“The South African Story, 1978,” Ensign, Oct. 1978, 62
For the thousands of Saints in southern Africa, October 23 and 24 will bring an unprecedented privilege—a visit by members of the First Presidency and other general authorities.
The Church leaders will be in Johannesburg, South Africa, for an area conference expected to draw thousands of Saints from the two African countries where missionaries proselyte, the Union of South Africa and Rhodesia. Some 8,000 members of the Church live in Africa, most of them in South Africa. The first stake in Africa was the Transvaal Stake, organized in 1970, and later renamed the Johannesburg South Africa Stake.
Missionary work in southern Africa dates back to 1853, although the South African Mission was closed in 1865. It reopened in 1903 but was closed a second time, and reopened a third time in 1970. In 1974 it was renamed the South Africa Johannesburg Mission. 127 missionaries now work out of that mission, eighty-five of them nonlocals.
The Saints in southern Africa live in a modern, urbanized society—contrary to the image held by many throughout the world. The area was settled in prior centuries by Europeans, whose descendants now live there. Many residents of South Africa and Rhodesia are receptive to the gospel; in the last two years, missionary work and convert baptisms have increased fifty percent.
“It is a choice land,” says Elder Bernard P. Brockbank of the First Quorum of the Seventy, former area supervisor for South Africa and Rhodesia. “Some of the finest members of the Church are there.” Climate and agricultural conditions make the land fruitful.
Church members in both countries are involved in a full range of Church programs. Richard and Iris Nield, members of the Church in Rhodesia, explain what a week in their lives is presently like.
“Mondays we have home evening,” Brother Nield says. “Tuesday is Mutual and Institute. Wednesday is presidency meeting [he is first counselor in a branch presidency]. Most every Thursday we have home evenings for investigators. Friday afternoon is Primary. Friday night is free, although once a month we have open house. On Saturday there is usually an evening function—a dinner, a show, a picnic, a sports activity. The auxiliaries sponsor something. And, of course, there are baptisms.”
The Nields feel strongly about continuing to live in their native Rhodesia—“to build up the kingdom there.” Although distances and gasoline rationing make church attendance difficult for some members, few are deterred, they say.
Men of Rhodesia are required to serve in the military. Men older than thirty-eight serve seventy days a year. Men younger than thirty-eight serve six months a year, although not necessarily all at once. Some young men serve “six weeks in, six weeks out,” Brother Nield says. That arrangement complicates Church service, but people adapt. A branch president may have to delegate extra authority to his counselors while he serves a stint in the military. A home teacher may have to make special arrangements with his home teaching partner. But they manage. “They just do it,” says Elder David B. Haight of the Quorum of the Twelve, who recently toured wards and branches in Africa.
Military conscription also requires extra effort from Rhodesian women. While a husband serves with the military, the wife may run the home and farm. In some cases, she may be in charge of a labor force of hundreds while her husband is away.
Members of the Church in both South Africa and Rhodesia are proud of their countries. “The people are very confident and optimistic about the political future, and they feel the Church will have a great and good influence on the destiny of their countries,” says John Cox, regional representative.
Elder Haight explains how Church members develop their potential in South Africa. He tells of a South African member, C. Isaac Swartzberg, whose grandfather, a Jewish ghetto-dweller in Poland, was so anti-Christian that he wouldn’t let people mention the Savior’s name in his presence. His son—Brother Swartzberg’s father—went to South Africa as a strong Jew, but softened his attitude toward Christianity. Brother Swartzberg was converted to the Church and now serves in the stake presidency. And Brother Swartzberg’s son is now serving a mission in South Africa.
Plans are being made for a second South African stake, Elder Haight says.
“The missionaries are baptizing; the Saints are doing missionary work; we have strong men,” he says. “The Church is moving forward; it is successful. Our people are successful. We have successful people joining the Church. Everything about it is positive.”