History of the Baha’i Faith in South Africa

The Early Years in South Africa

The early Bahá’ís who arose to the call of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’, the Centre of the Covenant of Bahá’u’lláh, were encouraged to become the loving and confident agents of the unification of the human race. In arising to serve humanity, these Bahá'ís were assured they would unlock in both themselves and others entirely new capacities with which God has endowed the human race. Their mission was to exemplify the following counsel of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’:

"Ye must become the very soul of the world, the living spirit in the body of the children of men. In this wondrous Age, at this time when the Ancient Beauty, the Most Great Name, bearing unnumbered gifts, hath risen above the horizon of the world, the Word of God hath infused such awesome power into the inmost essence of humankind that He hath stripped men’s human qualities of all effect, and hath, with His all-conquering might, unified the peoples in a vast sea of oneness.”

~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’

Embracing the message of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’, these individuals set out often at great personal cost to give expression to the principles He exemplified and taught. Their acts of service are described as follows:

"These souls answered His summons in spite, not because, of the liberal and economically advanced world they knew, a world they no doubt cherished and valued, and in which they had necessarily to carry on their daily lives. Their response arose from a level of consciousness that recognized, even if sometimes only dimly, the desperate need of the human race for spiritual enlightenment."

~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’

May 1911 marked the first recorded Bahá’i activity in the history of South Africa, when a small group of people started to hold regular gatherings in Sea Point, Cape Town. The 1920’s saw the Bahá’í Faith spread further in the Western Cape and around Johannesburg through the efforts of Fanny Knobloch from the United States of America assisted for a time by her sister, Pauline. The first local Bahá’í administrative body in South Africa was formed in Pretoria in 1925. Later in 1953 the Bahá’í community received a fresh impetus when thirteen Bahá’ís came from the United States and settled in Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg and Durban. Given the conditions in the country at the time, the Bahá’ís focused on sharing the Bahá’í teachings of unity with the indigenous peoples of the land. Klaas Mtsweni, from a Zulu background, was the first local to become a Bahá’í in 1954.