Kingdom “Seed” Bears Fruit in Southern Africa
ON Sunday, February 26, 1978, a mixed crowd of 1,867—blacks, whites, Coloureds and Indians—gathered at a large, handsome building situated some 10 miles (16 kilometers) east of Johannesburg. Representatives from Christian congregations had come from Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, South-West Africa and all parts of South Africa. The occasion was the dedication of the extension of Bethel, the headquarters of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society in South Africa.
The first two speakers gave some historical background leading up to this dedication of the new extension. At the turn of the century, the whole African continent was still “dark” to the Kingdom message—a vast, virgin field for cultivation. Although in 1902 Kingdom “seed” had begun to take root in a few places, it was not until 1910 that a branch was established in Durban, consisting of one small office. Only one Witness looked after the work.
In 1917, the branch office was moved to Cape Town, at the southern tip of the continent. It had the oversight of the preaching work in the whole of Africa south of the equator. At first progress was slow. By 1931, the number of those actively proclaiming the “good news” in the huge territory was only about 100. However, in 1948, new branches were established in what are today the countries of Malawi, Rhodesia and Zambia. By 1952, South Africa had over 9,500 Kingdom proclaimers. During that year the branch was moved from Cape Town to a new building in Activia Park, Germiston, on the same site as the present one.
As the theme of the dedication program showed, “God kept making it grow.” (1 Cor. 3:6) In 1959, a large extension of the original building was added, and, in 1971, this had to be further enlarged. Before long more space was needed. Hence, in June 1975, plans were drawn up for almost doubling the size of the building.
The next part of the program showed that Jehovah God provided the helpers and the equipment that were urgently needed. An architect, engineers, draftsmen, electricians, bricklayers, plumbers, carpenters and other skilled men offered their services. Many, though lacking in expertise, willingly offered the youthful vigor and stamina necessary to get such a mammoth job done.
Jehovah’s spirit moved many not only to volunteer their labor, time and skill, but also to provide money, materials and machinery. For example, a 20-meter (66-foot) crane was needed. Renting or buying a new one was financially out of reach. But, at a sale, a Witness was able to obtain one for a reasonable price. At the same time, a generous donation was received to cover the cost. But who could erect and operate the crane? Just at the right moment a Witness, a recognized local expert on that type of crane, volunteered his services to overhaul, erect and operate it.
A local spares- and scrap-yard owned by a Witness had an amazing variety of machinery and equipment of many types and sizes. Time and again just what was needed could be obtained there free of charge.
The principal speaker pointed out that, not only had a fine material building project been completed, but, more importantly, a great spiritual construction work had been going on in southern Africa. He showed that, with an attendance of 77,357 last year at the Memorial observance for the territory under the local branch, there was a fine potential for further growth. The speaker went on to show that, in comparison with the “darkest Africa” aspect of the continent at the beginning of the century, there are now over 6,000 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the continent, with some 274,000 active preachers of the “good news.”
Hundreds of visitors toured the branch-office premises. The building itself, with its commanding position, height and attractive appearance, dominates the surrounding area. Greatly admired was the air-conditioned Kingdom Hall, with its sloping floor, comfortable seats and beautiful decor. Attached to the hall there is a new soundproof recording room for making tapes of Bible dramas in the many languages used in this field.
Above the Kingdom Hall is located the new office, well equipped for efficient work. The visitors also admired the handsome staircase, with miniature waterfalls cascading in the stairwell from one landing to another. On the top floor of the new addition are some of the comfortable living quarters of the family. There are now a total of 87 rooms in the South African Bethel.
Another great attraction for the visitors was the spacious new dining room. Adjoining it is the large kitchen, with modern laborsaving equipment, where some 450 meals are prepared daily. Attached to the kitchen there is a fine vegetable room, then a cold-storage room for dairy products, and, finally, a door leading into the deep-freeze room, where large supplies of meat, fish and so forth can be kept fresh.
What always attracts visitors to the South African Bethel is the extensive factory, with its nine Linotype machines, the platemaking department, and nine printing presses, including a rotary press that can turn out 12,000 magazines per hour. Now, with the building extension, there is also much space for storing the great amounts of paper used. Each month this branch produces 28 different issues of the Watchtower and Awake! magazines, in a total of 11 languages. Arrangements are also being made for still more expansion.
Encouraged and spiritually built up by what they had seen and heard, the visitors to Bethel returned home, glad of their own share in the fine increase of Kingdom proclaimers in southern Africa. They all heartily agreed with the request expressed in the dedication prayer that Jehovah would bless this improved and enlarged building, to the honor of his great name.