Zion Christian Church

Johanneke Kroesbergen-Kamps



1885: Engenas (Ignatius) Lekganyane, founder of the Zion Christian Church, was born.

1904:  A mass baptism in Wakkerstroom by missionaries from the Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion, Illinois, took place. A Zionist church was subsequently founded.

1908:  Under influence of two American missionaries, the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM) was founded. Many of the Wakkerstroom Zionists joined, but they insisted on keeping their name.

1910:  Engenas Lekganyane received his calling in a dream.

1912:  Engenas Lekganyane was baptized in the Zionist branch of the AFM.

1916:  The Zionist congregation within the AFM to which Lekganyane belonged seceded from the AFM and formed the Zion Apostolic Church (ZAC).

1916:  Engenas Lekganyane received his preaching credentials within the ZAC.

1919:  Another black congregation within the AFM broke away and became the Zion Apostolic Faith Mission (ZAFM), under leadership of Edward (Lion) Motaung.

1920:  Engenas Lekganyane joined the ZAFM with his followers from the Limpopo region.

1924-1925:  Engenas Lekganyane founded the Zion Christian Church after tensions with the ZAFM leadership.

1930:  A conflict with the local chief caused Engenas Lekganyane to find a new place to live.

1942:  With the help of church members, Engenas Lekganyane purchased a farm in Boyne, which became Zion City Moria, the headquarters of the church and site of an annual pilgrimage of ZCC members.

1948 (June 1):  Engenas Lekganyane died.

1949:  After a struggle over the leadership of the church, Engenas’ son Edward Lekganyane became the new leader. Engenas’ other son, Joseph, founded the St. Engenas Zion Christian Church.

1961:  Frederick Modise left the ZCC and founded the International Pentecostal Holiness Church.

1967 (October 21) Edward Lekganyane died. His son Barnabas Ramarumo Lekganyane was appointed leader under guardianship.

1975:  Barnabas Ramarumo Lekganyane assumed full leadership of the ZCC.

1992 (April 20):  President F.W. de Klerk, Nelson Mandela and Mangosuthu Buthelezi were present at the Easter service in Moria.


In South Africa, Christian Zionism and Pentecostalism have the same beginnings. The first quarter of the twentieth century is a time in which multiple churches were founded. These churches often have indigenous, black leaders and are founded independently from mainline mission churches, although religious ideas from overseas can bring the inspiration for church formation. The Zion Christian Church (ZCC) is South Africa’s biggest African-initiated or indigenous church.

Engenas (Ignatius) Barnabas Lekganyane, [Image at right] the future founder of the ZCC, was born around 1885 (or according to Morton (n.d. a) after 1890), in the tribal reservation of the Mamabolo, east of present-day Polokwane. This was a time of struggle, in the middle of the Anglo-Boer war, and the Mamabolo left the area, scattering in what is now Limpopo province. After 1904, the Mamabolo returned and bought farms in the area from which they came. During this time, Lekganyane attended an Anglican mission school (Morton n.d. a). Most of his family members became Anglicans. In 1909, after his schooling, he joined a Presbyterian church and started working in construction, while also training to be an evangelist. In 1910, Lekganyane heard a voice speaking to him in a dream, urging him to go and find a church which heals and baptizes in the river (Moripe 1996:18). For the ZCC, this event is the founding moment of the church (Rafapa 2013).

During the time of Engenas’ childhood, religious developments occurred in the United States that would be very influential for the development of Zionist Christianity in South Africa. In 1896, John Alexander Dowie started the Christian Catholic (Apostolic) Church (CCCZ) in Zion City, Illinois. The church believed in faith healing, baptism through threefold immersion and an imminent second coming, and Zion City was the idealistic community where the members of the church lived together according to their own rules. Dowie rejected racial boundaries, and his teachings inspired several missionaries to visit Africa (Kruger and Saayman 2014:29). The magazine of the church, The Leaves of Healing, had a worldwide subscription, and reached South Africa as well. Pieter Le Roux, a white pastor in the South African town of Wakkerstroom, was highly influenced by the church, and became a member in 1903, when he left the Dutch Reformed Church. He took most of the members of his congregation with him, and invited missionaries from the CCCZ to preach in South Africa. During this event, in 1904, more than 140 mainly black Christians (including Le Roux and his family) were baptized in the CCCZ way. This event was the start of an enduring fascination with Zion in South African religious life. It is not entirely clear how Le Roux named his congregation, which was part of the CCCZ branch in South Africa. “Zion” was definitely included in the name.

