The Historical Background of Missionaries in South Africa and the Translation of Christian Bibles into isiZulu

The Historical Background of Missionaries in South Africa and the Translation of Christian Bibles into isiZulu

Nthabiseng Mokwena, Junior Curator, DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History

Missionaries and the establishment of Christianity in South Africa

The Christian religion was introduced to South Africa by European settlers and later missionaries in the 17th century. This introduction started with the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck from the Netherlands in 1652. He was authorised by the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC, Dutch East India Company) to establish a refreshment station aimed at replenishing food and fuel for ships travelling between the Netherlands and Southeast and South Asia. Jan van Riebeeck was accompanied by settlers sailing on three ships, the Dromedaries, the Rejigger and De Goede Hoop. These people needed a place of worship and were eventually granted exclusive rights to start a church called the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (or Dutch Reformed Church). 

Christianity became further entrenched with the arrival of the German missionary, Georg Schmidt, who came to South Africa as a Christian missionary in July 1737. He founded the first Protestant mission called the Moravian Brethren. Georg Schmidt first settled at Zoetemelksvlei but he moved to Baviaanskloof, which is now known as Genadendal (today a town in the Western Cape Province of South Africa). His initial work was among the Khoi-Khoi tribe but after his controversial baptism of five Khoi-Khoi slaves in 1742, conflict arose with the Dutch Reformed Church who at the time, believed that baptised Christians must be free, not slaves.

Bible Translation
Figure 1: The first Christian mission at Genadendal, Western Cape Province, South Africa.

Several missionaries were later established in South Africa but this article focusses on the historical background of the Zulu Kingdom missionary station which started at Hermannsburg (a small hamlet located in the Province of KwaZulu-Natal) in 1854 and the translation of the European Bible into isiZulu. This was the first station of the Hermannsburg Missionary Society based in Hermannsburg, Germany. The Hermannsburg Missionary Society was founded by Louis Harms, of the Saints Peter and Paul Lutheran Congregation in Hermannsburg, Germany. The missionaries led by Harms were denied permission by the Sultan of Zanzibar when they were on their way to Ethiopia. They then took a detour and stayed over in Port Natal (Durban), where local Lutherans led by Wilhelm Posselt from the German Missionary Society encouraged them to consider setting up a mission station for the Zulu people. When the Hermannsburg missionaries accepted it, it marked the start of their mission in South Africa. King Mpande kaSenzangakhona (monarch of the Zulu Kingdom from 1840 to 1872) denied Hermannsburg missionaries permission to settle on his land and this resulted in the purchasing of the farm Perseverance on the edge of Zululand near Greytown by the Hermannsburg missionaries. This marked the genesis of Christianity in the Zulu Kingdom.

Translation of the Bible into isiZulu

Christianity is the dominant religion in South Africa, and almost 80% of the population call themselves Christians. Historically, the role of Christianity in South African has been significant, with some Christian denominations theologically advocating for inequality, subjugation and racial segregation while others fought against these injustices. 

As the dominant religion, Christian teachers realised the importance of the South African congregants hearing and learning the word of God in their mother tongue or the popular language of the area. This brought about the translation of the Bible from European to South African languages, relating the importance of experiencing the Pentecost (Acts chapter 2, verse 4), where everyone heard the message of the great deeds of God in his or her own language. The importance of learning Biblical teachings in one’s language was realised through these translations. As the famous quote of Mr Nelson Mandela says “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language that goes to his heart.”

By the turn of the nineteenth century, there were already fully published Bibles in more than five South African indigenous languages: SeTswana by Moffat in 1857, Xhosa by Boyce in 1859, Shrewsbury, and Appleyard, Southern Sotho by Cassalis, Roland, and Arbousset in 1881, IsiZulu in 1883 and SePedi by Knothe, Kuschke and Trumpelmann in 1904, Tsonga by Swiss Mission in 1906 (Revised 1929) and Venda by the Berlin Mission in 1936.

