Address by Nelson Mandela to the Free Ethiopian Church of Southern Africa

14 December 1992

The President-General of the free Ethiopian Church of Southern Africa, the Reverend W.S. Ndaba,
All officials of the free Ethiopian Church,
Comrades and friends,

I am greatly honoured by your invitation to me to share in the centenary celebration of the free Ethiopian Church of Southern Africa.

Mr President, the centenary of the Ethiopian Church should have been celebrated throughout the length and the breadth of our country because it touches all the African people irrespective of their denomination or political outlook. The free Ethiopian Church of Southern Africa is the only surviving institution that is in the hands of the African people. This is a remarkable feature for which we have to give credit to the leaders of this church throughout the difficult years of final dispossession of our people. Indeed our people were not dispossessed of their land and cattle but also of their pride, their dignity and their institutions. In celebrating this century you have, my brothers and sisters, disproved the lie that the African people cannot run their own institutions.

The links between the Ethiopian Church and the ANC and the struggle for national liberation in general go back to the 1870's when the products of Missionary education observed and recorded that, as they put it, colonialism is a one-teated cow that only feeds the whites. They soon made a very incisive observation that the son of the missionaries were now filling the various magistracies that were arising as a result of the rapid African land dispossession from the 1880s onwards.

The role that the missionaries played in the accelerated African dispossession of the late 19th century called for a response from the African people in general and African religious leaders in particular. The response took a political form on the one hand and a theological form on the other. On the political front various provincial African political associations and newspapers mushroomed in the last thirty years of the nineteenth century. On the theological front African clergymen sought to free themselves from the fetters of white missionaries by establishing African Independent Churches. One of the most celebrated breakaways was that of Nehemiah tile who founded the Tembu Church in the Transkei in 1884.

The process of founding African Independent Churches, though covering all parts of South Africa by the late 1880s, could be described as a movement until the Ethiopian Movement came into being and increased the anxiety of the various colonial governments in South Africa. The Ethiopian Movement was, Mr President, more than a religious Movement. Though its fundamental basis was the African interpretation of the scripture it went well beyond the churches it had helped produce.

Fundamental tenets of the Ethiopian Movement were self-worth, self- reliance and freedom. These tenets drew the advocates of Ethiopianism, like a magnet, to the growing political movement. That political movement was to culminate in the formation of the ANC in 1912. It is in this sense that the ANC we trace the seeds of the formation of our organisation to the Ethiopian Movement of the 1890s.

Source: Nelson Mandela Foundation