South Africa’s Christian Heritage

South Africa - The First Peoples

It is said that the Phoenicians sailed to the Cape already back in the 6th century BC. Light-built hunter-gatherer Khoi and the stock herding San dwelt in the Western parts of South Africa during this time. About 2000 years ago, Bantu-speaking farmers entered the Eastern Cape from the North. These tall people were skilled in the use of smelting and craftworks. Most of the native folk believed in shamanism and contacting their ancestors through a creator god, and some still do.

South Africa in Biblical Prophecy

Britain and her Commonwealth (of which South Africa was a predominant part until recently) are Israel of the Bible, as prophesied in GENESIS 35:11. Combined with the Dutch, who are descendents of the Israelite tribe of Zebulon (see the Christian History of Holland), South Africa has a rich Christian Israelite history. Indeed, God even specifically mentions that His people Israel will be found in the southern parts of Africa in the last days – see ZEPHANIAH 3:9-10.

Historical Background

The Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Dias 1 first set foot on the shores of Mossel Bay in 1488 and opened the route to the Indian Ocean. He erected a limestone pillar and Catholic cross at the Cape of Good Hope in the same year. It was 1652 when the Dutch East India Company sent Jan van Riebeeck to set up a refreshment station for company ships at Table Bay. He was a Protestant and member of the Puritan/Calvinistic orientated Dutch Reformed Church. In these early days when no minister had been sent to the Cape, lay-people, who had no theological education, were only allowed to preach from printed sermons. No Catholic was allowed to worship publicly or hold mass, even if their children had been baptised in the Reformed Church 2. Trade was held with the local Khoi, and through this contact the Christian faith and values were passed on. Missionaries of the Dutch Reformed Church reported in 1658 that Khoikhoi slaves in the area attended their mission services.

The small settlement in the Cape grew slowly into a colony under Dutch control, until 1795 when the French Revolution, which also affected Holland, split the people of the Cape: some supported France and some the Dutch King, William of Orange. The English feared the French would take over the Cape and the important sea routes to the East. Britain therefore sent ships to protect the Cape from a French invasion. Due to a number of misunderstandings, the peacekeeping mission ended up in guns being fired and the English occupying the Cape. The control of the Cape was handed back to Holland in 1803. Possession of the Cape returned to Britain in the second occupation in 1806, when once more war broke out between France and Britain. This time the British stayed until 1910.

South African Coat of ArmsSouth African Coat of Arms The Boers (Dutch farmers) had established their own two independent states by the 1850s: Transvaal and the Orange Free State in the northeastern part of South Africa; whereas Britain controlled the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape in Natal. The discovery of diamonds and gold primarily led to the Anglo-Boer War, and the years from 1899 until 1902 saw the two nations of Israelite descent fighting each other fiercely. Although the Boers were a resilient people and good marksmen, they were no match for the 500,000 British soldiers. After the Boer War, the two Boer republics and the British colonies in the Western and Eastern Cape were united under British dominion and became the “Union of South Africa” in 1910. As shown here, the old coat of arms of South Africa had the motto: “Ex Unitate Vires = Out of Unity Comes Strength.

The time until 1994 was marked by a system called “Apartheid”. It had its roots in psychology and evolution, combined with misinterpretation of the Bible and white Aryan superiority ideals. It was mainly instituted by the Afrikaans National Party, and it also expressed the fear that the white South Africans always lived with: finally being able to live safely in their own state. Nowadays, South Africa is very opposed to God’s Word, and we have another extreme - the “most liberal constitution” in the world - with the fruit of one of the highest crime rates in the world.3

Revivals and Christian Leaders of the Past

Due to the persecution of Protestants in France, in 1687 some 375 Huguenots (see the Christian History of France) fled and started a new life in the Cape. After a long and arduous journey by ship, they arrived with virtually nothing – even Bibles had to be smuggled out of France, some hidden in loaves of bread. The Huguenots had their own pastor come out with them, and contrary to what is common today, they actually seemed to obey and be loyal to him.

