The Fruitful Land of the Venda
FOR the past ten years, my wife and I have worked as full-time evangelizers among the Venda. The Venda dwell south of the Limpopo River in the north of South Africa, and their nation is made up of a number of tribes that crossed the Limpopo during past centuries. Some Venda claim that their forebears settled here over 1,000 years ago.
Indeed, this region was once part of an old civilization called the Mapungubwe Kingdom. It was South Africa’s first large urban settlement, and it controlled the vast Limpopo River valley, from Botswana in the west to Mozambique in the east. From about 900 C.E. to 1100 C.E., Mapungubwe provided Arab traders with ivory, rhino horn, animal skins, copper, and even gold. Skillfully sculptured objects plated with gold have been unearthed on a royal burial hill called Mapungubwe. These are among “the earliest indications of gold mining in southern Africa,” suggests one encyclopedia.
Gold is no longer mined here. Today, the land of the Venda is renowned for its fruitfulness. South of the Soutpansberg Mountains lies a lush valley, where such fruits as avocados, bananas, mangoes, and guavas grow in abundance. Besides such nuts as pecan and macadamia, there is also a bountiful supply of vegetables. These include the wild muroho, which tastes like spinach and is greatly enjoyed by the local people.
The Venda are a peaceable and hospitable nation. It is not uncommon for the head of the household to request that a chicken be cooked for an unexpected guest. This is eaten along with vhuswa, the staple food, made from corn. After the visit, the head of the household will accompany his guest for a short distance. This is the traditional way of showing respect for a visitor. Children are taught to greet visitors in a graceful way by bowing and sliding one hand across the other. On this page you see two Venda women greeting each other in this customary manner.
A Difficult Language
The Venda language is not easily mastered by people of European origin. One difficulty is that many words are spelled the same but are pronounced differently. While giving a Bible talk to a Venda congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses one day, I was trying to encourage the audience to speak to every person. An individual in the audience could not help but laugh because I said “finger to finger” instead of “person to person.”
When I first tried to speak Venda in the public witnessing work, a Venda lady replied: “I don’t speak English.” I thought I had just spoken good Venda, but she thought it was English! As I approached a house on another occasion, I asked a youngster to call the head of the family. The Venda word for family head is thoʹho. By mistake, I had said thohoʹ, thus asking to speak to the monkey of the house! Mistakes like this discouraged me, but by perseverance both my wife and I are now able to converse reasonably well in Venda.
The land of the Venda is proving to be fruitful in a spiritual way. In the 1950’s, a congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses was formed among migrants who had come from neighboring countries to work at a copper mine in the town of Messina. Their zealous activity introduced many Venda to Bible truths. A decade later a group of Venda Witnesses was holding meetings in a private home in the town of Sibasa.
To speed up the increase, the South Africa branch of the Watch Tower Society sent full-time evangelizers into this fruitful field. Soon the Sibasa group had grown into a large congregation. Christian meetings were held in a classroom at that time. With the help of Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Pietersburg area some 100 miles [160 km] to the south, however, a Kingdom Hall was built in Thohoyandou, a neighboring town.
The Venda-speaking population in the north of South Africa numbers over 500,000. There were no Venda Witnesses when the Kingdom-preaching work started here in the 1950’s. Now there are more than 150. But there are still many untouched areas and much work to be done. In 1989 we began visiting a Venda village called Hamutsha. Only one Witness was living there at the time. Now over 40 Kingdom proclaimers live in that village. We are busy completing our Kingdom Hall, thanks again to the help of Witnesses from the Pietersburg congregations and the financial contributions of brothers in more affluent lands.
We live in a caravan (small trailer) on a farm. By keeping our life simple, we have more time to reach the local people with the good news. (Mark 13:10) As a result, we have been richly blessed with the privilege of helping many to dedicate their lives to Jehovah God. One example is a man named Michael, who saw the book You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth at a friend’s house.* He started reading it and immediately recognized the truth. So he wrote to the Watch Tower Society for more Bible literature. In his letter Michael explained that he had recently been baptized as a member of a local Apostolic church. “I have discovered,” he continued, “that I am on the wrong way to the Kingdom of God. I have decided to become one of your members, but I don’t know how to do so.” He then gave his address and requested that one of Jehovah’s Witnesses be sent to help him. I managed to locate Michael and started a home Bible study with him. Today, he is a baptized Witness and serves Jehovah loyally.
In December 1997, we attended the “Faith in God’s Word” District Convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses that was held in a sports stadium at Thohoyandou. There were 634 in attendance, and 12 new ones were baptized. I had the privilege of giving two talks in Venda. That was truly a milestone in our happy decade spent in this fruitful land!—Contributed.
Published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.