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Trans-Orange Conference

Photo courtesy of Phaswane Makuwa.

Trans-Orange Conference

By Thula Nkosi, and Grant Lottering

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Thula Nkosi, B.A. (International Correspondence Institute), is a retired pastor at the Trans-Orange Conference. Nkosi formerly taught at Bethel College and served as registrar. He has authored three books and continues to be actively engaged in research and writing and teaching history and sociology.

Grant Lottering, B.Th. (Helderberg College of Higher Education, Somerset West, South Africa), currently serves as assistant researcher at the Ellen G. White and SDA Research and Heritage Center of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division. 

Trans-Orange Conference (TOC) is a subsidiary church administrative unit of the Southern Africa Union Conference that forms part of the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division of Seventh-day Adventists.

Current Territory and Statistics

The Trans-Orange Conference of Seventh-day Adventists (TOC) covers the territory of the following South African Provinces: Free State, North-West, Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, and the following towns in the Northern Cape Province: Barkly West, Danielskuil, Delportshoop, Douglas, Griquastad, Hartswater, Jankempdorp, Katu, Kimberley, Kudumane, Kuruman, Pampierstad, Postmansburg, Ritchie, Salt Lake, and Warrenton. According to recent (2019) statistics, the TOC has 382 churches, 92 companies, and 56,987 members.1 Its headquarters is located along 17 Louis Road, Orchards, in Johannesburg.

The TOC has one primary school, named Orlando West Primary, that continues to be an active missionary center of influence to its learners. The Youth Department hosts a conference summer camp at various destinations across South Africa annually. Attendance continued to grow at exponential rates prior to the coronavirus pandemic. “These summer camps help in keeping the youth focused on spiritual activities during the festive season and minimizes the opportunities of temptations by worldly jubilations that usually takes place at the end of the year.”2 At such camps the young people embark on various sporting and humanitarian activities including hiking, community outreach, and sightseeing. These activities are meant to increase their social awareness and develop their adventure skills and sporting talents.

Students studying at government universities are encouraged to remain connected to church life through a student-body organization called Seventh-day Adventist Student Movement (SDASM). The TOC provides chaplaincy services for these groups and annual rallies and camps that emphasize spirituality.

The Adventist Community Service Department oversees the work of the conference Adventist Development Relief Agency (ADRA TOC) that often collaborates with the conference branch of Meals on Wheels (MOWCS TOC) to assist people in need during various disasters. What differentiates the two entities is that ADRA TOC provides groceries and accessories while MOWCS TOC provides cooked meals.3 ADRA TOC has responded to natural disasters caused by fire and extreme weather conditions and promotes food banks where food can be stored for times when crisis strikes. MOWCS TOC provides more than nine million meals annually and works to increase the number of cooked meals provided at an inverse relationship to poverty.4 MOWCS TOC also identified agricultural farming projects that promise to be a channel of food production.

Origin of Adventist Work in the Territory of the Conference

The entrance of Black Africans into the Adventist Church in South Africa initially occurred in the Trans-Orange Conference territory and in Lesotho in the late 1890s. The first converts were the families of Richard Moko and David Kalaka. Moko was what was called a Visiting District Teacher (old nomenclature for a school inspector). His home was in the Eastern Cape. Kalaka lived in Basutoland (Lesotho) and accompanied missionaries to translate for them before he became an itinerant preacher himself. When Kalaka died, he left his sons to Murray and Senkopane to establish Emmanuel Mission with White missionaries.

The “discovery” of diamond and later gold in Kimberly and Johannesburg, respectively, in the 1870s facilitated the birth and growth of Adventism in these parts of the country. Thousands of African males from almost all countries in Southern Africa descended on Kimberly seeking work and wealth. Moko later left the Northern Cape and established himself with missionaries, a school in the Eastern Cape, named Maranatha School. The key British missionary was David F. Tarr, who later moved to other parts of South Africa to establish mission work and schools.

Both Tarr and Moko were later instructed by the young South African Union Conference to move to the Eastern Cape to advance mission there. Moko worked until he finally died in 1932 in the Eastern Cape. Tarr later received instruction to move northward into what is now known as Limpopo Province. Here he established a school and mission work in a place he called Shiloh in 1928. The school closed down in 1955 after the Apartheid nationalist government declared the area in which Shiloh was located a place designated for "White people." Two other schools were established in Gilead and Seema in the Limpopo Province, some 300-400 kilometers north of Johannesburg. By this time the church had trained native pastors and teachers to advance the work, even while missionaries held leadership positions in the work.