The Gospel of Matthew was the first book of the Bible to be translated into the isiZulu language by a missionary named George Champion. The book was published by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in 1848. Genesis and two Psalms were the first portions of the Bible to be translated in isiZulu language in 1837. These were published in the First Book for Readers. The New Testament was translated by several missionaries of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) and published in 1865. The complete Bible was published in 1883 after being translated by the ABCFM, corrected by Andrew Abraham, and finally edited by S. C. Pixley (American Congregationalist missionary).

In 1917, a revision of the previously published isiZulu Bible by James Dexter Taylor was rejected due to being riddled with errors and poor isiZulu language. A revision committee was later established to revise the 1893 Bible in a proper, more acceptable format. This revision was published by the British and Foreign Bible Society in London in 1959. A modern version of the isiZulu New Testament and the Psalms were completed in 1986 and published in Cape Town by the Bible Society of South Africa. 

Current state of affairs

The Jacob Zuma Foundation, established by the former South African President, Mr Jacob Zuma, had reportedly collaborated with the South African Roman Catholic Church to translate the original Greek and Hebrew Bible into isiZulu.

The Foundation donated approximately R560 000.00 with the aim of ensuring that readers of the isiZulu Bible would get the message as it is intended, with proper, direct translation. According to Bishop Mlungisi Pius Dlungwane (Bishop of Marrionhill, KwaZulu-Natal) the reasons behind this gesture were that the current translations lacked the “idiom and music” of isiZulu.  Other reasons given were the fact that Mr Zuma’s mother tongue is isiZulu, the main language spoken in South Africa and that the Bible was initially translated into isiZulu during the period of white minority rule, using other European languages. During an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Bishop Dlungwane reportedly explained that the translation of this Bible might take at least a decade to complete. 

It is evident from this widely reported gesture that even now, the translation of the Bible into the Isizulu language is extremely important for the people of South Africa. The DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History can play an important role in making sure that we take our place in preserving the rich history of these valuable documents.

Currently, the Museum has been entrusted with the Indaba Enhle kaNkulunkulu, the new translation’s 1st edition of 1979, which has three scriptures from the New Testament and one scripture from the Old Testament (Mark, Acts, Ephesians and Psalms). It was published by the Bible Society of South Africa.


Figure 2 & 3: The Indaba Enhle kaNkulunkulu in the historical documents collection of the DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History (Accession number: HG 25999)







  • E.A. Hermanson, “A brief overview of Bible translation in South Africa”, Acta Theologica Vol. 22, No 1, 2002, 6-18. 
  • Mthikazi Roselina Masubelele “The role of Bible translation in the development of written Zulu: a corpus-based study,” D. Litt. et Phil. University of South Africa, 2007.
  • South African church welcomes Zulu Bible translation funds, 6 January 2015. (accessed 10 May 2021).
  • The Hermannsburg Mission. (accessed 10 May 2021).
The Impact of the Struggle Wars Post 1994 Within the South African Army

The Impact of the Struggle Wars Post 1994 Within the South African Army

Mpho Khalo, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History

September 2021




After the extended negotiation process before the adoption of the Interim Constitution (1994), South Africa embarked on the integration of its former adversarial military forces. This process continued under the new Constitution as adopted in 1996 (Act 108 of 1996). The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) was to consist of the South African Defence Force (SADF), the (semi) conventional military force of the Apartheid regime, the so-called homeland-armies of the Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Venda and Ciskei (referred to by some as the “forgotten armies of the TBVC” states), and the armed wings of the ANC and PAC (Umkhonto we Sizwe [MK] and the Azanian People’s Liberation Army [APLA]). 


There were always mixed feelings about combining the former freedom fighters with the South African Defence Force because of the idea that the ‘terrorists’ cannot work with the servicemen. However, the integration had to continue and members had to converge at the Wallmansthal Military Base in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria. This was a huge challenge because all these forces had trained differently.

