With the sun peeking through the Riviersonderend Mountains, lighting up the valley while an almost surreal stormy weather backdrop makes it’s way from the other side of the valley, you could say the scenery itself almost feels like spiritual endeavour of mother nature. The scenery of the village therefore certainly lives up to it’s name: The Valley of Grace.  

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‘The Valley of Grace’ is on display at the University of Pretoria, in collaboration with the Centre for Curating the Archives


The research and series are part of ‘Towards Freedom II’, an exhibition curated by Dr. Siona O’Connell.

Limited amount of fifteen per photograph. 

40 x 60 cm 

Printed on Hahnemühle Fine Art Photo Rag
€ 240,-

South African Rand 1900,-


In 1738 a German missionary of the Moravian Church arrived at Baviaanskloof, about an hour and a half drive from Cape Town. He then began to evangelize among the Khoi people that lived here. The Khoi people are South Africa’s indigenous people, in the past the Dutch settlers referred to them as ‘Hottentots’ (a derogatory term). Schmidt experienced a lot of opposition from the Cape Dutch Reformed church and the surrounding farmers of the Baviaanskloof area. They did not believe that the heathen Khoi should be taught to read and write because they needed laborers on their farms.

Khoi laborers started leaving the farms and moved to Baviaanskloof. Schmidt then began to baptize his converts. During the colonial period, Genadendal became a haven for many freed or escaped slaves and Khoi farm laborers. They’d see the mission station as a sanctuary where they could live in freedom as long as they converted to Christianity and became part of the Moravian congregation.

The colonists that governed South Africa at the time would leave Genadendal at peace because of the protection status it had, being a mission station. Even during apartheid the village was protected from displacement policies, which means that most families have lived in the village for generations and therefore feel a strong connection to their heritage up till this day.

The missionaries battled to hold onto the land and despite many attempts by settler farmers to take control over the land, they managed to preserve it as a mission post. Throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries Baviaanskloof remained a safe haven for the region’s Khoikhoi and freed slaves. The quaint little historical village just five kilometres outside of Greyton is described as the oldest mission village on the continent.

Today parts of the village are still reminiscent of the past. The hillside houses, painted yellow, to modify the effect of the sun, were surrounded with trees of dense foliage. The old water mill still grinds wheat. An old bell, formerly used to summon people to the church, children to the school, and to signal the beginning and end of shifts for workers in the fields, has been proclaimed an historical monument. Genadendal is not an ordinary town or village, it’s a national treasure and its preservation for generations to come is in the interest of South Africa. Nelson Mandela recognized the unique history of  the town by naming the Presidential Residence in Cape Town after Genadendal after he visited the village in 1995.

Missionary work and colonialism

The missionaries were constrained by their national governments to act as fronts for the colonial mercenaries. Missionaries, just like the ruling colonial regime and later apartheid regime, treated the Khoekhoe as savages when they first arrived here. For example, they thought the Khoi were ‘worshipping’ the moon and didn’t have a god. There were plenty of other derogative ‘misconceptions’. At this day, there is still discussion about the exhibitions at the ‘Genadendal’ museum. Inhabitants of the town feel the museum should display more of the history of the Khoi People. The focus of the museum lies on the missionaries and their impact on the town, where there are plenty of stories to be told. For example Khoi heroe Jan Paarl. The Khoikhoi leader Jan Paarl attempted to lead a revolt against the colonists, persuading his followers that the world would come to an end on 25 October 1788, and that all Christians must be killed by that date.

It is important to show the series in an academic context and tie the project to questions of slavery, land restitution and missionary work. Colonialism and missionary work were often intertwined and therefore I feel it's important to generate discussion and create awareness about these topics as there are plenty of examples where missionary work didn't have a positive impact on the villages. An example for this is Elandskloof, also in the Western Cape. The Dutch Reformed Church purchased land, today still known as Elandskloof, and established a missionary station. They would have people from Khoi descent working on the land as tenants. During the apartheid era In 1961, the church sold the land to a farmer and scrapped the missionary purpose that was stated in the contract, the inhabitants scattered over the Western Cape after cruel evictions by the farmers.

The Land Issue

In the case of Genadendal, the land was ceased to the church by the state and held in trust by the church so the Khoi descendants and freed slaves were able to live here for generations. ‘Anyone able to claim familial ties to the village has a right to a plot of the land’.

Over the centuries the power of the church has declined and therefore the land is now held in trust by the municipality. The residents now fear for gentrification since the central government doesn’t see the entire village as trust land. They make a distinction between communal agricultural land surrounding the village and a separate residential area.

They view the residential area as a separate entity where they can demand property tax and where municipal laws apply. Residents, fearful of gentrification, now argue that the land, both residential and agricultural, belongs to everyone in the village. Individual ownership does not exist. Therefore the municipality shouldn’t be able to allow the sale of residential plots to the public. Residents are concerned that the village will lose its character.

Since the arrival of the Dutch and other European settlers, the Khoi who lived here along the Sondereinde River and elsewhere faced a battle to protect their land. The Moravian missionaries managed to secure the mission station for the last remaining Khoikhoi in the region. Within a few decades the first people of this region lost all their land and cattle. At this day therefore the people from Genadendal feel it’s important that their land and cultural heritage must be protected. 

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