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Analysisof a Significant Mission Enterprise: “London Missionary Society(LMS) In Southern Africa During The 19thCentury.”

Christianmissionaries from Europe were bounded to spread the gospel in severalparts of Africa at the onset of the 19thCentury. In the southern parts of Africa for instance, a majormission enterprise that infiltrated the region was the LondonMissionary Society. This paper offers an in-depth analysis of thecircumstances that surrounded operations of the mission enterprise inthe southern parts of Africa. It is, however, important to note thatother mission enterprises came to the region like the MoravianMission enterprise for example. To begin with, these missionenterprises or missionary societies began by setting up bases alongthe coastal shores of the continent before moving further inland toplaces where the white man had not reached before. According toBoahen, these missionary societies traveled north from the coast ofsouthern Africa to reach areas that form present-day countries ofZambia, Botswana, and Lesotho by the year 1860.1This paper finds that the activities of mission enterprise- LondonMissionary Society, in Southern Africa offered a platform thatsupported and promoted aspects of colonization by the British Empire,civilization and the spread of Christianity in the region.

Thenagain, one cannot decline to note that the activities of theChristian Missions had close associations with aspects of colonialismin Africa. Colonialism did not only support the propagation ofmissionary activity but also established a sense of instilling moralauthority in the African regions that were colonized. In some way,the British Empire took up the responsibility of facilitating, if notimposing missionary proselytization on the people of Africa, whichwas regarded as a means of civilized expansionism of the empire. Astrategy that was employed by the missionary societies inproselytizing the people of Africa was using a few African or nativeconverts to reach out to the indigenous communities. Indeed, this wasa convincing approach to introducing a foreign religion to thepeople. From another perspective, the native converts helped tostrengthen the impact of Christian ideologies and values among theindigenous people of Africa. Still, it emerged that converts wereviewed as deserters of their culture by the other natives.Nonetheless, the native people became more and more interested inlearning about the white man, his appearance, technological tools andmechanisms of life. Still, it is safe to say that the objectives ofthe missionary enterprise (London Missionary) in South Africa impliedan explicit change of culture for the native people, despite beingcoupled with initiatives of a colonial scheme. In one way or another,one might argue that the missionary activities of conversion oflocals formed a platform on which the natives were transformed intoprototypes of modernity and the civilized way of life. To furtherelaborate on the situation, this paper establishes that themissionaries were interested in achieving acculturation just as muchas they desired to spread the message of the gospel or Christianityper se. The resultant effect was the remodeling of the indigenousAfrican population through processes that were founded on westernphilosophies or perspectives of life. As a result, and as a practicallesson, one cannot decline to note that the missionary enterprise insouthern Africa focused on the spreading of a message of brotherhood(in Christ) while propagating aspects of colonialism at the sametime. Undoubtedly, the missionary enterprise facilitated the paradingof the religion of the colonizers (the British) through theindigenous people. The conflicts that followed had significanteffects that formed foundations of the way of life of the Africans,which remain relevant and notable today.

Anoverview of the London Missionary Society (LMS) indicates that themission enterprise was founded back in 1795 in England and that itwas a key player in the Evangelical Revival occurrences of the 18thCentury. The mission of LMS associated with the Christian Protestantapproach that dominated the west of Europe at the time arevitalization that adopted rationalism that aimed to do away withthe traditional Christian practices of the Roman Catholic faith2.The founders of the movement established policy or polity thatstates, “The Society`s purpose is not to send Presbyterianism,Independency, Episcopacy, or any other form of Church Order andGovernment… but the Glorious Gospel of the Blessed God…”3The dogma of the organization also indicated that it did not onlyfocus on reaching heathens and uncivilized nations but the entirehuman race. From the above-stated policy, it is evident for one tosee that LMS was a non-denominational movement.

