Nyasa Leaders, Christianity, and African Internationalism in 1920s Johannesburg

Henry Dee. South African Historical Journal. Volume 70, Issue 2. 2018.

Over the decade of the 1920s, four Christian men from colonial Nyasaland (modern-day Malawi) stood at the forefront of urban South African society, reimagining Africa’s past and future in cosmopolitan, internationalist terms. They each, however, envisaged very different transformational processes and very different new dispensations. These differences were, above all, grounded in their divergent Christian beliefs. Clements Kadalie and George Wellington Kampara on the one hand were both Ethiopianist Christians, who believed that humanity had an obligation to usher in a ‘truly’ Christian and democratic society in the here and now. If necessary, this would mean toppling secular colonial authorities. On the other hand, John G. Phillips and J.R. Albert Ankhoma, as Zionist and Pentecostal Christians, believed that earthly society was fundamentally doomed until Christ’s eventual return. They closely aligned themselves with Britain’s ‘god-sanctioned’ imperial project in their pursuit of spiritual self-perfection and theocratic rule.

Linked to international churches and organisations, all four men point to the importance of colonial internationalism in the 1920s, at the same time as their antagonistic theological divisions complicate the historiographic ‘connexions’, made by colonial officials and historians, between African-led ‘Ethiopianist’ Christianity and early African nationalism. Natasha Erlank has demonstrated that the common Christian background of early black South African nationalists created a crucial unifying outlook that challenged ‘tribal’ divisions. But as the African National Congress (ANC) on the Rand sank into a political nadir, many black Christians became swept up in the ‘unprecedented global prominence’ of colonial internationalism during the 1920s, supporting Nyasa-led projects that engaged with and challenged colonial states at a transnational level. Over the course of the decade, Kadalie and Kampara, respectively, rose to considerable fame leading Southern Africa’s first major black trade union, the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU), and the first branch of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Johannesburg. At the same time, the particular brand of ‘Nyasa’ nationalism emerging out of Johannesburg was dominated by internationally-connected Pentecostal and Zionist—not Ethiopianist—Christians. Phillips and Ankhoma were both founding members of the Nyasaland Native National Congress (NNNC), and as members of ‘quietist’ international churches, organised transnationally along the lines of existing imperial state borders. All four men invoked ‘new’ ideas of African internationalism to integrate themselves within 1920s Johannesburg, but their Christian-informed beliefs meant their different visions of the future were diametrically opposed. While Kampara no doubt followed UNIA doctrine to herald Marcus Garvey as his modern-day Moses, anticipating that, either by boat or plane, ‘the Americans were coming!’, Ankhoma declared that the leader of his ‘British Israeli’ Pentecostal church was the world’s ‘Moses of the day’. Rejecting Pentecostalism and Garveyism, Kadalie in contrast believed ‘that the salvation of the Africans in this country will be brought about through their own sweat and labour’. Adopting the Swahili name for Moses as his pen-name, he became Clements ‘Musa’ Kadalie.

Working through the intellectual biographies of these Nyasa men, this article demonstrates that whereas Phillips and Ankhoma worked within, and endorsed, existing logics of empire because of their Christian beliefs, Kampara and Kadalie rejected ‘ethnic’ and ‘nativist’ national identities to position themselves at the forefront of a future ‘New Africa’. In many ways, it is innately conservative to frame these men as ‘Nyasas’. All four men were born in the state that became Malawi in 1964, and each contested colonial categories in important ways. Despite their common Tonga parentage, however, being a Nyasa was crucial to how these men were understood in 1920s Johannesburg. And, more importantly, it was central to how they consolidated and radically transcended state-based modes of identification. Each brief biography sets out who these Nyasas were, how they reimagined Africa’s past to integrate the continent within world history, and how their differing understandings of the international and the imperial influenced their politics of the future. Central Africans have generally been marginalised in the historiographies of black South African nationalism and black internationalism. But in the 1920s, internationalist outlooks and millenarian searches for external liberators were important strands of black political thought in which Nyasa leaders played a prominent role. Reworking colonial ontologies of identity: race, tribe, (and the emerging categories of) nation and class, Nyasa leaders remapped Central and Southern Africa from Johannesburg, and in doing so crafted a place for themselves, and their numerous supporters, as world citizens in an industrialising, global city.

International Christian Churches in 1920s Johannesburg

A New Babylon at the forefront of modernity in Southern Africa, 1920s Johannesburg was a motley metropolis of international immigrants and transnational Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu networks. Large numbers of Afrikaners, Zulu, Xhosa, Eastern European Jews, Britons, Basotho, Americans, Mozambicans, Chinese and Indians were already living and working in the city from the 1890s, and by the mid-1920s mission-educated Nyasas were increasingly prominent as clerks, medicine men and domestic servants. In 1927, the Chamber of Mines-sponsored newspaper Umteteli wa Bantu complained that Nyasas had monopolised the city’s domestic service industry—a lucrative sector previously dominated by Zulu and Pedi. In addition to well-known Nyasa leaders in black trade unions, Garveyite associations, and Ethiopianist, Zionist and Pentecostal churches, ‘[a]ll adherents’ of Johannesburg’s Watch Tower movement were also ‘from Nyasaland, Rhodesia and Northern Transvaal’—though, in marked contrast to the movement in Central Africa, the church in urban South Africa did little to trouble government officials.

