In 2010 Christians in South Africa are celebrating the 150 anniversary of a most remarkable Revival which swept across the Cape in 1860.
A Spiritual Wilderness
The Cape Colony prior to the 1860 Revival was a spiritual wilderness. The Dutch East India Company controlled the appointment of pastors and establishment of congregations. Yet, in the first 150 years of Dutch rule in the Cape only five congregations had been established, all within 130km radius of Cape Town. Most of the farmers and Trekboers had no access to pastoral guidance, or opportunities for religious services. Even more seriously, although few of the people in the colony spoke Dutch anymore, the authorities deemed their vernacular, Afrikaans, to be unworthy for church services, prayers, or even for personal devotions. This led to very stilted services where the average member of the congregation struggled to understand the high Dutch of the pulpit and found it hard to express themselves in prayer through the Dutch language. The only Bible available was Dutch, which most of the population had trouble reading. Without the ability to pray from the heart, most resorted to following fixed formulas of well worn expressions.
Traditional African religion in Zimbabwe is a combination of Deism and Spiritism. Both the Shona (80% majority) tribe and the Ndebele (20% Minority) tribe recognise "the Most High God", “Mwari”, or “Mlimo” who speaks through the Rozvi priests in the Matopos. Traditional religion also recognises the role of ancestors (“Midzimu”).
These ancestors are seen as intermediaries between man and God with mediums playing a major role, especially amongst the Shona society.
The “Chaminuka”, “Mhondoro” (lion spirits) and “Matshave” ancestor cults are particularly well known. Wizards breathing fire, mermaids, familiar spirits, snakes and reptiles which lead people off into the bush as if by a strange compulsion, witchcraft, seances and illicit intercourse with the dead, are clearly condemned by Scripture (Lev. 20:6,27; Deut. 18:9-1 3). This was the rocky ground into which the Word of God had to be sown by missionaries like Robert Moffatt and David Livingstone.