburn, happened to read in my annual report that I had failed once again to acquire a duplicator. When I saw him in New York, he said, "would you like ours?" and shortly thereafter the board's old Multilith 1250 was crated and sent to Mozambique. It travelled by sea from New York to Maputo. A shipping agent in Maputo cleared my "used office equipment" through customs, got it out of the port and delivered it to the Mozambican Christian Council. The Council loaded it on one of their trucks together with emergency food aid and other supplies destined for Inhambane. The truck waited until it could join a convoy with a military escort. It took at least two days to cover the 500km from Maputo to Maxixe. There was a big detour at Xaixai because the bridge of the Limpopo River had collapsed. Convoys departed mid-morning and stopped in a safe place mid-afternoon to reduce the chances of being attacked. When the truck arrived at Balaza it took twelve strong men to lower the crate to the ground and move it into the church office. I had waited for a machine for a long time, so I had to uncrate it immediately to see what I had received and what condition it was in. I could see that it needed a lot of work.
I could not get the duplicator to run until I had stripped all the safety switches. I had to acquire spare parts and materials from Johannesburg, a thousand kilometers away and I only left Balaza once or twice a year while the war was still on. I bought a master maker and a paper cutter, fountain solution, blanket wash, ink, blankets, master material and paper. But it took two years to deliver. The master maker came improperly crated although I specified that they spare no expense crating it. The lamp was broken, the top sheet of glass smashed, a belt snapped. The person who crated the 20 liter container of blanket wash drove a nail into the bottom of the container so it arrived empty. Master material was delayed even longer and arrived too stale to use. But, little by little I put the pieces together and last year, 1996, I was able to do some printing. The results are still not what I expect. I am still learning as well as teaching students to operate the machines. The duplicator has joined lots of other mechanical miracles in Mozambique. Cars and trucks run down our roads daily, all day long, which would have been scrapped and compacted years ago in most countries of the world. Patience, ingenuity, and necessity keep them running.
The London Missionary Society missionary, Robert Moffat, brought a press to Kuruman, South Africa. He translated the Bible into SeTswana and printed it on his press in 1857. This was the first Bible printed in Africa. The press was stored for years in the Kimberly Public Library. Last year, the director of the Moffat Mission, Steve de Gruchy, organized the return of Moffat's press to the mission. They inked it up and found that it was still possible to print with Robert Moffat's press, almost 150 years after it was first used. I thought about finding and reinstalling the presses that were used to print the first literature in Xitshwa and Bitonga.
The first American Board Mission missionaries had two printing presses soon after they settled in Mozambique in 1883. They installed them 15 km north of Balaza at Mongue. Richards, Ousley and Wilcox organized the translation and printing of scripture, hymns, spellers, and Gospel stories. They used letterpress machines and put in a sheet at a time. The type was set by hand. They taught people, like Tizora Navess, to translate, to set type, to operate the press and to bind the books. They also had to teach people to read. They had to learn Bitonga and Xitshwa. Like me, they only had a small part of their time available for the production of literature. I have read their statistics. They printed a lot of pages in a year. What they accomplished is impressive.
I feel some kinship and continuity with the first ABM missionaries and others who have produced Christian literature in the African languages of Mozambique. Some of my contributions are the following:
KuVuka ni Wutomi: The first book I did was a book of services around death: funerals, prayers for the dying, a liturgy for All Saints Day. Some of the material had been translated years ago by the Rev. A. T. Litsuri from Zulu. I cleaned up the typos and orthography. Some material I adapted and translated from resources of the United Church of Christ. The centerpiece of KuVuka, however, is the memorial service which some of my students helped me to create. That service gets used weekly in almost all of our congregations.
Kukhozela Nungungulu: Kukhozela is a "cookbook" for worship leaders. It started out as a collection of materials we used in worship at the Bible School or as examples in worship leadership courses. In the beginning, it was just pieces of paper that got put into students' loose leaf ring binders.
I reprinted Nza Kholwa, an explanation of the Apostles' Creed that was written by J. A. Persson, a Methodist missionary. Felisberto Manganhela, a Methodist minister, wrote theology lessons for preachers and teachers. I edited his booklet and reprinted it. Two years in a row I have printed a lectionary with daily lessons and the common lectionary lessons for Sundays. I reprinted two adult literacy readers. I was told that calendars and date books are popular so I printed some of each for 1997.
At present I am preparing a book on the Lord's Prayer by Pastor Litsuri and Zitiri Kulobye, a book on evangelism. A former student, Xavier Feniosse, put together a commentary on Acts which I hope to print this year.
The books that I prepare and print are meant primarily for our students. The students, pastors and others who will purchase the books are few. By doing our printing ourselves, we can keep costs down and we can economically produce as few as 100 copies at a time.
My printing work has usually been "moonlighting". I work at night, after my teaching day is over, when it is cool and there are no interruptions. Sometimes when the duplicator is running smoothly, I dream of printing as an important ministry, a continuation of work done by early missionaries and perhaps as something to be developed into something bigger. But in the morning I know that my real reasons for printing are more mundane. I like the feel of the paper, the smell of the ink, and the sound of the duplicator.
An addition written at Kuruman, May 1999.
In 1998, I moved to Moffat Mission, Kuruman. Robert Moffat's old press is in a reconstructed school building on the site of the first school building north of the Orange River. Boitumelo Leeuw and others use the press from time to time. We print copies of the original translation of the Lord's prayer, greeting cards, and commemorative documents. We do not set type by hand but we do apply ink to the plate, press the image and hang up the print just as Moffat and his helpers would have done. There are examples of their work in the school room, in the Moffat homestead and in the library. We hope one day to have a copy of a Bible which was printed on the press, but for the present we have hymnbooks and other literature.
Small printing jobs, which in Moffat's day would have been major, are done today by modern offset presses. The Mission Press at Morija printed and bound two thousand copies of Forty Days in the Desert in a week. The text of Frontiers in Mission was mostly written on computers. It has been collected, edited and sent around southern Africa and the world electronically.
At Moffat Mission today we duplicate instructional materials, worship leaflets, and circular letters on a digital duplicator. It is simple and easy to operate. You don't get ink on your fingers. You do need a technician when something doesn't work. Some of the printed materials we produce for the Kalahari Desert School of Theology programme and the Moffat Education Leadership Institute will be available electronically just as we now retrieve web pages and other documents from computers around the world for the Robert Moffat Library and our educational work.
The technological frontiers have shifted and are shifting. But the significant frontier remains: that between one person's knowledge, ideas and wisdom and another's. Print is one important way to pass knowledge across that frontier, no less important today than when Moffat set out to make the content of the Bible available in Setswana. The teachers, leaders and ministers of the church must decide what it is that they want and need to communicate. They must put it into writing that people will read and understand. They must get ink applied to paper so that their words and ideas can be read, considered and appropriated. And they may need to teach and encourage people to read.