In 1908, two more missionaries with connections to the CCCZ came to South Africa. These two had left the CCCZ and received the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Azusa Street in 1906. Their mission was a success, and many white, Afrikaans-speaking South Africans were converted to their Pentecostal message. In those early days, black and white worshipers mingled easily (Sewapa 2016:20). Soon the missionaries also visited Pieter Le Roux and his congregation in Wakkerstroom. Pieter Le Roux was enthusiastic about the Pentecostal message of these missionaries, and he decided to join them in the newly founded Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM). Most of his congregation joined him, although they insisted on keeping their name, and became known as the Zionist Branch of the AFM. One of the members of the Wakkerstroom congregation was Elijah Mahlangu, who became the leader of a congregation in one of the townships in Johannesburg (Morton 2016). It seems that he used the name Zion Apostolic Church (ZAC), although the church formally was a part of the AFM.

Engenas Lekganyane came to the AFM/ZAC in 1911 or 1912 in search for a cure of a disease of his eye. According to some, his health problems were caused by a failure to follow his calling in a dream in 1910 (Moripe 1996:19). Elijah Mahlangu baptized him through threefold immersion in a flowing river, and healed his eye in the process. After this, Lekganyane returned to Limpopo to work, while also seeking his preaching credentials. Mahlangu supported Lekganyane, but he could not obtain the credentials from the white leadership of the AFM (Morton 2016). As a preacher, Lekganyane worked together with both Pieter Le Roux and Elijah Mahlangu in the AFM/ZAC. Following ever growing racial tensions within the AFM, Mahlangu and his congregation stepped out of the AFM, in 1916, and Lekganyane followed him. It seems that Lekganyane was ordained in the ZAC after the secession (Morton n.d. a).

It had become common in the ZAC to wear long white robes, such as the priests of the Old Testament would have worn. Also, male church members were encouraged to grow their beards. Within church services, shoes were not allowed. Lekganyane disagreed with these rules and came into conflict with Mahlangu. Another possible source of conflict was that some members preferred Lekganyane’s healing powers over those of other preachers. Some sources place a second vision experienced by Lekganyane around this time. Once, when praying on a mountain, God revealed himself to Lekganyane in a whirlwind that blew his hat away. Lekganyane asked God to do it again, and again his hat was blown away. This second time, the hat was upside down and filled with leaves. Lekganyane saw this as a sign that many people would follow him. In 1920, he left the ZAC with his congregation to join the Zion Apostolic Faith Mission (ZAFM) (Morton 2016). The ZAFM was founded in 1919, as the independent black branch of the AFM, with Edward Motaung (also known as Lion) as its leader. The ZAFM followed the example of Zion City in Illinois by purchasing a plot of land and founding Zion City in the village of Kolonyama in present-day Lesotho. Within the ZAFM Lekganyane became Bishop of the northern provinces, and he settled again in the area of the Mamabolo near Polokwane. In Zion City, Edward Motaung proclaimed himself “brother of Jesus” and introduced “sexual confession,” through which the women in the church were expected to sleep with him at certain times. For these sexual malpractices, Lion was officially thrown out of the AFM in 1923. It is not known what Lekganyane thought of these developments. He seems to have established a strong base of followers in Limpopo, and when disagreements between Lekganyane and the church leadership occurred, he founded the Zion Christian Church in late 1924 or early 1925. Engenas Lekganyane always kept Edward Motaung in high regard, and named one of his sons after him.

Lekganyane was a great healer, prophet, and miracle worker. He could cure diseases and problems like unemployment, is said to have foretold the defeat of Germany in WW I, and was also known as a great rainmaker. In his home region near Polokwane, Lekganyane had many followers, who possibly were also attracted by the fact that he was the grandson of a famous traditional healer. But a struggle over power seems to have developed with the Mamabolo chief. Followers of Lekganyane brought him gifts and a portion of their harvest; they were treating him as a chief. When Lekganyane instated Wednesday prayer meetings for women, the chief declared that the women were to work on his fields on Wednesdays (Wouters 2014:61). A pregnant woman who refused to work on the chief’s land was given a beating and lost her baby. Lekganyane brought the chief to court, and the chief was ordered to pay the woman R 200. After this incident, Lekganyane could not stay on the lands of the Mamabole chief. He first moved to the lands of a nearby farm, and in 1942, with the help of his followers, he was able to buy a plot of land in Boyne, fifty km east of Polokwane, which he named Moria.

Engenas Lekganyane died after a prolonged illness in 1948. He did not name a successor, and his eldest son Barnabas died seven months after Engenas, before the traditional year-long period of mourning was finished (Wouters 2014:63). His surviving sons Edward and Joseph were both in line for succession. While Edward was working in Johannesburg at the time of his father’s death, Joseph was by his side in Moria. In the end, Edward became the leader of the biggest group, which retained the name ZCC, and he chose a five-pointed star as its symbol. Engenas’ son Joseph founded a new church, called the St. Engenas ZCC, with a dove as its symbol. Joseph stayed on the original Moria plot, while Edward established himself some 1.5 km from there.

