Kenneth Spooner, Rev (See also 'baFokeng' and 'Phokeng')
Kenneth Egerton Mosely Spooner was born on 8 January 1884 on one of the Barbados Islands, then a part of the British colony of the West Indies, the son of descendants of ex-slaves. He was educated in the Barbados up to Standard 6. Thereafter, he travelled to the USA for further education in Boydington, Virginia. Spooner did not complete his academic education but, instead, trained for two years as a missionary in Aliance, Ohio. He also trained as a carpenter and painter, as part of his preparation for a future missionary career. Whether he formally took up American citizenship is unclear.
Spooner's missionary calling began in 1906, while in New York, when God told him "in audible tones" to go to Africa. After several years, with the calling growing stronger in him, he applied to the Mission Board of another religious body, the Pentecostal Holiness Church which accepted him as a missionary to South Africa. Before setting sail for South Africa, Spooner married an African-American woman called Malista Geraldine Warner in New York. As black persons, the Spooners were extremely lucky to be allowed into South Africa where the law at the time did not allow foreign blacks into the country. The Spooners were, in fact, allowed in by a mistake made by an officer in the Cape Town habour.
In January 1915, the Spooners arrived in Johannesburg. It was here they were told that the people of Rustenburg wanted a missionary. In June 1915, they travelled to Phokeng. Spooner quickly secured the services of an interpreter, Dan Tau Rangaka, a man who was to be Spooner's most trusted and dependable ally and religious worker for the next twenty-two years.
Spooner was directly responsible to the church's Superintendent, J. O. Lehman, a white American based in Johannesburg, who was in turn answerable to the General Mission Board of the Pentecostal Holiness Church, whose headquarters were in North Carolina. Spooner was financially supported by his church.
To the Union Government of South Africa and everyone else in his Rustenburg mission station, he was referred to as the "Negro missionary, Spooner." The baFokeng expected that because Spooner was both educated and a black man from the United States of America, he would be much more than a missionary. He was expected to be their political spokesperson and, perhaps, even a liberator! However, the Bafokeng quickly realized that he was neither of these, and were disappointed. Consequently, they became apathetic towards him and his work. Therefore, within the first two years, there was "intense opposition" from the Phokeng people to his work. Much of this "opposition" to Spooner was being fermented by the German Lutheran missionary, Penzhorn, who saw Spooner as an intruder into 'his' missionary field and, for that reason, "disliked him intensely." Indeed, Spooner and Penzhorn remained implacable foes right up to Spooner's death in 1937.
As a black person under a racist white government, Spooner's treatment by white officials was similar to that of other blacks in the Union of South Africa. Spooner built a church and a school in which he preached and made conversions. Many baFokeng, including Lutherans, joined the PHC. Spooner's church, therefore, became an immediate challenge to the long-established German church. Spooner attracted so many baFokeng because Africans generally had a positive image of black Americans because they had originally come from Africa. Moreover, they had acquired skills and education and were also sympathetic to their African kinfolk. Thus they were more acceptable as missionaries than Europeans.
Unlike in Penzhorn's school where "the only medium of instruction was the vernacular" and the "most important books were the catechism and Bible history …," in Spooner's school, teaching was in English, which was also an important subject in its own right, while the curriculum content and instruction were largely secular. The church building was also used as a school by Fokeng children learning the English alphabet and to speak, read and write English. All parents were eager for their children to learn English and sent them to Spooner's school in large numbers. The PHC accepted all children, irrespective of their religious denomination. Penzhorn discouraged this trend among his church members, telling them it was not necessary for their children to learn English because it was a foreign language. The Fokeng Lutherans, however, rejected Penzhorn's argument, saying that their children needed to learn English because they "were bound to have dealings with the English people who had established their rule in the country." Perceiving that Spooner must be behind all this, Penzhorn simply loathed the man. Consequently, Penzhorn emulated Spooner by introducing English teaching into his school. Outside Phokeng, Spooner opened new mission stations and schools at Ratsegaistad, Palmietfontein, Pella, Grootfontein, Naawpoort, Mabbeskraal, Stroomrivier, Matau, Middlepoort and Koffiekraal – all in the wider Rustenburg and Marico Districts.
On Sunday 28 February 1937, Spooner died in the Rustenburg Hospital at the age of 57, leaving his wife and an adopted daughter, Wilhemina. He died with the rank of District Superintendent of his Church. Shortly after his burial ceremony in Phokeng, the 'Rustenburg Herald' reported that some 2,500 African mourners from the region and about 100 whites from Rustenburg, Johannesburg and Pretoria, including the Secretary of the Institute of Racial Relations, had attended his funeral. Those who officiated during the burial ceremony were Joel Rhodes, the National Superintendent of the PHC, and Mr Emmet the Native Commissioner for Rustenburg. Among the many eulogies during the ceremony were that Spooner had been "a mediator between the two races in South Africa," and "a strong link between the Government and the thousands of natives who had belonged to his church." Chief Mokgatle expressed deep gratitude on behalf of his people, especially the youth who, he said, had benefited greatly from the life and work of the Rev. Spooner.