In particular, Johannesburg’s international migrant networks manifested themselves in numerous globally connected Christian denominations. Forged ‘in the furnace of South Africa’s industrial revolution’, Ethiopianism was rooted ‘in an emerging class of permanently urbanized Africans’ who had broken away from mission Christianity in their determination to have churches led by black clergy. Mangena Mokone dedicated Johannesburg’s first ‘Ethiopian’ chapel in 1894 and pursued an internationalist Christianity, affiliating with the US-based African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in 1896. Both groups on either side of the Atlantic invoked a shared history of indigenous African Christianity and, in particular, were fond of citing Psalm 68:32 that ‘Ethiopia will stretch out her hands unto God’. Ethiopianism dominated the imagination of anxious government officials, and breakaway black-led churches were blamed for everything from the fractious behaviour of chiefs to the rise of African ‘insolence’ on highveld farms. Yet as noted by James Campbell, ‘colonial attempts to demonize the term only enhanced its power among Africans, who invoked Ethiopia in the names of hundreds of different churches’. Bitter ‘at a world that preached progress and incorporation while practicing restriction and exclusion’, Ethiopianist breakaways generally came down to disputes over race, rather than theology, with the result that Ethiopianist Christians remained closely aligned to the Protestant theologies that they emerged from. While Kadalie remained close to his Presbyterian upbringing, Kampara continued to draw on Baptist practices.

Ethiopianism, however, was not the only development in black-led, internationally orientated Christianity. Joel Cabrita has shown how John Alexander Dowie’s Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion (CCACZ) was active in Johannesburg amongst both black and white Christians from the 1890s, and offered a starkly different approach to Ethiopianists. Zionists promoted divine healing and spiritual self-perfection, and promised to restore the church to its apostolic or ‘primitive’ origins. After 1904 in particular many dissenting African church leaders, including the Nyasa migrant labourer John G. Phillips, broke with historic mainline churches and aligned themselves with this church, based in Zion City, Illinois in the USA.

Pentecostal missionaries—directly influenced both by Zion City and the 1906 Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles—also moved into Johannesburg during the first decade of the twentieth century, travelling through existing circuits of Ethiopianism, Zionism and older forms of nonconformity. They first formed the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) and, later, established branches of the ‘British Israeli’-influenced Apostolic Faith Church (AFC). Based out of the Central Tabernacle in Bree Street, Johannesburg, from September 1908 and replicating the initial multi-racial and inter-denominational character of the Azusa Street Revival, the Pentecostal AFM looked to renew the entire Christian church, building on revivals within South Africa’s Dutch Reformed Church and attracting considerable numbers of Zionist converts through numerous divine healings, as well as other ‘gifts of the spirit’, such as speaking in tongues and rainmaking.

During the 1920s, biblical imagery infused the street politics of ICU leaders, Communist revolutionaries, Garveyites and radical members of the ANC—as well Pentecostal and Zionist street preachers—who all promised different versions of a millennial new age. All four Nyasa men were thus part of a broader shift in the religious and political landscape of Johannesburg, as South Africa became markedly more Christian, and black South African Christians became increasingly fragmented between mainline, Ethiopianist, Nazarite, Pentecostal and Zionist strands of Christianity. While in 1921 only 32% of rural black South Africans defined themselves as Christian and only 50,000 of some 1,300,000 Christians were members of independent churches, by 1936 adherents of independent Ethiopian, Pentecostal and Zionist churches had increased over 1500%, standing at over a million members. The bulk of these converts were from rural areas but, as part of this shift, the metropolis of Johannesburg functioned as an important hub.

‘The Whiteman Will Leave the Country within 15 Years and Marcus Garvey is Coming to Rule Africa’: George Wellington Kampara and the UNIA

George Wellington Kampara is significant as the man who established Johannesburg’s first branch of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), an organisation espousing the black internationalist politics of Marcus Garvey and the slogan ‘Africa for the Africans’. But he is also noteworthy as someone who espoused pan-African ideals through his church long before the arrival of Garveyism on the African continent. First ordained in January 1911 by Bishop Robert Laws, Kampara left Nyasaland the same year, to conduct ministry work in Southern Rhodesia. While ‘contemplating the Zimbabwe ruins it was vouchsafed to him that this was the ancient Temple of Solomon’. Having ‘read in the Old Bible’ of God telling David, ‘behold I will give you a son’ who ‘will build a temple of God’, Kampara believed ‘that after David died Solomon his son went and built [this] Temple of God’. Arriving in the Transvaal in 1913, he initially preached for the Mozambican-led East African Gaza Church, where he met Petros Mhlauli. The ‘Zimbabwe revelation and its import were not forgotten’, however, and in late 1914 he and Mhlauli both broke with Mozambican church. Taking ‘definite steps towards rehabilitation of the old religion’ they established the Gazaland Zimbabwe Ethiopian Church (GZEC). With black intellectuals like R Selope Thema questioning how both ‘the white builders of Zimbabwe should have disappeared without leaving behind a trace’ and ‘black men should have gone and accumulated their bones and skulls in a City which was not theirs’, Kampara’s historiography reworked the still ambiguous past of the Great Zimbabwe ruins, and Rider Haggard’s novel King Solomon’s Mines, into a history of the ‘Zimbabwe Temple of King Solomon’ built ‘in the land of Kush’ by South Africans, Mozambicans and Ethiopians.

Claiming to have congregations stretching across Southern Africa, by 1916 Kampara’s church notified the Native Affairs Department that they had ‘been received here in the Transvaal and have sights [sic] also in Nyasaland and Portuguese Natal’. The church appears to have catered for the growing Nyasa diaspora in South Africa, in particular, with Kampara writing to the Native Affairs Department in 1918, complaining that ‘we Nyasaland Natives we have no rights at all while we help too much our majesty the King George V […] we have no rights into anything which we establish under the British flag’.

By 1925, Kampara had been kicked out of his church, and changed his name to George Carman Kalinda. But he had also founded a branch of the UNIA in Evaton alongside a West Indian, James Taylor. A report in the June 1925 Negro World claimed that.