Edward Lekganyane lived from 1928 to 1967. He invested much time and energy in preaching in the urban townships of the provinces Gauteng, Limpopo and Mpumalanga (Morton n.d. b). While Engenas was a charismatic leader who received his authority from his gifts of healing and prophecy, Edward took up the role of a more administrative bishop (Anderson 1999:292). It was Edward who transformed Moria into a true Zion City. [Image at right] He established the popular brass band that greets pilgrims to Moria in 1951, and built the church at Moria, which was completed in 1962 (Müller 2011:14). He was also a pragmatic leader who kept close ties to the Apartheid government, inviting government representatives to the Easter celebration in Moria in 1965. From 1963 to 1966 Edward received theological training at a Dutch Reformed college for evangelists close to Moria, a decision of which not everyone approved.

During Edward Lekganyane’s leadership, the largest breakaway from the ZCC happened when Frederick Modise started his church, the International Pentecostal Holiness Church (IPHC). Modise was the minister of a ZCC church in Soweto, and also a relatively wealthy businessman. After a streak of misfortune (robbery, bankruptcy, illness and the death of his children) Modise found himself penniless and in hospital. In September 1962, while in hospital, Modise heard a voice telling him to pray, and had a vision of a multitude of people kneeling down and praying. He subsequently received the gift of spiritual healing. After praying for a number of patients in the hospital, who were healed, he was healed and discharged himself in October 1962. After this experience, Modise started his own church. Like the ZCC, the IPHC is a church in which healing is very important. It also differs from the ZCC on a number of accounts. The IPHC is a sabbath church, celebrating the Lord’s day on the Saturday instead of the Sunday. Also, the IPHC is strongly posed against traditional African practices, such as the veneration of ancestors, while the ZCC incorporates these in its practices (Anderson 1992).

After Edward Lekganyane’s death of a heart attack in 1967, his son Barnabas Ramarumo was appointed the new leader of the ZCC. Because Barnabas at the time was only thirteen years-old, a superintendent was appointed to take care of the church business. This superintendent was first L. Mohale. After a year, however, he was replaced by M. Letsoalo, who led the church until 1975, when Barnabas was twenty-one and assumed leadership of the church. Not much is known about Barnabas Lekganyane. He is called “a secretive leader” in some publications, and rarely speaks to journalists or researchers. Like his father, Barnabas underwent some theological training by taking a Bible correspondence course (Müller 2011:15). He also followed his father in keeping a close relationship with the Apartheid government. Barnabas Lekganyane is the leader of the ZCC to this day.


Despite its many members and relatively long existence, the academic and other literature on the ZCC is quite scarce. The church is hesitant in opening itself up to scholars or journalists, and secrecy is an important element in the member’s conception of the church. Publications of the church itself are not readily available, and the church leaders deliver their views in sermons rather than in books. The fact that the church does not have its own theological college probably contributes to an absence of clear doctrines. Doctrines are just not a very important aspect of the church for its members. Members join the ZCC because they seek healing, blessing, and protection against evil. Sermons and other rational expositions of the faith do not convert members to the ZCC, but miracles and healings do (Moripe 1996:108f).

According to the constitution, the aim of the ZCC is to spread the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the world (Moripe 1996:223). The ZCC is a Christian church, influenced by the teachings of Alexander Dowie’s CCCZ, and grafted on African maps of the universe. Like the CCCZ, the ZCC has founded its own Zion City, in Moria. Alexander Dowie founded his Zion City as refuge in which Christians could follow their own rules of living. Like the CCCZ, the ZCC forbids the use of tobacco, drugs, alcohol and pork, and practices baptism by threefold immersion in naturally flowing water. In South Africa, the idea of a Zion City acquired even more meaning. Land is an emotional and sensitive issue in Southern Africa, where many black Africans feel cheated out of their lands by white settlers, colonial governments and even mission churches. This was the case in the beginning of the twentieth century, when many black Africans lost their lands in the Anglo-Boer War, as much as it is now (Sullivan 2013:26). Edward Motaung’s ZAFM was one of the first to found an African Zion City in what is now Lesotho. Engenas Lekganyane followed his example by purchasing land after his conflict with the Mamabolo chief, and building his own Zion City.