Specializedanalysis of the London Missionary Society as a mission enterprisereveals that the missionaries were agents of the British Empire. Inas much as they engaged in the spread of the message of Christianity,they were equally involved in establishing political influence in thesouthern Africa region. Over time, they got to work with more andmore of the indigenous people, who were placed in subordinatepositions to the whites. Historical records of the role of themission enterprise indicate that it facilitated the destruction ofAfrican culture and religious beliefs, all in an effort of helpingthe people to realize civilization. Despite the fact that the missionenterprise maintained that the spread of Christianity was conductedin a manner that respected the free will of the people, colonialismresulted in exploitation of the people on social, economic and evenspiritual perspectives. In some ways, the missionaries saw theirbeliefs and ways of life- imperialism, as being a necessity forliving, leading to little regard for indigenous African cultures andtraditions.

Thefirst set of LMS missionaries embarked to the South African coast, inthe year 1799. They reached the Cape with an objective of liberatingthe natives through the power of Christianity and also to uplift themin the sense of realizing socio-political advances that had so farbeen achieved by the whites who had already settled at the Cape. Itis important to note that LMS came into Africa at a time when theBritish Empire colonists had already established their roots there.The mission enterprise bore the opinion that its mission stationswould be nothing short of unessential once their mission was completeor their objectives and goals achieved. In some way, there is adifference in the objectives and roles played by LMS as compared toother missionary societies that went to Africa LMS insinuated thatit had a goal of promoting achievements of rights and privilegesenjoyed by the colonists to native Africans in addition to liberatingthem from servitude. A point to note is that most historical accountsindicate that the missionaries barely fought for the achievement ofequal rights and privileges by the indigenous African people.Nevertheless, it remains as a fact that the mission endeavored in theinculcation of adoption of European ways of life by the Africanpeople the missionaries, even more, insisted on the Africans toembrace developments that were purely material to achieveself-reliance and emancipation from their slave masters.

Thenagain, one cannot decline to note that LMS involved in both politicaland political spheres, in the quest of bettering the lives of Nativepeople in southern Africa. It is important to point out that theobjective of making Africans adapt to European culture was a mostcrucial consideration for the missionaries. Since the natives hadfelt much devastation in their lives because of colonialism, a goodnumber of them saw the adoption of Christianity under guidance anddirection of LMS as an opportunity for them to challenge thecolonialists. During the time when LMS began its influences insouthern Africa, the San people were among the first to be reached.In a well-known manner, many of the San would convert to Christianityfor purposes of challenging their slave masters and the generalEuropean community. In some ways, they strived to prove that they hadthe capability of achieving and maintaining civilization. However,this belief seemed to have been misguided since it took so many yearsto come for the ideology of equality among the people of thedifferent races to be solidified. It is also appalling to note thatthe current nation of South Africa still struggles with the aspectsof racism, though on a reduced scale.

Toindicate that LMS participated in the facilitation of colonialism inAfrica, this paper establishes a quote by Dr. John Philip, an LMSsuperintendent. Dr. Philip states,

“Whileour missionaries are everywhere scattering the seeds ofcivilization…they are extending British interests, Britishinfluences and the British Empire…Wherever the missionary placeshis standard among a savage tribe, their prejudices against thecolonial government give way their dependence upon the colony isincreased by the creation of artificial wants…Industry, trade andagriculture spring up.”4

Anotherdisturbing action to mention is that the mission stations did notserve the purpose described by LMS. In fact, they formed “laborpools” for local white farmers to get workers, of course, membersof the native population. The natives had to accept such work toenhance their survival, what is more, is that they were forced toadapt to agrarian lifestyles and leave their traditional pastoralistway of life. Even though the role played by LMS resulted in anelevation of the ways of life of the natives, it is important to notethat they were hardly consulted about their feelings or needs.Furthermore, the agricultural practices in the region weretransformed from subsistence farming procedures to an approach thatwas commercial or rather market-oriented. As Dr. Philip indicated inthe quote above, the indigenous people developed a sense of“artificial wants,” this possibly implies that the missionariesformed major players in the colonial economy.