The Evaton Division held a very successful mass meeting on June 14. Mr GC Kalinda, president of the division, opened the meeting with religious ceremonies from the ritual […] The speeches were strong and encouraging. The attendance was unusually large; nearly four hundred were present. Seventy new members were added to the roll. The members and friends of the UNIA in South Africa are holding the banner high and never faltering in the great work of furthering the cause of African redemption.

Certainly for a period of time, George Wellington Kampara/George Carman Kalinda was one of the leading Garveyites in South Africa, and a better-known UNIA leader than Dr Wellington Buthelezi, whose life is better-researched to date. When police reported in 1927 that Dr Wellington Buthelezi was selling ‘anti-imperial badges’ in Mount Fletcher, the head of the Native Affairs Department mistakenly believed the ‘Wellington’ in question was probably ‘the man known to this office as Wellington Kalinda and also Wellington Kampara’ who was ‘somewhat of a firebrand’.

With UNIA membership including ‘young Mandebeles […] and Baliginals [sic] in Southern Rhodesia’, Kampara wrote to Rhodesian officials in November 1925 petitioning for the Ndebele prince, Nguboyenja Khumalo, to be allowed to return to Southern Rhodesia—a cause that had been taken up earlier by the African Universal Benefit Society. Kampara queried why Nguboyenja was ‘not on his chair of chieftship among the Mandeles tribes[?] Why he is placed in Capetown which is not his father’s country[?]’, and speculated that the Rhodesian Government did ‘no want any black man to be called paramount chief’. Just as he had earlier drawn on the text of King Solomon’s Mines, by the 1920s Kampara saw the UNIA as ‘the mouth piece of the race’ functioning for the ‘African abroad or at large’. His already broad pan-African vision was reinforced by The Negro World and other Garveyite texts.

George Wellington Kampara appears to have had an antagonistic relationship with other Christians in Johannesburg. The Evaton UNIA was forced to hold its meetings in the open, because ‘local Uncle Tom ministers were denying Garveyites the use of church or school halls for UNIA meetings’. And having approached the Transvaal African Congress (TAC) ‘whose co-operation he need[ed] in connection with the propagation of his Association’s principles and objects’, Kampara was rebuffed with the assertion that there were ‘enough Bantu organisations in the Union, and all they need is sane development. There is no demand for foreign leaders and we shall be much surprised is the UNIA finds a permanent footing in South Africa.’ Benjamin Majafi, the Basutoland-born secretary of the Evaton UNIA nevertheless assured Negro World readers that ‘most of our people who read the Negro World are awakened, because of your speeches are encouraging us a great deal’, and reported further UNIA branches in Sophiatown, Waterpan, Pretoria and central Johannesburg.

State officials, however, believed that institutionalised Garveyism on the Rand was limited to ‘one or two “mushroom” churches in Marabastad, Pretoria and on the Reef’. In 1928, Majafi told officials that the Evaton UNIA had ‘died a natural death’ by the beginning of 1926, though he personally continued to correspond with Negro World into the 1930s. Kampara, in comparison, largely disappears from the historical record after his Evaton UNIA exploits. It is, nevertheless, tempting to think that he was the unidentified ‘Nyasalander’ who told a meeting near Evaton in April 1930:

there was only one thing to be done and that was that all must be prepared to burn their passes. The Government has not enough prisons to imprison all natives and the Government will not feed the whole lot of you. The whiteman will leave the country within 15 years and Marcus Garvey is coming to rule Africa.

Fragmentary evidence makes it difficult to establish more about Kampara as a UNIA leader. Nonetheless, he points to two broader arguments. First, though Kadalie had broken with Garveyism by 1925, Nyasas (alongside Basotho) were clearly essential to the dissemination of Garvey’s internationalist ideas within South Africa itself and north of its borders. While the Nyasa brothers, Isa and John Lawrence corresponded extensively with Kadalie and exported The Negro World alongside ICU propaganda throughout Central Africa, another Nyasa, Peter Nyambo, was president of the Cape Town UNIA in the 1940s (and possibly the 1920s). Second, Kampara offers a compelling insight into a historically rooted African internationalism already circulating throughout Southern Africa that became swept up in the Garvey movement once it arrived in Johannesburg.

‘We Are Utterly Opposed to Nationalism. Our Goal is International Socialism’: Clements Kadalie and the ICU

In 1926, the ‘most talked of’ black leader in South Africa was Clements ‘Musa’ Kadalie. Over the course of the 1920s, Kadalie regularly addressed crowds of thousands in Johannesburg as the national secretary of the first major black trade union in African history, the Industrial and Commercial Workers’ Union (ICU). As retold by George Padmore, Kadalie

became the uncrowned king of the black masses. No other Negro in recent South African history […] enjoyed the popularity which was Kadalie’s at the height of his power. The whites feared him as they feared Dingaan, the last of the Zulu warrior kings.

Claiming to have as many as 250,000 followers by 1927, Kadalie rode on a wave of millenarian Christian expectation threatening to call, what Philip Bonner has termed, a ‘millennial-syndicalist general strike’. As part his own personal myth, Kadalie vocally promoted Heaton Nicholls’ 1923 novel Bayete! Hail to the King, a book that was intended to be a fable warning about a ‘black man from the north’ of the Limpopo who studied in the United States, joined a black church-based political movement and returned to South Africa to plot a general strike. Drawing on widespread white fears, Bayete! theorised how colonial rule could be seriously challenged by the ‘black peril’ of a messianic African leader and black labour movement, complementing the existing phobia of ‘Ethiopianism’ with the growing fear of Africanised ‘Bolshevism’.