In 1994, APLA was disbanded and absorbed into the new South African National Defence Force. The burden for the new formation was that APLA had submitted 6 000 names for enrolment into the South African Defence Force.


Figure 1: Members of the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (Photograph: Print Media).


uMkhonto we Sizwe (“Spear of the Nation”) had returned to South Africa to create core areas within the South African communities in which they operated with a certain degree of safety. MK intended to destabilise the country thereby forcing the South African authorities to negotiate. The returning MK soldiers (after the unbanning of the African National Congress) did not have any conventional training.


Figure 2: Soldiers from the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto We sizwe (Photograph: Print Media).



Figure 3: A display of photographs at the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History illustrating the integration of the different military forces. 

The content specialist in the formation of military units had anticipated that all army formations would be disbanded (this included the South African Defence Force) in order for the integration to successfully going forward. However, this never happened and it was a huge compromise for the liberation army and the TBVC states, because of the diverse military backgrounds of all these forces. Soldiers underwent a 41 day orientation programme in conventional military skills. On completion of the programme the selection of successful candidates was carried out by evaluation teams of the South African National Defence Force, which included former uMkhonto we Sizwe officials.

 After the first democratic elections in April 1994, President Nelson Mandela appointed the former commander of MK, Mr Joe Modise, as South Africa’s Minister of Defence. Mr Ronnie Kasrils was appointed as Deputy Minister of Defence. 




After the 1994 elections, the social system of patriarchy in which men are regarded as the authority mushroomed within the SANDF and could clearly be illustrated with the two men steering the defence force. This was due as a result of two powerful systems that existed before the dawn of the new democracy. These systems are tribalism and apartheid. It made it difficult for women to climb the ranks within the force if it continued within the same pace.




The process of transformation within the force is happening at a snail’s pace, however, I am impressed that the previous Minister (Ms Nosiviwe Mapisa–Nqakula) and the current one (Ms Thandi Modise) are women. They are now given a task to push and improve the image of the force and hold a hand to those ladies who are willing to grow within the defence force.




The fundamental shift has been accomplished within the force, however, the unknown forces of integration, those who did not qualify to be part of the new defence force, were left shattered. 


The Department of Defence will continually review the White Paper and moreover Chapter two that addresses the challenges of transformation. The government of national unity also recognised that the greatest threats to the South African people are crime, violence and social economic problems such as poverty, unemployment, poor education and lack of housing.


Thanks to the Military Veteran Department that assists the former soldiers with the necessary skills to empower them.


Integration display at the DITSONG: National Museum of Military History 

White Paper on National Defence for the Republic of South Africa, May 1996.

uMkhonto we Sizwe (MK).

Azanian people’s Liberation Army (APLA).

Transkei, Bophuthatswana, Vend, Ciskei (TBVC states).

South African National Defence Force (SANDF).


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The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Drive: Zero Tolerance for Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Exploitation

The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) Drive: Zero Tolerance for Gender-Based Violence and Sexual Exploitation

Tinyeko Captain Ndhlovu, Curator: Insignia, Memorial Plaques, Postal History, DITSONG: National Museum of Military History

September 2021


Our beautiful country, South Africa, recently marked the 65th anniversary of the Imbokodo generation, strong and courageous women who walked tall and marched against the Apartheid and pass laws in the streets of Pretoria in 1956. However, gender-based violence (GBV), violence against women and girls (VAGW), and femicide have continued to be a global tendency that have infiltrated into societies, schools, churches, public spaces and even workplaces. Unfortunately, South Africa as a country and members of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) are not spared from this torture, because GBV, VAWG, Sexual Exploitation Abuse (SEA), and other sexual transgressions are rated high, and even against their own fellow military women.. This paper focuses on the challenges military women face and the recent SANDF drive towards zero tolerance ethos for GBV and SEA.