Another clear similarity to Alexander Dowie’s CCCZ is the church’s focus on healing. To understand healing in the ZCC, however, it is important to sketch the more general context of African traditional notions on which it is grafted. In as far as African Traditional Religions (ATRs) had a concept of a supreme God, this God often was remote and unapproachable by mere humans. The spirits of the ancestors, on the other hand, were able to assist in daily matters. All problems within the physical world were believed to have been caused by disturbances in the spiritual world. These problems can be related to health, but also to failure in any undertaking, such as business, farming or marriage. From an African perspective, there is no clear distinction between physical health and a range of other problems that can affect one’s well-being. According to African ideas about healing, a mediator between ordinary people and the spirit world is necessary. A ruler or chief often has such a mediating role on the level of the community. If the ruler is in good standing with the spirit world, his community will thrive. Diviners were important religious specialists who could discern problems within the spiritual world, such as an offended ancestor or an attack by evil spirits, sorcerers or witches, and prescribe the ritual actions and medicines needed to restore well-being.

Similar to most ATRs, the ZCC is a church that is focused on overcoming afflictions in this world, rather than on salvation in the next. Within the church, the bishop, a position inhabited by three generations of Lekganyanes up until now, has the role of a mediator with the spiritual world for his people. Through the bishop, blessings can be accessed by members of the ZCC. On a more personal level, the prophets within the ZCC are mediators as well. They have a gift to discern which problems in the spiritual world cause a lack of well-being in the physical world. Within the ZCC, these problems are generally framed in a Christian way, as the result of sinning and as the result of evil spirits. In some cases, witchcraft or sorcery may also be pointed out as a cause (Wouters 2014:106). Sinning is believed to cause a withdrawal of the protection of the Holy Spirit, thereby leaving members vulnerable to evil spirits and witches or sorcerers. A confession of sins is therefore in almost all cases imperative for healing to occur. The ZCC prophet receives this information not only through the Holy Spirit, but also, like the diviner, from the ancestors. According to ZCC members, a person possessed by an ancestor-spirit can become a diviner, or, if baptized in the ZCC, a prophet (Anderson 1999:302). Like diviners, the prophets are called through dreams and an experience of prolonged illness. In a period of apprenticeship, the prophets are trained in the interpretation of dreams and the diagnosis and healing of afflictions.


The ZCC is a very visible church within South Africa, mainly because of the uniforms worn by its members. Uniforms are important in many AICs. While most other Zionist churches prefer white robes, the ZCC have chosen a more military-style uniform, reminiscent of both British imperial troops and modern South African civil servants, for its male members (Comaroff 1985:243). This uniform is worn only to church.But male members often wear the cap belonging to the uniform in daily life as well. Also, ZCC members always wear a badge with a silver five-pointed star with ZCC engraved on it. [Image at right] ZCC members always wear a badge with a silver five-pointed star with ZCC engraved on it. This practice was introduced by Engenas Lekganyane in 1928. The badge is pinned on a circular black piece of cloth, which is pinned on a rectangular dark-green piece of cloth. The badge is worn on a member’s clothing, on the left side of the chest. The badge is worn every day. This makes it easy for members to recognize each other, and gives a sense of belonging and family (Wouters 2014:125). The badge is also believed to protect the wearer from all kinds of misfortune (Hanekom 1975:3).

Unlike the badge, which is worn every day, the uniform is worn only in a ritual setting. The uniforms can only be acquired by baptized ZCC members. For men, a dark bottle-green uniform is the most formal. The collars of the suit of church officials are braided with yellow. Evangelists have one yellow stripe on the bottom of their sleeves, ministers have two yellow stripes on the bottom of their sleeves, while the bishop has three stripes. For women, the formal uniform is a bottle-green skirt with a yellow blouse and a bottle-green headscarf. Blue trimmings on the yellow blouse show a member’s status (Wouters 2014:135). A blue ribbon attached to the collar is for minister’s wives. A loose blue ribbon hanging around the neck signifies that the wearer is a supervisor of female members and visitors on the church grounds.

Members of the female and male choirs have their own, different, uniforms. The most well-know of these are the mokhuku, a group of male choir dancers. [Image at right]They wear a khaki jacket and trousers, a yellowish shirt and a brown tie. With the uniform also comes a military style black hard cap with the ZCC star attached to the front. This is the cap that may be worn in everyday life as well. Mokhuku members wear large white boots with thick rubber soles. Being a mokhuku member can be very time and energy consuming. Their dance consists of jumping and stamping on the ground, a practice that reminds of Zulu war dances. Symbolically, this type of dancing is believed to “stamp evil underfoot” by trampling it in the dust (Moripe 1996:101). They perform after the Friday night service and before the Sunday afternoon service; and have additional practice sessions on Saturday and during the week.

