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Moravian Brethren in South Africa

Czech and Moravian traces date back to the 18th century. Read more on Moravian Church.

Moravian Brethren (or Moravian Church) are spiritual and blood descendants of the members of the Unity of the Brethren who were forced to leave their homeland because of their evangelic belief in the 18. century. Therefore, the Brethern left Northern Moravia for Saxony, where they founded the city of Herrenhut, “Ochranov” in Czech. They reestablished there the Unity of the Brethren, the aim of which was to spread Christianity, peace and education. Already in 1732, the Moravian Church sent its first missionaries to Saint Thomas, an island in the Caribbean Sea. And the other missions soon followed: to Greenland, North America or South Africa. Today, the Moravian Brethern are active in the whole world and have around 500 000 followers. Theirs traces can be found for example in Tanzania, the Congo, Uganda, Canada, USA, Nicaragua, Honduras, Malawi, Surinam, Tibet, India, Cuba, Jamaica, Alaska, but also in South African Republic.

It was already in 1737, when Georg Schmidt founded a mission in Genadendal. In 1808 a mission in Groenkloof, later renamed Mamre, and in 1818 Enon in Eastern Cape were established. All three mission stations were given by the then government for missionary purposes only. Among the Moravian villages in South Africa is Elim in Western Cape Province.

Elim was founded in 1824 by three German missionary families of Hans Peter Hallbeck, Johann Gottlieb Bonatz and C. Thompson from the Moravian Church, looking for a place plenty of water and with a terrain suitable for vineyards. In the end, they found the right location not far from the southernmost spot of African continent, Cape Agulhas. They bought the farm Vogelstruyskraal, which became the first property owned by the Moravian Church in South Africa. A year late the place was renamed Elim.

And even though the village lies on the other side of the world, it still has Moravian spirit: its white houses are built in rural baroque style and most of the buildings have still thatched roofs. The houses differ in shapes of their gable walls, styles of windows or gutters.

For its religious inhabitants, the true centre of Elim is the moderately decorated church that did not change much since it was build. In the gable wall of the church, there is 235 years old clock, still keeping the exact time. Also the 240 years old church bell, originally placed in the city of Ochranov, the centre of Moravian Church, is an important historical monument. Elim’s well preserved watermill, built in 1833, became national historical monument in 1974. The antique watermill, renovated in 1990, has the largest wooden wheel in South Africa and still serves to ground wheat. The slowly rotating millstones produce wholemeal flour of excellent taste and aroma. Traditional delicious sweet buns, the so called "Mosbolletjies", are made of this flour and represent another small trace of Moravia in African continent.

Moravian Brethren in Elim were always known as skilful farmers and craftsmen and this has not changed until today. The village is famous mainly for its excellent wine and wonderful flowers of fynbos and thatched roofs making. It should be noted though, that everybody in the village with Moravian spirit speaks only Afrikaans – the language of theirs ancestors is unfortunately not spoken in Elim any more. However, the old traditions, e.g. wedding customs, are kept by the inhabitants till today.  

Thanks to its unique historical and cultural monuments, Elim is rightfully considered to be one of the most beautiful and picturesque villages preserving the spirit of old times. The entire village of Elim has also been declared a National Heritage Site.