Christian Zionism in South Africa

Moria Pilgrimage in Limpopo
Aerial view of parkedbuses at Easter pilgrimage to Moria near Polokwane, Limpopo; some 3-5 million pilgrims attend every year at Easter.

In a previous blog I looked at the origins and differences between Ethiopianism as compared to the  Independent Churches like Christian Zionism and Pentecostalism.   But even within the latter 2 movements there are also differences and divergences. 

The Zion Christian Church ( ZCC) is one of the largest African initiated churches in southern Africa. The church’s headquarters are at Zion City Moria in Limpopo Province.

The forerunner of the Zionist church was strongly influenced by the doctrines of the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church of John Alexander Dowie, based in Zion near Chicago in the USA and by the teachings of the Pentecostal missionaries who came to Johannesburg in 1908.  

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Origins of the ZCC

Engenas Barnabas Lekganyane
Engenas Barnabas Lekganyane founder of the ZCC

The founder of the ZCC was Engenas Lekganyane who said he had a revelation as early as 1910 but took a rather circuitous journey via the Zion Apostolic Church (ZAC) and Edward Lion’s Zion Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM), until he finally founded and named the Zion Christian Church in 1924. During the late 1930s Lekganyane obtained title of a farm in the area called Boyne 40km outside Polokwane in Limpopo.  He called it Moria which refers to the site where Abraham prepared to sacrifice Isaac and also to the site identified with Zion where Solomon built the Temple. The ZCC grew rapidly; its 926 adherents in 1925 became 2000 by 1935 and 8000 by 1940, Now the followers are said to number some 6- 7 million in South Africa and 16 million in the wider continent.

Changes to the ZCC after 1948 

When Edward took over from his father Engenas in 1948, he made significant changes: (The ZCC subscribes to hereditary leadership).

  1. Mokhukhu Dance in Limpopo
    11 April 2004. South Africa, Limpopo, Polokwane. Zion Christian Church members perfoming a mkhukhu dance during their church service in Moria.

    He moved towards a more biblically based doctrine relying less on faith healing and oral testimony
  2. Linked to this was his move away from messianic elements which had viewed his father as an African messiah.
  3. He established the famous all-male Mokhukhu organization who wore military-style uniform, police hats and white shoes. They form the men’s church choir and also lead the dancing. They also serve as crowd controllers at the annual Easter pilgrimage. 
  4. ZCC Star and Dove Badge
    ZCC Star badge with Dove included; added in 1965 by Joseph Lekganyane

    He introduced the Star Badge.
  5. He developed Zion City at Moria as an annual pilgrimage site. Using the Boyne Farm that his father had purchased, Edward instituted annual pilgrimages that have gone on to become massive southern African-wide events. Each year during Easter Holidays between 4 and 5 million members church members bus en-masse to Moria, Polokwane (Pietersburg) for the address from the Bishop. While a lot of people camp, many sleep in the buses and are sustained for the weekend through dance, prayer and song.

The Easter Weekend at Moria

ZCC Member of Women's Chior
Members of a women’s choir, Moria

In 2013 Neal Collins visited Moria on Good Friday.  He describes (City Press 07/04/2013) how there are 2 congregations identified by their badges.  

  • First there is the main group :the Star, led by one of Engenas’ grandsons: Barnabas. It seems this congration is largely urban, 
  • Then there’s the Dove sect, largely rural, inspired by another grandson, Saint Engenas. 

The various uniforms worn by worshippers indicate status.

  • So green and yellow (the majority) is for adults only
  • the blue and white is for the women’s choir
  • and maroon and white indicates the helpers in the church.  

Every word of every service in both the Dove and Star camps is translated from the original sePedi into English, Afrikaans, isiZulu and Xitsonga. 

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ZCC practices

ZCC Female Choir, Male Chior and Brass BandInterestingly there is no tithing in the ZCC. Congregants  pay as much as they can, normally R50 a month. For that they get free funeral insurance, a clinic and – if they apply – help with schooling. There are strict rules about not consuming tobacco, alcohol or pork.  Adult baptism is practiced and there is a strong belief  in prophets and prophecies. And although it is not encouraged, it is not taboo to involve ancestors in worship. 

To indicate the influence of the ZCC, a branch opened in the UK in 2015.  (Masondo City Press 27/03/2016)

And finally … for those planning a visit to Moria,  learn one line: “Kgotso e be le lena” which means “Peace be with you”. Ellis says it will earn you access to all areas of the vast campsite. 

Final blog to follow in this series on African Churches in South Africa: Pentecostalism Zionism and the independent charismatic Churches  

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One thought on “Christian Zionism in South Africa

  1. May the FAITH that gives us hope, may the LOVE that shows the way, and may the PEACE that cheers the heart, Be yours today in abundance. Greetings in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

    I am Bro. Michael Osagie, I am 49 years old and married with Children. I am a member of an Outreach Christian Mission here in my Community, in Nigeria. Our main occupation here is Fishing and Farming. It was eight years after giving my life to Jesus Christ I had to join this ministry here in my Community to help preach the message of the cross.

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