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South African Zionism, one of the most popular Christian movements in modern South Africa, has frequently been interpreted in narrowly indigenous terms, as a local, black appropriation of Christianity, heavily invested in orality and ritual performance. The correspondence of the twentieth-century Zionist minister Isaiah Moteka tells a different story. Moteka honed the craft of letter-writing in order to build and sustain his relationship with Zion, Illinois, the headquarters of the worldwide Zionist church. Through the exchange of letters across the Atlantic, Moteka affirmed his own and his congregants’ place within a multiracial Zion diaspora. And through their complex invocation of overlapping local and global affiliations, Moteka's writings proclaimed his standing both as a regional clergyman and as a cosmopolitan internationalist. In particular, these ambiguous missives became the platform for Moteka's engagement with apartheid-era state officials. Seeking to persuade state officials that his organization fell under ‘white’ supervision, Moteka's letters proclaimed his accreditation by Zion, Illinois, thereby casting himself as a deputy of the worldwide movement. But these documents’ citation of transatlantic loyalties also suggests Moteka's own conflicted loyalties. His letters asserted loyalty to the nation state while they simultaneously subordinated earthly power to the Kingdom of God.


Le sionisme sud-africain, l'un des mouvements chrétiens les plus populaires de l'Afrique du Sud moderne, a fréquemment été interprété, dans des termes indigènes étroits, comme une appropriation noire locale de la chrétienté, fortement ancrée dans l'oralité et le rituel. La correspondance du pasteur sioniste Isaiah Moteka, au XXème siècle, relate une histoire différente. M. Moteka cultivait l'art épistolaire afin de développer et d'entretenir sa relation avec la ville de Zion, dans l'Illinois, siège international de l'église sioniste. Dans cet échange de lettres transatlantique, M. Moteka affirmait sa place, et celle des membres de sa congrégation, au sein d'une diaspora sioniste multiraciale. Et les écrits de M. Moteka, à travers leur invocation complexe d'affiliations locales et mondiales qui se recoupent, révélaient son rang en tant que pasteur régional et internationaliste cosmopolite. En particulier, ces missives ambiguës devinrent la plate-forme du dialogue engagé par M. Moteka avec les responsables de l'État sud-africain pendant l'apartheid. Cherchant à persuader les responsables de l'État que son organisation relevait d'une supervision « blanche », les lettres de M. Moteka proclamaient son accréditation par Zion (Illinois), se présentant par là-même comme un fondé de pouvoir du mouvement mondial. Mais la citation, dans ces documents, d'allégeances transatlantiques suggère également que M. Moteka avait des allégeances conflictuelles. Ses lettres affirmaient son allégeance à l'État nation tout en subordonnant simultanément la puissance terrestre au Royaume de Dieu.

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K. Barber (2007) The Anthropology of Texts, Persons and Publics: oral and written culture in Africa and beyond. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

J. Cabrita (2014) Text and Authority in the South African Nazaretha Church. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

J. Fernandez (1978) ‘African religious movements’, Annual Review of Anthropology 7: 195234.

I. Hofmeyr (2013) Gandhi's Printing Press: experiments in slow reading. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.

C. Kidd (2006) The Forging of the Races: race and scripture in the Protestant Atlantic world, 1600–2000. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

J. Kiernan (1978) ‘Saltwater and ashes: some instruments of curing among some Zulu Zionists’, Journal of Religion in Africa 9 (1): 2732.

J. Kiernan (1990) ‘The canticles of Zion: song as word and action in Zulu Zionist discourse’, Journal of Religion in Africa 20 (2): 188204.

S. O'Brien (1986) ‘A transatlantic community of saints: the Great Awakening and the first Evangelical network, 1735–1755’, The American Historical Review 91 (4): 811–32.

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  • ISSN: 0001-9720
  • EISSN: 1750-0184
  • URL: /core/journals/africa
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