Many of those who accepted the Adventist message in the Eastern Cape Province and Natal where the message was already spreading migrated to Johannesburg to work in the thriving mining sector. Alexander Adventist Church, organized in 1924, is the oldest church in the West Rand District. West Rand District played a very crucial role for the development of the North Bantu Field. Alexander Adventist Church was established by members from all over Southern Africa who went to Johannesburg for work.5 From there the work naturally spread to the North West Province where Klerksdorp and Potchefstroom were the first congregations. North West Province became the entry point for missions into Bechuanaland (Botswana).

Pastors who were trained at Spionkop went to Lesotho, the Cape Province, Botswana, Namibia, and the provinces comprising the Trans-Orange Conference. Spionkop closed down in 1937 and relocated to Bethel Mission where it was then renamed Bethel Training College in 1938.

Organizational History of the Conference

The very first organizational structure that existed for Black South Africans in the Transvaal region was the Southern Union Mission, which was organized in 1919. When the South African Union Conference was organized in 1902, it administered the work in all the mission fields within the borders of South Africa. When the African Division was organized in 1919, it took over the reins of all the mission fields while the South African Union Conference continued to oversee the work of all the self-supporting conferences in South Africa. The African Division cared for the work of the Black African mission field that was organized into the Southern Union Mission at the same time. These mission fields were Emmanuel and Kolo Missions in Basutoland, Maranatha and Bethel Missions in the Cape Province, and the Zulu Mission and Zululand Field in Natal.6

The Rand Mission Field was organized in 1921 for Black Africans in the Transvaal. The Rand Mission Field then became incorporated into the Transvaal Mission Field that was organized in 1922 with J. R. Campbell as the superintendent. At the same time, the Southern Union Mission was absorbed back into the South African Union Conference. In 1924 all mission stations and mission fields were incorporated into the self-supporting conferences in their territories. Thus, the Transvaal Mission Field was absorbed by the Natal-Transvaal Conference.

Three years later, in 1927, the South African Union Conference “suggested that the old system of racially separate mission fields and conferences be brought back.”7 Consequently the Transvaal-Delgoa Mission Field was organized in 1927 with J. R. Campbell as the superintendent. This structure was unable to support itself, and the subsequent financial constraints that were worsened by the global depression of the 1930s caused the work in South Africa to be realigned.

The two Black mission fields, namely the Transvaal-Delgoa and the Kaffirland Mission Fields, were merged into the South African Mission Field. This field lasted until 1936 when circumstances improved and the mission field was again split into two mission fields, the North Bantu and South Bantu Mission Fields. The North Bantu Mission Field covered the work of the Black African members in Basutoland, Bechuanaland, Orange Free State, Natal, Portuguese East Africa, Swaziland, Transvaal, and Zululand. The South Bantu Field covered the work of the Black African members in the Province of the Cape of Good Hope.8

The North Bantu Mission Field continued operating for several years. As the mission fields grew, church leadership became increasingly aware of the necessity of placing more responsibility in hands of the Black people. G. S. Stevenson, who served in administrative leadership in South-East Africa and the South Bantu Mission Field, spearheaded calls for organizing the Black mission fields into their own Union Mission. All the while the North Bantu and South Bantu Mission Fields existed for the Black people of South Africa; yet, they were administered by White people. G. S. Stevenson then submitted a proposal to the South African Union Conference and the Southern Africa Division to replace the North Bantu and South Bantu Mission Fields with ten mission fields on the basis of geographic and ethnographic lines.9 It was suggested that these mission fields should all have Black presidents instead of White presidents and that they eventually be organized into their own Union Mission so that they may receive equal appropriations. This proposal followed through and in 1961, the North Bantu and South Bantu Fields were reorganized into nine mission fields: Cape Western, Eastern Province, Natal-Zululand, Northern Transvaal, South Sotho, Southern Transvaal, Swaziland-Eastern Transvaal, Transkein, and Tswana Fields. The Northern Transvaal, Southern Transvaal, Tswana Fields, and part of the Swaziland-Eastern Transvaal covered the territory of the present day Trans-Orange Conference.

