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Bethanie


Updated 9 Nov 2016.  
Founded in 1864 by the Reverend Heinrich Wilhelm Behrens, Bethanie is one of the Herrmannsburg Missionary Society's many stations in South Africa. The Society was relatively new, having started in Hermansburg in Germany in 1849. However, the enthusiasm of its members and its emphasis on education and developing practical skills drew its members to colonial Africa. The first missionaries had come to Natal in the about 1855 when their vessel, "Kandaze", had called at Port Natal (Durban) after being refused entry to Abyssinia and they decided to establish a mission among the Zulu.    

At that time the London Missionary Society was well established among the southern BaTswana outside of the boundaries of the Boer Republics. The Boers were anxious to have Christianity established among the BaTswana living in the Transvaal but mistrusted the LMS. The Lutheran doctrine of the German missionaries was closer to Boer Calvinism and their arrival in Natal gave the  Transvaal President, Marthinus Pretorius the opportunity to invite them extend their work into the Transvaal.
 
From the beginning, Behrens not only taught the Christian faith but trained people in horticulture, agriculture, carpentry, leather work and other trades. Skilled artisans from Germany were brought out to provide the training. Behrens was also a notable musician and composed works for the brass band he had set up.
 

The first church was erected at Bethanie in 1865 and the remains of the tower still stand but in 1891 it was replaced by the great church, also named "the cathedral of Bethanie". It is a fine example of Romanesque architecture with four stout towers on the corners one of which houses four bells donated by the German Emperor, Wilhelm. This church, too, was demolished and rebuilt by Heinrich Dohmeier in the 1950s.
 
Wilhelm Behrens died in 1900 and is buried in the cemetery of Bethanie. His son, August Heinrich Wilhelm Behrens (Wilhelm Junior) continued his fathers work but in 1910 the church split and Wilhelm junior left the Herrmannsburg Mission with a number of his congregation. After eighteen years the rift was healed after mediation from Germany and out of gratitude Wilhelm Junior donated a chapel in Brits to the Mission Society.    


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

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