Like Kampara, Kadalie was heavily influenced by Garveyism, and famously wrote that his ‘essential object is to be the great African Marcus Garvey’ in 1920. By the time he relocated from Cape Town to Johannesburg in 1925, however, he had broken with the race-pride of Garveyism because it was ‘stirring up racial feeling among the Natives’. Instead, he aligned the ICU with the international labour movement. By 1927 Kadalie’s ICU was ‘utterly opposed to nationalism’ on the basis that ‘capitalism recognises no frontiers, no nationality, and no race’, and dismissed those ‘still thinking in terms of outworn nationalism’. With branches stretching into South West Africa, as well as Southern and Northern Rhodesia, the ICU’s stated goals were ‘international Socialism’ and to become ‘the ICU of Africa’. As Phil Bonner has demonstrated, the ICU in Johannesburg failed to replicate its advances in Natal and the Eastern Cape. Its influence on Johannesburg was, nevertheless, considerable. Market Square became known as the ‘ICU Square’ on account of the meetings of thousands outside the Workers’ Hall. And with its doors emblazoned with the slogan ‘Workers of the World, Unite!’, this meeting hall ‘revolutionized the life of the African proletariat of the Golden City’—at least according to Kadalie.

Having been trained as a mission teacher and preacher in Nyasaland, Christianity was central to Kadalie’s understanding of African history and contemporary politics. Existing accounts of his life have downplayed his religious commitments, with Shepperson and Ranger, for example, framing Kadalie as ‘agnostic, if not atheistic’ and representative of a new secular form of black politics in Southern Africa. This analysis relies heavily on a speech given by Kadalie at Lovedale College in 1928, where he declared

Personally I do not subscribe to any religious doctrine in the generally-accepted sense of the terms. In the words of Ingersoll: ‘The world is my country; to do good is my religion,’ and it seems to me that my life can be more usefully employed in endeavouring to improve the lot of my fellow creatures here than bothering about a chimerical life up above, about which there is no certainty and of which you and I really know nothing.

By contrast, Beinart and Bundy have presented Kadalie, only a year later, in the aftermath of the original ICU’s fragmentation, as espousing a radical Afrocentric Christianity aligned with Ethiopianist churches.

While Kadalie was criticised for being erratic and anti-Christian by his numerous opponents, his relationship with Christianity points to very real tensions and contradictions in 1920s Southern Africa. He was certainly very critical of white missionaries, Pentecostal Christians, and ‘pie-in-the-sky’ theology, but this did not amount to agnosticism or outright atheism. In the same Lovedale speech cited above, Kadalie struck out at those accusing the ICU ‘of being anti-religious. On what facts this charge is based I do not even pretend to know’, and he consistently employed biblical images and motifs in his rhetoric—even going as far as to say that ‘I stood for God the Father, C for God the Son, and U for God the Holy Ghost’. Like many contemporary Ethiopianist Christians, Kadalie continued to follow Presbyterian traditions at the same time as arguing for the existence of black angels and against the hypocrisy of white missionaries. Seeing Christianity as important means of recruiting members, he later regretted that given ‘the great mass of the Africans are religiously minded […] many of our members did not approve of the behaviour of the secretaries’.

Numerous ICU secretaries, nevertheless, did effectively use Christianity to criticise the government, and think in international terms. In April 1925, the ICU newspaper editorialised:

We have accepted the white man’s civilisation and his religion but we are now being denied to live as civilised men and Christians […] a man cannot go to a Church and worship his God whilst he or she is starving or forced to starve by this foreign system imposed upon Africa by the white man.

Kadalie himself wrote that the typical ICU member was ‘a new man and […] takes no heed [of] the white man’s mischievous propaganda, he has lost hope in [the] white man’s leadership and his religion’. For many this rejection amounted to a biblical struggle with the South African state. In June 1926, Simon Elias told members, South Africa’s contemporary ‘Pharaoh is General Hertzog and Moses is Clements Kadalie, who must tell [the] Pharaoh that the days of ruling over the natives has been numbered’. For others, this struggle also transcended state borders. Hoping for ‘our voice to be heard not only in South Africa but the whole world over’, Thomas Mbeki called on ICU members to ‘organise so as to help our brothers on the mines, in domestic service, on farms, and the police force in fact our brothers everywhere’, and ‘extend the gospel to Central Africa, and as far as Algeria and Egypt’.

Although from 1925 Kadalie espoused non-racial working class internationalism, he continued to be profoundly influenced by the anti-white missionary rhetoric and black theology of Garveyites. The former co-editor of the ICU’s newspaper, the Garveyite Professor James Thaele was ‘publicly disowned’ by the ICU in 1926 for promoting racial segregation and being ‘an uncompromising disciple of [the] “Africa for the Africans” slogan’—‘a narrow, selfish and dangerous doctrine’ that the ICU now stood ‘direct in opposition to’. Despite this, Kadalie continued to publicly acknowledge that where

I agree with Professor Theale is that, while you are always praying, you do not know the Ten Commandments or you would know that you are supposed to work for six days and rest on the seventh. You will have to be more practical.

Though he did ‘not wholly support Professor Thaele’, Kadalie believed ‘nevertheless he is on the right track. He is opening the eyes of the ignorant blacks who have been mesmerised by this Biblical imposition’ and instilled ‘in the African mind a spirit of revolt against Biblical fanatical philosophies’. In particular, Kadalie came to regard

the teaching of the orthodox religions, emphasising as they of the unimportance of this life in relation to the next, [as] highly dangerous […] Mankind is in sore distress—exploited, enslaved and downtrodden, toiling for a pittance […] The man or the organisation who ignores the cry for help, who relegates the earthly remedy of this state of affairs to second place and preaches faith in a future life as the only way out, will rightly forfeit the leadership of a world of anguish.

Heralding the coming of a New Africa and likening it to the New Jerusalem, Kadalie required ‘earthly’ organisation, arguing, ‘it is not by praying that you will remedy your troubles. You only want to pray once a week. It is no good saying ‘hear, hear’ every time. You must join the ICU’.

