A Remarkable Relationship: The ANC and the AZM in Natal

A Remarkable Relationship: The ANC and the AZM in Natal

How often in discussing church membership with others have you heard the comment, “I can be just as good a Christian as you without going to Church”?   We are living at a time when certain groups claiming to be Christian are blaming crime, drug use, and school shootings on the lack of prayer in our schools, but is that the point of failure? Historically, we know that many of the founders of this republic were strong supporters of the Christian Church and that Christian teachings strongly influenced the writers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

I believe that Christianity has had a strong influence for good in this world and has been a ferment in the four great political miracles that I have witnessed in this century: Gandhi’s liberation of India from the British Empire; Martin Luther King’s work to end segregation in the United States; the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolizing the end of Communism; and the end of Apartheid in South Africa. I have written on the involvement of Christianity in all these events, but, today, I wish to concentrate on the end of apartheid in South Africa.

It was my privilege to be born into the mission effort of the Congregational Church. It was an auspicious beginning, born in Chicago, that great metropolitan center of activity, I had sense enough to leave at the early age of three months and spend most of the rest of my youth in the quiet country at Ifafa M.S., fifty odd miles south of Durban, Natal, S.Africa. The fourth of five children, we were all educated to high school level by our able mother, Julia, who had aspired to be a teacher or doctor to the S. American Indians. Instead, she was a mother of missionaries. It was my inspiration to fulfill her medical ambitions. Her three daughters all became teachers, while her younger son followed in his father’s footsteps as a minister. It was only when I graduated in medicine that I learned that my father also had hoped to practice medicine. Through a series of almost miraculous happenings and some discouraging delays, Ruth and I, with our infant sons, David and Paul, arrived at McCord Zulu Hospital in March of 1953. There, I did two five-year terms leaving at the end of 1965.

It is not my intent, today, to tell of my work there other than to say it was most rewarding. I certainly received more than I gave in the way of enrichment and inspiration for my life.  I did help maintain a mission hospital through eleven trying years, working in all departments from intern to superintendent and assisting in the training of nurses and interns.  I observed the marked uplifting effect which Christian upbringing has on the sympathetic treatment of patients and fellow workers.

It is of this Christian influence that I would like to enlarge upon today, but, as further introduction, I would say that I have had the privilege of travel: Zimbabwe in ’55, Ghana in ’65,  Scandinavia in ’75, China ’87, Cuba in ’90, Honduras in ’93,  Puerto Rico in ’94, as well as a visits back to S. Africa in ’68,  ’89, ’99, and ’06, and time in England coming and going plus one full week there seeing the sights. Much of this travel was in conjunction with mission efforts, some just sight seeing. I have met some very interesting people. At the opening of the Federated Seminary, at Fort Hare, in Cape Province, I found myself sitting next to Alan Paton, the author of “Cry, the Beloved Country”.  Aside from having our picture taken together by the security police, we had a delightful time chatting about things that were happening back then (before 1960). My respect for his writing was greatly elevated by his repeated challenge, “What is the basis for that statement?” or,  “What are the facts which support it.”  Later on, Paton was the leader of the Liberal Party.

One of my earliest memories from McCord Hospital was talking with Dr. Ralph Hendrickse, a Coloured, well informed on politics as his father-in-law was a leader of the Cape Coloureds. He assured me that there would be a bloody revolution in S.Africa within ten years.  Well, though  there was unfortunately a lot of blood spilled between the supporters of the ANC, the African National Congress, and the IFP, the Inkhata Freedom Party, with undercover support from the Nationalist Government, there was no open civil war as has wrecked and almost destroyed so many other African nations.

So, why did his prophecy fail? Possibly I had another clue from McCord Hospital where Chief Albert Luthuli was a patient when I left in 1965. “Dr. Christofersen,” he said as I bid him farewell, “remember that like the black and white keys on a piano, the Whites in South Africa need the Blacks, and we need the Whites.” (a) This was spoken by a man whose life had been spent in educating African teachers and then in governing his tribe at Umvoti and finally becoming leader of the African National Congress only to have the Government take away his chieftainship, ban him from public speaking and submit him (along with some 150 others) to a four-year trial for supposed treason, which fortunately the government lost. After all that, he could show the magnanimity to say that Whites and Blacks needed each other. What was the ANC that it fostered such an attitude?