There are not many ZCC church buildings. Services take place in houses, school classrooms and especially in the open air. There are church services on Wednesday, especially for women, on Friday, and on Sunday. The main service of the ZCC is on Sunday afternoon. Like in any Christian church service, there are prayers, Bible readings, songs to be sung and a sermon. However, ZCC church services have their particularities as well. Before entering the church grounds congregants are sprinkled with water. This water cleanses the participants in the church service from pollution (Wouters 2014:115f), and it is also said to reveal any sickness (Anderson 2000:149). Before the church service starts, choirs such as the mokhuku and the female choir perform in an open space in front of the place where the service is held. Also, attendees of the service dance together in a circle to call down the presence of the Holy Spirit. There dance moves resemble the dances of the Pedi-speaking people, with men making long jumps, and women dancing in more shuffling motions. This is the only occasion in which men and women dance and sing together, although the men dance on one side of the circle and the women on the other side (Wouters 2014:187).

The service consists of songs, prayer and preaching. During the service, the baruti (ministers) are seated on a platform at the far end of the space. They do the preaching, often several in succession. Although women preach during the services on Wednesdays, they are not allowed on this platform (Wouters 2014:121). In the audience, men and women sit separately. When facing the platform, women are seated on the left side and men on the right side. Women and men are grouped together according to the uniform they wear. [Image at right] Preaching is often centered on testimonies of healing and other personal narratives, told in response to the reading of some Bible verses. During church services, prophets, led by the Holy Spirit, go around and single out members of the congregation. Sometimes messages from the divine are conveyed within the service; at other times the congregation member is taken to a secluded space for a personal consult. Hearing the sermon seems to be secondary to receiving healing.

Prophecy in the ZCC is a ministry that includes both healing and pastoral care. Any problematic situation can be brought before the prophets for their assistance. The most common kind of prophecy is diagnostic prophecy, aimed at discerning the cause of an ailment. After the cause of a lack of well-being is discovered, the prophet prescribes a course of action, such as praying or reading the Bible, using water, tea or coffee, or even wearing a particular uniform (Wouters 2014:161). Blessed objects also may be used, such as strips of cloth, strings, needles, or walking sticks. Often the prescriptions of the prophet entail the healing acts of a minister, such as preparing the healing liquids, executing protective rituals, and blessing objects. The most common method of healing in the ZCC is the sprinkling and consumption of blessed water. The water becomes blessed through the prayer by a minister or by the bishop himself. It is this prayer that gives the water its healing quality. Sprinkling blessed water on objects and persons is believed to purify, bless and protect them. Besides water, the ZCC also uses special tea and coffee for healing purposes. Of all the healers active in the church, the bishop is said to have the strongest powers of healing and blessing. Even the current bishop is still requested to visit areas that experience drought to bring the rains (Wouters 2014:171). ZCC members are hesitant to use biomedicine, although it does not seem to be forbidden. Medical attention can fix certain health problems, while the healing in the ZCC can subsequently remove the original cause of the problem (Wouters 2014:219).

The most important sacrament in the ZCC is baptism of adult members. [Image at right] Non-members are not allowed to watch this ritual. Young people from the age of eighteen are encouraged to be baptized. Because becoming a ZCC  member requires commitment to strict rules and taboos, it is only adult members, and not children, that can be baptized. Before baptism, new prospective ZCC members are guided by older members to learn the behavioral rules of the ZCC. After this period of training, an interview with some elders of the same gender is held. The ZCC practices baptism through full immersion, preferably in running water like a river. Before entering the water, the prospective member must confess their sins. The ZCC follows the method of threefold immersion by a minister, similar to Dowie’s church in Zion. Baptism is seen as a cleansing and healing ritual. Complete health is only attainable after baptism (Wouters 2014:153). After baptism a member is allowed to wear the ZCC uniform and the badge. Marriage does not seem to be an important ritual occasion for the ZCC. ZCC members are allowed to practice polygamy, which is legal in South Africa. Due to the hard economic conditions and the emancipation of women, marrying more than one wife is, however, not very common.

Members are expected to visit the headquarters of the church in Zion City Moria [Image at right] at least once a year, either at the Easter conference or at the conference in September. Every year up to a million of ZCC members flock to Moria to receive the blessing of the bishop in their lives (Kruger and Saayman 2014:29). Especially the assemblies every Easter attract thousands of believers. Zion City Moria has become a center of ritual power, a place of blessing, of deliverance and of healing, where one can be close to the powers of the divine (Anderson 1999:297). While the Easter Conference is the most important, the Conference in September is also well-attended. This conference is regarded as a New Year festival and a festival of thanks for the harvest (Moripe 1996:65). This festival resonates with the first fruit festivals that are known from many ATRs. One of the most important duties of the bishop, and certainly his most visible duty, is to preside over the annual conferences held in Moria. The  high point of the pilgrimage is the welcoming of pilgrims by the bishop, leading a procession of his own brass band (Müller 2011:116). Communion is only administered by the bishop at the two annual conferences in Moria.


