Central & Southern Africa Yearly Meeting
of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)

The Yearly Meeting consists of a total of 200 members and attenders including children organised into 13 Monthly or Regional Meetings or Friends Groups. These are in Botswana, Bulawayo, Harare, Namibia, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia, Madagascar, and in South Africa in Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Johannesburg, Eastern Cape and Western Cape. The majority is local citizens, black and white, as well as a significant number of expatriates.

Quakers in this region follow the British tradition of silent, unprogrammed meetings.

The first Quakers in South Africa were Nantucket whalers who were based in Cape Town in the 19th century. Richard Gush was an early Quaker settler in the Eastern Cape who lived his peace testimony remaining unarmed and making peace with his Xhosa neighbours.

Quakers in Britain opposed the Boer war and supported the work of Emily Hobhouse in her work with Boer women and children in concentration camps. After the war they helped collect family bibles that had been looted by British soldiers and taken back home as trophies, and returned them to the original owners when they could be traced.

Quakers supported liberal causes, education, and the general improvement in race relations in South Africa, and set up Quaker Service projects in Johannesburg, Natal and the Eastern and Western Cape. As apartheid became more entrenched they campaigned against detention without trial, removals, conscription, and supported conscientious objection and non-violence. Quakers in Botswana set up a refugee centre (Kagisong Centre) and initiated the rebuilding of an ANC house destroyed by the South African security forces. The Centre is now a conference centre and they have initiated the building of a women’s shelter.

Rural development is supported at Hlekweni near Bulawayo and in Zambia on the shores of Lake Kariba.

Quakers in Cape Town supported the work of Steve Biko through an organisation, Friends of the Ciskei, and later supported a peaceworker resisting forced removals which eventually led to the formation of the Quaker Peace Centre. The late HW van der Merwe started the Centre for Intergroup Studies (now the Centre for Conflict Resolution) and was involved in setting up the first contacts between the South African government and the African National Congress that was banned and in exile.

A member from Johannesburg meeting initiated the building of a Quaker centre in Soweto with funds from the United States. Conflicts and the difficulties of the small Soweto meeting led to its eventual donation to the City Council.

The American Friends Service Committee representative supported the liberation movements in the states neighbouring South Africa.

Quaker Peace and Service in Britain supported peace workers at the Quaker Peace Centre and the Black Sash.

Two Quakers were employed full time by the international Fellowship of Reconciliation in training church and community group in non-violent direct action.

Quakers in the region were fairly isolated from the large numbers of Quakers in the rest of Africa during apartheid. These contacts are being built slowly through the Friends World Committee for Consultation—Africa Section, and through practical projects with the Quaker Peace Centre.

Meetings have usually been active members of councils of churches and interfaith groups and have supported many initiatives and activities of individual members through their work or volunteer activities.t

Jeremy Routledge, March 2002