Towards Freedom

The Slave Church, Cape Town (2018)

The Slave Church in Long Street, Cape Town, is the oldest existing mission building in South Africa and the third oldest church in the country. The gabled cream and white façade with Corinthian pilasters, cornices and mouldings, mimics that of the Dutch East India Company’s Slave Lodge at the top of Adderley Street.

The building was probably constructed by enslaved people and free blacks for general religious activities and to prepare converts for membership of established churches. It became a separate congregation of the SA Missionary Society in 1819 and part of the Dutch Reformed Church in 1937. The church was in use until 1971 when dwindling numbers as a result of forced removals led to its closure.

The exhibition, Towards Freedom, focuses on shedding light on the silenced histories of the people who built this building and those who worshipped here. One of the ways this has been commemorated is by printing the names of the first eight enslaved people to be baptised here, on the backs of the pews as can be seen in the photographs.

[Other images were taken at the archives of the Dutch Reformed Church in Stellenbosch, and one shows the brochures for the exhibition produced in English, Afrikaans and isiXhosa.]

Read more here: Let’s ensure slaves are more than footnotes to history

And here:  Slave Church Museum

Our Forefathers Built this Church. Vertel! Vertel!

The Old Mission Church, Montagu (2019)

Montagu Museum encompasses Joubert House, The Art and Culture Centre and the Old Mission Church. The Montagu congregation of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church was officially formed in 1891, although the cornerstone of the present church was only laid in June 1907. The exhibition seeks to address the previously hidden narratives related to the indigenous inhabitants of the area, incorporating the themes of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (now the United Reform Church), as well as the use of indigenous medicinal plants, drawing on input from the local community who once worshipped at the church.

In 1968 the congregation of the church was forced to move to the township designated for ‘coloureds’ according to the Group Areas Act. Since there was very little physical evidence of this history, a series of workshops was held with former congregants to gather stories and memorabilia to record the rich heritage of indigenous knowledge and the history of the church. The title of the exhibition, Our forefathers built this church. Vertel! Vertel!, reflects the oral history and community memory at the core of this exhibition.

The photographs show the church in the main street of Montagu, the workshop participants and the opening of the exhibition. Dominee Reginald Botha, leader of the Hessequa community and Western Cape Minister of Agriculture, Ivan Meyer, presided over the opening. In the video clip, the community sings the national anthem.

Read more here: Montagu Museum – Old Mission Church

Retitled: Slavery and Freedom

Blettermanhuis, Stellenbosch (2019)

Hendrik Lodewyk Bletterman became the landdrost of Stellenbosch in 1785, the last magistrate to be appointed by the VOC (Dutch East India Company) at Stellenbosch (1785-1795). He resigned in protest over the first British occupation (1795-1803) of the Cape. His residence, Blettermanhuis, now forms part of the Stellenbosch Village Museum.

The brief for this exhibition was to provide an insight into the lives of the enslaved who worked in the house but whose voices had been silenced. Bletterman himself owned at least fifteen slaves, some of them children, as evidenced in the ledger that he and his wife kept. The exhibition attempts to situate Blettermanhuis and Stellenbosch within the larger framework of the practice of enslavement at the Cape.

These silenced voices have been acknowledged on the wall of an annex in the house. The bench with laser-cut letters, references the later use of the outbuilding as a school for enslaved children.

Read more here:  Stellenbosch Village Museum