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A Rough and Potted History of Mwandi UCZ Mission


The Christian presence and Christian teaching at Mwandi (Sesheke) actually began in 1853. Livingstone’s diary entry for 19 November 1853 mentions his arrival at Sesheke, the residence of Chief Moliantsane, brother in law to Sekeletu, and gives an interesting description of the town. It also states that under an acacia (camel-thorn) he gave his first public address in the presence of 500-600 souls. This, therefore, was the first preaching of the Gospel on the Zambezi and at Mwandi no less! There is an old tree outside the present Church which local people refer to as ‘Livingstone’s Tree’. It was in this area that he apparently camped.


In 1878 Francois Coillard of the Paris Evangelical Missionary Society first visited Mwandi (Sesheke) in August, but left for Leshoma suffering from fever. He returned to Mwandi in late October to hear that King Lewanika had consented to founding a Mission in Bulozi. The Musotho Evangelist Eleazer whom he had left at Mwandi died of fever on the same day, November 5. There is a plaque to the memory of Eleazer in the Mission’s Jerusalem Church.


The next missionary visitor was Fred Arnot in 1882 who stayed in Mwandi while waiting for permission to proceed to have an audience with the King. On Sunday, 3 September he writes in his diary that the people liked to come and hear him read out of the Setswana Testament.


The first permanent Christian residents arrived at Mwandi on 9 August 1884 and on 11 September 1885 the Mission Station was established with the Rev Dorwald Jeanmairet as its head. He married Elise Coillard, Francois Coillard’s niece at Mwandi on 4 November which was the first Christian marriage in the area. Their daughter, Marguerite, born in September 1886 died in 1888 and was buried at Mwandi.


The Jeanmairets were replaced by  by Rev Auguste Goy, He married Miss Keck at Mwandi in 1894 but died in 1896. He was replaced by Rev Louis Jalla, who alternated as Head of Station with Rev John Roulet; the Jallas remained here until 1923. It was during this time, Christmas Day 1913 in fact, that the first brick Church at Mwandi was dedicated. This has since been demolished and  replaced by the new Jerusalem Church.


Mwandi is a traditional Mission Station, comprising of a Church, Hospital and School, looking after the minds, bodies and spirits of the local Lozi people.


As far as education is concerned the first school met in 1882 when Fred Arnot, a Scottish Missionary, was staying in the area. This school was continued by Coillard until 1886 when he left for Sefula.


In 1916 a small boarding school was opened for girls as well and by the end of the 1930s Old Sesheke (Mwandi) was one of the leading mission schools in the country. This emphasis on girl education is a matter of pride and an aspect of the school that we continue to foster.


After Independence in 1964 the school was taken over by the Government and they returned Mwandi Basic School to the United Church of Zambia in December 2004.

The first phase of electrification of the school took place in 2005. The second phase started in 2006 and there are now plans to provide High School facilities. The Science Laboratories were completed in 2006.  The proposed High School classroom blocks are a much needed project emphasizing the Church’s continuing commitment to the education and welfare of the local Lozi people, whom they have served for over 120 years.


On the medical front a Dispensary was built early on with huts for patients but the first custom built hospital was completed in 1928 and quickly gained a good reputation nation-wide for its treatment of syphilis and leprosy! Dr Reutter was the Medical Officer in Charge from 1903 – 1929. As an aside, the first mosquito-proof house (gauze) in NW Rhodesia was built by him at Mwandi in 1904.


Many times during the 30s the hospital found itself without a Doctor. Dr Ruth Picot arrived in 1937, thereafter there were further improvements to the hospital the construction of a verandah and a maternity ward. The first female Lozi nurses were trained at this time: Monde, Isikanda and Nalishebo.


During the early war years a campaign against scabies was carried out and the improvement was apparently general and long-lasting.


There was some controversy in 1948 as an inspection was carried out in Dr Picot’s absence and an unfavourable report ensued, which cast doubt on Mwandi continuing its status as a hospital and suggested its downgrading to a Dispensary – with only one person in charge.

This was not the first time the Mission had been threatened, it was suggested closing it in 1910 but the exertions of  Rev A Jalla and Dr Reutter prevented this.


In 1949, daub and wattle gave way to burnt bricks. Each year the number of confinements increased and what was most gratifying was they were not the desperate cases that had been the norm in the past but ordinary mothers wanting to have their babies under safer and more comfortable conditions. Florence and Namucana were the midwives then, followed by Zita.


In June and July of 1955 saw a mass vaccination campaign following an out-break of small-pox. 2,280 were vaccinated at the Hospital


In 1958 the construction of a 2 ward building to replace the old Glasgow Nursing Home began.


The Leprosy Village (now Kandiana) was always full with old residents like John and Kinde who were already there in 1937 on Dr Picot’s arrival. The Colonial Government sent some grants for a few months to improve their diet and to buy coats, blankets and mattresses. There was some debate as to whether to accept money from a Copperbelt lottery which was sent to help them. Eventually this worldly money was taken to alleviate the suffering and misery of these poor patients.


User-charges were introduced in 1960 and there were complaints to the Kuta but eventually the rumpus died down and the charges were accepted; though a stubborn minority of people at Simungoma – Katongo preferred to wait for a lift in a car to go to our neighbouring Catholic Hospital at Katima Mulilo where you did not have to pay!


In 1962 Dr Picot finally retired and work started on the new dispensary and maternity wards. Her place was taken by Dr Vila.


After Independence the Government took over the running of the school and hospital.


In 1986 the Presbyterian Church (USA) became involved after the French withdrawal and sent Dr Salvador de la Torre who served at Mwandi for 12 years. In 1991 the American Church sent teams to help electrify the hospital and built the Health Centre, Chapel and new hospital block and Mission House.


Recent developments have included the refurbishing of the rear of the Chapel as a Pastoral Care and Counselling Centre. In 2005 the Hospital was designated as a centre to distribute Retrovirals which has made a vast improvement to the quality of life of many people. There are plans too in the near future to construct a new maternity unit, if and when funding becomes available.



Livingstone au Zambeze (Document) by Rev Francois Escande, 

Francois Coillard A Rough Chronology 1877-1904 (Document) by John Roden,

Mission History (Document) by Rev Dr Stephen Moss,

Notes on the History of the Zambezi Mission (Document) by Jean Paul Burger

Hopital de Sesheke Memorial – Mission de Paris (Document) by Odette Morin

Baker Ernest  The Life & Explorations of FS Arnot  Seely & Service London 1921

MacConnachie John An Artisan Missionary on the Zambezi  OA&F Edinburgh

Snelson Peter  Educational Development in N Rhodesia 1883-1945 KKF Lusaka 1974

Zorn Jean-Francois The Transforming Gospel WCC Geneva  2004