As a young university student I showed a keen interest in those first teachers who had been trained at Genadendal, Surely they should be regarded as pioneers in our history. In our archives was only a register of their names, but I was more interested in their teaching careers and lebenslaufe, as the Germans would refer to their biographies. So I started with Carl Jonas, the student who first qualified as a teacher in 1842.
Unfortunately nobody, except a ninety year old gentleman, Mr. Samuel Jonker, could vaguely remember this pioneer teacher. Mr. Jonker could still recollect Jonas as an excellent music connoisseur and organist. The children referred to him as Boeta and held him in high esteem. No other information or not even where he spent his last days could be found, except that he could have been buried in the old cemetery, behind the local high school. This cemetery was abandoned, neglected and ruined through vandalism. I knew that it would be extremely difficult to find a tombstone. However, I attempted the impossible. It took me two weeks, combing narrowly each row, cleaning the stones (those which were still in tact), and trying to decipher the inscriptions.
After I had reached the eastern wall, I was at the point of giving up… then… at last I found a marble stone, covered with pine needles and soil: Carl Jonas, ‘Geboren 1824 te Duinefontein, Ontslapen 17 Maart 1906’ (te Boschmanskloof). My next step of research took me to Boschmanskloof where I walked from house to house inquiring if anybody knew the late Carl Jonas. Not one family bore the surname; but an old man with a big smile on his face invited me inside his house and declared that he was the grandson of this pioneer teacher. He handed over to me the autobiography which his grandpa wrote a year before he passed on.
Time and space won’t allow me to tell all about his life. But one outstanding piece which touched my own heart is when he wrote how he grew up as a son of a slave, how his family moved to Elim when slavery was abolished and was later admitted to the Genadendal College, and then how he became the first qualified teacher and later on the first South African ordained minister of the Moravian Church. This status made him a self-righteous man, but not a Christian; until, and I quote:
“Op een dag moest ik, als predikant, mij haast weder voor de voete des Heilands nederwerpen; von toen af kon ik bid als een arme zondaar…dat was het dag van mijne ware bekeering”.
Translated: “One day I, as a minister, went to pray as a real sinner…that was the day of my conversion.” Rev. Jonas reminds me of the lost Rabbi Nicodemus who studied the Scriptures, without knowing Christ as personal Saviour, but thank God, Jonas came into God’s fold just in time! Many of our religious folk think that our church standing will take us to heaven…but how do we stand before God? This is Carl Jonas’ challenge for us today.
Photographs attached are of Carl Jonas and an Ansonia clock and harmonium belonging to him.
“… God is not willing that any should perish, but that all [including theologians, despite what race and creed] should come to repentance”. 2 Peter 3:9
Genadendal Mission Museum