10/22/2016 - 00:00

The historic Genadendal Mission Station – one of several situated in the southern Cape – has been selected as this year’s venue for the annual symposium of the Heritage Association of South Africa (HASA). The theme of the symposium is: The role of Mission Stations.

This symposium, which takes place from 20 to 22 October, will be the fourteenth consecutive event hosted across the country by HASA to explore local history, and in particular to promote the conservation of the early habitats of all South Africa’s people.

The Genadendal Moravian Mission Complex was declared a National Monument in 1980 and is today a Provincial Heritage Site of the Western Cape.

The mission was founded by the missionary George Schmidt in 1737 to evangelise among the Khoi people, making it the oldest mission village in South Africa.

Soon after Schmidt established the mission, Cape Dutch Reformed clergy put a stop to his missionary work on the grounds that they did not believe he had the right to baptise converts.

Forty-five years later, the Moravians resumed Schmidt’s work and Genadendal grew into one of the largest settlements in the Cape Colony.

While the establishment of Genadendal’s mission statement is and remains the traditional focus of narratives about the station, there is a much more complex history that needs to be considered, according to the academic planners of the symposium programme.

Symposium programme 

The speakers who will be brought together for the 2016 HASA symposium will reflect on questions about human identity raised by early illustrations and engravings of Genadendal. The historic context and importance of the buildings and cultural material and collections preserved at the Genadendal museum will also be examined.

What is evident is how the mission assisted the transition of the nomad tribes into communities representing the way of life and appearance of the colonists. Little was done to replace their losses or to compensate the Khoi for the destruction of their way of life and the means to achieve it. Moreover, the new system placed the Khoi at the bottom of the social ladder.

During the comprehensive programme, attendees will have the opportunity to weigh up historic imponderables such as these:

  • With hindsight, the motives of early missionaries may be seen as dubious. Was the missionary zeal in converting the Khoi into god-fearing and educated citizens justified, in view of the simultaneous complicity in subjecting these inhabitants to obedience to their new rulers?
  • Many freed slaves fled to the Genadendal Mission Station for protection. Is this a reflection of the balancing act that the mission played in both protecting their subjects’ ‘human rights’ and training them to be servants of the colony?
  • The results of Mitochondrial DNA tests have recently been released. Does the genetic line of the Khoi exist to a much larger extent than we actually believe?

The full programme of presentations and excursions – and more – will soon be announced.

ENQUIRIES: Contact Len Raymond  Tel:0826519252  Email: info@heritagesa.org

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