Remembering Monica Hobongwana

Image by Quino Al

Celebrating the Life of

Monica Hobongwana

Feb 12, 1927 - Jan 31, 2021

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Funeral

Memorial Service

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Life Story

We rejoice in the life of Kathleen Monica Hobongwana.

Kathleen Monica Hobongwana, nee Arch was born on the 12th of February 1927 in the Lincolnshire village of Moulton Chapel in England. She grew up at Skirbeck Rectory in the village of Skirbeck, an incorporation of the town of Boston with her father Alfred Arch, rector of  the Anglican Skirbeck parish and mother Kathleen Arch. Monica was the third of four children with two older brothers Peter and Christopher, and a younger sister Christine, her last remaining sibling.

Monica was raised during the 2nd World War yet nonetheless, from the stories she told, her childhood was mostly happy and carefree. Her early days were spent playing in the rectory grounds and the Lincolnshire countryside. Childhood memories included helping the local farmers to harvest crops during the wartime period, buying bags of shrimp sold for a few pennies at the Boston Harbor and numerous adventures such as smoking cigarettes with her brothers on the rectory roof (she never actually became a smoker).

As a young adult Monica trained as a primary school teacher at the Froebel Teachers Training College in Roehampton, London. She taught in England for a short time, however in her early twenties her heart led her to South Africa. In 1949, she worked as an early education teacher and nursery school teacher-trainer at  Dikonyaneng in Orlando outside Johannesburg. She also spent time in Sofia Town where she met and worked alongside the renowned Anglican Archbishop, Trevor Huddleston (see “Cry the Beloved Country”). It was here that she became involved with the Christian Ecumenical project in Wilgerspruit, and where she met her future husband Aaron Ntemi Hobongwana.

This was the 1950s during the long period of apartheid when interracial relationships in South Africa were banned. After a secret courtship the couple made a plan for Aaron to travel to England to pursue an education in teaching with Monica returning once he was there so that they could safely plan for their marriage.

Monica and Aaron were married in April 1956 in Stamford Lincolnshire, then moved to Sutton Coldfield near Birmingham. Here, their three daughters were born, and in addition where they raised their foster son Sabelo Rawana who remains an integral part of the Hobongwana family.

Monica and Aaron had always intended to return to Southern Africa, and in 1968 the family moved to Zambia. Aaron had secured a teaching post and Monica continued her teaching career in the primary schools in the various towns where they lived on the Copperbelt; Mufulira, Kitwe, Chililabombwe and Kabwe. Besides teaching, Monica’s other great passion was her work in the Girl Guide Association.

She and Aaron first met at a scout training camp, Aaron also being a keen boy scout leader. In the early 1970s Monica was appointed as the National Trainer for the Girl Guides of Zambia. While continuing her work as a local Girl Guide leader and as national trainer she led several programs that focused on expanding education for girls, especially in the rural areas.

In 1982, Monica and Aaron moved to Zimbabwe, first to a school in Mount Salinda and then to St Augustine’s Mission in Penhalonga where Monica continued to teach, ran a Girl Guide troop and became the Girl Guide District Commissioner for the Eastern Highlands.

In 1990, Monica and Aaron were finally able to visit South Africa for the first time since they left in the 1950s and made the decision to return to South Africa permanently. In 1991 they moved to the Northern Transvaal to work at St. Mark’s school in the community of Jane Furse.

In 1996, they traveled all over South Africa in search of a place to settle in anticipation of their retirement, and almost by chance discovered the small town of Cathcart where they ended up spending their final years. Retirement however was short lived! Together they became very involved in the Anglican church. Monica also helped to re-establish the Cathcart library by introducing a cataloguing system, and Aaron worked as an exam proctor at Cathcart High School as well as a board member for Ikwezi, a sanctuary for women experiencing intimate partner violence.

In 2007, they were ordained as Anglican priests and together served in the Cathcart Anglican churches of St. Alban’s and St. Augustine’s, and at St. Andrew’s in a small rural community nearby. When Aaron passed away in 2008, Monica bravely continued the work alone. Although she eventually retired from her full responsibilities as a priest, she continued to serve as chaplain at Callie Evens Lodge as much as she was able to directing her final Christmas Eucharist in 2020.

We are so grateful to have had such a wonderful caring and inspiring mother who continuously encouraged love and kindness to everyone no matter their color, culture or class. Everyone was welcomed into the Hobongwana home and no-one was a stranger. There were often extra people living in the Hobongwana home; students from Birmingham University, young teachers in need of temporary digs while they waited for permanent housing, youngsters needing a home while they completed high school, young travelers and volunteers needing a place to call home for a day, a month or a year. The Hobongwana household became known as Hotel Hobongwana.