Already in 1925, less than a year after founding the church, Engenas Lekganyane attempted to receive official recognition and registration of his church from the government. In his application, Lekganyane claimed to have 925 adherents in fifteen different congregations. A number of factors probably contributed to the rejection of this application. At that time, indigenous churches were perceived by the government as sources of protest and action towards liberation. In 1921, the police had clashed with another religious group, leaving 163 followers dead. To disapprove Lekganyane’s application may have been part of an attempt to discourage the formation of indigenous African religious bodies (Anderson 1999:289). Another reason may be that Edward Motaung’s ZAFM was seeking accreditation at the same time, and that Lekganyane’s followers were mentioned as ZAFM members on his application. This led to doubt whether Lekganyane really had the following that he claimed (Wouters 2014:59).

The ZCC grew rapidly, from 926 members in 1926 to about 2.000 in 1935, to 8.500 in 1940 and 27.487 in 1942. Sotho-speakers form the largest group of members, but the church has members from different ethnic backgrounds, and is active in Botswana and other Southern African countries as well. According to the 2001 census in South Africa, the ZCC had about 5,000,000 adherents, which means that eleven percent of South Africans and 13.9 percent of Christians in South Africa belonged to the ZCC. According to the church itself, there are currently 16,000,000 members worldwide, especially in Southern Africa.

The bishop is the paramount leader of the church. Only the three generations of Lekganyanes in leadership of the church have ever received the title of bishop. Although the bishop is a very important figure in the ZCC, and his role is to mediate between God and his people, the Lekganyanes have always rejected any messianic or divine claims about their leadership. Sometimes, ZCC members pray to the God of Engenas, Edward and Barnabas. Other churches have interpreted this as an attribution of divine status to the bishops. Anderson, on the other hand, interprets the invocation as placing God within an African context, just as Isrealites may pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Anderson 1999:296).

As leader of the church, the bishop has absolute power and authority in all church matters (Moripe 1996:157). According to the constitution, the bishop has authority over all office-bearers of the church, and he settles all questions of law. His interpretation of the constitution is final. The bishop is assisted by the general secretary, the inner council, and the executive church council. The general secretary has a full-time position, and he is responsible for church correspondence and all daily matters affecting the church (Moripe 1996:160). All funds raised by the church are brought to the General Secretary, who transfers them into the church’s bank account. The executive church council consists of senior ministers, who are called pillars (Moripe 1996:154). The executive church council deals with matters brought up by congregations through the district councils. It also appoints the members of the district council from the office bearers of congregation in that region. The chairman of the district council is appointed according to his seniority. The general secretary and the members of the executive church council are appointed by the bishop. Next to this executive body there exists an inner council, which acts as an advisory board to the bishop. This inner council consists mostly of family members (Wouters 2014:170) and is responsible for the election of a new bishop after the death of the previous bishop. In all previous cases of succession, the deceased bishop has been succeeded by the eldest surviving son of his first wife.

According to the constitution of the church, every congregation should have at least twenty-five members and an ordained minister (Moripe 1996:109). The minister is chosen by the congregation. He usually lives within the congregation and faces the same financial challenges as the members of his congregation. Although theological training is encouraged, the ZCC does not have its own theological college or Bible school. Not many ministers have received formal theological training. A minister should have leadership qualities and a good character, rather than a high level of education (Moripe 1996:155). The formal duties of the minister are to preach the Gospel, to pray for the sick and lay his hands on them, to consecrate children, to baptize believers, to administer Holy Communion, to bury the dead and to solemnize marriages (Moripe 1996:158). In practice, there are some deviations of these constitutional duties. It is the prerogative of the bishop to administer the Holy Communion at the annual conference in Moria. Ministers also do not often bury the dead, because the lengthy purification rituals after coming in contact with a dead body would impact on his other duties. After a burial, for example, a minister is not allowed to lay hands onto a sick person for seven days (Moripe 1996:46).

Evangelists, lay preachers and deacons may also be active within a congregation. Evangelists help the minister in his duties, and they have the highest authority after the minister (Moripe 1996:155). Evangelists have similar duties as the minister, but they are not allowed to solemnize marriages. Deacons are not allowed to solemnize marriages or consecrate children. Lay preachers are only allowed to preach and pray for healing, and to bury the dead. The minister may appoint church members to be leaders of church classes. A local church council, elected from the congregation and presided by the minister, supervises the affairs of the congregation, especially with regards to finances and the resolution of conflicts with the minister.

Next to this formal hierarchy exists the body of prophets, who do not hold an office. Prophets are, however, highly respected and may speak with more authority than members of the formal hierarchy (Moripe 1996:92f). There is no formal structure to affirm prophets or prophecies. Prophecies of respected prophets are accepted on their authority. The prophecies of junior prophets may be verified by senior prophets, especially if they concern the whole church or imply accusations of witchcraft or sorcery (Moripe 1996:154).

