Genadendal, which means Valley of Grace, located just 5km from Greyton South Africa, was originally called Baviaanskloof (Baboon Ravine) and was established in 1738 by the young Moravian missionary, Georg Schmidt. He arrived at a time when the Khoisan, already suffering under the influx of White farmers, were reeling from a smallpox epidemic to which they had no immunity! As a people they were on the verge of extinction and, against enormous odds, Schmidt formed a small congregation and taught the Khoisan to read and write. His good works came unstuck, however, when he began baptising the converts and the Dutch clergy based in Cape Town threw up their hands in horror. According to them, Schmidt was not an ordained minister and therefore had no right to administer the sacraments. In 1743 Schmidt was forced to return to Europe. The Mission Station was abandoned until almost 50 years later when three Missionaries returned to resume Schmidt’s work. A famous story from Genadendal is that, when the men returned to the forsaken mission station, they met up with an old woman, Magdalena, who still had the Bible she had been given decades before when she had been baptised by Schmidt. Although nearly blind, Magdalena had treasured her Bible safely wrapped in a skin until the missionaries returned to their flock at Genadendal. Her Bible takes pride of place in the Village’s Cultural History Museum. Once again there were all sorts of objections to the work the Missionaries were doing and they were initially prohibited from building a Chapel or Church and they had to meet in the open or in their Cottages. They were even refused permission to ring a bell to call the children to School and the congregation to assemble. British occupation changed this, however, and by 1800 the first Church was completed, but it soon became too small for the rapidly expanding congregation.
The Khoisan laws of 1808 instituted by the Colonial Government only served to boost the Mission Station. Under these laws, all Khoisan without a fixed abode were liable to be forced into Farm labour. Given the dire conditions on Farms, the Mission Stations, which provided access to Land in return for conversion to Christianity, became a very attractive alternative. Genadendal was so successful that at one point it was the largest Settlement in the Colony after Cape Town. It wasn’t just the Church authorities that were unhappy. A group of Strandveld farmers also threatened to put an end to the missionary work; because at the time the farmers were largely illiterate and were enormously unhappy about the idea of an educated and skilled underclass. They also faced an economic crisis, because of potential labourers that flocked to Genadendal instead.
Genadendal flourished until the end of the nineteenth Century. The first Teachers’ Training College in South Africa was built there in 1838. Genadendal also opened the first Guest House and Chemist, in the interior and in 1830 it had one of the best public, lending libraries at the Cape. In the 1860s, however, when Factories began producing mass products that were much cheaper and people turned away from the hand-crafted items Genadendal was famous for! Residents then had to leave the Village and head to the City in search of work! Legislation at the time was also far from equitable and the Communal Reserve Act of 1909 for Mission Stations, which granted inhabitants occupational rights only but prevented them from getting property rights, caused an enormous rift between the missionaries and residents. The final blow came in 1926 when the Teachers’ Training College was closed down by the Department of Public Education who argued that coloured people didn’t need tertiary education if they were going to be employed on local Farms.
Today Genadendal, with its 3 500 registered occupants, is a forgotten, remote, under developed and degraded Village. Mr Mandela, renamed his official residence Genadendal, in 1995. Each Year the Museum reaps honeybush tea from plants nearby and packages this fragrant tea for sale at the Museum shop. They also make honeybush iced tea – the perfect thirst quencher on a blistering hot Summer’s day!
Unsurprisingly, there is also a hike, known as the Genadendal Hiking Trail, which begins and ends in this little Town and winds its way through the Riviersonderend Mountains!
Guide to the Museums of South Africa pg. 47,48