The Dutch Reformed Church in Botswana (DRCB)

Celebrating 40 years as an independent church

The Dutch Reformed Church in Botswana (DRCB) is the eldest of the sister churches in the church family outside the South African borders. The church’s birth dates back to 1877 when the first missionary of the Dutch Reformed Church, Rev. Pieter Brink, began missionary work at Mochudi in Botswana.

Botswana, the country of the Pula

Botswana is a huge country, but it is sparsely populated by only about 2 million people. The capital is Gaborone and its major languages are Setswana and English. Botswana is the world’s largest producer of diamonds and it is this trade, among others, that transformed it into a middle-income nation with a strong currency, the Pula, meaning rain. Some of Africa’s largest and most beautiful wilderness areas are found in Botswana and safari-based tourism is another important source of income for the country. As Africa’s oldest multiparty democracy, Botswana has the reputation of being one of Africa’s most stable countries in terms of politics, is relatively free of corruption, and has a good human rights record. There are, however, also challenges such as severe droughts and HIV/Aids.

Botswana is generally considered a Christian country as more than 70% of the population profess to be Christian. Ground-breaking missionary work was done by the London Missionary Society through the well-known Robert Moffat, his son, John Moffat, and his son-in-law, David Livingstone. Robert Moffat was the first to translate the Bible in Setswana. As a result of the work of the London Mission Society, the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) was established and is one of the major churches in Botswana.

The DRCB and mission work in north-western South Africa

The origins of the Dutch Reformed Church’s work in Botswana can be traced to a farm called Saulspoort, near the Pilanesberg in the current North West Province of South Africa. The farm once belonged to Paul Kruger, then the President of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (South African Republic or ZAR) which was in existence between 1852 and 1902. In 1866 the evangelist David Mogatle Modibane and the Swiss missionary Rev. Henri Gonin from the DRC in the Cape Colony started missionary work among the Bakgatla people near Saulspoort. There were, however, clashes between Chief Kgamanyane of the Bakgatla and Pres. Kruger about laws forced upon the Bakgatla (and what Chief Kgamanyane saw as disrespectful treatment of himself by Kruger). Almost all of the Bakgatla people including many converts of the DRC mission endeavour moved across the border of what was then called Bechuanaland. The Bakgatla people settled at Mochudi on the banks of the Ngotwane River. Rev. Gonin did not follow the Bakgatla people but stayed on at Saulspoort where he continued his work.

Rev. Pieter Brink, who studied at the Missionary Institute in Wellington, worked with Rev. Gonin at Saulspoort for some years and learned Setswana. In 1877 he and his wife, Anna Elizabeth, were sent to Mochudi by the DRC Cape Synod. Rev. Brink laid the foundations for the mission work but died in 1886 at the young age of 43 due to bad health. The German couple Rev. Emil Bernhard Beyer and his wife Anna (née Endemann) succeeded him. With them, Miss Mary Murray and Miss Lenie van der Merwe established solid groundwork in education, medical and social work. In 1877 Miss Debora Retief replaced Miss Van der Merwe.

When Chief Kgamanyane died in 1874 he was succeeded by his son Lentswe. Because of animosity between the Bakgatla and the Bakwena tribes, the mission could not expand beyond the Mochudi area. But, in 1892, Chief Lentswe converted to Christianity after the chief experienced an intense internal struggle during a time of seclusion in the hills. To become a Christian meant a break with traditional practices and he had to send two of his three wives and their children back to their families. When the chief converted, practically the whole Bakgatla tribe accepted the Dutch Reformed Church as the ‘people’s church’.

Mochudi was the first mission station to officially form a congregation and Sikwane came after in 1885. Several schools were established at Mochudi and the surroundings. The large church building at Mochudi was built in 1904 and is still used today. The church slowly expanded and a number of church buildings were eventually built in various towns in Botswana. Institutions for disabled persons were also established. Several other missionaries such as the Revs. Willie Neethling, Pieter Stoffberg, D. J. Joubert, J. C. Knobel, Johannes Reyneke, and Ado Krige did wonderful work in Botswana. Generations of the well-known missionary family like the Murrays also laboured in this mission field. The first black minister of Botswana was Rev. Thomas Phiri.