In searching for information, I have been into the stacks at the University of Chicago Library and learned how to search other university libraries finding books such as THE AFRICAN PATRIOTS, by Mary Benson and an even more scholarly work by Peter Walshe on the development of the political philosophy of the ANC in which he makes this summary statement: “Several of the fundamental reasons for this persistence [i.e. of a remarkably steady focus on non-racial ideals] can be clearly discerned even in an analysis of the origins of political consciousness.  The new elite [among the Africans] developed its attitudes in part as a reaction to racial discrimination and the exclusiveness of Afrikaner nationalism, a process which engendered support for an alternative and non racial ideal.  In addition the socio-economic environment of a rapidly developing South Africa created a clear recognition of the inevitability of economic integration and hence of the need for inter-racial co-operation as contacts increased across the colour line.  Finally, political attitudes came under the influence of several ideological factors which, in the decades before Union, included the profound impact of Christianity, the Negro struggle in America and the mid-Victorian liberalism which had given rise to Cape tradition.”(1) As I read, a remarkable relationship began to be apparent, that was the involvement of the American Zulu Mission in the creation of this “profound impact of Christianity.”

After the Boer War, which was fought between the British and the Afrikaners [i.e. those of Dutch descent] ended in 1902, some eight years were spent in working out the details that brought together the Cape Province, Natal, the Orange Free State, and the Transvaal to form the Union of South Africa. In the Cape, educated Africans owning property could vote.  Not so in the other three provinces and to accommodate them, the rights of Africans in the Cape were steadily eroded. Oh, there were protest aplenty. Africans formed a delegation to go to the Queen in England. Though supported by Mr. Schreiner, a liberal former governor of the Cape, the Queen declined to hear them. The House of Commons did sympathize and said they would give support, but never did. When the Constitution for the Union of S.A. was published in 1910, it became very apparent that the Africans would have little say in the government. The first meeting of the group that became the ANC was called together on January, 1912, at Bloomfontein by Pixley Seme.

Seme was born at Inanda, Natal. When he finished primary school, the local missionary, Stephen Pixley, encouraged him and helped him to go to Adams College and get training to be a teacher (While Adams was called a college because it had a teacher training school, a high school and a manual arts school, the training was only at secondary, not college level as we know it). From there, again with help from Pixley he went to a small college in N.W. Massachusetts, then on to Columbia University where he won prizes as the best orator, then on to Jesus College, Oxford, England to become a lawyer. He returned to Johannesburg where there were already several other African lawyers trained in England. It was through their political discussions that the need for a country-wide meeting was developed.

It was a remarkable meeting attended by chiefs, teachers, doctors, lawyers, clerks, and even uneducated people. The tone of the meeting is illustrated by this quote from Seme’s opening speech: “The demon of racialism, the aberrations of the Xhosa-Fingo feud, the animosity that exists between the Zulus and Tongas, between the Basuto and every other Native must be buried and forgotten….We are one people.  These divisions, these jealousies, are the cause of all our woes and of all our backwardness and ignorance today.”(2)

The first president elected was the Rev. John L. Dube. Now, I knew that man having met him when I was a boy and he was in my father’s short history of the mission, ADVENTURING WITH GOD. Also born at Inanda, he had been helped by Congregationalists to attend Oberlin College and later Union Theological Seminary in N.Y., where he was ordained at the Congregational Church in Brooklyn. Returning to be pastor at Inanda, he founded, at nearby Ohlange, a boarding high school, the only such effort by an African in Natal. Later, he founded and was editor of a newspaper for Africans, Ilanga Lase Natal, the Natal Sun, which, as a source of African opinion, was widely read by educated Africans and Whites working with Africans.

Numbers of resolutions and requests for the government to give Africans some involvement in the government and to increase their land ownership rights were persistently ignored or even promised and then the opposite done. With the start of World War I,  the ANC voted to support the government and temporarily suspend political activity. Numbers of Africans volunteered to support the war effort, but they were never allowed to bear arms, only to work as laborers though they saw Indians and other members of the British Empire joining in the fight.  Returning home, they expected some recognition of their contribution and losses in the war (600 lives were lost when a transport ship hit a mine). But no, the government gave them no more than their wages.

A deputation was formed with great expectations, because General Smuts, prime minister of South Africa, was speaking of self determination for the people of all countries as he helped form the League of Nations, precursor of the United Nations. But no! He would not even give them audience, nor would President Wilson.  On the other hand, the Afrikaner deputation followed Wilson back to the States where he heard them and voiced no objections to the way Smuts was treating indigenous people in S.Africa.  In spite of all the efforts of the ANC leadership, the rights and privileges of Africans were steadily whittled down. Taxation was used to force Africans to work to pay the tax and the requirement of carrying a pass which controlled influx into towns where the best jobs were available was introduced. The ANC lost face and members. For awhile, leadership was weak.

