The People of Mpumalanga Province

Mpumalanga is one of nine Provinces in the Republic of South Africa (RSA). It is located in the eastern part of RSA, between Johannesburg and The Kingdom of Swaziland. It borders the: Free State and Kwa-Zulu Natal Provinces in the South; Limpopo (formerly Northern) Province in the North; and, shares a very small border with Mozambique in the East.

The population is approximately 3 million people of which 89% are Black African. The largest segment of the population is Swazi people who speak the siSwati language (see Swazi People). They were originally part of the Swazi Kingdom, which was partitioned in 1907 when the Kingdom of Swaziland became a British High Commission Territory. The Kingdom was only allowed to retain one third of it’s territory - the part least suited to cultivation. The Mpumalanga Swazis are heavily concentrated in the area immediately adjacent to Swaziland - lands the British took from the Swazi Kingdom.

The next largest segment (28%) are Zulus who speak the isiZulu language (see Zulu People). They are concentrated in the central and southern parts of Mpumalanga in lands acquired in the Zulu conquests of the early 1800s (the Mfecane). Other segments are the Ndebeles, Bapedis, and smaller concentrations of other Black African groups.

The demographics of the Black African population in Mpumalanga are very consistent with those of the adjacent provinces, that is, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Free State and Limpopo. However, they are significantly better off than their counterparts in Swaziland.

The religious picture is very similar to that of Kwa-Zulu Natal (see Zulu People) with 74% claiming to be Christians; 8% claiming other faiths” (mostly African); and, 18% opting for “no religion”, or give “no response”. About half of those “Christians” claim membership in “mainline” churches that present Christianity in a ritualistic format and mix Biblical teachings with African Traditional Religion (ATR - animism and ancestor worship). Most of the remainder claim membership in African Independent Churches (AICs) that purport to be indigenous churches, but usually have outside influences/sources, such as the Zionist Church. Most of the AICs teach a combination of the Bible, especially the Old Testament, and ATR. However, we believe less than 7% are “born again Christians” (this is probably too high as additional research is needed in this area).

There are a number of Great Commission Christian groups working in Mpumalanga, however, progress is painfully slow as: Christianity is perceived as “the white man’s religion”; outsiders are not trusted; the culture promotes group decisions versus individual decisions; and, religious orientation tends to revert to their ATR roots in times of difficulty.

The Southeastern Africa Cluster (SEAC) is engaged in Mpumalanga through the Mpumalanga Evangelical Team (MET). We are currently conducting evangelistic surveys throughout the province to find where God is at work in Mpumalanga. Contingent upon the results we believe God will greatly expand this work.

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