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The ‘Christianization’ Process Of The London Missionary Society In 19th Century South Africa: A Case Study Of Bethelsdorp And Thornberg

8965 words - 36 pages


Destruction of Cape San (Bushman) Society

The hunter-gatherer communities of the Cape Colony were almost entirely destroyed as a result of pervasive settler violence under both Dutch and British colonial rule. Some scholars argue that the land dispossession, enforced labour incorporation, periodic massacre, and suppression of their culture inflicted on the San constitute genocide. While developments through the 18th century have been reasonably thoroughly documented, our knowledge of the 19th century is patchy because little research has been done on this period.



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When many reflect about the destruction of the Cape San within South Africa, the first in thought is that of genocide. Many scholarly and academic articles have been affiliated to the physical extermination of the Cape San, yet however overlook the cultural destruction of the Cape San’s unique culture itself. Christian missionary activity had been central to the work of European colonialism, not only had it provided the missionaries and their supporters with a sense of justice, but the power of a moral authority. Throughout the history of British imperial expansion, missionary proselytizing offered the British public a model of ‘civilized’ expansionism and colonial community management, transforming imperial projects into moral allegories, as in the Cape San Bushmen (Hottentots, Boschemen). Missionary activity implied either covert or explicit cultural change towards the indigenous population of a new colonial project. In its purest form, it sought to transform indigenous communities into imperial archetypes of civility and modernity through the process of acculturation. It remodeled the individual, the community and the state through Western, Christian philosophies. Whilst colonialism established itself within the boundaries of South Africa, Cape Town specifically, this Christianization process was a crucial part of the colonizing projects of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.


This paper will attempt to reveal the ‘civilizing’ program of the London Missionary Society (L.M.S) of the Cape San Bushmen of Southern Africa. The L.M.S had been particularly established to intervene directly in the lives of the native ‘heathens’ of the world, and specifically to ‘spread the knowledge of Christ among the heathen and other unenlightened...

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