Robert Moffat

Title Missionary
Other Names
Date of Birth 1798-12-21
Date of Death 0000-00-00


Updated 16 Oct 2016

Moffat was born in Scotland in 1795, and died in 1883.  "A gardener with a small education largely of his own making", he was accepted into the London Missionary Society (LMS) in 1819 and came to South Africa the same year. He travelled into the interior of South Africa with an LMS expedition, together with the Reverends John Philip and John Campbell. Thereafter, he was sent to begin missionary work among the baTlhaping in March 1820, establishing a mission station at Kuruman (Kudumane). That year, he persuaded Kgosi Mothibi to move to Kuruman where water was more easily accessible. He was particularly interested in teaching the Batlhaping about irrigation. 

In June 1823, during the difaqane period, Moffat was largely responsible for saving the baTlhaping from a potentially devastating attack by a combined force of baPhuting, baFokeng and baHlakwana (incorrectly described as the "Mantatee," or the Batlokwa of Manthatisi in earlier sources). The latter had been displaced from the Caledon Valley where they had previously resided and were in search of security and new resources. Moffat appealed to the recently converted Griqua who came to the aid of the Batlhaping residents of Dithakong, their recently evacuated capital town. The invaders were repulsed, largely due to (mounted) Griqua firepower. A number of captives were also taken, prompting some commentators to view the incident as a "slave raid", and others to roundly rejects such an interptetation.    
The incident created a bond of trust between the baTlhaping and Moffat and eased his missionary endeavours.

He had his first converts in 1829. Moffat was the first person to translate the Bible and Pilgrim's Progress into the seTswana language, and compiled a seTswana-English dictionary, thereby establishing its lexicon. He printed the Bible on a press he brought to Kuruman in 1825. He founded the Moffat Institute, which consisted of a boys' school and a seminary. Moffat married his wife Mary in Cape town, and they had nine children, one of whom, also Mary, married David Livingstone. Moffat travelled into the coutry of the Ndebele under Mzilikazi and recorded his experiences in his book Missionary Labours and Scenes in South Africa, one of two books he wrote about his work with the Batswana. On one of these visits in 1829, he recorded  'the ruins of innumerable towns, some of amazing extent,' in the present day Magaliesberg.   Moffat retired in 1870 after 53 years of missionary work, all of it at Kuruman.    

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

With special thanks to our sponsors