Theinitial belief or objective of LMS, to empower the indigenous peopleso that they may be equal to the colonists or Europeans was withoutany doubt a longshot. Still, the missionaries probably knew this,even as they engaged the San and Khoekhoe people and other nativegroups in southern Africa. In some way, the information offered byDr. Philip elaborates the actual objective of the missionaries. Evenso, the quest of the mission enterprise enabled the natives toacquire new skills and knowledge that could be used on an industrialplatform. As modernity was adopted, the natives came to learn ofmechanisms of individualized development, like say education andtraining in particular fields of practice. As hinted before, the LMSwas keen about the achievement of enlightenment by the indigenes ofSouthern Africa one might also argue that the European community wasjust discontented by the traditional savage ways of life of thenative Africans. In some ways, this ideology responds to the desireor need among the Europeans to spread civilization in Africa eventhough the natives were previously comfortable and gratified withtheir culture and customary norms. From another perspective, onecould argue that the missionaries served the purpose of promoting‘British humanism’ for the purpose of establishing the dominanceof the British Empire around the world. It is important to rememberthat the LMS, at least according to its records, focused on thepromotion of humanitarianism among the uncivilized African people.

Whenthe LMS arrived at the Cape of southern Africa, they established twoparticular mission stations, the Bethelsdorp (the Bethel Village) andThornberg (the Hill of Toornberg). The former was in an area that waspredominantly occupied by native people of the Khoekhoe communitywhile the latter was in a region of the San people. The Bethelsdorpmission station was founded in the year 1801 by leading missionaryJohannes Theodosius Vanderkemp, another missionary Erasmus Smith, wasresponsible for the Thornberg mission station. Their mission wasclear, to impart the heathen indigenous people with knowledge of theChristian faith in an effort of converting them to the religion. Ashinted before, these mission stations also provided training andknowledge relating to new agricultural, technological andentrepreneurship practices and appliances. Such endeavors led to aneed of enlightening the people about the need and importance ofmorality a key point to note is that the missionaries failed toconsider the effects of undermining African, or rather San andKhoekhoe cultures, norms and other social practices. Undoubtedly,such led to some difficulties even as the missionaries tried toinstill European ideologies on the natives. It is important to notethat the natives engaged in spiritual practices that involved ritualslike giving offerings to and worshiping of idols and or other nativegods.

Allthe same, the initial goals and objectives of LSM seemed noble,offering the natives an opportunity to acquire Christian salvation.One can note that apart from the influences of the colonial regime,the missionaries seemed to be sincere at heart regarding focusing onthe work of God and Christian faith. Their point of view focused onthe Gospel as the truth, a guide for establishing a connection withGod, a platform of saving people from the difficulties and challengesof life brought about by the devil. According to the LMS, they hadcome to Africa since the word of God gave the obligation of sharingthe truthof God, his goodness, grace, and magnificence with the other peopleof the world. They needed to share knowledge of the salvation ofJesus that was available for all humanity.

Fromthe information discussed in this paper, it is easy for one to seethat the missionaries were concerned with three main things in theirassociation with the natives. These were Christianity, commerce, andcivilization. From a European standpoint, an ideal Christian would beone that is civilized and productive at the same time. He or shewould be required to develop personalized skills needed in aparticular line of work, hence contributing positively to thedevelopment of the community over and above self. In addition toagriculture, other occupational skills of life introduced to thepeople included but were not limited to sewing, carpentry, andbrick-making among other things. The new farming methods ofcultivation ensured they could grow food and cash crops, especiallyfood items that were common to the British, involving but not limitedto fruit trees and the establishment of vegetable gardens.

Otherthan establishments of Bethelsdorp and Thornberg, LMS was able to putup a good number of missionary stations in southern Africa. As ameans of promoting adoption of Christianity, the organization ensuredto give converts some benefits. For instance, it liaised with thecolonial regime to allocate pieces of land to some of its nativemembers. The organization also engaged in community services like thesetting up of infrastructure to propagate modernity in a significantmanner. In some ways, one might think that the societal andenvironmental changes that LSM facilitated symbolize salvation oracceptance of Christ by a person. In other words, it signifies thatthe moving of Europeans into the environment and lives of the nativesonly served to better the lives of the indigenous people. One cannotdecline to note that a series of civilization programs at theBethelsdorp enterprise for the Khoekhoe and the Thornberg enterprisefor the San enabled the indigenous to achieve invaluable modernity.