Figure 1: Women in the SANDF at a women’s parade, Cape Town, August 2019 (Image: courtesy of Ministerial Task Team (MTT) Report 2020). 


 “Not yet Uhuru”

  1.  Imbokodo Generation Available at Accessed 17 September 2021. 
  2.  Approximately 25 to 40% of women have experienced physical GBV, Sexual violence and VAGW in their lifetime: Accessed 15 September 2021.
  3. SANDF sexual abuse and exploitation exposed: Accessed in 01 September 2021.
  4. Not yet Uhuru’ tittle song by Dr. Letta Mbulu (South African Music Icon)


This year we celebrate the 65th anniversary of the Imbokodo generation under the theme “The Legacy of Charlotte Mannya-Maxeke.” Imbokodo is a Zulu phrase referring to “a rock”, usually used in the African saying “Wathint’ abafanzi, wathint’ imbokodo”/ “You strike a woman, you strike a rock.”  This saying is often used in several ways in describing the resilience of the women’s struggle against all sorts of ills. It is from this legacy of the Imbokodo generation, class, actions, and their wisdom, where we gather strength to keep fighting against any form of oppression and abuse against women (our siblings, sisters, and mothers) in any given time and in any environment. We should also not shy away from the questions and debates related to women’s total liberation from all sorts of GBV, domestic violence (DV), sexual violence (SV), VAWG, sexual harassment and assaults. Are we as a nation yet free? Are our women in our communities and the SANDF yet liberated? If not, how can they be liberated?


Pre-1994 South African military environment 


During the pre-colonial African era and globally, military environments were predominated by patriarchal societies. Examples are the Zulu Kingdom Warriors under the leadership of King Shaka Zulu kaSenzangakhona (1787-1828), and the French Military Army under Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821). During the colonial era (since 1912), the South African military environment consisted predominantly of white males as the combat force, while black males were restricted to non-combat roles. Consequently, the army was also viewed patriarchal with no safe place for girls or women. For instance, pre-1994 the South African Defence Force (SADF) regarded and used their militarised space as a rite of passage, where “white boys were converted into men”. However, white women did serve during World War I and II under the Union Defence Force (UDF) with supportive and caring roles as from the1940s.  From the 1970s, the roles of white SADF females were non-combative or they were employed as auxiliaries. The SADF’s women were trained separately and their barracks were also apart from males. A special Army Women’s College was opened in George in 1971. However, females were encouraged to stick to their femininity, to allow the “soldier fitted custom” and male bonding to proceed.  


Black females also have a strong military background of being part of the liberation struggle which emerged during the 1960s. Post the 1976 Soweto Uprising, many young females escaped from South Africa to join the Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) of the African National Congress (ANC) and the Azanian People’s Liberation Army (APLA) of the Pan African Congress, which they predominantly operated while in exile/outside South Africa in countries such as Angola, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania, and Zambia. MK and APLA comprised of males and females with combative roles. They trained together as colleagues with one mandate to fight and demobilise the Apartheid government. 


The South African military environment: post-1994


Post 1994, both patriarchal black and white men had to accommodate, transform, and share their militarised environment with women as their equals. At the dawn of democracy in 1994 the South African military environment had a mandate to be transformed and be of service to a democratic society. The SADF, statutory forces Bantustan TBVC and non-statutory forces, MK of ANC, APLA of PAC, the Kwa-Zulu Self-Protection Units of Inkantha Freedom Party (IFP) were integrated into the new South African National Defence Force (SANDF).