Rather than through prayer, it was through effective organisation that the ICU would

open up the gates of the Houses of Legislature, now under the control of white oligarchy, and from this step […] claim equality of purpose with the white workers of the world to overthrow the capitalist system of government and usher in a co-operative commonwealth, a system of government which is not foreign to the aboriginals of Africa.

Echoed in The Workers Herald, ICU members were called on ‘to mobilise the forces of the African workers to build a New Jerusalem for the people’. In early 1928, the ICU yase Natal under the Zulu leadership of AWG Champion seceded from the original ICU, with Kadalie and his supporters labelled as ‘foreigners’. As a result, the ICU soon fragmented into numerous regional factions, rapidly declining as a serious political force, particularly in South Africa. But until this point, as ‘the messiah of South African natives, heaven sent—from Nyasaland’, Kadalie held out the tangible promise of a socialist New Africa.

‘Any Rebellion against Higher Powers, Either Church or State, is Strictly Forbidden’: John George Phillips and the CCACZ

In contrast to Kampara and Kadalie, Rev John George Phillips, a pioneering Zionist influence in both Johannesburg and Malawi, believed Africa was undergoing a moral and religious crisis, not a crisis of capitalism. Having worked throughout Central Africa as a hospital worker and evangelist for the Universities Mission of Central Africa, in 1904, Phillips:

left Nyasaland with a party of 860 men who were under contract to the Witwatersrand Native Labour Association for the mines of Johannesburg. He was the youngest of the whole party and yet was looked upon by all of them as their trusted and responsible leader. Every evening on that long and even dangerous journey the whole party gathered round this young man while he read to them a portion of Scripture …

Suffering from a ‘very weak chest’ while working as a clerk on Johannesburg’s Crown Mines, Phillips

read some religious papers which taught ‘Divine Healing’ and when sick […] went to Pastors Lake and Tom of the Apostolic Faith Mission. These Brothers prayed for him, with the Laying on of the Hands and he got wonderfully healed and delivered from sickness.

With his ailment miraculously cured, Phillips ‘gave his whole time to Preaching of the Gospel of God […] travelled the Reef from end to end […] baptized those who believed and prayed for the sick’.

Like many Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) members, by 1913 he had converted to the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion (CCACZ) and began to lead the Zion Tabernacle at the Crown Mines compound. Unsupervised by white missionaries, in 1920 Phillips was fully ordained as a Minister of the Gospel and appointed ‘General Overseer of the whole Native work’. Already a member of the Nyasaland Native National Congress (NNNC), Phillips broke from the North American CCACZ led by Wilbur Voliva in 1920, not as an assertion of black independence but as a rejection of Voliva’s heavy tithing demands in the transatlantic Zionist tradition of dissent. With the US-based CCACZ having already fractured into six competing factions, Phillips aligned himself with Francis Royall’s schism. When Voliva countered this move by sending his follower Schumaker to re-establish control, Phillips was forced to rename his breakaway the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion (HCACZ). By 1925, Phillips nevertheless had a cosmopolitan congregation of more than 800 including Nyasas, Basotho, Zulus and Mozambicans, that stretched out across the Rand and into Portuguese East Africa.

In line with Zionist church founder John Alexander Dowie’s teachings, the early CCACZ looked to ‘recreate’ a ‘pan-racial utopia’ across Southern Africa. Asserting that the devil had separated humanity into separate ‘families’ of races, Dowie identified the weakening Anglo-Saxon race with the Israelites, whose strength needed to be fortified with the blood of ‘Ethiopians’ in order to recreate a pre-historic ‘People of Adam’. Asking God to bestow health on them, Zulu, Swazi, Sotho, British, Afrikaner, American and Nyasa Zionists resident in Johannesburg believed they were rehabilitating their bodies and transforming themselves into a heavenly people through prayer. Recasting ‘biological race as spiritual ethnicity’, Zionists ‘invoked race as the common denominator connecting a cosmopolitan humanity as “blood” relatives, albeit through the blood of Christ rather than biological lineage’. Johannesburg came to be a crucial site for this project, with Dowie projecting

Zion’s incorporation of ‘Ethiopians’ [as] a foretaste of the Adamic race: ‘There is victory all along the line. Prophecy is being fulfilled. Ethiopia is ‘hastening to stretch out her hands unto God’.

Black Zionists under Phillips carried on for some years ‘preaching the Gospel, praying for the sick, [and] appointing ministers in charge of congregations’ while ‘not represented in South Africa by any white man’. They were deeply troubled by Schumaker’s attempted ‘white’ takeover, but nevertheless continued to work closely with white Zionists Modred Powell and Francis Royall as part of their pan-racial pursuit of Zion.

Kadalie demanded greater democracy—arguing, ‘we must have a say in the affairs of our country and for God’s sake do not make Bolshevism as an excuse’. Phillips, in contrast, hoped for a new millennium under theocratic rule. Phillips’ new Zionist church—the HCACZ—held that Jesus’ ‘reign of Righteousness for a thousand years on earth, is the scriptual promise and the expectation of the true Church of Christ’ and ‘according to his promise, looked for new heavens, and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness’. Undoubtedly, he and his church members also continued to believe that Zion affirmed

the right of God to rule the people. Zion is in no sense a Democracy. Zion is not a Republic […] in which cunning bosses amuse the people with the idea that they rule themselves when they are really ruled by expert political tricksters. Zion, in short, is a Theocracy.

