Mitteilungen der Berliner Gesellschaft für Missionsgeschichte 53/2016
This book, which is dedicated to »the Lutheran Churches of Southern Africa« and constitutes Karl Böhmer’s revised doctoral dissertation on what became known as the »Hardeland conflicts«, is essential reading material for anyone who cares about, belongs to, or wants to learn more about the German-founded Lutheran churches in South Africa, as these conflicts »fundamentally altered the course of mission and the historical development of the Lutheran churches in southern Africa«, as the back cover of the book states.
An »unputdownable« and deeply disturbing account of how just one person — Superintendent August Hardeland — almost destroyed the mission work of the Hermannsburg Mission Society (HMS) under the leadership of its founder, Ludwig/Louis Harms, which was begun in South Africa in 1857. The book tells the story of how these »conflicts« resulted in the loss of some of the most promising mission stations of the HMS, most notably those among the Batswana.
As a young missionary, August Hardeland served under the Rhenish Mission Society (RMS) in Borneo in the 1840s, where his unyielding authoritarian and often brutal, even sadistic nature alienated him, not only from the native people whom he was meant to convert, but also from his colleagues. Upon his return to Germany he was suspended from the services of the RMS, leaving bitter conflicts in his wake.
In 1857 Hardeland introduced himself to Louis Harms during a mission festival. Hardeland seems to have made such a deep and favourable impression on Louis Harms that the latter offered him the position to serve as the first HMS superintendent in South Africa almost on the spot. Thus Hardeland, of whom Harms speaks as being a »man of peace« who seceded from the RMS »in love and friendship«, and who unquestionably and without any discussion accepted everything Hardeland proposed, set sail to South Africa in 1859, thereby ushering in »one of the most painful periods in the history of Lutheranism in southern Africa«, as Böhmer writes in his Preface.
Almost immediately Hardeland gained a reputation as being a stubborn, mulish, deeply disagreeable man who propagated violent, corporal punishment as a means of discipline. — He maintained a master-subject approach, not only where the missionaries were concerned, but with everybody else as well: Vicious and brutal to the point of being sadistic, the Zulu people called Hardeland uMashayanjalo: He who Always Beats People (this included — sometimes even pregnant — women too), as he sometimes beat them to within an inch of their lives. Various incidents took place which can only be described as scandalous, if not downright shocking. Hardeland was described as being »a man of imperious temper« who »used his almost unlimited powers in such a despotic manner that some of the men under him rebelled.« — And rebel they did. Missionaries, colonists ... they voiced their concerns and outrage not only to him, but in letters to Louis Harms. These letters did either never reach Harms, or they were severely censored (literally: Hardeland cut out pieces of the letters ... all correspondence had to pass his desk before being sent on to Germany), so that Louis Harms was none the wiser as to what a malignant cancer he had inserted into his South African mission endeavour. The almost unending complaints as to Hardeland’s conduct and stance on certain issues of Lutheran doctrine resulted in equally unending »conflicts« with the missionaries of the HMS. These conflicts were sometimes even escalated to such an extent by Hardeland himself — by spreading rumours, lies and misinformation, by insinuations and manipulations — that a number of Hermannsburg missionaries left the service of the HMS. Hardeland also excommunicated a number of missionaries for what seem to have been quite flimsy reasons: it was either his way or no way!
But most missionaries swallowed the insults, the aggressive, hostile behaviour, and the humiliations, even kowtowed to Hardeland’s demands: they had no choice. They could not return to Germany — they had pledged to do God’s work in the mission field — neither could they strike out on their own. But some missionaries seem to have been convinced by Hardeland’s opinions on various matters pertaining to the mission, which only served to deepen the rift that had appeared within the ranks of the HMS missionaries and colonists.
Louis Harms may have been ignorant or even in denial about the deeply flawed, disruptive and divisive tenure of his first superintendent in southern Africa, but by the early 1860s a growing conflict also arose between him and Hardeland on the running and administration of the flagship mission station in Natal, Neu-Hermannsburg (close to Greytown). Harms’ vision of how the station in particular, but also the mission in general, should be conducted in Africa diverged ever more from the views Hardeland held on these matters. When Hardeland finally resigned in 1863, the »irreconcilable differences« were of such a profound nature that he was convinced that the HMS was »crazy«; L. Harms, for his part, thought that Hardeland was »blinkered and bigoted«.
The so-called colonists — mostly artisans who had been sent out together with the missionaries to assist them in establishing stations that were self-sufficient in all respects, since the missionaries did not earn a salary — were also increasingly vilified as being a burden and doing more harm than good, even being relegated to being mere servants to their masters, the missionaries. Böhmer writes: »The colonists, who had dedicated their lives to mission, and who had travelled across half a world to serve in the mission field, now left the mission and became farmers«. A number of families left Neu-Hermannsburg and founded the congregation of Lüneburg in northern Natal, near Paulpietersburg.
Karl Böhmer makes a strong case for the fact that the fall-out and repercussions from the »Hardeland conflicts« are felt to this day in the Lutheran churches of South Africa; Hardeland became a catalyst for ongoing conflicts in the HMS, some of which have to be contended with to this day. In this extremely well-written, well-researched and utterly readable account of the early years of the HMS in southern Africa, he lays the various and sometimes hitherto unknown aspects of the »Hardeland conflicts« out for an in-depth examination of all sides of the story.