5. Shaka Zulu history Available at: Accessed 19 September 2021.

6. Napoleon Bonaparte History Available at: Accessed 19 September 2020.


The transition and transformation were, however, supposed to be more than an integration of forces and a renaming of the institution to the South African National Defence Force. The whole ethos of the defence force shifted, following the service to a democratic society, from that of an Apartheid state/SADF military culture and ethos to a new SANDF and the principles of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa. Unfortunately, the radical transformation from a patriarchal order to a democratic value system, that paved the way gender equality (males and females) is still overdue. In 1998 South Africa and the SANDF adopted a White Paper on South African Participation in Peace Missions. It covered the role of the African Union and South Africa’s continued participation within peace missions. It allowed South Africa/SANDF to assist in a time of crisis, to partake internationally and give authoritative input in the discussions on the future of international conflict management and the reform of intergovernmental organisations, such as the United Nations (UN), Organization of African Union (OAU) and Southern African Developing Communities (SADC). Both SANDF males and females were deployed to African countries such the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) for peacekeeping operations under the auspice of the UN.


Furthermore, South Africa has partnered with the contact group for the Elsie Initiative for Women in Peace Operations with the mandate of endorsing the role of women in peacekeeping operations as well as the UN Secretary General’s Circle of Leadership on the prevention of, and responses to, sexual exploitation and abuse in UN operations.


7. New SANDF Available at: Accessed 01 September 2021.

8. Heinecken, L. 2021 March 22. Military needs transformation to address GBV, Stellenbosch University. Available at: Accessed 19 September 2021. 

9. A White Paper on Participation in Peace Missions was adopted in 1998: Accessed 19 September 2021.

10. Elsie Initiative Fund For Uniformed Women in Peace Operations named after Elizabeth ‘Elsie’ Muriel Gregory MacGill Available at Accessed 19 September 2021.


Figure 2: Women in UN Peacekeeping Operation. (Photograph: courtesy of Professor Lindy Heinecken, Stellenbosch University).  

 “I have received many engineering awards, but I hope I will also be remembered as an advocate for the rights of women and children” – Elizabeth Muriel Gregory “Elsie” MacGill (1905-1980).


The worst part is that for more than ten years allegations of sexual violations, sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA), rape, transactional sex, and exploitative relationships, fraternization with local populace, and assaults levelled against some SANDF members who ought to protect and safeguard South Africa and doing peacekeeping outside our borders have been made. Individuals are sexually assaulted inside the army and while deployed on peacekeeping operations. Fortunately enough the Department of Defence (DOD) and the SANDF managed to deal with these issues. Some SANDF members facing such sexual violence were known, while two were unknown. At least 15 cases were concluded and nine members were dismissed from the SANDF. The UN confirmed that since 2015 there have been around 92 allegations related to sexual violations in the DRC; of these 34 cases involved SANDF members.  These sexual violation allegations levelled against the SANDF negatively impacted on and tarnished South Africa’s peacekeeping reputation.


The Commander in Chief of the SANDF and President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, said the following: “Sexual exploitation and abuse go against the grain of our military ethos and characterise and violate the very principles on which our democracy is founded.” 

11. Saba, A and Jika, T. 2019. SANDF sexual abuse and exploitation exposed, Mail and Gaudian November available at: Accessed in 01 September 2021.

12. United Nations Peacekeeping: MONUSCO | United Nations Peacekeeping Accessed 19 September 2021.

13. The Ministerial Task Team, December 2020. Report on Sexual Harassment, Sexual Abuse, prepared by MTT for the (then) Minister of Defence & Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.

14. Commander in Chief of SANDF and President of Republic of South Africa Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa strongly warns the SANDF troops on the sexual misconducts during Armed Forces Day, 21 February 2020 Cited in Ministerial Task Team Report 2020.

15. The DOD’s military ethos captured in the Codes of Conduct for Uniformed Members and Public Service Employees (Civilians): is rooted on the seven pillars, duty, loyalty, respect, selfless service, personal courage, honour, and integrity, as articulated in the Defence Act of 2002.


The then Minister of the DOD and VM, Mrs Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula said the following: ”We must leave a legacy for the future generation that is serious about its stature in society and its embraced values of equality and committed to adopting a zero tolerance ethos for sexual misconduct”.


