The approach of the missionaries towards the Vhavenda was more scholarly than
practical, and had little to do with everyday realities. It appears to have been focused
on Western ethnocentricity rather than on the propagation of the Gospel. As a result,
it could not fulfil the purpose for which it was intended.
In Africa, as everywhere else in the world, the interpretation of the Gospel message
takes place in a particular and unique context. This means that, in the practice of
theology, one should take into account not only the spirit and the Gospel message,
but also the culture of the people to whom the message is being communicated.
This research deals in depth with the failure of the missionaries to recognise factors
that either hampered or could have facilitated the acceptance of the Gospel
message in Venda culture.
Furthermore, it aims to probe into strongholds of ancestral veneration that have
helped to sustain the beliefs of the Vhavenda. Ancestors, because of their authority
and power, are said to intervene in the affairs of their descendants, and to provide
meaning, values and protection.In short, they respond to the spiritual needs of their
descendants. Ancestors appear to occupy the centre stage in lieu ofChrist.
During this research, it became clear that a large number of Vhavenda profess to be
Christians, and yet cling tenaciously to their traditional beliefs. This is evident in crisis
situations that are occurring, in terms of both individuals and families. This implies
that in the heart of an African Christian, there arises a juxtaposition, due to the fact
that African traditional religion is inseparable from daily life for these people.
Traditional beliefs, customs and practices of the Vhavenda are examined. Some of
these features pertain to attributes of God and ancestral veneration, and the African
concept of salvation. Evidence from a variety of scholars indicates that Africans
never worship ancestors, in the strict sense of the word. The cultural practices that
Africans perform aim at demonstrating their faith in God. They are symbolic in
nature. It is interesting to note that both Western missionaries and the African people
attribute the same nature to the Supreme Being, who in the case of the Vhavenda, is
known as Nwali. It may be concluded, therefore, that there is a similar conception of
the existence of a 'superpower' across the spectrum of both cultures,albeit
approached from different angles. Nwali represents the final and highest power.
Although the introduction of the Christian God received a negative response from the
Vhavenda, as a result of conflicting names and the meanings attached to those
names, there is at least a common understanding of such names today.
The prevailing idea behind the formation of the African Independent Churches was
not intended as a move to ostracise anyone. The white missionaries brought the
Gospel to the indigenous people, but some of the mainstream churches could not
satisfy the spiritual needs of the indigenous people. The African Independent
Churches do not regard these mainstream churches as standard or ideal, and do not
find their own norms in early Christianity. The African Independent Churches restore
a sense of purpose; they often say things such as'feel at home, we are in our church,
we govern ourselves'.
The church should study traditional African beliefs. Traditional African culture is not
all bad; neither is everything good. As in all cultures, there are positive factors that
have held the culture together, and there are negative factors that degrade human
dignity. It should be made clear that Christianity should be received in alignment with
one's geographical context and environment, and in accordance with one's cultural
The African concept of salvation is another feature that has been investigated in this
paper. Salvation is approached holistically, that is, the healths of the human body as
well as the spirit are perceived to be inseperable.
If the missionaries of the past had been patientand open-minded enough to study
and analyse the sacrificial rites as conducted by the Vhavenda, thiswould have acted
as a base or steppingstone towardshelping the Vhavenda to accept and embrace the
final sacrificial offering of Jesus Christ. The researcher further explains that it is therefore not surprising that some
Vhavenda regard Jesus as the prime ancestor, healer, liberator, mediator, elder
brother and master of initiation. The researcher is compelled to conclude that lufu ndi
muratho kana dambuwo (death is a bridge). To the Vhavenda, death is not a total
annihilation, but is regarded as a bridge by means of which one crosses to the next