Preaching the Good News in South Africa
Continuing the account by N. H. Knorr, Watch Tower Society’s president, of service tour by him and his secretary
AS THE readers of The Watchtower already know, it was impossible for me to get into the Gold Coast and Nigeria. So it was planned to fly directly from Monrovia to Johannesburg. I was expected there on Saturday, November 22, but, as previously reported, that plane failed to stop at Monrovia. Practically all of the 260 brothers who had been on hand at that time to welcome me returned to greet me when I finally did arrive four days later. It was not long until we motored away to the Society’s new branch office at Elandsfontein in the Germiston district, a few miles outside the principal city of South Africa, Johannesburg.
Five years ago when Brother Henschel and I were in South Africa we looked over many properties, trying to decide where we should build a Bethel home. We had an office in Cape Town and did printing there also, but the workers were not able to enjoy family life together as at other branches. After selecting property and deciding to move the branch from Cape Town to a site near Johannesburg, it took a lot of negotiating with city officials to finally get all matters cleared up. It was not until about two years ago that building actually started. Now the Society has a fine two-story brick and stucco building on a nice plot of well-situated land.
On the first floor of this new building we have the general office that looks after the work of the South African branch, as well as some of the translating. There is also a shipping department on this floor and a fine printing plant equipped with the latest machinery for printing the Watchtower and Awake! magazines in African languages.
On the second floor we have a spacious dining room, a fine library and lounge, and a good number of bedrooms, sufficient for expansion of the family. Of course, all of the other needs of a home are also incorporated into the building, such as a kitchen, laundry, etc. The building was designed for our needs in South Africa and it certainly is a big step forward in the advancement of the Kingdom interests. Being situated alone on a hill, the building is making its influence felt throughout the countryside.
Arrangements were made for me to visit Durban November 29 and 30. This very modern city, lying on the shores of the Indian ocean, with its 330,000 population, is the largest in the province of Natal. It is one of South Africa’s favorite pleasure resorts and the center of the flourishing sugar industry. Although modern, it has its ricksha boys pulling their two-wheeled conveyances. These boys are Africans decked out in feathers, horns and skins of all sorts, and if one did not know they were civilized he would probably get frightened by them. They are, however, quite harmless.
One of the big problems in South Africa is that of racial segregation, known as apartheid. The laws require African, Colored (mixed) and European (white) to meet in separate halls, and every effort is being made now by the government to keep these three segregated, even in the cities and villages. This made it necessary for us to have three separate meetings. On Saturday afternoon two hundred of the European brothers came together in their section of the city. The branch servant, Brother Phillips, spoke first and then I talked to them on making public declaration of our hope. The importance of engaging in the house-to-house work and the need of advancing to maturity in order to have a full share in Kingdom activities was brought out, and that it should be the heart’s desire of everyone dedicated to Jehovah’s service to thus preach from house to house and equip himself to conduct home Bible studies.
The same evening Brother Phillips and I, together with a few other brothers, went to the Cape Colored section. There are many Indians in Natal, and it certainly would be fine if there were a few Tamil-speaking Indian brothers in the full-time ministry. At this meeting 69 Cape Colored and Indians were present and they were very much interested in what was said.
I was very much impressed with the fact that there were 15 Indians in the audience, because it is rather difficult to interest the Indians living in India in God’s kingdom. I had opportunity to speak with some of them after the meeting. All of them were born in South Africa, but of Indian parentage, and gradually they are being weaned away from the Hindu and Moslem beliefs of their ancestors. They are dissatisfied with their religion and its practices. Very likely they have more open minds and it is easier for them to accept the truth here than for those living in India; there they would most likely be ostracized. It takes real courage to forsake the heathen practices of one’s ancestors and engage in the true worship of the Sovereign Ruler of the universe, Jehovah God. It was certainly good to see these Indian brothers standing for the work of Jehovah God.
On Sunday afternoon 337 African brothers assembled in Lamontville, a newly built township on the outskirts of Durban. I was amazed to see the fine brick buildings that were being constructed by the government to house these Africans. It certainly gives them a much finer community to live in than the old round huts with the thatched roofs, which are still very prevalent in many parts of the country. The government is trying to do much to raise their standard of living and yet at the same time keep them segregated.
The brothers were seated in the form of a semicircle on the grass in an open space in the center of town. With the aid of the sound equipment, which we had brought along, all were able to hear easily. Traffic continued to go by all during the discourse. The remarks that I made to the brothers were interpreted into Zulu, but it was apparent that many understood English, for frequently they applauded before the interpreter gave his translation.
The singing was outstanding. They had no instruments to give them the pitch or the tempo. They just started to sing a Kingdom song and all of them seemed to sing parts. Its full harmony sounded like a large choir. After speaking for about an hour and a half the talk had to be hurried to a close because it started to rain. The dark clouds were rolling in fast. It was a little disappointing to me not to be able to hear them sing again at the close of the session.
