“South Africans Enjoy a New Temple,” Ensign, Oct. 1985, 75
Louis P. Hefer recalls the morning in 1973 when President Spencer W. Kimball, then President of the Council of the Twelve, rededicated South Africa for missionary work.
“He prayed that the people would open their hearts and look forward to a time ‘when all processes may converge to bring a temple to this land.’”
Brother Hefer, regional representative to the Johannesburg South Africa Region, comments that now “we are reaping the blessings of many of his supplications.” Like many of his countrymen, he has witnessed the great Church growth, in numbers and in spirituality, that has led to the building of a temple in his homeland.
C. Kenneth Powrie, patriarch in the Sandton South Africa Stake, estimates that there were perhaps a thousand Latter-day Saints in South Africa when he was baptized in 1950. Now there are more than ten times that number. There has been “steady, consistent growth.”
In his early days in the Church, members who had been to the temple were held a bit in awe. It was, after all, a costly 19,000-kilometer (11,800 miles) round trip to the nearest temple, and most Saints in South Africa could only dream about it. It was a thrill to be among eighty Saints who were finally able to go to the temple via chartered jet in 1969, Brother Powrie recalls.
Now the temple is a mere fifteen kilometers (nine miles) from his home.
The first three LDS missionaries arrived in South Africa in April of 1853, but the Church grew slowly there for many decades. Jesse Haven, a cousin of Brigham Young, was assigned as president of the Cape of Good Hope Mission; he was accompanied by William Walker and Leonard I. Smith. They found a measure of success as missionaries, and in December of 1855, before leaving for home, Brother Haven recorded in his journal that he had baptized 176 people and had established three districts and six branches of the Church.
The mission was later closed, then reopened, closed, and reopened again. Until recent decades, migration of converts to “Zion” in the United States kept the number of members in South Africa from growing.
Brother Powrie served as a branch clerk for a number of years. “I’ll never forget the thrill I got when I counted twenty-five in a sacrament meeting,” he says.
Now there are about 11,000 Latter-day Saints in the Johannesburg Temple District.
The number of native African Church members in South Africa is still comparatively small, but is growing rapidly. By the end of the year, there will be a chapel in Kwa Mashu, one of the native African homelands established by the government. Church attendance there is already “in the hundreds.”
President Winstanley pointed out that the first Zulu missionary, Elder Sipho Nkomo, is now serving a mission in London, and another Zulu man is preparing to serve.
In fact, says President Winstanley, “We send about 95 percent of our young men on missions.”
South Africa is a much more diverse country than many outsiders realize. “Besides providing ordinances in English and Afrikaans, the temple has nine sound channels to serve our cosmopolitan country of nine nations and seventeen subnations,” Brother Swartzberg explains.
Despite that diversity, South African Saints seem to worry about the same kinds of things that members elsewhere worry about. Jenny Bricknell, wife of Bishop Colin Bricknell of the Durban Berea Ward, points out that though their youth are strong, South African members are seeing dangerous worldly influences more and more in their society. The recession in South Africa has forced Church members to economize along with everyone else, though faithful members pay their offerings despite the pressure, Bishop Bricknell says.
The temple will help Saints meet these challenges better, President Winstanley comments, explaining that many are striving to prepare for service in the house of the Lord.
It’s easy to sense the eagerness of people like Charles and Beverley Wilcocks of Sandton First Ward, Sandton South Africa Stake. Charles, a returned missionary who is studying computer science at the University of Witwatersrand, and Beverley were recently married. Now, they “just can’t wait to be sealed in our own temple!”