This turned out to be short lived, and in 1963, the Northern Transvaal, Southern Transvaal, and Twana Fields merged to form the Transvaal Field. The Transvaal Field in turn became the Oranje-Transvaal Field (also known as the Trans-Oranje Field) when the mission fields were realigned again with the formation of the Southern Union Conference in 1966.

The TOC is the grandchild of the North Bantu Mission Field and the child of the Trans-Oranje Field (TOF). The first president was Percy V. Msimang, who led the church during difficult times. The apartheid government had violently clamped down and incarcerated liberation activists, some of whom were Adventists. A number escaped into nearby countries.

Msimang led the church when laymen from Johannesburg, and Soweto especially, agitated for autonomy from White church leadership. The General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists’ archives has the Memorandum from the laity of that time, as well as the one from the Memorandum Movement of 1984–1986. The TOC has been noted for its most socially revolutionary laity in the Southern Africa Union Conference and the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division.

The North Bantu Mission Field region comprised the whole of the present territory of the TOC, including Botswana and Swaziland. When Botswana became independent politically in 1966, it was attached to the Zambesi Union with offices in Bulawayo in Zimbabwe. Swaziland became an autonomous territory in September 1968, the month of its independence from Britain. The present territory of the TOC comprises Gauteng, Limpopo, Mpumalanga, North West, and parts of the Northern Cape and Free State Provinces. 

The TOC was organized as a conference in the KwaThema Church in the Gauteng Province in March 1980. The first president was Pastor Z. N. S. Fosi. The Secretary-Treasurer was Pastor Aubrey Nzimande. The office was in the Soweto Tabernacle in Soweto township. Later the offices relocated to Orange Grove in Johannesburg. The present office was the office of the defunct Southern Union Conference.

The TOC covers the same territory as the Northern Conference of South Africa. By the time work began among the Black people in the Transvaal territory, the Natal-Transvaal Conference (predecessor of the Northern Conference of South Africa) was already organized, but the political climate in South Africa at the time caused the work to be aligned along racial lines. For many years the White constituency and the Black constituency continued to serve different churches in the same area. The General Conference condemned the Apartheid regime, which existed in South Africa and convened calls for unity among Seventh-day Adventist Church organizations that were still racially divided.

In 1983 the church in South Africa was separated from the divisions in Africa due to the racial segregation that prevailed at the time. The South African and Southern Union Conferences were placed as attached fields to the General Conference. Shortly thereafter the General Conference initiated appeals to churches in South Africa to become united once more. The merging between the South African and Southern Union Conferences in December 1991 was a milestone for the church in South Africa. Local conferences were left to follow the example set by the union conference.

Multiple discussions took place between the Transvaal Conference and the Trans-Orange Conference, including a joint business session in 2006 that proved to be unfruitful. Presently, both local conferences still operate in the same territory, serving different churches, although they are no longer racially exclusive. Both conferences are receptive to people of all races and nationalities, although the Trans-Orange Conference continues to have a larger Black membership.

A crisis in the years preceding 2013 changed the outlook of the conference drastically. In 2013 the Southern Africa Union Conference (SAU) called a special business session of the TOC to consider a crisis created by the TOC officers and executive committee. This special session took place in Bloemfontein in the auditorium of the South African Union Conference Headquarters. The SAU called this meeting to report how an action taken by the TOC executive committee regarding the Diswilmar Farm caused TOC and the SAU to be liable for damages in a lawsuit that amounted to millions of South African Rands. The SAU convened this meeting to avert the lawsuit by asking the TOC to intervene and give a directive.

This constituent meeting resolved to remove for cause all the incumbent officers and executive committee members. This action prompted the Alberton group to break away from the TOC the following year in 2014. This breakaway group was led by the officers and departmental leaders who were removed from office by the constituency meeting convened by the Southern Africa Union Conference. They claimed many sympathizers from among new believers who have not been part of the church’s long history and struggle to maintain unity. The future of the Alberton Church is uncertain. We can only speculate from the past about previous movements of this type in the history of global Adventism. At present Alberton churches are active and seem to have no intention to be reconciled to the TOC.

