The Moravians are an interesting sect of Protestants who established many mission stations across the Cape. Originally from Bohemia, they left their homeland in the eighteenth century to escape religious persecution.
After much travelling, they eventually found sanctuary near Berlin, under the patronage of Count van Zizendorf.
Safely ensconced in Germany, the Moravians proceeded to send out missionaries to spread the good word to the world. They established several thriving mission stations in the Cape, set up schools and taught the locals useful crafts like thatching and needlepoint. But, by the 1960s, the Moravian Church had peaked, and the head church in Germany handed over their various South African mission stations to the local congregations, who were largely people of colour.
Today, Genadendal and Elim are the best-preserved examples of Moravian communities in the Western Cape, and these little enclaves are a wonderful throwback to an earlier age of religious autonomy. There is also a hike, known as the Genadendal Hiking Trail, which begins and ends in the town and winds its way through the Riviersonderend Mountains.
The late former President Nelson Mandela named his official residence in Cape Town after the town of Genadendal. He had the following to say about the town: “During our term in office as President of the Republic of South Africa, we decided to rename the presidential official residence in Cape Town from ‘Westbrooke’ to ‘Genadendal’ which means ‘Valley of Grace’. We also visited this historic little town on 10 October 1995.
The renaming of the official residence was in honour of the oldest mission settlement in South Africa. Over the centuries it became a place associated with the coming together of people from different racial groups: in addition to being the first permanent Khoi settlement at the Cape, it was also a place of sanctuary for more than a thousand slaves when slavery was abolished in 1838. It is with pleasure that we learned about the completion of the restoration project due to the assistance of the Dutch Government.
The improvements that were effected provided the inhabitants with the infrastructure to improve the quality of their lives. May the history of Genadendal continue to inspire especially during its ongoing existence. The Challenge of Genadendal presents the results of this important project.”