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Church Uniforms as an Indigenous Form of Anglicanism: A South African Case Study

  • Beverley Haddad

Abstract

African women members of the Mothers’ Union in South Africa have forged a neo-indigenous expression of Christianity best expressed in the characteristics of the manyano movement (women’s prayer groups) which include extempore prayer and preaching, extensive fundraising, and the wearing of a church uniform. These women had to resist the restrictions placed upon them by women missionaries and church leadership from England, which included the abolishment of the church uniform during the 1950s. The article traces their struggle of resistance during this period and shows how they fought to wear a uniform and so identified themselves with the movement of women’s prayer unions existing in other churches. It also addresses the significance of the uniform as identified by elderly women from Vulindlela, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa and suggests some of the existing ambiguities of the church uniform in the current church context.

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Footnotes

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1.

Professor Beverley Haddad is Senior Research Associate in the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Footnotes

References

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2. I use the term ‘African’ in this article to refer to women who are indigenous to the African continent.

3. C. Walker, ‘Gender and the Development of the Migrant Labour System c. 1850–1930: An Overview’, in C. Walker (ed.), Women and Gender in Southern Africa to 1945 (Cape Town: David Philip, 1990), pp. 168-96.

4. See J. Cock, ‘Domestic Service and Education for Domesticity: The Incorporation of Xhosa Women into Colonial Society’, in Walker, Women and Gender, pp. 76-96, and M. Labode, ‘From Heathen Kraal to Christian Home: Anglican Missionary Education and African Christian Girls, 1850–1900’, in F. Bowie, D. Kirkwood and S. Ardener (eds.), Women and Missions: Past and Present, Anthropological and Historical Perceptions (Providence and Oxford: Berg Publishers, 1993), pp. 126-44.

5. Labode, ‘From Heathen Kraal to Christian Home’, p. 134.

6. D. Gaitskell, ‘Female Mission Initiatives: Black and White Women in Three Witwatersrand Churches, 1903–1939’, PhD thesis, University of London, 1981, pp. 144-72.

7. D. Gaitskell, ‘Devout Domesticity?’ A Century of African Women’s Christianity in South Africa’, in Walker, Women and Gender, pp. 251-72.

8. Labode, ‘From Heathen Kraal to Christian Home’, pp. 136-41.

9. Gaitskell, ‘Devout Domesticity?’, p. 254.

10. Gaitskell, ‘Female Mission Initiatives’, p. 146.

11. See M. Brandel-Syrier, Black Woman in Search of God (London: Lutterworth, 1962), pp. 15-16.

12. For a fuller discussion of these practices, see B. Haddad, ‘African Women’s Theologies of Survival: Intersecting Faith, Feminisms and Development’, PhD thesis, University of Natal, 2000, pp. 277-93.

13. See Gaitskell, ‘Female Mission Initiatives’.

14. See Brandel-Syrier, Black Woman in Search of God.

15. B.A. Pauw, Christianity and Xhosa Tradition: Belief and Ritual among Xhosa Speaking Christians (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975), p. 93.

16. ‘Questions and Answers on the Three Objects of the Mothers’ Union’, March 1946–March 1947 (AB1018 Mother’s Union, CPSA Archives, William Cullen Library, University of Witwatersrand), p. 4.

17. Brandel-Syrier, Black Woman in Search of God, p. 92.

18. ‘Mothers’ Union Handbook for the Use of Bantu Branches’ (AB1018 Mothers’ Union, CPSA Archives, William Cullen Library, University of Witwatersrand), p. 5.

19. ‘Notes for Talks on the Three Objects of the Mothers’ Union for the Use of Enrolling Members and Speakers’, March 1946–March 1947 (AB1018 Mothers’ Union, CPSA Archives, William Cullen Library, University of Witwatersrand), no page number.

20. ‘The Mothers’ Union Constitution for the Province of South Africa’, November 1957 (AB1018 Mothers’ Union, CPSA Archives, William Cullen Library, University of Witwatersrand), p. 2.

21. Brandel-Syrier, Black Woman in Search of God, pp. 92-93.

22. Gaitskell, ‘Female Mission Initiatives’, p. 168.

23. Brandel-Syrier, Black Woman in Search of God, pp. 92-93.

24. Gaitskell, ‘Devout Domesticity?’, p. 257.

25. Brandel-Syrier, Black Woman in Search of God, p. 27.

26. The significance of the colour of the uniform needs further investigation. One suggestion is that it was in the late 1930s in the Diocese of Johannesburg, that the MU authorities ‘allowed’ the uniform, provided that it was a black skirt and white blouse; see L.L. Ngewu, Listening to the Silent Voices of the MU: The Centenary History of the MU in the CPSA (Cape Town: CPSA, 2004), p. 178.

27. Memo from Bishop’s House, Vryheid, Natal, 30 March 1933 (MU/05/005/07/50, Mothers’ Union Central Archives, Lambeth Palace Library, London).