Much of our family history was learned listening to the many stories that Monica and Aaron would relate to their many guests. Monica was a particularly good conversationalist and always had fascinating tales to relate from her childhood, post war travels to Europe to foster peace amongst youth, her time in Orlando South Africa and later her extensive worldwide travels during her guiding years. She was a true adventurer! One example was her driving all over Zambia on her own for Girl Guide trainings.

Monica was not just a talker but also a doer, especially when it involved helping a person in need. She lived by the Girl Guide motto, “Lend a Hand” and exemplified this creed even through the last months of her life. In 2020 at the start of the global pandemic, inspired by Captain Tom the 100 year old Engish man, she challenged herself to her own sponsored walk to raise funds for her retirement home Callie Evens. Over the course of three months, with her walker, she walked 15 kilometers and raised over 46,000 Rand, a magnificent achievement !

Monica always stayed connected  to friends and family with handwritten letters and in her later years, almost daily phone chats with her daughters. A day or two before Monica died all of her daughters were all able to talk to her although sadly unaware that these would be their very last conversations. Right up until the end she was pleased to hear both the latest world and personal family news.

While we mourn her departure from this world we take comfort knowing that Monica lived her life to the fullest. We rejoice in the memory of her stories, her humor and her magnificent spirit. We will continue to celebrate her life that was so well lived.

 
 
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Photo Gallery

Guest Book

Poems

Birago Diop – Spirits

Listen to Things

More often than Beings,

Hear the voice of fire,

Hear the voice of water.

Listen in the wind,

To the sighs of the bush;

This is the ancestors breathing.

Those who are dead are not ever gone;

They are in the darkness that grows lighter

And in the darkness that grows darker.

The dead are not down in the earth;

They are in the trembling of the trees

In the groaning of the woods,

In the water that runs,

In the water that sleeps,

They are in the hut, they are in the crowd:

The dead are not dead.

Listen to things

More often than beings,

Hear the voice of fire,

Hear the voice of water.

Listen in the wind,

To the bush that is sighing:

This is the breathing of ancestors,

Who have not gone away

Who are not under earth

Who are not really dead.

Those who are dead are not ever gone;

They are in a woman’s breast,

In the wailing of a child,

And the burning of a log,

In the moaning rock,

In the weeping grasses,

In the forest and the home.

The dead are not dead.

Listen more often

To Things than to Beings,

Hear the voice of fire,

Hear the voice of water.

Listen in the wind to

The bush that is sobbing:

This is the ancestors breathing.

Each day they renew ancient bonds,

Ancient bonds that hold fast

Binding our lot to their law,

To the will of the spirits stronger than we

To the spell of our dead who are not really dead,

Whose covenant binds us to life,

Whose authority binds to their will,

The will of the spirits that stir

In the bed of the river, on the banks of the river,

The breathing of spirits

Who moan in the rocks and weep in the grasses.

Spirits inhabit

The darkness that lightens, the darkness that darkens,

The quivering tree, the murmuring wood,

The water that runs and the water that sleeps:

Spirits much stronger than we,

The breathing of the dead who are not really dead,

Of the dead who are not really gone,

Of the dead now no more in the earth.

Listen to Things

More often than Beings,

Hear the voice of fire,

Hear the voice of water.

Listen in the wind,

To the bush that is sobbing:

This is the ancestors, breathing

On Death

Kahlil Gibran - 1883-1931


 

Then Almitra spoke, saying, We would ask now of Death.
   And he said:
   You would know the secret of death.
   But how shall you find it unless you seek it in the heart of life?
   The owl whose night-bound eyes are blind unto the day cannot unveil the mystery of light.
   If you would indeed behold the spirit of death, open your heart wide unto the body of life.
   For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.

    In the depth of your hopes and desires lies your silent knowledge of the beyond;
   And like seeds dreaming beneath the snow your heart dreams of spring.
   Trust the dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.
   Your fear of death is but the trembling of the shepherd when he stands before the king whose hand is to be laid upon him in honour.
   Is the shepherd not joyful beneath his trembling, that he shall wear the mark of the king?
   Yet is he not more mindful of his trembling?

    For what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
   And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

    Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
   And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
   And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then shall you truly dance.

 

Please consider donating to Callie Evens Retirement Lodge,

where Monica lived her final years

Contact email: callieadmin@awe.co.za