Local congregations as well as the church as a whole have committees devoted to conflict resolution, called kgoro. Members who have violated the rules of the church can be disciplined or reprimanded by this committee. Although warnings predominate, a member may also be ordered to pay a fine. The fine is paid, in money or livestock, to the bishop, who decides how to utilize these assets (Moripe 1996:161).


The stance of the church regarding political power has been criticized as well as lauded. Especially during the Apartheid era their quietism and political non-involvement has led to protests against the ZCC (Müller 2015:7) ZCC members themselves see the church as promoting peace, and emphasizing peaceful cooperation with whatever the ruling government is (Wouters 2014:176).

The South African government was at first hesitant to acknowledge the church. But by the 1950s, the government’s ideas towards churches had shifted under influence of the Apartheid ideology. Now, indigenous black churches were encouraged because of their independence, which could be interpreted as separatism. Classical mission churches, on the other hand, were seen as troublesome for their criticisms on racial segregation. The ZCC, as a black church, fitted well within a segregated South Africa. On the other hand, the church has never adopted any ethnic restrictions, and its popularity within urban areas ensured an ethnically diverse membership (Müller 2015:7). The ZCC bishops have largely been quiet on issues of politics and ideology, while at the same time always striving to establish a good working relationship with the government. Church members were forbidden to take part in structured political protests (Anderson 1999:294). In 1960, just after the Sharpeville massacre in which the South African police opened fire on protesters and killed 69 of them, Edward Lekganyane invited the government to the Easter conference in Moria. In 1965, the government accepted the invitation and Minister of Bantu Affairs de Wet Nel attended the Easter celebrations. After Edward started his training at the white Dutch Reformed Theological School in Stofberg near Moria, a group within the ZCC was disgruntled about this and joined the St. Engenas ZCC of Joseph Lekganyane (Kruger 1971:27).

Like his father before him, Barnabas Ramarumo Lekganyane extended invitations to the government to attend the Easter conferences at Zion City Moria. In 1980, Minister of Bantu Affairs Piet Koornhof visited Moria. This led to violent protests against the ZCC in the townships of Johannesburg. In 1981, Barnabas Lekganyane publicly distanced himself of the Apartheid ideology of the government. Still, during the seventy-fifth anniversary celebrations of the church in 1985, President P.W. Botha was invited. Again, this led to attacks against ZCC members in Soweto. In 1992, at a time of political and racial turmoil, the church invited the three most influential leaders: President De Klerk, Nelson Mandela and Mangosuthu Buthelezi. This was seen as an attempt to promote peace in a violent time (Anderson 1999:294).

After Apartheid, South Africa still is a country in which the gap between rich and poor is exceptionally large, and still largely follows racial lines. Within South African society, at least three different worlds exist (Müller 2015:8f). One is an affluent world of white and black residents of gated communities and security complexes in the suburbs. They are able to live their lives quite isolated from the concerns and problems of the wider society, which they navigate in their private owned vehicles. The urban black or township world is another distinct space in South African society. In the townships, access to basic services like safe housing, water and electricity, sanitation, health care and education is often tenuous. To get around, people in the townships rely in majority on public transport in the form of mini-bus taxis. The rural black world is closely connected to this urban black world. This world is poorer still, and many people migrate to the urban areas hoping to eventually gain access to the affluent world. Kinship and religious networks can make the transition from the rural to the urban easier.

The ZCC is one of the churches that connects both of these poor black worlds. The members of the ZCC predominantly live in the townships of urban conglomerations, and in rural areas. ZCC members are, on average, poor and relatively uneducated. The ZCC has been labeled a pro-poverty church, in which, unlike in the neo-Pentecostal prosperity churches, acquiring wealth does not take center stage. Local churches are responsible for paying a stipend to the resident minister. Most local churches, however, are not able to give the minister his full stipend. This situation is not specific to the ZCC or even to Zionist churches in general, but is experienced by churches that have gained independence from foreign mission churches as well.

Bishop Barnabas Ramarumo Lekganyane, on the other hand, is not only active as a spiritual leader, he is also a skilled businessman. He owns a bus service and several stores (Moripe 1996:150). In a context of widespread poverty, the ostentatious display of wealth by Barnabas Lekganyane and his predecessor, living in mansions and owning a fleet of luxury cars, may be perceived as jarring. ZCC members, however, seem to be proud of the wealth of their leader, because only a leader blessed by God can be so successful, and the members themselves profit from the bishop’s relations to the spiritual world through healing and blessings (Wouters 2014:177). The bishop’s financial display may even (as it does in many prosperity gospel churches) attract more followers who hope to receive some of these financial blessings themselves. The bishop does not keep all his wealth for himself. Both Edward and Barnabas Lekganyane have invested in bursaries for the primary, secondary and tertiary educations of their members who suffer from financial constraints (Moripe 1996:27). The church also manages a ZCC Chamber of Commerce and a funeral benefit fund. The church offers communal services like scholarships and the burial society. ZCC stores in urban areas provide the members with basic necessities like coffee, tea, oil, and flour, which are also often prescribed to counter afflictions. In this way, the ZCC provides its members with a sense of belonging and security (Müller 2015:9). 