Huguenot Monument in FranschhoekHuguenot Monument in FranschhoekHuguenot Monument in Franschhoek Many more Huguenots came in the years after and settled in the areas of Paarl/Drakenstein, Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. On the right you can see the Huguenot Monument in Franschhoek. The woman has the Bible in her hand; the broken chain stands for religious freedom; and she is casting off the cloak of oppression.4

The first foreign missionary to South Africa was the Moravian, George Schmidt in 1737. His main aim was to see the Khoi saved, and so he lived and worked amongst them, teaching them to read and slowly winning their trust. Eventually some were baptised after hearing more and more about Christ.

The Boers were always a God-fearing people. In the Eighteenth century most of the farmers only had the Bible to read from, and since they lived in remote areas of the country, they often had to hold their own family worship. The typical daily work started with the singing of a Psalm and reading a chapter from the Bible, which the whole family, including slaves and Khoi workers, had to attend. Unlike today, the Bible was highly valued and referred to for guidance in daily social, economical and political matters 2

Great TrekGreat Trek Many felt oppressed by the English (who had controlled the Western Cape since 1806), who were “destroying what they [the Boers] saw as divine distinction between blacks and whites”, by abolishing slavery, and giving coloureds and blacks the same rights before the law. 5 That is why 15,000 Boers saw that the only way out was in leaving the Cape, in the so-called Great Trek towards the North-east in 1836, to form their own state. On their way the Boers entered land occupied by the Zulus and war seemed inescapable. It is to be noted that it was the Zulu leader Shaka (in a movement called “mfecane” = forced migration) who drove the native people (the Khoi) off their lands. Before the famous Battle of Blood River with the Zulus, the Boers made a vow to the Lord to always remember this day and His intervention if He would save them that day. For six nights this vow was confirmed, combined with prayers. Then God miraculously intervened, when during the ferocious battle none of the Boers were hurt and neither were any of their cattle lost, even though they were hugely outnumbered by the enemy. This day (16th December) was officially celebrated until the new government of South Africa changed it into the “Day of Reconciliation”.

David LivingstoneDavid Livingstone It must also be mentioned here that the man who changed the “dark continent”, David Livingstone, arrived in Cape Town in 1840. His first assignment was in Bachuanaland (now Botswana), where he was to found a mission station north of Moffat's. Here he began what was to become his standard practice. He traveled into the interior and stayed with the local people until he learned their languages, preaching and studying the botany and natural history of the area. In between trips he ran his mission, building a chapel, setting up a printing press, preaching, and healing. In 1851 he reached the Zambezi River. When he returned to the mission, however, he found that the Afrikaners6, smarting from his constant rebukes of them for practicing slavery, had burned down the mission and destroyed his home. In 1852, his wife, Mary and their four children were sent to Great Britain for their protection. With the family's departure, Livingstone embarked on a series of long explorations that were unprecedented at the time and that would take up the rest of his life. His determination was clear: "I shall open up a path into the interior or perish," he said. Livingstone was convinced that Christianity, commerce, and civilization would deliver Africa from slavery and barbarism. He hoped to find a route to the Atlantic Ocean that would open legitimate commerce and undercut the slave trade while providing opportunities for missionary work.

This great prayer warrior passed away on his knees in prayer, praying for Africa. He thought his life had been a failure. He had only one convert and his three essential prayers: that Africa should be opened to the Gospel; that slavery should be abolished; and that he could find the source of the Nile seemed unanswered. Yet, such was the love of the Africans for this man that they carried his body for 9 months over one thousand miles to be shipped back to Westminster Abbey for burial. Within years, mission stations were being set up all over Africa, Great Britain abolished slavery and it was found that he had actually discovered the source of the Nile! His heart was buried in Africa…

In 1860, as a direct result of a call to prayer that was published in the Kerkbode [the official bulletin of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) of South Africa], strong conviction with confessing of sins and seeking God overcame the people in Worcester, located in the Western Cape. This "revival" was echoed in the late 1870's and spread to all sections of the population. It appears that the DRC could not comprehend nor adapt to some of the manifestations of that revival and we hear very little of it again.