Z.K. Matthews, while never president of the ANC, was very active in politics, executive of the ANC, and has an interesting connection with the AZM. Educated at Lovedale and Fort Hare, Presbyterian schools in the Cape, he traveled to the States to receive further training, he was deeply influenced by Booker T Washington at  Tuskegee. In 1925, he was appointed head teacher at the Adams College high school. Two white principals had failed before him – whites were cynical and Africans hopeful about his abilities. I found this interesting quote from Alpheus Zulu, then a teacher, later Anglican Bishop of Zululand: 

 “I was teaching at Umlazi Mission school in 1925 when he [Z.K. Matthews] was appointed head of Adams high school.  Adams College had always broken with traditions of Mission institutions by appointing black people to positions of responsibility.  At that particular time, for example, the late Chief Albert Luthuli and the late Mr. Robbins Guma were on the staff of Adams training college, as the only black people on training college staffs in all Natal.  Apart from Dr. Dube’s Ohlange no black man had ever been head of a high school.  The excitement in all Natal was tremendous.  Many whites expected him to fail and blacks saw his appointment as a break through which would enable a black person to demonstrate what blacks as a group could do.” (3) Not only was Z.K. a success but while there he earned his law degree in 1930 by external studies with the University of South Africa, the first African to thus achieve his LLB degree.

While at Adams, Z.K. Matthews met Albert Luthuli, who, as I have mentioned, later became a leader in forming the philosophy of the ANC in a very difficult time. Albert Luthuli was born in Zimbabwe where his father was an evangelist with a Seventh Day Adventist mission. He was six when his father died and his mother returned with him to her home at Umvoti where Alden Grout had established one of the first AZM stations, Groutville.  He spent part of his childhood in the home of his uncle, Martin Luthuli, a devout Christian as Albert attests in his autobiography. Martin Luthuli was the organizer of the ANC in Natal. Albert then spent a year at Ohlange where he established friendship with John Dube. He then finished his teacher training at Edendale, a Methodist school. After teaching a few years, he entered a special program at Adams which was set up as a step beyond their teacher training to train teachers for the teacher training program. He did very well and was invited to stay on and become the first African to be involved in training African teachers. 

This quote from his autobiography sums up what I am trying to say very well:
“Early in my career at Adams I came under the influence of C.W. Atkins, head of the Training College, and for a time principal of the entire institution.  This man typifies for me the side of Adams which I found most valuable and enduring.  He placed his emphasis on loving God and on service of the society in which one finds oneself, and he had no hesitation in involving us deeply in the affairs of the African communities which lay within reach of Adams.  Possibly this was really the combined achievement of Adams, but Atkins remains in my memory as a symbol of it.

“Among my many debts to Adams and its people the greatest was the gift of an ethos gradually absorbed, and profoundly lasting in its effects. it became clear to me that the Christian Faith was not a private affair without relevance to society. It was, rather, a belief which equipped us in a unique way to meet the challenges of our society.  It was a belief which had to be applied to the conditions of our lives;and our many works–they ranged from Sunday School teaching to road building–became meaningful as the outflow of Christian belief.

“Adams taught me what Edendale did not, that I had to do something about being a Christian, and that this something must identify me with my neighbor, not dissociate me from him. Adams taught me more.  It inculcated, by example rather than precept, a specifically Christian mode of going about work in society, and I have had frequent reason to be grateful for this in later life.” (4)

While there were some atheists and a few communists, the continuous non-racial attitude of the ANC and its long peaceful and non-violent struggle against a very oppressive government was supported by these influential Christians whom I have described and by numbers of African ministers of religion who were among the most educated and willing to be leaders. African doctors were also well represented in the struggle. Dr. Njongwe, who lead resistance in Port Elizabeth, did his internship at McCord Hospital.

Of course, before the end of the struggle, sabotage, and violence did occur, but only after the government had repeatedly negated all non-violent methods of seeking redress…

So, that is it in a nutshell. We can’t all be missionaries in other lands. We can all uphold and work for Christian principles where we are and in whatever we do. But through the Church, we reach out to others in our community, throughout this land and to other lands across the seas. Look in the UCC Calendar of Prayer, keep up with what is happening around the world, recognize what Christ means when he says that he has come to give us abundant life and make every effort to share the message.

