Republic of South Africa
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The Republic of South Africa occupies the southern most tip of the African continent, compromising an area of nearly 1.22 million sq km (471,000 sq miles). The northern border is shared with Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique. The Kingdom of Lesotho is an independent state contained within South Africa’s borders. Among the earliest inhabitants were the San or Bushmen. By the fifteenth century the Bantu from the north, (who may have arrived one thousand years earlier) occupied the area and began keeping cattle and growing grains. More than 1100 different language groups are said to have emerged from the early peoples. Their descendants are today known as groups such as the Xhosa and the Zulu.
In 1488 the first Portuguese vessels arrived at the Cape of Good Hope. In 1652 the Dutch arrived from Europe and established a colony in the south at Cape Town and begin farming. These European settlers were known as Boers and later as Afrikaners. As a result of the Napoleonic Wars the British began to occupy the Cape in about 1795 and establish trade routes. By the 1830s the Boers had grown unhappy with British rule in the Cape and about 10,000 Boers set out on the Great Trek to seek new lands in the Natal and Orange River areas. Before the dawn of the twentieth century there would be two wars between the British and the Boers. Slavery was introduced to the Cape as early as 1652 bringing people from India, Indonesia, and West Africa to act as herders and agricultural laborers. In the nineteenth century Indian laborers were imported to the Natal area to work the farms and plantations creating yet another large and distinct ethnic community.
Discovery of gold, diamonds and other precious commodities in the late nineteenth century shifted the country’s economic focus from agriculture to mining and with it the socio-economic gulf between whites and blacks widened. By the end of the century more than 100,000 Africans were laboring in the mines. 1912 saw the formation of the African National Congress founded by blacks interested in obtaining political rights. By 1931 South Africa was granted independence by Britain as a member of the Commonwealth. Three decades later South Africa left the Commonwealth and became a Republic, a move in which non-whites had no voice. The ruling National Party passed laws following the Second World War restricting parliamentary representation to whites and by 1950 “apartheid” (apartness) became official. Attempts were made to re-organize the population in a hierarchy of privilege with whites at the top and blacks at the bottom. Abolition of apartheid came in 1991 and in 1994 Nelson Mandela was elected president in the country’s first non-racial general election. Today the Republic is governed by two legislative bodies known as the Senate and National Assembly.
Up to the nineteenth century agriculture was the most vital segment of the South African economy. While that was replaced with mining following the discovery of gold, diamonds and other precious minerals, agriculture still counts for 14% of the economy. Maize, fruit, wheat and sugarcane are important crops and wool, mohair, skins and meat are important animal products. Almost half the world’s gold has come from South Africa in the last one hundred years with gold and precious stones presently accounting for half of the country’s total exports. Many white South Africans enjoy a standard of living that is equal to the highest in the world. The population of South Africa is nearing 46 million people.
Christianity accounts for about 68% of the religious population (most Europeans and people of mixed origin are Christian and about 60% of the Africans). Indigenous beliefs claim 28% of the population the remaining four percent is divided between Islam and Hinduism.
Among the earliest records of the Stone-Campbell Movement reaching South Africa is that of emigrants from our British churches settling in Cape Town and the Transvaal. With the establishment of life in the new area these folks also began to gather together for the Lord’s Supper. In 1871 John Brodie was drawn to South Africa by the allure of diamonds; he settled first in Cape Town and later relocated to Kimberly. Finding no Church of Christ he placed his membership with the Baptists. When a Church of Christ was later established in Kimberly he became a financial supporter.
A quarter of a century later saw the arrival of John Sherriff in Cape Town from Australia where he had been a member of the Church of Christ. A newspaper advertisement seeking people of the same faith resulted in a group of four gathering together for the Lord’s Supper in 1896. When Sherriff shortly moved to Pretoria he again gathered together a group of like-minded individuals to share in the Lord’s Supper. Later Sherriff again relocated, this time to Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and with the advent of the Second Boer War it is believed that both of these small groups ceased meeting.
In 1901 a group of white people in Johannesburg gathered together to form a congregation that would be first lasting work of the Movement. The congregation became known as the Linden Avenue Church. Some of the early members were gold miners and were successful in bringing the gospel to some of the African workers at the mines. The congregation was soon able to secure the aid of George Khoza, an African evangelist, who settled in Roodeport and began to work with a small African congregation. The Linden Avenue congregation continued until 1989 when the remaining congregation disbanded and the building sold.
