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AmaZioni History

John Alexander Dowie

The amaZioni trace their roots back to 19th century holiness movement and the subsequent rise of Pentecostalism on the verge of the 20th century. Among its pioneers was John Alexander Dowie (1847-1907), a Scottish minister who realized his vision of a “City of Zion” near Chicago in 1901. His teaching focused on Salvation, divine healing and holy living which spread through a tract called “Leaves of Healing”.

In South Africa the Leaves of healing were eagerly read by those interested in divine healing. Among them was Pieter Louis Le Roux (1865–1943), a student of Andrew Murray and a notable figure in amaZioni history. In 1893 he became a missionary of the Dutch Reformed Church to the Zulus in Wakkerstroom. Le Roux saw incredible growth in his ministry and after only seven years it counted two thousand members, three full-time evangelists, forty-six abashumayeli (lay preachers), and several “home visitors”.1

Le Roux eventually affiliated with Dowie’s church in Zion and in 1904 Dowie sent Daniel Bryant to South Africa as overseer of the Zion congregations that had formed there.1 Bryant appointed Le Roux as overseer over the Zion congregation in Pretoria. Le Roux, his wife and about 140 black amaZioni were baptized by threefold immersion in the Snake River at Wakkerstroom. “From the Wakkerstroom congregation came many future leaders of Zionist churches in South Africa, so that Wakkerstroom can be called the ‘Jerusalem’ of the amaZioni in South Africa”.2

The 1906 Azusa Street revival in Los Angeles sparked the flame for global missions in the Pentecostal movement. Two years later several Pentecostal missionaries who had links with Dowie’s Zion, arrived in South Africa. Among them was John G. Lake (1870-1935) who began holding “healing campaign” services in Doornfontain Johannesburg.

Within a short while about 1000 people attended the services every night. The revival atmosphere attracted English, Afrikaners, Zulus and Sothos to come together in worship.1 Although the initial intention of the Pentecostal missionaries had not been plant churches but to spark a revival in the established churches, the Doornfontein congregation eventually took over the 600-seater Zion tabernacle in Bree Street Johannesburg. Through these events Dowie’s Zion City holiness movement and Azusa Street Pentecostalism merged in South Africa.

However, the ethnic and spiritual unity that came with this revival did not last. Over the years a segregation between ethnic groups developed which reached a stage at which baptisms were held separately for blacks, coloureds, and whites. This development together with Le Roux’s departure from Wakkerstroom led to great confusion in the Zionist camp and several of the leaders began their own African-led Zion churches.

The first major break-away occurred in 1917 when Elias Mahlangu’s Zion Apostolic Church became the independent “Zion Apostolic Church of South Africa”. The independent movement continued to expand rapidly and in the following years more amaZioni offshoots emerged under the Zulu leaders Daniel Nkonyane, Edward Motuang and Engenas Lekganyane.

The largest offshoot today is Engenas Lekganyane’s Zion Christian Church (ZCC) which is also the largest African Independent Church (AIC) in all of southern Africa. Lekganyane is said to have received a divine call to ministry through a revelation that many people would follow him. He became a powerful preacher, winning many converts. The ZCC grew rapidly in numbers. In 1925 it already began with 926 members, by 1940 it was 8 500 strong, and two years later it had exploded to 55 congregations and 27.487 members spread across Zimbabwe, Botswana and the Northern Cape Province. Another year later, government sources estimated between 40.000 – 45.000 adherents.3

Edward Lekganyane succeeded his father Engenas and the ZCC continued to grow to 80.000 members in 1954. After Edward died prematurely from a heart attack in 1967, his son Barnabas (also called Ramarumo) succeeded him and has led the ZCC to this day.

Throughout the 20th century the emerging independent amaZioni churches gradually drifted further apart from it’s roots in Wakkerstroom and Doornfontain. With this independence it also became increasingly syncretistic, mixing African Traditional Religion with Christianity. A vast number of congregations have no knowledge of gospel at all.

In 1993 the “mother church“ in Zion Illinois which had gone through many breakaways refocused its attention on the amaZioni and the Zion Evangelical Ministry of Africa (ZEMA) came into being. It merged with the Mahon Mission which had ministered among a segment of the amaZioni. And because ZEMA serves as the official representative of the church in Zion Illinois it has been given a unique open door into the Zoinist churches where no other missionary has been able to go. Currently ZEMA runs 68 Bible college venues that are dedicated to equipping amaZioni leaders with biblical teaching and further opportunities of theological studies4. Missionaries have seen a tremendous hunger for the Word of God and there is still a vast field of ministry opportunities that awaits.

Source List

1. Hofmeyr, J.W. & Pillay, G.J. 1994:187. A History Of Christianity In South Africa. Volume 1. Pretoria:
HAUM Tertiary

2. Roy, K. 2000:103. Zion City RSA. The story of the church in South Africa. Cape Town: South African
Baptist Historical Society.

3. Anderson, A., 2000:70. Zion And Pentecost. The Spirituality and Experience of Pentecostal and Zionist
/ Apostolic Churches in South Africa. Pretoria: UNISA Press

4. http://www.zema.org/zion-evangelical-bible-schools.html  [Accessed 23th Feb 2018]

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