History of the Bahá’í Faith in South Africa
Of the 200 years since the Birth of Bahá’u’lláh, the Bahá’ís have had a presence in South Africa for 112 of those years, continuously from 1905. However, it was not until 1953 when a world-wide “Crusade” to bring the Bahá’í Faith to all countries began, that community development in South Africa moved steadily forward.
In 1911, a small group started holding regular community meetings in Cape Town.
In 1925, a Bahá’í administrative institution, called a Local Spiritual Assembly, was formed in Pretoria.
However, it was not until 1953 when a world-wide “Crusade” to bring the Bahá’í Faith to all countries began, that community development in South Africa moved steadily forward.
Thirteen Bahá’í “pioneers” arrived in South Africa in 1953
followed by more in subsequent years. They focused on bringing the Bahá’í teachings to the attention of the indigenous people. These pioneers had to balance carefully the Bahá’í principle of obedience to government on the one hand, and the Bahá’í teachings of recognition of the oneness of humanity and freedom from prejudice on the other.
Within ten years, there were Bahá’ís in 88 localities throughout South Africa, of which 22 had their own Local Spiritual Assembly.
The vast majority of Bahá’ís were Africans with smaller numbers of Coloureds, Indians and Whites.
In 1956, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of South and West Africa was elected as the regional administrative body of Bahá’ís in southern Africa.
Over the years, jurisdiction devolved to individual countries.
By 1981, this process left the Bahá’ís of South Africa with their own National Spiritual Assembly
the membership of which has been multiracial since its inception in 1956. The National Spiritual Assembly is the elected governing body of the Bahá’í s of South Africa. Currently, there are Bahá’ís in rural and urban settings in South Africa.
William Mmutle Masehla, born in Johannesburg in 1921, was one of several Bahá’ís who enrolled in the Bahá’í Faith early in the Crusade in November 1954 and gave distinguished service. After studying the teachings of the Faith for several months, William arose, and while retaining his employment, assisted in the spread of the Bahá’í Faith throughout Southern Africa. He served in several administrative capacities locally, nationally and for the whole of the African Continent. In spite of illness, he remained active in his service to the Faith until his passing in 1983.
Another believer from early in the Crusade was Dorothy Kedibone Senne who became a Bahá’í in Johannesburg in January 1955. A school teacher by profession, Dorothy loved teaching the Bahá’í Faith. Her work in enrolling believers in the Pretoria and Rustenburg areas in the Crusade led to the formation of more than one Local Spiritual Assembly. Dorothy also undertook administrative duties on national and regional levels and was still very active when she passed away in 1977.
In 1959, Nhlumba Bertha Mkhize, a well-known campaigner for the rights of Africans and women, accepted the Bahá’í Faith at the age of 70. She gave up her many positions in activist organizations to devote herself to spreading the Bahá’í Faith in KwaZulu-Natal until her passing in 1981.