The first missionary in Southern Africa, Gonçalo da Silveira, is murdered

Gonçalo da Silveira Image source

Thursday, 16 March 1561

Gonçalo da Silveira was a Jesuit Priest born and educated in Portugal. He was a missionary in India, acting as provincial superior for the Jesuits, before he began his work in southern Africa. He first arrived at Sofala (Mozambique) in 1560, and proceeded to Otongwe near Cape Corrientes.

During his stay of seven weeks in Cape Corrientes, he instructed and baptized the Makaranga chief, Gamba, and about 450 people of his kraal. Towards the end of the year, he began his expedition up the Zambezi River to the capital of the Monomotapa. This appears to have been the N'Pande kraal, close to the M'Zingesi River, a southern tributary of the Zambezi.

He arrived in Monomotapa on 26 December 1560, and remained there until his death. During this period he baptized the chief and a large number of his subjects. However, at the same time, Arabs from Mozambique had begun to defame the missionary - a plot instigated by one of their priests.

Due to this slander, da Silveira was strangled to death in his hut, by order of the chief, on 16 March 1561. The expedition sent to avenge da Silveira never reached its destination, and his apostolate came to an abrupt end due to the lack of missionaries available to carry on his work.

• Catholic Online,"Ven. Goncalo da Silveira",From: Catholic Online,[Online],Available at:,[Accessed on: 11 March 2014]
• Potgieter, D.J. et al. (eds) (1970). Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, Cape Town: NASOU, v. 7, p. 462.
•  The Jesuits Online, 'Servant of God (SG), Goncalo da Silveira', from The Jesuits [online] Available at:, [Acessed on 13 March 2015]

Last updated : 10-Mar-2017

This article was produced by South African History Online on 16-Mar-2011

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