28. Ngewu, Listening to the Silent Voices of the MU, pp. 64-65.

29. Ngewu, Listening to the Silent Voices of the MU, p. 65.

30. See Gaitskell, ‘Female Mission Initiatives’, p. 168.

31. Letter from Mrs S.C. Lorato to ‘President of the MU’, London, 26 March 1958 (MU/05/005/07/50, Mothers’ Union Central Archives, Lambeth Palace Library). The correspondence includes handwritten letters, and ‘Lorato’ is used here for a person whose name could also be construed as ‘Lacto’ or otherwise in different documents.

32. Letter from Mrs S.C. Lorato to ‘President of the MU’, London.

33. Letter from Mrs Roberts to Mrs Wade, 14 May 1958 (MU/05/005/07/50, Mothers’ Union Central Archives, Lambeth Palace Library).

34. Letter from Mrs Wade to Mrs Roberts, 20 May 1958 (MU/05/005/07/50, Mothers’ Union Central Archives, Lambeth Palace Library).

35. Letter from Mrs Wade to Mrs Roberts, 20 May 1958.

36. Letter from Mrs Wade to Mrs Lorato, 16 June 1958 (MU/05/005/07/50, Mothers’ Union Central Archives, Lambeth Palace Library).

37. Letter from Mrs Wade to Mrs Lorato, 16 June 1958.

38. Letter from Mrs Jane Hopkins to Mrs Marjorie Davey, 23 July 1959 (MU/05/005/07/50, Mothers’ Union Central Archives, Lambeth Palace Library).

39. Letter from Mrs Marjorie Davey to Mrs Jane Hopkins, 30 July 1959 (MU/05/005/07/50, Mothers’ Union Central Archives, Lambeth Palace Library, London).

40. Interview with Mrs Violet Mhlongo, Vulindlela, 24 April 1998.

41. Interview with Mrs Miriam Zondi, Vulindlela, 24 April 1998.

42. Interview with Mrs Lilian Ngcobo, Vulindlela, 24 June 1998.

43. Gaitskell, ‘Female Mission Initiatives’, p. 215.

44. Gaitskell, ‘Female Mission Initiatives’, p. 215.

45. Gaitskell, ‘Female Mission Initiatives’, p. 215.

46. Gaitskell, ‘Female Mission Initiatives’, p. 216.

47. Brandel-Syrier, Black Woman in Search of God, p. 49.

48. Brandel-Syrier, Black Woman in Search of God, p. 49.

49. J. Comaroff, Body of Power Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African People (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), p. 220.

50. Ngewu, Listening to the Silent Voices of the MU, p. 242.

51. See also Brandel-Syrier, Black Woman in Search of God, p. 49.

52. Interview with Mrs Josephinah Nene, Vulindlela, 24 April 1998.

53. Vulindlela, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa is a semi-rural area outside the city of Pietermaritzburg. During the 1990s when the interviews were conducted it was an area under the jurisdiction of traditional leaders but has since been incorporated into the city of Pietermaritzburg and has become more urbanized.

54. Interview with Mrs Sophia Ntombela, Vulindlela, 6 May 1998.

55. Interview with Mrs Violet Mhlongo, Vulindlela, 24 April 1998.

56. Interview with Mrs Selinah Ndlovu, Vulindlela, 17 April 1998.

57. Interview with Mrs Sophia Ntombela, Vulindlela, 6 May 1998.

58. Interview with Mrs Josephinah Nene, Vulindlela, 24 April 1998.

59. Interview with Mrs Selinah Ndlovu, Vulindlela, 17 April 1998.

60. The work of A.C. Henriques suggests that indigenous African Catholic women in KwaZulu-Natal have similar understandings of the value of their church uniform to those expressed by the Anglican women of Vulindlela. See A.C. Henriques, ‘The Catholic Church in the Culture of Apartheid: The Case of Catholic Laity in Natal (1948–1965)’, MTh thesis, University of Natal, 1996.

61. Interview with Mrs Violet Mhlongo, Vulindlela, 24 April 1998.

62. Interview with Mrs Sophia Ntombela, Vulindlela, 6 May 1998.

63. Interview with Mrs Violet Mhlongo, Vulindlela, 24 April 1998.

64. Interview with Mrs Sophia Ntombela, Vulindlela, 6 May 1998.

65. J. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1990).

66. Scott, Domination and the Arts of Resistance, p. xi.

67. It must be noted that women have been allowed to be ordained as priests since 1992. Further research needs to be conducted as to how this decision has influenced the practices of the MU.

68. Ngewu, Listening to the Silent Voices of the MU, p. 175.

69. Ngewu, Listening to the Silent Voices of the MU, p. 242.

70. See L. Holness, ‘Women’s Piety and Empowerment: An Observer’s Understanding of the Methodist Women’s Manyano Movement’, Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 98 (1997), pp. 21-31.

71. This practice of wearing alternative ‘uniforms’ requires further research as to its significance and origin.

72. C. Moyse, A History of the Mothers’ Union: Women, Anglicanism and Globalisation, 1876–2008 (Woodbridge: Bodell Press, 2009).

73. Moyse, A History of the Mothers’ Union, p. 150.

74. Moyse, A History of the Mothers’ Union, p. 151.

1. Professor Beverley Haddad is Senior Research Associate in the School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

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