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SSouth Africa’s historic places of worship showcase the rich diversity of the country’s many religions – freedom of belief is protected in our Constitution.
You’ll find some of the oldest and biggest of the country’s historic places of worship in major cities where different cultural groups settled centuries ago. Others are tucked away in tiny villages.
One of South Africa’s most famous churches is Soweto’s Regina Mundi Catholic Church. It was already known as a meeting place for the opponents of apartheid when, on 16 June 1976, the church became a sanctuary for scholars fleeing bullets and teargas after police cracked down ruthlessly on their protests against apartheid education.
As the government continued to suppress township opposition with banning orders, states of emergency and both overt and covert violence in the 1980s, the church became the venue for many activists’ funerals, which at the time doubled as political rallies because church services were harder to suppress. It remained a refuge for those evading apartheid forces, too. Today, it’s a favourite destination for visitors from all over the world.
St George’s Anglican Cathedral in Cape Town, the oldest cathedral in southern Africa, is known as the People's Cathedral, because it too played a vital role in the struggle against apartheid.
Auwal Mosque, South Africa’s first mosque, dates back to 1798. You’ll find it in Cape Town's colourful Bo-Kaap district. Not too far away is the Gardens Shul, where the country’s first Jewish congregation was founded in 1841. The complex now houses the magnificent Great Synagogue, regarded as one of the most splendid in the world, as well as the Holocaust Centre and the Jewish Museum.
Another historic place of worship is the Alayam Hindu Temple in Durban, whilst the Juma Masjid Mosque, in Durban’s CBD, is the second-largest mosque in South Africa. The Turkish-style Nazimiye Mosque in Midrand, Gauteng, now holds the title ‘largest mosque in the southern hemisphere’.
Not as imposing, but nevertheless evocative and appealing, is Pella Cathedral in Northern Cape province, built in 1875 from drawings and plans in a contemporary encyclopaedia by 2 German Catholic priests.
Half a century before that, Robert Moffat founded a London Missionary Station in the tiny town of Kuruman, also in Northern Cape, where David Livingstone took up his first position as a missionary in 1841 – later marrying Moffat’s daughter Mary.
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Who to contact
Regina Mundi Catholic Church, Soweto
Tel: +27 (0)11 986 2546
St George’s Anglican Cathedral, Cape Town
Tel: +27 (0)21 424 7360
Gardens Shul, Cape Town
Tel: +27 (0)21 465 1405
Nizamiye Mosque, Midrand
Tel: +27 (0)11 312 0066