Rejecting ‘filthy’ ‘reading, thinking and associations; filthy eating, drinking, smoking; [and] filthy remedies’, Zionist literature further called for the church to ‘isolate her people entirely from the world and its ungodly occupations, both in business and in pleasure’ and aimed ‘to compel the world, which is so largely now in rebellion, to submit to the love and rule of God’. The constitution of Phillips’ own HCACZ similarly dictated that ‘All our members are instructed to obey the laws of the land’ and ‘Any rebellion against higher powers, either church or state, is strictly forbidden’. The black trade unionism of Kadalie’s ICU, in particular, appears to have been singled out for condemnation, with one clause of the HCACZ constitution asserting that: ‘According to the scriptures we firmly hold that the people of God should have no connection whatever with labour unions […] we are exhorted by the word to be content with our wages.’ Charles Taze Russell’s Watch Tower movement was also criticised by Phillips who assured Nyasaland officials that his church had ‘nothing in common with Russelism’.

‘[T]he Apostolic Faith Church Stood for Loyalty to the Throne and Empire!’: J.R. Albert Ankhoma and the AFC

Like the Zionist J.G. Phillips, Rev Juma Richardson Albert Ankhoma was a black leader in a white-led denomination—the Apostolic Faith Church (AFC)—but he linked his internationalist ideas of salvation to the Welshman, William Oliver Hutchinson, and the divinely sanctioned progress of British Israelism. Ankhoma was involved in the construction of churches throughout Central Africa during his youth, but in 1909 he ‘went to Johannesburg’, becoming a minister of the Apostolic Faith Church in 1912. It is possible that he was involved with the ‘Ethiopian Church’ which affiliated with the same British missionary Modred Powell (who later worked with Phillips) to become the Apostolic Faith Church of South Africa in 1911.

Founded in Bournemouth in 1911 by Hutchinson, the AFC was the first British Pentecostal denomination to appear after the important North American Azusa Street Revival (which had important links to Zionism itself) and emphasised direct prophetic messages. Like all Pentecostal denominations, it was initially pre-millennial in outlook, but increasingly became ‘a personality cult around its leader’. In contrast to the pan-racial Zionism of the CCACZ, the AFC imbibed a distinctly British ‘Israelism’, believing ‘that the British and related people were descendants of the lost tribes of Israel’. This was an outlook that Ankhoma clearly embraced. In 1926, Umteteli wa Bantu reported Ankhoma

thanked God for the ‘Moses’ of today—William Oliver Hutchinson—whom, he said, we believed was chosen of God to establish this wonderful movement of the Body of the Christ with the Gifts of the Holy Ghost in operation revealing the Christ.

In line with Holiness Protestant movements in general, schisms were rife within the AFC. After Daniel P. Williams ‘led the first secession of most of the Welsh congregations to form the Apostolic Church of Wales in 1916’, James Brooke (who had been based in South Africa during the early 1920s) broke from Hutchinson in 1926 to form the United AFC. Ankhoma appears to have remained loyal to Hutchinson for a number of years. While the ‘AFC would fall into obscurity and the other two British Apostolic denominations would remain small in Britain’, by 1920 the Johannesburg church had some 150 white and 1000 African members. In 1921 it had more African pastors than any church other than the Swedish Mission (whilst the AME church and CCACZ were recorded as having only 1 African pastor each, the AFC had 7). With Ankhoma as its ‘Chief Native Overseer’, by 1925, branches of the AFC existed ‘throughout the Transvaal’, with records indicating ‘a congregation aggregate of some 2,000 natives’. Regarded as ‘well-established and enjoying universal public recognition’, government privileges were ‘accorded to its members’.

Seeing the British imperial project as the manifest will of God, and part of ‘the personal pre-millennial return of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’, the AFC believed that ‘the Throne of Great Britain is none other than the Throne of David […] and that in the Anglo-Saxon races are to be found the lost House of Joseph-Israel’. Connecting the ‘restoration of the Kingdom of Israel’ to ‘the coming of the Kingdom of God on earth’, the AFC saw the defining impact of WWI as being that

Jerusalem came into the hands of the British, December 9th, 1917, who are fulfilling the promises given concerning Israel; the fulness of the gentiles or nations has come in; blindness is departing from Israel […] we are in a New Day; surely the day when the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings.

Believing that ‘democracy, the people ruling, will fall away’, the AFC held that: ‘Theocracy is what we are coming to, where the state and the people are ruled by God.’ Similarly, AFC members believed it was their ‘duty to pray for our reigning sovereign, for the Royal House which is the House of David, for the President of the United States, for ministers of state and for our dominion and colonies with all their representative[s]’. Quoting Titus 3:1, they were reminded that ‘the powers that be are ordained of God’. Ankhoma did eventually break away from the AFC in 1936 to form his own branch of James Brookes’ United AFC. But, like Phillips, far from a move towards becoming an African independent church, this was a means of exploiting the sectarianism of white-led Pentecostal churches and the greater success of Brookes’ schism.

‘We Have Nothing in Common with Blantyre Natives’: Consolidated Nationalism and Marginalised Internationalism at the End of the 1920s

Early Nyasa nationalists in urban South Africa were heavily influenced by the ‘quietism’ of Zionism and Pentecostalism. The formation of the Nyasaland Native National Congress (NNNC) in Johannesburg during 1919, two decades before the founding of the Nyasaland African Congress in Blantyre, in part, confirms Shepperson’s thesis that ‘Nyasa’ nationalism developed through encounters abroad. (In the same year, Rev Paulos Ngwenya also established the Rhodesian Native National Congress in the city.) But the predominance of Pentecostal and Zionist Christians amongst early NNNC members clearly indicates that more conservative, pro-imperial Christianity had a considerable influence. These members included J.R.A. Ankhoma (NNNC Chairman) and J.G. Phillips, as well as N.C. Aaron Banda, an elder of Ankhoma’s Pentecostal church, and John William Longwe, who was a secretary of Phillips’ Zionist congregation. The NNNC took a notably militant line when it appeared before the 1920 Pass Laws Commission, calling for the ‘removal of “those badges of slavery” so that the native people of South Africa might feel that they were not held for ever “the hewers of wood and drawers of water”’. But dominated by self-improving (remarkably Pentecostal) ideals, the NNNC constitution intended ‘To promote, further, maintain, encourage and advance the members of the Congress socially, morally and intellectually’; and ‘To particularly advance the cause of education among the members of the Congress’. It went on to set out the objects of establishing schools, hospitals and a burial fund. In comparison to the strapline of the ICU’s Workers’ Herald, which claimed that the newspaper ‘exposes the “good boys” of imperialistic hypocrisy’, the NNNC’s motto was that ‘Patience and Perseverance Overcome Mountains’.