Several medical doctors also played a role in mission work in Botswana, among whom Dr G. H. J. Teichler, an eye specialist, will be remembered. The young Rev. Neethling also made a big impression. In 1896 the gable of the church building collapsed because of a storm and it came down on the young minister. He died saying: ‘God makes no mistakes,’ words that are remembered and quoted at Mochudi to this day.

Women who served in Botswana left enduring impressions. Debora Retief is one of the women who worked as a missionary in Mochudi for more than 42 years. To this day, the Debora Retief Memorial Hospital is an important institution where nurses are also trained. Agnes Krynauw worked for 22 years at Mochudi and the girl’s hostel of the Homecrafts Centre was named after her. Miss M. Vermeulen and Miss E. J. von Mollendorf built on these foundations. From 1975 until her retirement in 2006, Miss Elize Cronjé played a major role in the establishment of the Home Crafts Centre. Girls from across Botswana came to learn home economics and other subjects at this centre. Sadly, the Home Crafts Centre recently burnt down, and not enough money could be raised to rebuild it.

In 1955 the two Botswana congregations, Mochudi and Sikwane, officially became part of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church of the Transvaal. Other Botswana congregations followed: West Mochudi in 1964, East Mochudi in 1969, Gaborone in 1970, and Makaleng in 1977. In 1972 the eight Botswana congregations formed their own presbytery.

After Botswana’s independence in 1966, the new government proclaimed a Societies Bill in 1973 with the result that only one Dutch Reformed Church was now recognised. The question was if the Church would continue as a regional synod of the DRCA or become independent. After permission was granted from the relevant role players, the Dutch Reformed Church in Botswana officially registered as an independent church in 1979. The Afrikaans-speaking congregations of Lobatse in Gaborone also joined the DRCB. In the same year, the Northern Cape Synod seceded from the Western and Southern Cape Synod of the DRC and entered into a partnership with the DRCB.

The church today

Today the DRCB consists of one synod and four presbyteries. It has approximately 10,000 members, 20 congregations, and 7 branches. There are 27 preaching points that are ministered by 20 ministers.

Congregations are governed by church councils who have four statutory meetings in a year and several special meetings. The 4 circuits are made of about 5 congregations each and they hold their assemblies annually. The highest governing and policy-making body is the Synod which is led by the Moderamen. The Synod Assembly is held every two years.

The DRCB is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ as the head of the church, based upon the Bible as the holy and infallible Word of God. The Doctrine which the Church confesses, in accordance with the word of God is expressed on;

  1. the Ecumenical creeds which consist of the Apostolic Creed, the creed according to Nicea, and the Creed according to Athanasius.
  2. The forms of Unity which consist of the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg catechism, and the five Canons of Dort.

The training of ministers is coordinated by the DRCB Training and Development Committee. Previously it was done at Kgolagano College, the University of Botswana and the University of North West. Of late the Training and Development Committee has extended the pool and Theological training in the DRCB takes place at the theological faculties and centres for professional development at Kgolagano College, University of Pretoria, University of the Free State, University of North West, the University of Stellenbosch and the University of Zimbabwe, Zambia (Justo Mwale University).

