Church History
The First Branches in South Africa

Stories of Faith

The First Branches in South Africa

Before his death, Joseph Smith instructed the Apostles not to let “a single corner of the earth go without a mission.” The difficulty of travel, cultural barriers, restrictions on religious freedom, and the Saints’ own limited resources made the prospect daunting—but on August 28, 1852, Brigham Young took a step toward fulfilling the martyred prophet’s commission by calling the first missionaries to Africa.

Elder Jesse C. Haven, accompanied by William H. Walker and Leonard I. Smith, left for the Cape of Good Hope a few weeks later. Their journey took seven months; the three crossed the American plains, then sailed from New York via Liverpool to Cape Town, earning their passage and enduring sickness as they went. “We faltered not—fainted not—feared not; we felt that the Lord had sent us to deliver the message, and by His help we were determined to accomplish what we had been sent to perform,” Haven wrote after they arrived in Cape Town.

In Cape Town, preaching proved difficult. Hecklers often disrupted street meetings, sometimes throwing rotten eggs or vegetables at the missionaries. Progress only began in earnest when Nicholas Paul of Mowbray offered them his home for meetings and protection from persecution. Paul and others soon joined the Church, and by September 1853 two branches had been organized.

Initially, the missionaries focused their efforts on white, English-speaking colonists. Despite the racial divisions of the era, a few people of mixed race also joined the Church. While missionary diaries make no reference to her race, Utah’s 1880 census records indicate that Johanna Langeveld Provis was one of these mixed-race converts. Provis was also the first Dutch or Afrikaans speaker to join the Church. In 1854 she tutored Haven in the language as he prepared to reach Afrikaner communities.

Like other early converts, many Saints in South Africa overcame great obstacles to gather with the Saints in Utah. In one case, ship owners refused passage to the Saints. Two wealthy members, Charles Roper and John Stock, responded by purchasing a ship named the Unity for their fellow converts. A few Saints stayed and kept the faith on their own for years. George and Anna Ruck, early members of the Mowbray Branch, watched missionaries leave in 1858 and greeted their replacements three years later. The Rucks stayed in South Africa when missionaries left again in 1865. Anna died about two decades later, but George lived to bear testimony to the next group of missionaries after they arrived in 1903. Though he never made it across the ocean to the temple himself, he lived to know that his wife’s temple ordinances were done by proxy in 1906.