A New Spiritual Force

The school at the Moravian missionary station Elim

The school at the Moravian missionary station Elim in the southwestern Cape. German missionaries belonging to the Moravian Church tended to establish stations like Elim and Genadendal in the west and Shiloh, Goshen and Engotini in the east among communities whose traditional culture had been disrupted or destroyed. The missionaries established ‘closed settlements’ under the paternalist control of the missionaries, who emphasised discipline, literacy and the acquisition of artisan skills. By the 1930s this discipline was beginning to break down as the forces of industrialisation and secularisation impacted on the stations. Many of the converts continued to live on the station, but found work as artisans in the neighborhood.

Missionary efforts continued steadily in the course of the nineteenth century, bringing about not only a large increase in converts, but also a major expansion of literacy. The colonial states had left the education of black and coloured children to churches and missionary societies. Protestant missionaries remained key players in racial politics in South Africa deep into the twentieth century.

By the mid-1930s the English-speaking churches and missionary societies would discard the hope that some good could come for blacks out of segregation. They would rally around the common belief of nineteenth-century missionaries that command of the English language and of Western culture and habits were the key to success in a society that was increasingly becoming economically and culturally integrated. Meanwhile, Afrikaner-funded missions would walk further on the road of segregation, stressing the education of blacks in their mother tongue and own culture. But it was only in the 1950s that the English-speaking and Afrikaner churches would come to a parting of the ways.

A challenge to old methods

Missionaries and social activism

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