Henri Gonin

Title Missionary
Other Names
Date of Birth 1828-00-00
Date of Death 1911-00-00

Born c.1828, died 1911. In c.1857, while Gonin  was a  first-year theology student in Geneva, Switzerland, he was recruited to do missionary work in South Africa by the Rev. A. C. Murray of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) Synod of South Africa. In 1860, Gonin did further theological training at the Free Church College in Edinburgh, Scotland. Meanwhile, Gonin returned to Switzerland and got married to a fellow Swiss. At the end of October 1861, the Gonins sailed for Cape Town. From Worcester, Gonin was sent by the Mission Committee of the DRC to open a new mission in the Transvaal. At the beginning of 1861, the Rev. Murray travelled to Rustenburg, "to prepare the way" for the Gonins, who eventually arrived there by ox-wagon in May 1862.
Gonin belonged to the Buitelandse Sending (i.e. Foreign Mission) branch under the Foreign Sub-Committee of the N.G. Kerk of South Africa. This was the section of the DRC that catered for black people in the Transvaal, Bechuanaland Protectorate, Mashonaland and Nyasaland.

The Gonins' departure from Rustenburg to his new mission station was delayed for two years for a number of reasons. First, by the beginning of July 1862, the political situation in the Transvaal was, as Gonin himself reported, "more and more in disorder," as it was under the threat of  "civil war." This was a period of intense intra-Afrikaner religious and political upheaval in the Transvaal. Second, by early August 1862, Chief Kgamanyane among whose people (the baKgatla) Gonin was going to work, was still out on a long hunting expedition and the Gonins had to wait for his return and consent. Third, Rustenburg's white population, including its clergymen, were generally against Gonin working among black people. The local clergymen, instead, wanted Gonin to work with them "under their Bestuur [i.e. jurisdiction]" but he declined and, from then on, they wanted nothing to do with the Gonins.
The Gonins' experience at this time was common to other missionaries working or intending to work among black people in South Africa. Boer hostility against white missionary activity among black people originated from the 1850s when the Scottish missionary, D. Livingstone, worked among the baKwena of Kgosi Sechele. The Boers in the Transvaal accused Livingstone of 'influencing' the baKwena against them. From then on, African chiefs under Boer authority were not allowed to accept missionaries, especially English-speaking ones, to work among their people, without the permission of the area's veldkornet, who in turn had to obtain the permission of the Volksraad.

The key individual who could influence the Volksraad and enable Gonin to begin his work was Paul Kruger, then a Commandant and a major land-owner, with many properties in both Rustenburg and the Pilansberg. As early as 1862, Kruger was in principle willing to allow Gonin to work in the area. But Kgosi Kgamanyane's agreement was also essential to the success or failure of Gonin's missionary work. Therefore, at the end of 1863, Gonin visited the Pilansberg where he was well received by some Bakgatla who also requested him to work among them. Kgamanyane himself personally requested Kruger to allow Gonin to settle at Saulspoort and work among his people, to which Kruger agreed.
In June 1864, the Gonins bought the farm Welgeval (or Welgevallen) in the Pilansberg (behind today's Sun City) from a David Putter for £150. In July, they began to preach and conduct Sunday service from there. Kruger and the Volksraad finally permitted Gonin to work among the Bakgatla most probably because he was Swiss and not British since the Boers had had such bitter conflict with the latter missionaries, especially David Livingstone. Instead, Gonin was considered least likely to instigate 'trouble' among Africans. Moreover, Gonin's two-year wait in Rustenburg was long enough for the Boer authorities to know him and realise that he would not harm their interests.
 In August 1866, Kruger permitted the Gonins and their three children to relocate to Saulspoort, Kgosi Kgamanyane's headquarters where the baKgatla were more concentrated. However, Kgamanyane himself never accepted conversion all his life,  because a chief was a key figure in many indigenous rituals, such as rain-making, which were unacceptable to Christianity. Gonin died and was buried in Saulspoort in 1911, having served there continuously for 46 years.

South Africa's North-West province: A Guide to its History and Heritage. © 2017

With special thanks to our sponsors