By the late 1920s, Nyasas’ patience and perseverance were coming under increasing pressure, with tensions coming to a head during a huge riot in Western Native Township on Christmas Day 1927. The Transvaal African Congress (TAC) alleged that Nyasas had ‘secretly plotted’ the ‘attack upon the residents with dangerous weapons with the result that heavy casualties were sustained amounting to between 50 and 100’. Demanding their mass deportation, the Congress asserted ‘their continuous stay in the Union will only perpetuate the recurrence of faction fights and bloodshed’. The ICU alleged this motion was pushed through the TAC by Eddie J Khaile (a communist AME preacher and the ANC’s General Secretary, who had left the ICU in 1926). But the response of the government—in line with the ‘general feeling’ that Nyasas were ‘taking bread out of the mouths of the people who pay heavy taxes’—was that all Central Africans should be deported.

The ANC’s head of commerce and industry, and a bitter rival of Kadalie, Selby Msimang used the riot to attack Nyasas—with whom South Africans had ‘nothing in common’—for ‘depriving our womenfolk of employment’. The black journalist Bennet Ncwana, in reference to Kadalie’s alignment with the Amsterdam-based International Federation of Trade Unions, in turn, argued that ‘there was no need for the Natives to import leaders from elsewhere who were now selling them to Amsterdam Bolsheviks’. As ‘a student of international politics’, Ncwana ‘never did believe the International policy of Clements Kadalie’ and asserted it was ‘high time Clements Kadalie directed his attention to his oppressed people in Central Africa’. The Workers’ Herald responded that Ncwana was ‘so blind and thoughtless that he cannot see that it is not only the Union of South Africa that must unite in a brotherhood spirit, but the whole of the African Continent’.

The Nyasa-led ICU and UNIA in Johannesburg disintegrated at the end of the 1920s at least in part because of this rising anti-foreigner sentiment. The NNNC, however, expanded to become the Nyasaland, Rhodesia and East Africa Native Congress (NREANC), chaired by Rev J.G. Phillips. Threatened with deportation from his established home in Johannesburg, Phillips was caught between his contradictory espousal of a cosmopolitan Zionist Christianity and his acceptance of higher authority. Leading with pro-business, ‘quietist’ arguments, the NREANC assured officials that ‘we natives from our territories are not given to change. We stick to our jobs, and aim to become efficient in the same’ and contended they were ‘to be expelled, repatriated, because we are industrious, and serve our master well’. Fearing the damage that repatriation would inflict on numerous Christian marriages, Phillips in particular worried that ‘the moral and religious life of the native [was] of no account to the Native Affairs Department’. John William Longwe, in turn, questioned ‘Does not this country need more, and still more natives? Are not the Gold Mines, the Coal Mines, and the Agricultural Districts calling out for more Black Labour?’ Complaining that the designation of Central Africans as ‘Prohibited Immigrants’ was ‘a later development, which threatens to break our homes, to divide families, and to bring moral, Social, and Religious blight upon thousands of inoffensive, God-fearing Native people’, the NREANC executive asserted that were

the Government to submit this question to a Committee of Business Men, of large Employers of labour, to Leaders of big Industries, we have no doubt that this ‘Edict’ for our Repatriation would be met by a very decided negative.

Anti-immigrant resentment remained, but the NREANC appear to have successfully contested deportation. No mass expulsion of Central Africans was ever instigated.

J.G. Phillips passed away in May 1934, leaving behind a successful church led by the Mozambican Matthew Koza. Meanwhile Ankhoma remained at the forefront of black Johannesburg society well into the 1940s. He regularly appeared in the ‘Who’s Who in the News this Week’ column of Bantu World, acting as the paper’s agent in Eastern Native Township, and continued his work for the United AFC and NNNC. The Nyasaland Native National Congress continued to defend the rights of Nyasa immigrants in Johannesburg into the mid-1940s. Kadalie, in comparison, was banned from addressing meetings on the Rand, and lived out the rest of his days in relative exile in East London. Kampara drifted into complete ignominy. Zionists and Pentecostals, with their reluctance to openly defy political authorities, seem to have fared better in the long term than more radical Nyasa Ethiopianists. Anti-immigrant nationalists, in turn, remained prominent within black South African politics—with Selby Msimang going on to become the secretary of the All-African Convention.

Not all agreed with this turn of events. From East London, Kadalie’s ICU continued to champion African internationalism into the 1940s. Praising Hastings Banda (Malawi’s future life-president) for hosting ‘African students from East Africa, including Nyasaland, Rhodesia and the Union of South Africa’ at his home in Britain, the ICU hoped ‘the Vigilance Association the architect of tribalism at East London will take note of the work of Dr Hastings Banda, a Nyasaland African: Down with all leaders who back division by means of tribalism.’ Bantu World reader W.K. Mkasibe, in 1940, similarly regretted that ‘Africans from beyond the border of the Union of South Africa’, would ‘not attend our mass-meetings’, and stood ‘to lose more by their non-committal attitude than by active participation’. Looking back on former days, he ‘would quote them Mr C Kadalie as an example of what is expected of them’.


