William Duma was one of the most dynamic Baptist preachers in South Africa as well as being renowned for his healing and prayer ministry. He was born on a stormy night on 1907 to Nomvula, the wife of Duma. The name ‘Duma’ means the thunder that brings rain.
Nomvula had come to the Duma ‘Big Kraal’ near Umkomaas, as a traditional African bride, but two years after her marriage, before William was born, she met an elderly woman named Thokaza Cele, who told her about the Christian faith and she was converted. Thokaza also taught Nomvula how to pray, a lesson she passed on to her son William. He would later become known as a ‘man of prayer’ (Garnett 1980, 5). From his mother, Duma also received his early impressions of the reality of the love of God (Hudson-Reed 1995, 11).
When Duma was about eleven years old his Uncle Vika returned from the Kimberley Diamond Mine and soon let it be known that he had become a Christian. This was unwelcome news to a family who worshipped in the traditional African manner. The only other Christians were Nomvula and her son William. Duma later recalled: ‘With Uncle at home the paramount question of the sacrifice to ancestors had to be settled’ (Garnett 1980, 6). When Vika refused to eat the meat that had been offered to the ancestors, he and his wife were forced to leave the family home and settle elsewhere. Duma recalled that although most people heard the Christian message from the time they were children ‘for my mother and uncle this was not so. For them the thrust of His Name was late in time ~ for me, a boy, it pressed piercingly nearer’ (Garnett 1980, 8). Uncle Vika became a formative influence in his life.
For eight years, from the ages of twelve to twenty, Duma was often ill. During this time he mother died. When Nomvula was on her deathbed she said to Duma: ‘My son, I want you to become an umfundisi (minister or teacher).’ Duma continued at school until he was twenty years old. He realized that he was going to be a preacher and prayed to God for healing. After days in prayer he knew that he was healed. He was also to find that he had been given the gift of being able to heal others.
The first person that was healed through his ministry was a boy called Msomo, who had a needle and thread somewhere in his leg causing him great pain. Duma prayed and laid hands on the boy. To his amazement the leg went into spasm and the needle and thread shot out of the leg. Duma went again to the mountain to pray and ask God whether he had indeed been given the gift of healing. He later related that clear as the sound of running water he heard the words: ‘My son, I anoint you with the gift of healing. I charge you to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ~ to perform in His Name the ministry of healing body, soul and spirit’ (Garnett 1980, 18). This was the beginning of his ministry as a healer which would become a part (and parcel) of his work at the Umgeni Road Baptist Church and later at the Lamontville church, as well.
Duma went to work in Durban where his employer made it possible for him to attend Bible classes. He started his ministry at a small American Board Church but in 1939 received a call to the Umgeni Road Baptist Church. Here he was to spend the next 36 years of his life as a minister. While he was working as pastor for the American Board he married Grace Mkize of Umkomaas. They had three children - one daughter and two sons.
Before Duma went to work at Umgeni Road he undertook 21 days of prayer and fasting. During this time he encountered God in a new way and was prepared for the ministry ahead of him. He later referred to this as a turning point in his ministry (Hudson-Reed 1983, 304). Duma had only had a little training at Franson Memorial Bible School and was aware of the magnitude of the task before him. Umgeni Road was a struggling congregation with only seven members when he took over. He struggled on until 1944 when revival came to the church. During a mission the church was filled to capacity and many people were baptized. From this time on the work at Umgeni Road increased greatly.
Duma was soon in demand as a preacher and the Wednesday prayer meetings were well attended. He became recognized as a faith healer who gave God the glory for the healing the occurred. He was invited to preach in countries all over southern Africa: Zimbabwe, Namibia and Zambia. Duma conducted special services for the rickshaw pullers. The manager of one of the Durban hotels invited him to hold services for the staff. The work grew too big for one person and Duma gathered a band of helpers who later became ministers: the Revs. J. Gumede, C. Nxumalo, C. Khumalo, B. Mbatha, R. Mpomulo and the evangelist E. Nxele.
When Duma died in 1977 he left behind a vibrant legacy. He had been the Moderator of the Baptist Convention (for black Baptist ministers), his work had been recognized by Christians all over southern Africa, yet he remained a humble servant of God to whom he attributed the success of his work.
J. A. Millard
Garnett, M. ‘Take Your Glory, Lord:’ William Duma: His Life Story. Roodepoort: Baptist Publishing House, 1980.
Hudson-Reed, S. By Taking Heed: The History of Baptists in Southern Africa 1820-1977. Roodepoort: Baptist Publishing House, 1983.
Hudson-Reed, S. “William Duma: Great in Devotion.” Baptists Today, no. 3 (May or June 1995).
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.