1880 to 1963
Joseph Gotthardt was born in 1880 in Thalheim, Westerwald, Germany. Intellectually, he had outstanding gifts, as proven during his study years, resulting in a junior lecturing post which lasted for two years after his ordination in 1905. In 1907 he was sent to Grootfontein in Namibia. In April 1909, he was appointed leader of the sixth pioneer mission journey to establish a mission for the Roman Catholic Church in the Kavango. On the seventh and final mission journey to the Kavango, he was instrumental in planting the first Christian mission at Nyangana, 1910, and at Andara in 1913.
In January 1921 he was notified that he was appointed as Prefect Apostolic, to replace Prefect Klaeyle. In 1923, he made an exploratory journey into Owambo for six months, planning the planting of the Roman Catholic mission in that part of the country (Beris 1996:354, 385).
He soon became the undisputed leader of the Roman Catholic church in Namibia. His full time ministry in Namibia stretched over a period of fifty-one years. He became mission prefect in January 1921, after the resignation of Prefect Klaeyle. When the Prefecture became an Apostolic Vicariate, Gotthardt became the apostolic vicar and was ordained as bishop at Huenfeld in 1924. On his silver jubilee in 1951, the pope appointed him archbishop. In 1957, he consecrated his junior Rudolf Koppmann as bishop. When he turned eighty on May 20,1961, he retired and passed on all responsibilities to Bishop Koppmann (Beris 1996:354).
In 1923, Father Gotthardt published a prophetic article called "The awakening of Africa and the duties of the Catholic church" in which he analyzed the rise of the black freedom movement under the slogan "Africa for the Africans," coined by Marcus Garvey's Monrovia Movement. He warned about the fact that "a great human race does not accept to be oppressed for long, and on the contrary takes on the battle for freedom." This was one of the first prophetic voices in Namibian history, which spoke out against colonialism, although at the same time he "took some distance from certain expressions of the radical universal black movement of those years."
As mission prefect, Father Gotthardt became the chief spokesperson of the Roman Catholic Church with the South African government after 1921, on matters of mission and church-planting. He wrote several appeals to the prime ministers of South Africa, to General Jan Smuts, and General Hertzog, as well as to "the Commissioner for Native Affairs in Ovamboland" (Hunke 1996:45). In the years between the two world wars, Father Gotthardt laid the cornerstone for the social contribution of the RCC in education and medical care, which, after 1950, became a generally recognized service to the whole Namibian population.
There were many special events in his life, of which two are mentioned here. In 1936, when a Berlin directed campaign was launched to stimulate "National Socialism" under whites in Namibia, bringing these together into regular party cells, Bishop Gotthardt summoned his faithful not to join such organizations or societies (Hunke 1996:47-49). In 1951, at the occasion of his Silver Jubilee, the pope appointed Bishop Gotthardt as Archbishop in his personal right and "Papal Assistant of the Throne" (Beris 1996:353-354). He finally died at the age of eighty-two in 1963 in Swakopmund. He gave a lifetime of service to Jesus Christ in Namibia.
Gerhard Buys and Shekutaamba Nambala
1. See chapter 7 of Buys & Nambala.
2. Quotes from Hunke 1996, p.40.
3. This story is taken from Buys & Nambala 2003, p. 199-200.
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Interviews & questionnaires
Christians, N. C. 2002. Unpublished notes forwarded on request to Buys, on 22 May 2002. Rev. Nicholas Christians was the pastor of the Trinity AME Church in Keetmanshoop for an uninterrupted period of 43 years (1953 - 1997). In 1998, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Wilberforce Institute of the AMEC in USA.
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Tjijombo, P. 2002. Interview of Buys with Bishop Petrus Tjijombo on 18 January 2002 at his house. Bishop Tjijombo was the founder and still active leader of the St. John's AFM in Namibia when this interview took place, after a ministry which started in 1953. The photo of his ministry starting in that year in the "old location" was unfortunately too bad to use in this publication.
Witbooi, H. 2002. Interview of Buys with the honourable Dr. Hendrik Witbooi, in Windhoek, on the
history of Evangelists Petrus Jod and Marcus Witbooi. Dr. Witbooi is the son of Pastor Marcus Witbooi, who was a founder member of the AMEC in Namibia. At the time of the interview, Dr. Witbooi was Deputy Prime Minister in the Namibian government and leader of the AMEC (African Methodist Episcopal Church) in Namibia.
This article is reproduced, with permission, from History of the Church in Namibia, an Introduction - 1805-1990, Gamsberg Macmillan, Windhoek, Namibia, copyright © November 2003 by Dr. Gerhard Buys and Dr. Shekutaamba Nambala. All rights reserved.