Jan. 1, 2009: Est. population, 49,052,000; Members, 48,112; Stakes, 11; Wards, 69; Branches, 72; Districts, 2; Missions, 3; Temples, 1; percent LDS, .1 or one in 1,020; Africa Southeast Area.
19th Century Mission
In August 1852, a conference was held in Salt Lake City where Jesse Haven, Leonard I. Smith, and William H. Walker were called to serve missions in the Cape of Good Hope, Africa, a British colony. They arrived in Cape Town on 19 April 1853. A month later, on 23 May, the missionaries ascended The Lion’s Head, a mountain near Cape Town, and organized the mission with Haven as president. The first convert, Henry Stringer, was baptized on 15 June 1853.
As people began to join the Church, the missionaries organized branches. The first in Africa was organized on 16 August 1853 at Mowbray, four miles from Cape Town. Three weeks later, on 7 September, a second branch was organized at Newlands, six miles from Cape Town. At that meeting, Thomas Weatherhead was sustained as the first local branch president.
In spite of a good beginning, Church growth slowed due to Latter-day Saints’ emigration to Utah. The South African Mission was closed from 1865 to 1903 with no official reasons given by Church authorities.
20th Century Missionary Work
On 25 July 1903, Latter-day Saint missionaries once again arrived in Cape Town: Warren H. Lyon, who was called to preside over the mission, George A. Simpkins (also spelled Simkins), Thomas L. Griffiths and William R. Smith. They found a few Latter-day Saints who had kept the faith during the long absence of missionaries. The missionaries baptized their first converts on 16 October 1904. In 1905, President Lyon baptized an African named Dunn, whose father was a Scotsman and his mother Zulu. Though Dunn did not stay with the Church, he was most likely the first black African baptized in Africa.
The first person of color in South Africa to join the Church and remain active in the Church was William Paul Daniels who was baptized on 30 May 1915 while visiting family in Utah. Before returning to South Africa, Daniels met twice with Church President Joseph F. Smith, who gave Daniels a blessing that someday, perhaps in the next life, he would hold the priesthood.
After returning to South Africa, Daniels felt uncomfortable meeting with the white Church members because of South Africa’s ban on the mixing of the races. The mission president, Don Mack Dalton, assigned missionaries to visit the Daniels’ home every Monday night. Daniels died on 13 October 1936, firm in the faith. Alice Daniels Okkers, William P. Daniels’ daughter, was alive when the priesthood was granted to all worthy males. She, too, had kept the faith and was present in the Salt Lake Temple when her parents’ temple work was performed by former South African Mission president Evan P. Wright in 1980.
Following the re-establishment of the South African Mission in 1903, more missionaries were called to serve in southern Africa. Missionary work expanded throughout the area that is now South Africa, though the missionaries tended to concentrate their efforts in the cities and towns populated by British colonists. Many of the inhabitants of the inland settlements spoke only Afrikaans, an obstacle for the English-speaking missionaries. In his last letter to Church authorities, dated 7 April 1908, returning mission President Ralph A. Badger mentioned the two other obstacles facing missionaries in southern Africa: the issue of race — missionaries were discouraged from teaching blacks about the Church until 1978 — and the immense size of the mission, both of which would concern mission presidents for the next 70 years.
Nicholas G. Smith, later called as an Assistant to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1941, presided over the South African Mission from 1913 to 1921. When he arrived in Cape Town, there were only 15 missionaries in the field. During World War I, missionaries left South Africa. In October 1916, Smith purchased a villa in Mowbray that he named “Cumorah,” which became the mission home and Church headquarters for South Africa.
For the last year and a half of Smith’s tenure and the first seven months of Smith’s successor, J. Wiley Sessions, the South African Mission president had no missionaries because the government had imposed restrictions on foreign nationals entering the country. President Sessions worked hard to gain permission for missionaries to once again labor in South Africa. With the help of U.S. Sen. Reed Smoot, Sessions was successful. The first missionary, Golden W. Harris, arrived in October 1921. The government, however, established a quota of 25 LDS missionaries in the mission. It eventually rose to 60 missionaries by 1967, but would hinder the progress of the Church until it was lifted in the 1980s.
During President Sessions’ administration, a meetinghouse was built in Johannesburg. Much of the funds needed for construction were donated or raised by local Church members. The building was dedicated on 1 February 1925 and named “Ramah.” This building served as Church headquarters in South Africa when the mission office was moved from Cape Town to Johannesburg in 1960.
To meet the needs of the Latter-day Saints scattered throughout South Africa, the mission began publishing the “Cumorah Monthly Bulletin” on 15 June 1927. Its name changed briefly to “Cumorah’s Southern Cross,” and later to “Cumorah’s Southern Messenger,” a name it retained until publication stopped in 1970.
Richard E. Folland, president of the South African Mission from 1938 to 1944, presided over a total of only 50 missionaries during his entire tenure because of World War II. Soon after his arrival, he noticed that the missionaries were doing most of the administrative and leadership work. One of Folland’s first tasks was to help local members assume leadership positions in the branches and districts. On 11 October 1940, because of World War II, all the missionaries were called home. Folland and his family were asked to remain in South Africa. He also installed local officers to take charge of branches.