The following are the challenges to the present mission and ministry of the conference:

  • a rapidly growing urban population with a diverse lingual culture;

  • a rising number of persons from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries and beyond;

  • a rising numbers of other Christian denominations and geographic communities for mission in this region;

  • rising levels of moral declension and criminality;

  • urbanization of members and associated sophistication;

  • modernization and technicalization of church life;

  • severe decline of interest in Adventist education. The TOC has shut down nineteen schools since 1955. The TOC has grown to become a secularistic church, especially its senior youth.

  • rising secularism and what is called a “Mall Model” of the church. Many senior youths no longer locate their allegiance to a specific church. They shop around for programs of interest to them. Membership is very mobile. We face the same challenge addressed by the Church of Refuge document of the North American Division. Urbanization mixed with absolute lack of Adventist education in the TOC is wreaking havoc on the spirituality and commitment of the senior youth of the church in this conference.

  • an inordinate increase in the politicization of church matters, especially around session seasons.

Future Outlook

Continuous efforts are made by the TOC administration to foster unity and reconciliation between the conference and the Alberton breakaway group. Considerable effort has been put forth by the TOC to reclaim members, churches, pastors, and institutions from Alberton.10 The TOC works to reclaim all those who separated from the conference constituency in fulfillment of Christ’s prayer that we may all be one (John 17:21).

The TOC prioritizes the spiritual nurture and maturity of its membership that would ensure holistic and balanced faithfulness. The TOC anticipates double membership through comprehensive evangelism by pastors and lay persons by engaging everyone in the Total Member Involvement strategy of the world Seventh-day Adventist Church. The TOC constantly strives toward attaining sustainable financial viability “through faithfulness in stewardship involving comprehensive capacity building–entrepreneurship, personal finance, asset development, and ownership and risk management.”11 Within the scope of the growth trajectory are ensuring proper church governance and adequate human resource management within the conference and improved general stakeholder relations management.

A TOC Directory Application is available on Google Play Store. This application provides current and updated contact information of local church clerks, elders, as well as the location of churches. IT personnel are working toward having the application available on Apple Store in the future.12

The Orlando West Primary School has recently been reclaimed from the Alberton group following three years of “ceaseless consultations and a good number of visits to the school to be able to convince the administration and teachers that the TOC cannot have the school administered properly under two administrations.”13 Strategic plans are already in place to support the planting of Adventist schools in various districts of the conference on the local church level. To this effect, a site visit was made to a farm site in Magalisberg with the intention to establish a Mathematics, Sciences, and Engineering Technology (MSET) boarding school in the near future.14

The TOC owns a farm in Magaliesburg in Gauteng, South Africa. The farm keeps Bonsmaras, which is a breed of cattle and bull cows. The conference hopes to increase this livestock through purchase and natural reproduction. The cattle will be auctioned from time to time in order to invest financial capital into the conference, making the conference less dependent on tithes and offerings for its operation.15 Agricultural activities on the farm include planting and harvesting mielies and sunflower, which are staple products of South Africa’s economy. Future plans for the available grounds on the farm include constructing upmarket chalets for holiday goers, a school, and a conference center.

List of Presidents

Transvaal Mission Field

J. R. Campbell (1922–1924)

Transvaal-Delgoa Mission Field

J. R. Campbell (1927–1933)

South African Mission Field

J. R. Campbell (1933–1936)

North Bantu Mission Field

L. S. Billes (1936–1939); J. G. Siepman (1939–1947); G. A. Lewis (1947–1949); J. D. Harcombe (1950–1955); I. E. Schultz (1956, 1957); M. M. Webster (1957–1961)

Tswana Field

W. M. Tshefu (1961–1963)

Northern Transvaal Field

S. G. Mkwananzi (1961–1963)

Southern Transvaal Field

P. V. Msimang (1961–1963)

Transvaal Field

P. V. Msimang (1963–1967)

Oranje-Transvaal Field

W. M. Tshefu (1967–1969)

Trans-Orange Conference

P. M. Mabena (1969–1971); W. M. Sojola (1971–1979); Z. N. S. Fosi (1979–1981); C. K. Moepeng (1981–1983); A. B. Koopedi (1983–1986); P. M. Mawela (1986–1989); S. B. M. Motha (1988–1992); S. N. Mahamba (1992–1995); P. M. Mawela (1995–1998); T. Letseli (1998–2001); T. Kunene (2001–2006); M. B. Molopa (2006, 2007); A. M. Sitsiba (2007–2013); J. M. Mongwe (2013–2016); D. P. Shongwe (2016–present)

Sources

Anakoka, Mufungulwa Maurice. “Session Education Report.” Johannesburg, South Africa: Trans-Orange Conference Triennial Business Session Report 2017 – 2019, October 2–6, 2019.