Other Christian churches do not always hold the ZCC in high regard. Especially Pentecostal churches are wary of the traditional elements incorporated in ZCC theology and practices. Pentecostals tend to dismiss traditional African beliefs as heretic or even satanic. Especially the acceptance of ancestor spirits by the ZCC is seen by them as worshiping demons (Sewapa 2016:6). Some testimonies spread by Pentecostal churches accuse the ZCC of sacrificing human beings to Satan and other atrocities.


Image #1: Portrait of Engenas (Ignatius) Barnabas Lekganyane.
Image #2: Moria City.
Image #3: ZCC membership badge.
Image #4: The mokhuku male choir dancers.
Image #5: Members at a ZCC service in different color uniforms.
Image #6: A ZCC baptism ritual.
Image #7: Pilgrims at Moria City.


Anderson, Allan H. 2000. Zion and Pentecost: The Spirituality and Experience of Pentecostal and Zionist/Apostolic Churches in South Africa. Pretoria: University of South Africa Press.

Anderson, Allan H. 1999. “The Lekganyanes and Prophecy in the Zion Christian Church.” Journal of Religion in Africa XXIX:285-312.

Anderson, Allan H. 1992. “Frederick Modise and the International Pentecost Church: A Modern African Messianic Movement?” Missionalia 20:186-200.

Comaroff, Jean, 1985. Body of Power Spirit of Resistance: The Culture and History of a South African People. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Hanekom, Christof. 1975. Krisis en Kultus: Geloofsopvattinge en Seremonies binne ‘n Swart Kerk, Kaapstad: Academica.

Kruger, M.A. 1972. “Die Oorsake vir die Ontstaan en Besondere Aard van die Zion Christian Church.” In Die Skriflig 6:13-32.

Kruger, Martinette and Melville Saayman. 2016. “Understanding the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) Pilgrims.” International Journal of Tourism Research 18:27-38.

Moripe, Simon. 1996. The Organisation and Management of the Zion Christian Church. Ph.D.  dissertation, University of Durban.

Morton, Barry. n.d.a “Engenas Lekganyane and the Early ZCC: Oral Texts and Documents.” Accessed from https://www.academia.edu/14338013 /Engenas_Lekganyane _and_the_Early_ZCC_Oral _Texts_and_Documents on 20 May 2019.

Morton, Barry. n.d.b. “Edward Lekganyane and the ZCC: Newspaper Articles in Naledi ya Batswana, 1946-1960.” Accessed from href=”https://www.academia.edu/35243058/Edward_Lekganyane_and_the _ZCC_Newspaper_Articles_in_Naledi_ya_Batswana_1946-60″ on 20 May 2019.

Morton, Barry. 2016. “Samuel Mutendi’s Biography Cannot Be True.” Unpublished paper. Accessed from  https://www.academia.edu/26700853/Samuel_Mutendis_Biography_Cannot_Be_True on 20 May 2019.

Müller, Retief. 2015. “The Zion Christian Church and Global Christianity: Negotiating a Tightrope between Localisation and Globalisation.” Religion 45:174-90.

Müller, Retief. 2011. African Pilgrimage: Ritual Travel in South Africa’s Christianity of Zion. Farnham: Ashgate.

Rafapa, Lesibana, 2013. “The Content, Handling and Role of Oral History in the Zion Christian Church.” Pp. 89-101 in Oral History: Heritage and Identity, edited by Christina Landman. Pretoria: UNISA.

Sewapa, Tebogo Molate. 2016. The Church Historical Analyses on the Origin of the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa and Other African Pentecostal Type of Churches in South Africa (A Zionist and Pentecostal Study). Ph.D dissertation, Stellenbosch University.

Sullivan, Andrew Leslie. 2013. A Brief, Critical History of Zion Evangelical Ministries of Africa among the AmaZioni of Southern Africa with Special Reference to its Relationship with the Christian Catholic Church of Zion. Master’s thesis, South African Theological Seminary.

Wouters, Jackey, 2014. An Anthropological Study of Healing Practices in African Initiated Churches with Special Reference to a Zionist Christian Church in Marabastad. Master’s thesis,  University of South Africa.

Publication Date:
23 May 2019


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