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Great churches and temples of Joburg Print E-mail
06 January 2007

Churches have always been places of sanctuary. In Joburg, many of the older ones supported the fight against apartheid. Others are newly built, bringing fresh peace and succour to the city. This is the second in a series of articles on Johannesburg's places of worship.

REFLECTING its multi-cultural nature, Joburg has a number of places of worship from across the religious spectrum.

Almost every religion is represented in the city, and practised in some of the country's most beautiful structures. Some of these, like St Mary's Cathedral in the inner city, played a significant role in the struggle against apartheid. At this particular Angelican church Beyers Naude preached and Desmond Tutu was dean.

Some old churches have been reborn as mosques or temples; some churches simply take place in the veld; new mosques have sprung up in former whites-only suburbs; new temples have been built by the faithful. Some places of worship stand out because of their architecture, their history, their associations, or just their splendour.



Christ the King Anglican Church, Sophiatown, 1935
The Christ the King Church was made famous by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston in the 1940s and '50s. The passionate anti-apartheid campaigner was being followed by the security police by the mid-1950s and was eventually recalled by the church to England in 1955, the year the removals started in Sophiatown.

The restful interior of the Christ the King Church, Sophiatown

Residents of the vibrant suburb were systematically removed to Meadowlands in Soweto, in the name of the Group Areas Act. The church, a simple but beautiful building, was one of the few structures in Sophiatown to survive the bulldozers, and it subsequently went through a tumultuous time. It was designed by Frank Fleming, who designed 85 churches throughout South Africa.

Its distinctive feature is a mural, no longer visible. It was painted between 1939 and 1941 by Sister Margaret. An uplifting mural painted in beautiful colours, it gave the simple church, with its wooden-beamed ceiling, a grandness that was greatly enjoyed and admired by its congregation.

The entire Sophiatown community was removed by the end of 1963; the church was deconsecrated in 1964 and sold to the department of community development in 1967. In the 1970s it was bought by the Nederduits Hervormde Kerk, which used it for Sunday schools. Before this purchase, the church had been badly vandalised and the beautiful mural had graffiti and racist slogans sprayed over it. Officials opted to whitewash the mural.

The tower of the Christ the King Church is a national monument

The church changed hands again: the Pinkster Protestante Kerk bought the building, altering it significantly. The nave was enclosed, a large font was built and wooden panelling and false organ pipes changed the look of the interior.

In 1997 the Anglicans bought the church back; the changes were reversed and the building was largely restored to its former self. However, the hall and gallery the Pinksters had built were retained. Many former Sophiatown worshippers have returned to the church, travelling each Sunday from Soweto to attend services there.

But its unique feature, the mural, sits quietly beneath the whitewash, waiting for the restorers' brushes and scalpels to return it to its former glory.


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Last Updated on 10 January 2013