On Sunday evening the fourth meeting came to order. It was well advertised. While the brothers in Durban had only one week’s notice that I was coming, they did very well. The hall they rented for the occasion was packed out by 435 Europeans.
It was a most enjoyable week end, even though the three groups of brothers had to keep separate. While this limits their fields of witnessing, they will not let it retard the Kingdom work, for they are determined to press on praising Jehovah and preaching the good news in the sections of the territory that are open to them.
VISITING THE ZULUS
The following day, before returning to the branch office by air, we had some time in the morning to drive to one of the beauty spots in the vicinity of Durban, called the Valley of a Thousand Hills. Unfortunately, it was raining again, but we were able to see at least one hill at a time as we rode along. Of principal interest to us was the fact that we were right in the heart of an African reserve on the borders of Zululand. Here we could see how the native African actually lives.
I was very much interested in the construction of their homes. The majority of them are built in a circular shape with roofs made of straw and pointed at the top. We were able to talk to one family in front of their hut by means of a brother with us who spoke Zulu and received permission to enter. I was quite surprised at the highly polished clean floor inside. My first question was, Where did they get the asphalt to put on the floors? The African brothers smiled and then one explained that this fine-looking floor was a mixture of earth and cow dung. This is laid down first and then just cow dung is smoothed out on top as a surface coating. This process makes the surface very hard and smooth and the black surface is highly polished. In this particular house the floor had a unique design worked into it and in the center of the hut the floor came up two or three inches, nicely curved for the fireplace.
The thatched roof overhangs the circular walls but plenty of space is left for ventilation between the wall and the roof. The solid wall does not go right up to the roof, but the roof is set on short supports that extend beyond the wall, thus allowing space for light and air. So they have light, ventilation and yet protection from the rain. These Africans sleep on grass mats that they roll out on the floor every night. An entire family live together in the one-room hut. When the sons marry they usually build another hut for themselves and their wives. The hut is built nearby in the same kraal. A collection of huts always indicates a family unit.
The diet is very simple, consisting of mealie meal (maize, or, “Indian corn”) to which sometimes a little meat is added, and once in a while they have bread and sauce. These Africans seem to be very peaceful and contented, and I must say that the countryside in which they live is beautiful. Many of them have little plots of land for growing maize, and all of them have their cattle or goats. I was told that only when the African comes closer to what is called “civilization” does he sometimes go astray and become discontented.
No matter where we find the Africans, on the reserves, in the towns or on the farms, it is the responsibility of Jehovah’s people to get in touch with them and tell them about the Kingdom message. Right now there are between seven and eight thousand African brothers scattered throughout the Union of South Africa, having a regular part in preaching the good news. While these brothers are well organized for pure worship, there is still much to be done to bring all of them to maturity. There are great problems to be met in preaching the gospel, for the African brothers are certainly scattered throughout the reserves.
TRYING TO LEGALLY ESTABLISH THE GOOD NEWS
On the second day after our return to Johannesburg from Durban we made a call at the office of Her Majesty’s high commissioner for Basutoland, Bechuanaland Protectorate and Swaziland. Since 1941 there has been a ban on the importation of the Society’s literature into these three protectorates. Now there are a number of Jehovah’s witnesses in these lands, because Africans within these territories have gotten in touch with other Africans living outside and have carried the truth into these territories. Since the work has taken a foothold in these three protectorates, and in view of the fact that there are 21 congregations, consisting of more than 400 ministers engaged in preaching the good news, the Society has repeatedly tried to have the ban lifted so that literature might be sent into these territories for our brothers to study. Without literature it is more difficult to reach maturity.
These matters were presented to the commissioner and request was made that the ban be lifted. I was able to present our case for more than an hour and to give a witness concerning the Kingdom and the work that the Society is doing in promoting Bible study. We were able to speak to the chief secretary of the commissioner and to answer all his questions, and we sincerely hope that some action will be taken on the part of Her Majesty’s government. If the restrictions are lifted, a much greater expansion doubtless will show up in these territories in so far as the gathering of the “other sheep” is concerned.
By this time Brother Henschel had arrived from Freetown and Monrovia. Now that both of us were here a meeting was arranged for by the Germiston congregation at the Germiston Town Hall. However, many people on the Reef came, so that a total of 725 Europeans were present. Brother Henschel spoke first on “Declaring His Name” and clearly pointed out the responsibility of Jehovah’s servants today as a people who have been selected to bear his name. He gave interesting reports of his visit to Freetown and some experiences he had heard there concerning the work in Nigeria.
After that I spoke to the brothers and counseled them on the need of growing to full maturity as ministers. Just as parents have real happiness in seeing their own children grow and advance from one stage to another until they are fully grown, so Jehovah takes delight in seeing his people progress in Christian maturity. To this end it is very essential for us to become familiar with the 66 letters that Jehovah has written to us in the Bible and to ponder over these things, as well as to follow the counsel of God’s Word and to make public declaration of our hope.
After this followed days that both Brother Henschel and I devoted to instructing the brothers at the branch office on how to better care for the duties assigned to them.
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