By 1917 an indigenous work was springing up among the Africans at the Cebe School in Centani. Having studied the New Testament they became convinced that the early church was an appropriate model for a new congregation and organized a church. The congregation is still believed to be meeting in 2004.
About the same time Thomas Bambesi Kalane, an African being educated in the United States, was introduced to the Stone-Campbell Movement by W.H. Book then the minister of the Tabernacle Church (now First Christian) in Columbus, Indiana. Thomas initially applied for service to South Africa under the Foreign Christian Missionary Society but was turned down. After that W.H. Book and his congregation raised the support to send Kalane to South Africa, following the end of the First World War. Thomas was immensely successful in establishing a congregation in Kimberley (now located in Galashiwe) and several other outposts and stations. At least one report credits him with leading some 3,000 people into the Church. His ministry was interrupted by controversy and was soon cut short by his death in prison on the first of August 1924 (For more on Kalane see Filbeck below). Despite Kalane’s short tenure of ministry he was able to gather together a congregation that included strong leaders, among them Mr. and Mrs. Charles Zungu and Mr. Simon Sibenya.
The workers in the diamond mines were especially receptive to the Gospel presented by this small band of Christians. As a result the work grew rapidly and spread to many areas when the mine workers returned to the native villages. Reportedly twelve congregations were begun in about thirty months by returning mine workers. A school was also established in the Kimberly Church building that lasted for many years. Another early challenge to the work was a demand from the South African government that the new church have white/European oversight if it were to be allowed to receive funds from overseas. Mr. and Mrs. O.E. Payne, then in their sixties, came from the United States as the first “missionaries” to give oversight to the work. After a short ministry Mr. Payne passed away in Africa. Mrs. Payne pled for more workers for Africa. Reporting through the pages of the Christian Standard she claimed there were at that time twenty-three larger congregations, thirty-five smaller congregations and twenty-three national preachers and teachers working among the black population.
Late in 1925 Charles Buttz Titus, formerly a missionary to China, arrived in South Africa to give supervision to the mission. Titus soon became convinced that the best way to advance the mission was to establish a Bible Training School in Kimberly. Titus appears to have also led in establishing a Conference of Churches of Christ in South Africa and in opening new mission stations in Pondoland and other areas. Other missionaries from the United States in this period and native Africans became part of the mission. One such African was T. D. Mathibe who joined Charles Titus in 1925 and preached until about 1967. Mr. Titus returned to the United States in 1930 and was prevented form returning because of the Great Depression and old age but ever afterward was enthusiastic advocate of the work in South Africa.
Charles Titus was succeeded by Alex B. Classen, but who moved on to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in 1932, as a result of deteriorating conditions in the mission. At this time the mission was placed under the leadership of Simon Sibenya who had been a convert of Thomas Kalane. Simon was appointed by the conference as general evangelist visiting and strengthening the churches. He endeavored to keep the Bible School open but faced great difficulty. His death in 1941 was a severe blow to the mission.
Also beginning in 1925 was the Thomas Evangelistic Mission to South Africa, funded by Mike H. Thomas of Dallas, Texas and later Mrs. T.W. Phillips of New Castle, Pennsylvania. The Thomas Mission included Jesse and Vera Kellems and Mr. and Mrs. Charles Richards and centered in Cape Town and Johannesburg. The purpose of the evangelistic mission is said to have been building up a work among the white Christians of South Africa capable of evangelizing all parts of the country. In fourteen months an estimated 1,200 conversions were made and five white congregations were begun. Several ministers were eventually brought from the United States to minister with these congregations, a monthly paper, South African Christian, was established in Cape Town and by 1928 forty young men were reported to be studying for the ministry. But Kellems was a controversial figure. While in South Africa he publicly debated a Zionist over the issue of Palestine. During a furlough in the United States the Thomas Evangelistic Mission fell apart. Basil Holt, a white South African replaced Kellems as evangelist and Lawrence Bash went as pianist. Mr. Roberts was the only one of the original party to return. The Thomas Mission appears to have collapsed in 1930 and several of American missionary preachers returned to the United States. Basil Holt spent the next several years working and preaching in the United States before returning to South Africa in 1946 under the auspices of the United Christian Missionary Society to work largely with white congregations.
