Classic DACB Collection

All articles created or submitted in the first twenty years of the project, from 1995 to 2015.

Brander, Samuel James

Ethiopian Catholic Church in Zion
South Africa

Brander, the founder of the Ethiopian Catholic Church in Zion, sought a religious home in a number of denominations before finally establishing his own independent church. He was a Mokgatla Msutu, born in Colesberg, Cape Colony, in 1851 and baptized by the Rev. Richard Giddy in the Wesleyan Methodist Church. Brander himself recorded that his mother, Lydia Brander, was an African-American, although when he was born there were very few Americans in South Africa (Constitutions and Canons 1919, 3).

Brander’s father, Jacobus, was a Methodist local or lay preacher. After a quarrel with the white minister of the church to which he belonged he left the Methodists and became an Anglican. Samuel was a class leader in the Methodist Church, but he too joined the Anglican Church. From 1873 he worked as a transport contractor and later went to the diamond diggings at Kimberley.

When the family moved to Potchefstroom in 1884 Brander, who had been an Anglican for ten years, became a catechist. He was sent to work in the Waterberg district for a salary of 12 pounds a year. He built a school and church and applied to Bishop Bousfield of Pretoria for a refund of the money he had spent. Bousfield refused to refund the money and an argument ensued which led to Brander leaving the Anglican Church after he had been a member for 15 years. The date was 1890 and the Ethiopian movement was just becoming established.

When Mangena Mokone founded the Ethiopian Church in 1892 Brander and a number of Anglicans joined the new church. When the Ethiopian Church amalgamated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AMEC) in 1896, Brander found himself a member of the AMEC. Two years later he was ordained by Bishop Turner into the ministry of the AMEC. Brander never attained leadership status in the new church and was not really happy with the American leadership. He also never lost his love for the Anglican liturgical services.

In 1902 an American minister, Carleton Tanner, addressed the South African AMEC Conference which was held in Aliwal North. He advocated stricter American control of the South African branch of the Church. Brander, Tantsi, Ncgayiya and Khumalo sent a letter of protest to the General Conference in America. They complained that the conditions in the AMEC were becoming no different from those in the mission churches where indigenous South Africans had no say in the running of church affairs. Brander was soon to leave the AMEC and establish his own African Independent Church.

On 3 April 1904 Brander and 45 worshippers held the first service of the Ethiopian Catholic Church in Zion in Marabastad, Pretoria. He opened the first church building in May of that year. The same year he testified before the South African Native Affairs Commission and told them why he had formed his own church. He said that he had hoped for financial assistance from the AMEC to build a school. He had requested help when his church was in debt. Money promised to him was not forthcoming and the South African congregations were expected to send money to America. Brander decided to form his own church which would be under African control and where all the money collected as offerings would be spent on helping South Africans.

By 1919, when the ‘Constitutions and Canons of the Ethiopian Catholic Church in Zion’ were drawn up, Brander had progressed from being called ‘overseer’ to being an archbishop. The new church had a liturgical style of worship based on the Anglican services. Schools had been built and Brander’s church was a vibrant African Independent Church.

J. A. Millard


MS 14 787. Testimony by Brander. Cory Library.

Campbell, J. Our Fathers, Our Children: The African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States and South Africa. PhD thesis, Stanford University, San Francisco, 1989.

Constitutions and Canons of the Ethiopian Catholic Church in Zion 1919.

Minutes of evidence of the South African Native Affairs Commission 1903-1905, vol. 4. Cape Town: Cape Times.

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Malihambe - Let the Word Spread, copyright © 1999, by J. A. Millard, Unisa Press, Pretoria, South Africa. All rights reserved.