Andrew MurrayAndrew Murray This also was the time when Andrew Murray had his great ministry in South Africa. In Great Britain he had been miraculously healed from “preacher’s voice” (the inability to speak). He returned to South Africa in 1881, but his church (the DRC) did not welcome his message about divine healing. 7 Nevertheless, there were families that received salvation at that time and a generation later, in the early 1900's, we find born again believers who were experiencing “the baptism with the Holy Ghost and speaking in tongues.” 7

The (Boer) prisoners of war revival during the Boer War was characterized "by extraordinary prayer, by faithful preaching, conviction of sin, confession and repentance with lasting conversions and hundreds of enlistments for missionary service." With the return of the prisoners after the War, revival swept through South Africa during an economic depression 8. Also, John Alexander Dowie’sLeaves of Healing” were highly valued in South Africa and amongst those prisoners.

John G. LakeJohn G. Lake John G. Lake 9 (1870-1935) certainly had the greatest impact on the Pentecost movement in South Africa, bringing the Pentecostal message from Azusa Street in Los Angeles in 1908. Prior to this, his whole family had been stricken with sickness and death. Then his brother, sister and his wife were powerfully healed after having been sick for a long time. John Alexander Dowie had prayed for all of them, and this was when Lake’s own healing ministry started. He received the baptism in the Holy Ghost after seeking it for 9 months!

The Lord led John Lake to South Africa, confirming His call by miraculously providing the sea fare and a house for free in Johannesburg. Thousands of healings were testified under Lake’s ministry, souls in repentance brought to salvation, and many people from other denominations were healed and filled with the Holy Ghost, carrying the testimony back to their churches. 10 Lake’s work started in multiracial services, and within five years he had established 500 black Pentecostal churches (Zion Christian Church) and 125 white churches (Apostolic Faith Mission). The Pentecostal Holiness Church in South Africa was founded in 1913 under the leadership of Lehman, who had come with Lake in 1908. According to Cecil John Rhodes, “[Lake's] message has swept Africa. He has done more toward South Africa's future peace than any other man.”

Hope for Our Future if We Turn to God

When the new South Africa was formed in 1994, and its Constitution first submitted for adoption, few of the political parties remembered the words: "THIS BIBLE is for the government of the people…" Only one Christian party did so. They voted against the Constitution and said: "The majority of South Africans… wanted the words “In humble submission to Almighty God” to be inserted at the beginning of the preamble, but the communists and atheists in the Constitutional Assembly (who are in the minority in the country!) rejected the requests." This constitution also protects homosexuality, allows State interference in religious observances at state-aided institutions (schools), and protects pornography, prostitution and abortion. 11

What needs to happen is for all the people to wake up to the true reasons for moral decline, staggering crime numbers, corruption to the core, dooming land reforms and pestilences sweeping the country. These problems are only because of our own sins, not because of any specific culture:

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the LORD thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them” DEUTERONOMY 30:19-20.

As so often is the case, it is only when we return to God, He is willing to forgive us and take us on again.

  • 1. Nuwe Afrikaanse Ensiklopedie
  • 2. a. b. History of Christianity in South Africa
  • 3. The Mind Game - Phillip Day
  • 4. Huguenot Museum, Franschhoek, South Africa
  • 5. South Africa - The Rough Guide
  • 6. Afrikaners are white South Africans of predominantly Calvinist Dutch, German, French Huguenot, Flemish and Friesian descent who speak Afrikaans
  • 7. a. b. Full Gospel Church of GOD in Southern Africa
  • 8. The Greatest Revivals Ever
  • 9. The Origins of the Pentecostal Movement
  • 10. Apostle to Africa - John G. Lake - Gordon Lindsay
  • 11. Gospel Defence League