Aprimary reason for the success and or heavy impact of the operationsof LMS in southern Africa could be that the organization came in at atime of heightened war and tension between groups of colonialists andthe indigenous people. One cannot decline top note or acknowledge thefact that human societies develop a need for meaning andenlightenments during difficult times of intense crisis. At the time,the Khoekhoe and San communities were in grave need of refuge and orreprieve from the colonist. As such, the mission stations establishedby LSM provided bases for refuge and even safety for members of theindigenous communities. While there, the natives were constantlyintroduced to emerging mechanisms of improving their lives, like theoccupational skills mentioned above. At the Bethelsdorp station,natives with issues of financial needs had the opportunity of gainingmeaningful employment as laborers. Ultimately, it is safe to say thatthe mission stations established by LMS were successful in instillingideologies of civilization among the natives.

Itis also worth mentioning that the Thornberg mission station recordedgreat success between the years 1814 and 1818 compared to the otherstations. The natives would seek refuge at the station when theirlives were endangered during times of war. Even so, it emerges thatthe success of the station did not last for long since if focusedmore on making the natives be as archetypes of the Europeansocieties. The chain of command and general management of the stationwas highly centralized, unlike the situation at Bethelsdorp, whereinmissionaries enjoyed the freedom of decision making under theleadership of Dr. Johannes Vanderkemp. At Bethelsdorp, individualmissionaries or groups of missionaries were responsible for their ownleadership styles over their own initiatives and institutes relatingto association with the natives. Dr. Vanderkemp’s focus remained onaspects of preparation, conversion and salvation of the indigenouspeople through approaches of evangelism. Even so, the colonial regimeultimately regarded the Bethelsdorp mission enterprise as a failure.From this information, one might argue that the European community,in general, opted to focus on colonization and commerce in southernAfrica as opposed to the conversion and salvation of the natives onthe platform of Christianity. Furthermore, the European community inthe region ridiculed the enterprise from the perspective that itfailed to teach or implore the natives to engage in meaningfulendeavors of manual work or labor. It had failed to ensure that thelocals achieve self-reliance, leading to immense challenges for whitefarmers in the region Bedelaarsdorp was even called the village ofbeggars. Despite this, the Bethelsdorp missionary enterprise washighly appreciated by the natives, most of them appreciated the workand efforts of missionaries. On the other hand, the highlycentralized LSM enterprise, the Thornberg station had its challengestoo. The leader Erasmus Smit turned out to be a not so good managerhe would desert the camp during times of tension and fear. Inconclusion, this paper establishes that the London MissionarySociety, in Southern Africa offered a platform that facilitatedaspects of colonization by the British Empire, civilization and thespread of Christianity in the region.


Bregman,Joel. “Land and Society in the Komaggas region of Namaqualand.”Ph.D. diss., University of Cape Town, 2010.

Boahen,Albert. “African Perspectives on Colonialism.”Vol 15. Jon Hopkins University Press. 2012

Lovett,Richard.&nbspTheHistory of London Missionary Culture, 1795-1895.Vol. 1. H. Frowde. Accessed online on March 28, 2016, on

Plant,Michael. “Congregationalists and Confessions Michael Plant.”

1 Boahen, A. A. (2012). African Perspectives on Colonialism. Vol 15. Jon Hopkins University Press, 25

2 Lovett, Richard.&nbspThe History of the London Missionary Society, 1795-1895.

3 Plant, Michael. “Congregationalists and Confessions Michael Plant.”

4 Bregman, Joel. &quotLand and Society in the Komaggas region of Namaqualand.&quot PhD diss., University of Cape Town, 2010, 62