General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Office of Archives and Statistics. Annual Statistical Report. Silver Spring, MD: General Conference of Seventh-day Aventists, 2020.

Makuwa, P. S. Makuwa. “Executive Secretariat 13th Constituency Meeting Report 2017–2019.” Johannesburg, South Africa: Trans-Orange Conference Triennial Business Session Report 2017 – 2019, October 2–6, 2019.

Maseko, T. “Trans-Orange Conference Adventist Youth Ministries Report 2017–2019.” Johannesburg, South Africa: Trans-Orange Conference Triennial Business Session Report 2017–2019, October 2–6, 2019.

Mbatha, Z. O. “Adventist Community Service Session Report 2017–2019.” Johannesburg, South Africa: Trans-Orange Conference Triennial Business Session Report 2017–2019, October 2–6, 2019.

Nhlapo, Clifford Nhlapo. Tears of the Black Pulpit. Wandsbeck, South Africa: Reach Publishers, 2010.

Rantsoabe, Mpho. “Report of MOWCS TOC Presented to the Business Session of the Trans Orange Conference.” Johannesburg, South Africa: Trans-Orange Conference Triennial Business Session Report 2017–2019, October 2–6, 2019.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1920 and 1937.

Shongwe, D. P. “President’s Report.” Johannesburg, South Africa: Trans-Orange Conference Triennial Business Session Report 2017–2019, October 2–6, 2019.

TOC Media SDA. “TOC Farm Tour.” March 25, 2018. Video, 7:59. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaBqdiXhrdY.

Notes

  1. General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Office of Archives and Statistics, Annual Statistical Report (Silver Spring, MD: General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, 2020), 28.

  2. T. Maseko, “Trans-Orange Conference Adventist Youth Ministries Report 2017–2019,” Johannesburg, South Africa: Trans-Orange Conference Triennial Business Session Report 2017–2019, October 2–6, 2019, 80.

  3. Z. O. Mbatha, “Adventist Community Service Session Report 2017–2019,” Johannesburg, South Africa: Trans-Orange Conference Triennial Business Session Report 2017–2019, October 2–6, 2019, 178.

  4. Mpho Rantsoabe, “Report of MOWCS TOC Presented to the Business Session of the Trans Orange Conference,” Johannesburg, South Africa: Trans-Orange Conference Triennial Business Session Report 2017–2019, October 2–6, 2019, 230.

  5. Clifford Nhlapo, Tears of the Black Pulpit (Wandsbeck, South Africa: Reach Publishers, 2010), 125.

  6. “Southern Union Mission,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1920), 205.

  7. Nhlapo, Tears, 36.

  8. “North Bantu Mission Field,” Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1937), 190.

  9. Nhlapo, Tears, 41.

  10. D. P. Shongwe, “President’s Report,” (Johannesburg, South Africa: Trans-Orange Conference Triennial Business Session Report 2017 - 2019, October 2–6, 2019), 7.

  11. Shongwe, “President’s Report,” 8.

  12. P. S. Makuwa, “Executive Secretariat 13th Constituency Meeting Report 2017–2019,” Johannesburg, South Africa: Trans-Orange Conference Triennial Business Session Report 2017–2019, October 2–6, 2019, 25.

  13. Shongwe, “President’s Report,” 8.

  14. Mufungulwa Maurice Anakoka, “Session Education Report,” Johannesburg, South Africa: Trans-Orange Conference Triennial Business Session Report 2017–2019, October 2–6, 2019, 127.

  15. TOC Media SDA, “TOC Farm Tour,” March 25, 2018, video, 7:59, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaBqdiXhrdY.

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Nkosi, Thula, Grant Lottering. "Trans-Orange Conference." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 28, 2021. Accessed January 19, 2022. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=8DDD.

Nkosi, Thula, Grant Lottering. "Trans-Orange Conference." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. April 28, 2021. Date of access January 19, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=8DDD.

Nkosi, Thula, Grant Lottering (2021, April 28). Trans-Orange Conference. Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved January 19, 2022, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=8DDD.