June B. Sharp arrived in Cape Town in August 1944 as the new president of the mission. Because the war was still raging in Europe and the Pacific, Sharp spent his first two years without any missionaries. He traveled around the country visiting branches and looking for “lost” Church members. On 16 October 1946, missionaries arrived once again in South Africa.
As mentioned earlier, the Afrikaans language was considered one of the obstacles facing missionaries in South Africa. In 1949, mission President Evan P. Wright asked the First Presidency for permission to translate the Book of Mormon into Afrikaans. He estimated Afrikaans was spoken by 68 percent of white South Africans. By 1951, one tract was translated into Afrikaans, laying the groundwork for more Afrikaans translations of Church literature. The Afrikaans translation of the Book of Mormon was introduced to the South African Latter-day Saints on 14 May 1972.
For several decades, members in South Africa wanted to be visited by General Authorities. Their desires were finally realized when David O. McKay, president of the Church, arrived in Cape Town on 9 January 1954, the first General Authority to visit the African continent.
In 1953, there were only two Church-owned buildings in South Africa, Cumorah and Ramah. Leroy H. Duncan, who was mission president from 1953 to 1957, began arranging to have many meetinghouses built. A mission-wide building fund was organized in 1949 and chapels were constructed in Springs in 1954, Port Elizabeth in 1956, and Durban in 1956. The building program continued during the presidency of O. Layton Alldredge, who served from 1960 to 1964. He planned 14 new meetinghouses and remodeled four of the five existing buildings.
Elder Marion G. Romney of the Quorum of the Twelve organized the first stake in South Africa 22 March 1970 with Louis P. Hefer as president. The next landmark event in the history of the Church in South Africa was the 1978 revelation granting the priesthood to all worthy males. The majority population of South Africa was black or “coloured.” With the revelation, the gospel could be taught to all citizens of South Africa. Within six years of the revelation, three more stakes were organized: Sandton in 1978, Durban in 1981, and Cape Town in 1984.
Up until 1984 South African Mission presidents presided over the whole of South Africa. With the lifting of the missionary quota, the South African Mission was divided on 1 July 1984, creating the South Africa Johannesburg and South Africa Cape Town missions. The South Africa Durban Mission was created in 1988.
South African Latter-day Saints had to travel to England or the United States to attend the temple, until the Johannesburg South Africa Temple was completed and dedicated on 24 August 1985 by President Gordon B. Hinckley.
The Johannesburg South Africa Temple is the 36th operating temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and the 1st temple completed on the African continent. The Johannesburg South Africa Temple is located in the historic suburb of Parktown, known for its grand turn-of-the-century Victorian mansions, many of which have succumbed to commercial, educational, and civic developments.
The nearly two-week public open house of the Johannesburg South Africa Temple attracted more than 19,000 visitors including civic and business leaders and government representatives. Nearly 3,500 of the 12,000 members of the extensive temple district attended the dedicatory services of the Johannesburg South Africa Temple. The dedication of this temple brought a temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to every habitable continent of the world.
In 1990, the Africa Area was organized with Richard P. Lindsay of the Seventy as first Area President. He and his counselors, Robert E. Sackley and J Ballard Washburn, also of the Seventy, moved to Johannesburg to direct the work of the Church throughout Africa, which is the first time General Authorities lived in Africa.
On 4 November 1991, Julia Mavimbella, a member of the Soweto Branch who joined the Church in 1981, became the first black woman elected by the white members of the National Council of Women to that organization. This occurred only two months after the repeal of apartheid.
President Gordon B. Hinckley visited South Africa in February 1998 and held three conferences to meet as many of the South African Latter-day Saints as possible. He met with 5,500 members in Johannesburg, making it the largest gathering of Church members in South Africa. He also visited Church members in Durban and Cape Town.
During 2003, the 35,000 members of the Church in South Africa celebrated 150 years since the first missionaries arrived. A year of activities and service projects began with 91 members of the Cape Town South Africa Stake gathering on Signal Hill on 19 April 2003 on the anniversary.
In 2005, membership reached 42,569.
The Durban South Africa Temple is the 168th operating temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) and the 2nd temple completed in South Africa, after the Johannesburg South Africa Temple (1985). This temple is constructed on a hillside property near the ocean and the N2 highway in the Izinga development of Umhlanga Rocks, just north of Durban. Umhlanga is one of the fastest growing cities in South Africa, which enjoys a low crime rate and is known for having the largest shopping mall in the southern hemisphere—the Gateway Theatre of Shopping.
Sources: South Africa Mission, Manuscript history and historical reports, Church Archives; Journal History of the Church, 28 August 1852, Church Archives; Evan P. Wright, A History of the South African Mission, 1977; Cumorah Monthly Bulletin; Leroy H. Duncan, President McKay Visits South Africa, 1953-1954, Church Archives; John L. Hart and Steve Fidel, “Members Urged to Build up Homeland,” Church News, 28 February 1998; Richard G. Hinckley, Interview, 1998; Church Archives; Julie Dockstader Heaps, “South Africa Celebrates 150 Years,” Church News, 6 September 2003.