The period from 1930 until after the Second World War was, in many ways, a period of discouragement for this segment of the Movement in South Africa. Much of the financial aid from churches in the United States was stopped as a result of the Depression and War resulting in most, if not all, of the missionaries leaving South Africa. However, with the paucity of foreign missionaries much of the responsibility for the local congregations fell to the native Africans. Men such as Richard Gcukumeni, David Rubuxwa, William Madumba, Apollos Langeni, John Zobolo, Ben Songo, Samson Mbaleni, and Steward Mahkonjwaand Nicholas Johannes labored for many years giving leadership to local congregations. Another person who gave many years to the Lord in the work of South Africa was George Khoza, who began working with black miners in Roodeport in about 1901 and was yet working with the mission in the mid-1940s.
Following the Second World War several efforts were made by the American missionaries to re-enter South Africa but many found the securing of proper visas a difficult task. Basil Holt, after spending several years in the United States, returned to his homeland under the auspices of the United Christian Missionary Society. He served as the Administrative Field Secretary for the U.C.M.S. in South Africa, residing in Linden, until 1969 when he retired after many years of active ministry. He was succeeded by Percy Webber who gave leadership to the Disciples’ churches during the process which integrated the Disciples’ congregations into the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa in September of 1972. The U.C.C.S.A. is the union of British-founded Congregationalists, American-founded Congregationalists and the Disciples of Christ of South Africa. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada continues the historic relationship with the U.C.C.S.A. with financial support and the assignment of Overseas Ministries personnel. The United Church consists of approximately 272 congregations, 236,000 members and 166 ministers in Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Zimbabwe and South Africa. Financial supported is also given to underwrite Theological Education by Extension in Southern Africa and Cape Town City Mission in South Africa.
Bill Rees and family, former missionaries to China and Canadian citizens, were able to secure visas and began a work in about 1950 in Kimberley with the Chinese community and the African churches. Bill Rees was also soon elected as Superintendent of the South African Church of Christ Mission. After several years of unsuccessful attempts, by 1950 the Max Ward Randall family, were also able to enter South Africa as independent missionaries with the support of the emerging Christian Churches and Churches of Christ. The Stone-Campbell Movement churches of South Africa were said to have been in a sad state of affairs after long periods without adequate supervision and administration. Max Ward Randall succeeded Bill Rees as Superintendent of the Mission. Rees and Randall soon recognized that one of the most immediate needs was for educating the ministry of the African churches. A small building was erected adjacent to the Corless Road Church in Kimberley to be used as a Bible Training School and classes opened in 1952. The following year the Lynn Stanley family took over responsibility of the school; Lynn Stanley made the school his life’s work working and teaching for the next three decades.
Another great stride in the work in South Africa came with the arrival of Robert and Phyllis Mills in 1955. Moving from Namibia to Kimberley in 1955, Robert initially began teaching in the training school, developed correspondence Bible lessons and aided in the Chinese work. He soon began to teach himself to operate offset-printing equipment and began printing all of his own booklets, correspondence lessons and so forth. Eventually he was printing in nineteen languages with the translations being sent all over Africa. In time the Mills’ purchased a van to carry the booklets with them to all mission meetings and to the churches they visited. Eventually the sheer volume of books being produced prevented display in the Bible Van. They relocated to Johannesburg and there opened a Bible bookstore. They soon developed a catalogue that could be sent to ministers, churches, and correspondence students. As a result thousands of students studied the Gospel through the Bible correspondence lessons of the Gospel Tract Centre. In 2002 the name was changed to the Gospel Resource Center to reflect the growing areas of ministry taking place within the centre and local church. Paul and Karen Reyman now oversee the work in Alberton.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s several additional families from American Christian Churches and Churches of Christ began mission work in South Africa. These missionary families contributed significantly to the growth of the South African congregations so that by 1957 more than 6,000 baptisms had been reported raising the number of Christians to about 10,000 in 150 local congregations served by forty-five ministers. A strong factor in that growth was the training of indigenous leaders for ministry. One such person was Nic Qwemesha, one of the first students in the training school. Nic was multi-lingual and was therefore able to serve as interpreter for the teachers and students, translating exams and such. Following his own training Nic was offered a permanent position as a teacher in the school, a position which he held for the next forty years. For a time in the 1980s Nic was also Superintendent of the Mission.
