Elim Moravian mission town
Did you know?
Elim is surrounded by an extraordinary diversity of rare fynbos plants, many of them medicinal.
The first slave monument in South Africa was built at the Elim Moravian Mission Station, a village owned and managed by the Moravian Church. It is home to 2 500 people, all of them coloured, and most of them of slave descent.
The mission station at Elim was established in 1824, when German missionaries arrived at the Cape.
Biblically, Elim is the place the Israelites rested after crossing the Red Sea. It was a place of cooling waters and palm trees.
In the Cape, Elim was also a refuge, a place of safety, initially for the indigenous Khoi people and later for hundreds of destitute freed slaves.
The Elim Moravian Church was built in 1835, and is one of a few places of worship built in the Cape Dutch style.
The mission station was established by Bishop Hallbeck on May 24, 1824 in what is now the Overberg region of the Western Cape. Fynbos abounds, and fig trees line the entrance to the village.
Elim residents were taught trades and skills by the missionaries. The country's first slave monument was built in 1938, a century after emancipation, in homage to the people who had become the majority of the Elim community.
The monument was "re-unveiled" in 2004 after falling into disrepair in the 1990s. It was rebuilt in time to mark the United Nations declaration that 2004 was the year to celebrate the victory of humanity’s struggle against slavery. From 1837 to 1840 the population of Elim doubled from 350 to to 715, and in 1854 it rose to 1 241 as more and more freed slaves sought refuge there.
All three Moravian mission stations, Elim, Genadendal and Mamre, opened their doors to freed slaves. It has been estimated that there were up to 60 000 slaves in the Cape at the time of emancipation on 1 December 1834.
Following their emancipation, many slaves were left destitute by their former masters. Some found refuge at the mission stations, where they were baptised and their names were changed. Each family was given a plot to build their homes, as well as garden plots and a subsidy to start off with.
Many of the cottages are still whitewashed every year, the brilliant white offset by the dark thatch roofs, a skill at which Elim men are still very adept. Their thatching skills are sought the world over.
The working water mill, which used to grind the flour for the local bakery, was restored to its original state and declared a national monument in 1974.
Elim is still owned by the Moravian Church and the village has national heritage status.
Even today whitewashed houses sparkle in the sun, most of the roofs are neatly thatched and all roads, still, lead to the beautiful Moravian Church. The church clock, which is more than 240 years old, was installed in 1914. The clock was built in Germany and was initially installed in a church in Herren, Germany in 1764.
The old Mission Shop has been converted into a museum, filled with hand-crafted pieces and many photographs chronicling the community's history.
A water mill dating back to 1833, boasting the largest wooden water wheel in South Africa, was restored in 1990. The mill can still be used for grinding wheat.
A trip to Elim will not be complete without enjoying the local hospitality at the Old Mill Tearoom. The tearoom forms part of the heritage centre, where visitors can also learn more about the community's history.
Church plays an integral part of life in Elim. Many people who have moved to Cape Town, go back regularly, to spend time with their family or to observe Easter and Christmas. The Moravian Brass Band also has a proud musical tradition.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Tel: +27 (0)28 482 1806/+27 (0)74 544 7733
Tel: +27 (0)28 482 1715
How to get here
From Cape Town, it's a comfortable two-hour drive. Many roads lead to Elim.
Best time to visit
The flowers around the town are best in September, October and November, but Elim can be visited any time of year. Ask to see if your trip coincides with a special religious occasion.
Around the area
While in the area, don't miss the southernmost point of Africa. There are lovely towns in the area, including Napier, Bredasdorp, with its shipwreck museum, and Arniston, with its marine cave and beaches.
Once you're there, most attractions in the tiny town are within walking distance.
What will it cost
A tour with local guide Emil Richter costs approximately R50 per person.
Length of stay
Two nights is ideal.
Where to stay
There is a simple guesthouse within the church complex, and meals are served.
Don't forget to ask about the local bread, made with wheat ground in the historic water mill.