The influence of black Americans on South Africa’s post-World War I radical internationalist politics has been commented on by numerous historians. Campbell amongst others has noted perceptively:

the ICU, like the AME Church before it, broadcast an extraordinary eclectic message, blending racial chauvinism and assertions of Christian brotherhood, calls for separation and demands for equal rights, invocations of ‘progress’ with appeals to the ancestral land, all frequently underscored by the authority of African American experience.

Connections between Central Africa and South Africa, however, have received far less attention. In general, we still know little about the ‘crisis-borne appearance between World War I and World War II’ of colonial internationalism, and in privileging past experiences over past expectations, studies have disproportionately focused on movements and connections immediately recognisable in the present. The politics of Nyasa leaders in 1920s Johannesburg affirm historian Manu Goswami’s assertion that interwar internationalism was ‘neither reducible nor opposed to nationalism’. But they also challenge Goswami’s links between colonial internationalism and anti-imperialism. As noted by Neame, even Kadalie had an ambiguous relationship with empire—working through British imperial networks and in line with the largely pro-imperial British labour movement in his pursuit of a New Africa.

Nyasas abroad were often collaborators with Britain’s imperial project, and constituted an indigenous ‘labour aristocracy’ throughout Southern and Central Africa. Working as clerks and policemen in mining and government offices (at the same time as becoming pioneering mainline, Pentecostal, and Zionist missionaries), they became crucial intermediaries for colonial rule. Hundreds of thousands fought for, and died, in the King’s African Rifles during WWI—something that gave the Malawian diaspora a lasting sense of pride and status—and Nyasa nationalists in South Africa during the 1920s typified these pro-imperial attitudes. While many white missionaries were distinctly internationalist in their vision of an ‘unbounded’ Kingdom of God, under-researched black missionaries like Ankhoma and Phillips were crucial disseminators of rhetoric that intertwined internationalism, imperialism and Britishness. In doing so, they also pioneered nationalisms and dissenting Christianities that point to the economic and educational limits of white missionary’s imperial projects—as well as our current understandings of African nationalism and empire more broadly. J.G. Phillips was clearly attracted by the ‘proud boast that Johannesburg has more brains to the square inch that any other city on the face of the earth’, and the belief that ‘Johannesburg as a missionary centre’ held ‘a position quite unique in South Africa’. In the hope of sustaining his missionary work, Phillip’s Nyasa and broader Central African nationalism became a way of maintaining a Zionist life—both within the city and a broader ‘cosmopolitan’ empire. Even more explicitly, Ankhoma preached that ‘the Apostolic Faith Church stood for loyalty to the Throne and Empire!’ With the ‘restoration’ of Israel to the British empire, many in the AFC believed, ‘in this day, Christ is appearing as the Word of God in His Kingdom. He is being revealed in the appointed way.’ Nyasa nationalists in Johannesburg were not radicals, and were not pushing for an independent Nyasa state. Instead, they embraced the boundaries of colonial states, as a means of participating in a global, imperial city, defending their rights and following their religious beliefs.

The Christian beliefs and internationalist outlooks of other Nyasas, however, meant they were staunch critics of colonial governance and organised internationally—as black nationalists and workers, not as Nyasas. In voicing widespread grievances, they gained considerable prominence as millennial liberators and missionaries. In 1927, Umteteli wa Bantu complained that South African-born leaders were being ‘usurped by men from Central Africa, the West Indies and America whose only claim to South African Natives sympathy and support is their colour’. Attempting to create a ‘New Jerusalem’ on earth, Kadalie saw ‘quietist’ prayer as highly dangerous, and demanded practical action from his followers. Building on the strong pan-African sentiments already established by the likes of the AME church, he organised an African working class which was ready ‘to fall wholeheartedly with any movement that will mobilise the workers of the world to fight world capitalism’. Working through imperial circuits, but against capitalist domination, Kadalie implored: ‘Let the British Labour Movement lead the way in not only preaching but in practising the glorious doctrine of the Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man.’ With Nyasa migrants leading trade unions and strikes throughout Southern Africa, Kadalie was not alone in his agitation. Echoing John Chilembwe’s 1915 call to ‘strike a blow and die’, the Lawrence brothers believed that Kadalie was joined by ‘nearly [one] thousand […] Nyasalanders [who] are busy abroad training for the “NEGROES SECOND BLOW”.’

Divided in their visions of the past and future, Nyasa Christian leaders confronted social crises in the wake of WWI with markedly different millennial searches for salvation. In the urban theatre of 1920s Johannesburg, they all crafted new geographies, histories and imagined communities to position themselves as easily observable offshoots, organically linked to broader Southern African society and ‘new’ expansive internationalist cartographies. But, like the broader Nyasa diaspora, different Christian beliefs meant these leaders represented two polar extremes of African politics. Kadalie, in particular, awoke a spirit of transnational Christian-informed socialist militancy within black Southern African society—and excited disproportionate fear amongst more conservative Christians, both black and white. Rolfes Dhlomo in 1927 criticised ‘Kadaliitis’ in Ilanga lase Natal, writing: ‘People are ICU mad—surely. They see the ICU in everything.’ As the social boundaries and divisions of black Johannesburg underwent considerable change, however, reworked and reshaped to political and ideological ends by a whole range of actors, Phillips and Ankhoma’s blend of internationalism and millennialism, more closely aligned with the state boundaries, proved far more durable—though largely incongruent with the later Malawian nationalism of Hastings Banda. The subsequent trajectories of South African and Malawian nationalism, and British imperialism, diverged considerably from the African internationalism of all four Johannesburg-based Nyasa leaders. But looking forward in the 1920s it was, perhaps, not unreasonable to hope for, and expect, a very different future.