Among the missionary families to begin service in this era were John and Heather Kernan who serve in Cape Town and are yet involved in printing and literature (though officially retired); the Alvin Nicholson family gave oversight to the evangelistic work in the south-eastern part of the country; the Al Zimmerman family worked with the Polo Road Church in Cape Town and the Bible Training School; the Al Hamilton family served in Kimberly; the Lester LeMay family; the Gordon and Estelle Nelson family worked in Cape Town; John (a native South African) and Dr. Louise Fulford (of New Zealand) and John’s brother, Carroll and his wife, Nancy; Stuart and Marilyn Cook began congregations in Johannesburg which have now grown into a multi-building ministry center known as Aletheia International Ministries (relocated to Ruimsig in 2000 and now under the direction of Bill and Connie Wicks); Don and Patti Hart ministered with the congregation in Wynberg (now closed); Wally and Joy Farnham worked in Benoni until Wally’s death in 1977; Darrell and Anne Stanley settled in Cape Town in 1968 with the hope of doing medical work and entered Cape Town University Medical School but their work was cut short in 1974 when Darrell was killed in an automobile accident and Anne was severely injured.
The 1970s and 1980s saw a new generation of missionaries from the American Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, as well as the flourishing ministry of many African leaders. Floyd and Joan Stamms arrived in South Africa in 1971 to begin work among the Indian people of Durban. That work was soon put in the hands of Indian leaders and the Stamms transferred to Zululand, working there until the 1990s. Reared in South Africa, Brian Guy and his family ministered for a time after being educated in the United States. Also in 1971 Michael and Caryl Stanley began working with Michael’s father, Lynn, in the Bible training school. Michael became president of Umzumbe Bible Training School upon Lynn’s retirement in 1983. The school closed a decade later after many years of teaching but the Stanleys continue in the ministry of teaching and education. Alice Fishback went to South Africa in 1980, having ministered in Zimbabwe in the 1960s. She is related to the Fishbacks who served South Africa in the 1920s. Alice settled in Umtata, Transkei and has spent much time in visitation, encouragement and teaching church groups in Transkei. Another important aspect of Alice’s ministry has been recording messages and music on cassette tapes in various languages and making them available for a wider audience. In 1992 Alice moved to Johannesburg where she set up a recording studio. She will soon complete a quarter of a century of ministry in South Africa. Others to join the work on a long-term basis were the Peter and Fran Laughren family, who began in 1985. Cape Bible Seminary has been one area of emphasis for the Laughrens, creating an extension program taking ministerial training to the local congregations. Steve and Pat Zimmerman are also active in the work of Cape Bible Seminary. Fran Hamilton Laughren and Steve Zimmerman are the children of missionary families who began their service in South Africa in 1960.
Since 1990 many new families have shared in the South African experience, some as short-term missionaries and others as temporary workers substituting while long-term workers were on furlough, and others as full-time missionaries. Phoebe Rees arrived in Kimberley in 1995, worked for a time at South Africa Bible Institute and now shares in the ministry of the Gospel Resource Centre. Ron and Carolyn Butler went to South Africa from Zaire in 1996 and are both active in preaching and teaching ministries in several areas. Rick and Mary Ellen Main shared in the Aletheia ministry until 2000 and later ministered with the Eldorado Park Christian Church helping them to become a self-sustaining congregation. The Mains returned to the United States in 2003.
In 2004 there are approximately twenty American missionary families of the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ serving in South Africa. There is estimated to be 650 total congregations of the Stone-Campbell Movement in South Africa. This number includes some house churches and some multi-assembly churches, which are congregations composed of many house churches but considered one local church. At present about 600 individuals in fifteen prisons are involved in Theological Education by Extension (TEE). In addition to the Gospel Resource Center in Alberton, Roger Dickson in Cape Town is also involved in literacy work printing tracts, study New Testaments and Bible correspondence courses. Christ in Youth based in Joplin, Missouri USA has partnered with the National Youth Seminar to provide youth leadership training and a national youth conference in South Africa once a year from 2005 through 2009. Because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic on the African continent many children are left homeless. A children’s home, Oceans of Mercy, is planned for Port Elizabeth. Samaritan Community Care Project in Tigane, under the leadership of Patson Phiri, is a program providing meals for about one hundred children a day, many of them orphans.
