Classic DACB Collection

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

Moffat, Robert (A)

South Africa

Robert Moffat

Pioneering British missionary.

He began his career with the London Missionary Society (LMS) among the Khoikhoi of Namaqualand in South West Africa (1817), but soon moved to the northern Cape Colony to live among the Tlhaping. In 1824 he founded a station at Kuruman, which long served as the northernmost European outpost in South Africa. Moffat became an unofficial diplomatic agent between Europeans and northern peoples and used his local prestige to help launch new missions in all directions. In 1829 and 1835 he visited the Ndebele king Mzilikazi - then in the Transvaal - and established a life-long friendship. In 1854 he was the first European to visit Mzilikazi in Matabeleland, where the Ndebele had settled in c.1840. Later he helped to found a permanent LMS mission among the Ndebele (1859-60). Moffat travelled widely within South Africa, but always retained his headquarters at Kuruman. He retired in 1870. His prodigious linguistic work made Tswana one of the first Bantu languages to be reduced to writing.

Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen


Northcott, Cecil. Robert Moffat. London: Lutterworth Press, 1961.

Dictionary of South African Biography, 4 vols. Cape Town, Durban: Human Sciences Research Council, 1968-81.

Dictionary of National Biography. Main Dictionary to 1900, 22 vols.; Twentieth Century D.N.B., 5 vols. London: Oxford University Press, 27 volumes, 1885-1950.

Tabler, E. C. Pioneers of Rhodesia. Cape Town: C. Struik, 1966.

——–. Pioneers of South West Africa and Ngamiland, 1738-1880. Cape Town: A. A. Balkema, 1973.

Legassick, Martin. “The Griqua, the Sotho-Tswana, and the Missionaries, 1780-1840.” Ph.D. Dissertation, U.C.L.A., 1969.

Rasmussen, R. Kent. Migrant Kingdom: Mzilikazi’s Ndebele in South Africa. London: Rex Collings, 1978.

——–. Historical Dictionary of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1979.

This article is reproduced, with permission, from Dictionary of African Historical Biography, 2nd edition, copyright © 1986, by Mark R. Lipschutz and R. Kent Rasmussen, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. All rights reserved.