Based on a gruesome allegation levelled against the SANDF and need for intervention, Minister Mapisa-Nqakula initiated the SANDF drive towards zero tolerance ethos to GBV, SEA, and other sexual misconducts. She also tasked the Ministerial Task Team (MTT) as early as 2019 to do the investigations and consultative surveys and report on the matters related to sexual misconducts within the entire DOD and VM. The MTT did their task without fear and favour, and held consultative meetings with members of the SANDF across South Africa. A report was issued in December 2020. They mentioned that there is a gap between the high standards established by military ethos, policies, and the practice in the military environment. Some military women have reflected how they experienced an aggressive sexualised space in which fraternization, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct were part of their encounters.” The MTT Report recommended that the entire DOD had to transform their leadership style by owning and publicly acknowledges that there are challenges within the institution related to sexual violations. The DOD and VM/SANDF must transform their organisational culture to suit female excel and in a manner of healthy professional relations. A culture that will embrace the channels that will mitigate and provide avenues for the necessary healing of survivors.



The pre-1994 South African military environment was predominantly a patriarchal society. Although the combative roles were reserved only for white males, while black males and white women were restricted to non-combative, auxiliary, and caring services under the UDF. Even under the SADF women were permitted to serve only in supportive roles. They trained and slept in barracks separately from males. SADF women were encouraged to adhere to their femininity to allow men to bond and process with their “boys to men”, rite of passage.” Black women also have a strong foundation in the military as they were part of the armed struggle for national liberation, which emerged during the 1960s. MK of the ANC and APLA of the PAC were predominantly operating in exile, in Angola, Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Tanzania and Zambia. They trained together as female and male colleagues, fighting against the Apartheid state. On the advent of the democracy (post 1994), the South African military environment obligated to transform in order to serve South Africa’s democratic societies. The SADF, statutory forces of the Bantustan TBVC, MK of ANC, APLA of PAC and the KwaZulu Self-Protection Force of IFP were integrated into the new SANDF. In 1998 South Africa and the SANDF adopted the White Paper on South African Participation in International Peace Missions. Both male and female soldiers had been deployed to African countries such as the DRC, for peacekeeping operations. South Africa also partnered with the Elsie Initiate for Women in Peace Operations with the mandate of endorsing the role of women in peacekeeping operations as well as the UN Secretary General’s Circle of Leadership on the prevention of, and responses to, sexual exploitation and abuse in UN operations. Despite that, South African peacekeeping efforts were negatively impacted and tarnished by the 
allegations made against SANDF troops. President Cyril Ramaphosa strongly warned the troops that “Sexual misconducts go against the grain of the SANDF ethos and characters and violate the very principles on which our democracy is founded.” The Minister of DOD and VM urged the members to be great exemplary and leave a legacy for the future generation that will respect the law and policies of its country. Under the maxim “A Defence Force that Cares”, Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, tasked and lodged a Ministerial Task Team (MTT) to investigate and report on sexual transgressions and allegations that were previously levelled against the SANDF troops. The MTT discovered that there was a gap of high standards between the reality in units and bases and the ethos. The MTT recommended that the entire DOD and VM/SANDF leadership and culture should be transformed. First the leadership must admit and publicly acknowledge that there are challenges regarding GBV, SEA, and other sexual violations in the DOD and VM/SANDF. They must also drive the message of the Zero Tolerance ethos for GBV, SEA and other sexual transgressions. They must also involve civilian support organisations to assist in providing the professional assistance in healing the victims of sexual abuse. The leadership should ensure that the DOD and VM/SANDF become a safe space for women to work in and report such conducts without fear. GBV, SEA and sexual violations should not be tolerated in the SANDF or in South African communities.


16. Minister of DOD and MV, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, forewords the MTT Report, December 2020. 

17. Nosive Mapisa-Nqakula was elected as Speaker of the National Assembly on 19 August 2021, effectively have swapped positions with Thandi Modise. Available at 19 September 2021.


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