Eldred and Jane Nichols (1945-1980), Guy Caskey, Leonard and Marguerite Gray (1953-1968), Waymon Miller and Tex Williams are credited with stimulating an outreach to South Africa by the American a cappella Churches of Christ in the period following the Second World War. Specific areas of concentration have been Venda and Transkei. Eldred Echols is sometimes called the “Father” of modern Churches of Christ missions in South Africa among whites not only because of his own long service but for his inspiration of others to give their lives to the work.
In Venda the outreach dates to 1954 with the efforts of John Hardin, Arthur Lovett, Joe McKissick, two native evangelists and an early convert, Samuel Ramagwede. Several native workers were engaged so that by 1990 there were about three dozen Churches of Christ in Venda. Among those native workers was Jackson Songoni who also worked to establish congregations in Transkei so that by 1990 there were approximately twenty-five congregations in that area. There have been at least three dozen American families of the Churches of Christ who have served as missionaries in South Africa. Among the native population, John Manape, a Sotho language man, worked in Pretoria. Robert Moraba had significant work in Sekhukhuniland.
Educational opportunities sponsored by the a cappella Churches of Christ include Christian Bush School; International School of Biblical Studies, Cape Town; Natal School of Preaching, Natal; and Southern Africa Bible School begun by Eldred Echols and Al Horne in 1966 in Benoni. In 2000 there were an estimated 500 Churches of Christ congregations in South Africa with an estimated population of 32,500 members presently served by about a dozen American missionaries. There are at least two forums for the Churches of Christ in South Africa; the biennial Soul Winning Workshop and the Southern Africa International Lectureship.
International Churches of Christ have six congregations in South Africa.
Clinton J. Holloway
National Profiles Editor
Revised by Gary Holloway, October 20, 2016
The Restoration Plea in Southern Africa, unpublished manuscript by Darrell Stanley, Duane Stanley and Alice Fishback, revised in 1995, copy in the files of World Convention, Nashville, TN.
The First Fifty Years, A Brief History of the Direct-Support Missionary Movement, David Filbeck, College Press Publishing Co., Joplin, Mo., 1980.
United Congregational Church in Southern Africa (see below)
For online directories of a cappella Churches of Christ see:
Contact Roger E. Dickson
Bellville 7535 RSA
Christian Churches and Churches of Christ
Alice Fishback (Transkei Christian Mission)
P.O. Box 1153
Southdale 2135 Johannesburg, RSA
The South African Bible Institute
1 Newton Street Greenside
Northern Cape, Kimberley South Africa
Southern Africa Bible College
Telephone: 011-27-11-969-4497 or 4498
P.O. Box 11165, Rynfield, Benoni 1514, South Africa
Cape Bible Seminary
South African Christian Mission, Steve Zimmerman
P.O. Box 1583
Durbanville, 7551 RSA
Telephone: 011 27 21 976 4546
Mission to South Africa, Stuart and Marilyn Cook
P.O. Box 17175 – Hillbrow 2038
Church of Christ Mission (Instrumental)
John and Heather Kernan
11 Jasmay Place – Nahoon Valley
5241 East London RSA
Telephone and Fax: (27) 43 735 2953
Outreach International, Peter and Fran Laughren
P.O. Box 10421
George 6530 RSA
Telephone: 011 27 44 873 0448
Fax: 011 27 44 873 0548
Reyman Africa Mission, Paul and Karen Reyman
Gospel Resource Centre
P.O. Box 1347
Alberton 1450 RSA
Telephone: 27 11 907 1533 or 27 072 227 0775
Fax: 27 11 907 8651
South Africa Church of Christ Mission (Instrumental), Michael and Caryl Stanley
P.O. Box 13
4225 Umzumbe RSA
Telephone: 27 39 684 6517
Transkei Christian Mission, Alice Fishback
P.O. Box 1153 Southdale
2135 Johannesburg RSA
Future Leaders, a periodical highlighting the young people of South Africa. (See John and Heather Kernan above).
See the Gospel Resource Centre in Alberton for printed materials
One Tribe Ministries (also working in Mozambique)
Michael and Angie Hawke
P.O. Box 20047
West Acres, RSA 1211
A cappella Churches of Christ
Soul Winning Workshop
Southern Africa Bible School Lectureship (See educational institutions above)
Christian Churches and Churches of Christ
All-Africa Missionary Conference (See Stuart Cook or Alice Fishback above)
Gospel Resource Centre, Alberton