Howard Christofersen, M.D.
July, 1999

(a) This  is a direct quote from Prof. James Aggrey from Ghana  who became a professor in the US. In June 1920, Aggrey earned the Teacher’s Life Professional Certificate and was carefully weighing his future when great and unimaginable opportunity presented itself. Dr. Paul Monroe, esteemed Professor at Columbia and member of Board of Trustees of the Phelps-Stokes Fund recommended the inclusion of James Aggrey as a member of the Phelps-Stokes African Education Commission. The goal of the commission’s forthcoming trip to Africa was to ascertain the requirements necessary to improve the educational status of the “Natives of Africa”.  Adams College was on his itinerary.
(1) THE RISE OF AFRICAN NATIONALISM IN SOUTH AFRICA, The African National Congress 1912-1952, Peter Walshe  P. 25.
(2) Ibid, P. 33.
(3) FREEDOM FOR MY PEOPLE, Z.K. Matthews, P. 218.
(4) LET MY PEOPLE GO, Albert Luthuli, P 42.


THE LONG WALK TO FREEDOM, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, basic to understanding this remarkable man.

LET MY PEOPLE GO, Albert Luthuli, Nobel peace prize winner for 1960, ANC president, published by Collins, Jhbg , London, 1962.

THE ANATOMY OF A MIRACLE,  Patti Waldmeir, 1997, ISBN 0-393-03997-8, $27.50; fascinating psychological study by a news reporter who lived among the ANC in exile in Zambia, then was moved to Johannesburg where she was able to interview all major participants in ANC and many members of the Government.

TOMORROW IS ANOTHER COUNTRY, Allistar Sparks, Interaction between ANC and Government officials as seen by a reporter and editor who actually participated in some of the meetings.

THE RAINBOW PEOPLE OF GOD, Bishop Tutu, a compilation of his sermons, speeches and some of his activities. His defense of the S.A. Council of Churches when accused of supporting terrorists is the most moving reiteration of Christ’s message that I have read. He is currently in charge of the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission which is an effort to defuse anger towards politically inspired crimes.

GOODBYE BAFANA, James Gregory, a most unusual boyhood which developed an appreciation for Zulus and a knowledge of their language placed this man as warder censoring mail on Robbin Island. He recognized that the political prisoners were educated freedom fighters. He became Mandela’s personal friend and caretaker.

A WITNESS FOR EVER, Michael Cassidy, the dawning of democracy in S. A. from an evangelists viewpoint with special emphasis on a key moment played by Washington Okumu, a professor from Kenya.

THE AFRICAN PATRIOTS, Mary Benson. The story of the African National Congress of South Africa from its formation in 1912 to 1963. Reveals how the ANC developed leadership to govern a major country.

FREEDOM FOR MY PEOPLE, Z.K. Matthews, student, teacher, professor, lawyer, Ambassador to UN(from Bechuanaland) a major influence in ANC.

COUNTRY OF MY SKULL, Antjie Krog, SABC reporter on the Truth and Reconcilliation Commission hearings and her respect for Bishop Tutu.

GATSHA BUTHELEZI, ZULU STATESMAN, Ben Temkin, 1976, SBN 360 00289 7, the story of a leader who tried to cooperate with the government but resisted the establishment of Bantustans. Leader of Inkhata, an able but difficult man in the formation of the new democracy. He was strongly supported by industry and commerce, however also received much support from traditional Zulus.

MAMPHELA RAMPHELE – A LIFE, Mamphela Ramphele, Autobiography, Doctor, freedom-fighter, University president.  The difference one woman can make.

BIKO, by Donald Woods, a most remarable relationship betsween a  newspaper editor and a black activist.

THE RAINBOW COUNTRY I REVISITED, Donald Woods. His return to S. Africa after independence.

A FORCE MORE POWERFUL, edited by Peter Ackerman (producer of Gandhi and Cry Freedom) and Jack Duvall, Twelve examples where non-violent people power achieved results. The chapter on  S. Africa is a remarkable collection of events that were hidden from the world and even from those of us living in S. Afica at the time.

Books about people who were close to my work:

MY PATIENTS WERE ZULUS, James B. McCord, Rinehart & Co, Inc. New York, 1951. The story of McCord Hospital.

THE CALLING OF KATIE MAKANYA, Margaret McCord Nixon’s story of Dr. McCord’s interpreter giving great insight into African life at that time.

NOKUKHANYA MOTHER OF LIGHT, Peter Rule, The Grail, S. A. 1993,ISBN 0-620-17259-2, Chief Luthuli’s wife whose support and care of their family enabled him to concentrate on his work. A true Christian helper.

ADVENTURING WITH GOD, Arthur F. Christofersen, the story of the American Board Mission in So. Africa, published, 1967, Robinson & Co. 12 Devonshire place, Durban

SHINE WHERE YOU ARE:a History of Inanda Seminary, Agnes A. Wood. Many of our nurse trainees received their high school education at Inanda.

THE PLANTING OF THE CHURCHES IN SOUTH AFRICA, Jane M. Sales, the early history of the Christian mission in S. A. Interesting  for one studying the problems of the early growth of churches in a colonial era.