Mmegi Blogs :: The Roof
Last Updated
Friday 15 December 2017, 17:56 pm.
The Roof

There are of course two problems with a roof – the materials used and the structure which underpins it.
By Sandy Grant Wed 29 Nov 2017, 18:15 pm (GMT +2)
Mmegi Blogs :: The Roof

This photo of the UCCSA church in Serowe which was taken in the course of its construction in, perhaps 1911/12, shows how the builders had decided they should construct a roof which would bridge that yawning gap between the two side walls. Constructing a roof whose span was longer than a standard-sized rondavel had always been a problem. In the north, the weight of the roof was taken by a central pole and by a circular brace of vertical timbers with the wall having no structural function.

In contrast, with the Bakgatla, not least, the weight of the roof was taken not by a central pole but by the exterior walls. The problem was that, usually, the rondavel could only be increased in size by flattening the thatched roof – something that is regularly to be seen today – with the result that rain was released only slowly and the thatch rotted. In Mochudi, there can still be seen at least two surviving super-sized rondavels, which demonstrate that somehow the Bakgatla had learnt the art of constructing a more sophisticated roof.

Initially, the size of the first of the rectangular buildings was limited by the size of the roof. The first of the new churches, as at Shoshong, were not much more than rectangular re-creations of the rondavel. But because the new super-sized tribal churches that succeeded them roughly in the period 1895 to 1915 had to be large, roofing of a previously unknown size had also to be designed.

How was it done? I imagine that these builders must have drawn their knowledge from the large churches that had been


built in South Africa. Hopefully one day, someone will research that connection. But here a comparison of the earlier church at Old Palapye with the newer version in Serowe indicates that, in many respects, the one replicated the other.

There were significant differences, of course, but both had aisles and clerestories which were not to be found in the churches elsewhere such as Molepolole and Mochudi. At Old Palapye, the columns appear to have been made of wood but these, nevertheless, served to reduce the width of the body of the church. In other words, the roofing of the two side aisles could be constructed independently of the central span, thus hugely reducing the problem.

The exterior of the two churches clearly shows this design feature. It is important though to pin down the origin of the design of those two churches. Which came first? The wish by the London Missionary Society (LMS), or perhaps Khama, to recreate here the more or less orthodox design of English parish churches, or the stroke of genius which convinced the builders that the way to reduce the roof span, was to tackle the problem in two parts?

On balance, it seems to me more likely that the choice of design at Old Palapye, and thus of Serowe, came about as a result of the LMS’ preference, rather than the appearance here of some still unknown and unrecognized individual. But that conclusion also creates problems because I am yet to learn that Congregational churches in England were built along the lines of these two Ngwato churches. From where, therefore, did this design originate?


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