Ministries of the church

  1. Children’s Ministry – This is commonly known as Sunday school from the infant stage up to about sixteen years old. Most of these children attend primary school. The children’s ministry exists with the goal of communicating the love of Christ to the children. It is very important to God that children are influenced by teachings from the Bible at an early age. There is a curriculum that is followed but mostly children are taught songs, bible verses, and stories. The teachers are mostly volunteers from other action groups in the church, especially from the Mothers Union. Sunday school children then attend catechism classes based on Thuto ya Bokreste booklet and eventually graduate to youth Mokgatlho wa Basha wa Bokeresete (MBB).
  2. Youth Ministry: Mokgatlho wa Basha wa Bokeresete (MBB) – In most cases, these are youth who have been baptised and confirmed in the church as full church members. The Youth ministry is intended to instruct and disciple youths in what it means to be a Christian, how to mature as a Christian, and how to encourage others to claim Jesus as their Saviour. This is accomplished through teaching, relationship building,and/or mentoring. The youth also engage in other activities for the common good of the young people, sometimes without an overtly religious agenda. The MBB has its own Constitution which guides their operations derived from the church constitution.
  3. Women’s Ministry known as Mothers Union – Mothers Union embrace all married women and unmarried who have reached the age of 35 and above. Mother’s Union exists to provide spiritual growth and development to young ladies, mature women so that they are encouraged, educated, empowered and enlightened for personal betterment in their relationship with God.  The ministry leads them to spiritual maturity by fostering mentoring, modeling, and molding a positive image and God-like character in them and creates an atmosphere of encouragement and emotional bonds of trust amongst them as well. Most of their activities are anchored on providing care and advice for encouragement, education, and empowerment at the point of need, fellowship, and mentoring.  The visit the sick, the backslidden, raise funds for projects within their churches and provide that motherly love in the church. Just like MBB, Mothers Union has its own Constitution which guides its operations derived from the church constitution.
  4. Men’s Ministry – Men fellowship embrace all men in the church. The ministry newly established to serve more or less as a counterpart to Mother’s Union. In other work,it serves men as mothers union serves women.  Men fellowship also has its Constitution which guides their operations derived from the church constitution.
  5. Music Ministry – Though not given much attention is the music ministry where the choirs preach the gospel through music. Different choirs are encouraged in the church e.g. Sunday school, Youth choirs, male choirs and church choirs.

Projects

The Church owns projects aimed at integrating the disadvantaged groups in the society into mainstream education. It has the following projects:

  1. Mochudi Resource Centre for the Blind – a centre that caters for the children with visual impairment. The centre provides stimulation, rehabilitation, resettlement and life skills training programmes as well as residential services for learners and pre-school children with visual impairments in Botswana between the ages of 3 to 6 years and accommodates children of primary school age between 7 – 20 years old. Here children get the opportunity to be offered the Extended Core Curriculum.
  2. Podulogong Rehabilitation Centre – the centre provides stimulation, rehabilitation, resettlement and life skills training programmes as well as residential services for learners that have completed basic education. The centre offers vocational courses like Secretarial studies, Business Studies Computers etc.
  3. Some congregations own nursery schools and a rehabilitation centre.

The DRCB has standing partnership with the Government of Botswana regarding some of their projects regulated by Memorandums of Agreement documents.   The church operates from its premises and the different congregations have their owns premises of operation.

Challenges today

  • Because of the DRCB’s historic agreement with the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) that it would focus on the Mochudi area and would not establish congregations in the areas where the UCCSA was based, the DRCB struggled to expand. Consequently, the DRCB is not a large church, but is divided into 4 presbyteries and consists of only 20 congregations. But it is an energetic church.
  • The DRCB faces significant challenges. They have a shortage of well-trained pastors and there are some tensions and division in their ranks, mainly due to power struggles and gender issues. Maintenance of property is very expensive and some of the Afrikaans churches in Botswana do not want to join the DRCB. In Botswana, neo-Pentecostal churches preach a gospel of prosperity and harbours prophetic practices that are questionable. These churches are very popular and are being established all over the country. Many DRCB members maintain dual membership with another church. The Church struggles to maintain proper Sunday school and catechism classes. This poses the danger that members would not know the contents of their Reformed faith. HIV/Aids, poverty, generational gaps, and uncertainty about the church’s identity continue to be key challenges.
  • The standard of training offered to the Ministers locally has been for a long time at diploma level hence most of the ministers have obtained Diploma in Theology. The Training and Development Committee has worked hard in correcting this situation. This on its own breeds numerous associated problems.
  • The inability of congregations to pay (call) ministers.
  • The church’s voice against the secular world. The church has seen government making laws that are anti-Christian.

Endeavours

There are, however, also a lot of commendable endeavours and a lot to be thankful about. A new dedicated leadership is working hard to bolster and build out the Church. Recently the Reformed Church in Zambia (RCZ) has sent a missionary pastor to assist the DRCB and there is a good partnership of mutual assistance between the DRCB and the DRC Northern Cape Synod; the partnerships between congregations bring new energy. The creation of new possibilities for the training of pastors, such as at the North-West University Mahikeng Campus may also boost the Church. With government assistance the DRCB runs three schools for children with disabilities, thereby contributing to society.

The DRCB has also indicated that they are very keen to participate in the reunification process of the four domestic churches of the DRC family in South Africa.

Contact

Mrs Tebatso Menyatso
[email protected]
[email protected]