Fact and fantasy -
the life of Jager Africaner (May 2006)
Scott Balson

One can only imagine the frustration of Rev Moffat, the extraordinary missionary from Kuruman, with the Rev John Campbell a Director of the London Missionary Society who was a drunk and a man filled with fantasies. Campbell was filled with his own grandeur which he presented as fact through his many written works. He even admitted to this failing in his book "Walks of Usefulness". He says, I have to confess, with shame, that they describe in many instances, what might have been done, rather than what, in many cases, I have really done.

And so it is when it comes to Africaner and, of course, his aborted attempt to introduce money to the Griquas of Griqua Town. Jager Africaner was a much feared bandit who devastated inland South Africa until 1819 when Robert Moffat converted him, the miraculous conversion is well documented and not unusual for this extraordinary missionary.

In the book "Children of the Mist" I write of Jager Africaner's conversion:
Africaner was surprised to see a white man emerge from an ox wagon nearby and waved his musket at him in an attempt to intimidate this unwanted guest.

Moffat was undeterred. He calmly walked up to Africaner and said in pidgin Dutch, "We have been waiting your return."

Africaner stared at the man with incredulity, he was without fear; all he had was a large black book which he carefully held under his arm.

"What do you want here Whiteman?" The aging bandit asked, "And where are the rest of your people. I can only see you."

"My God and I greet you in love," Moffat said, bending down and extending a hand to Africaner. Africaner refused to shake it.

While Africaner's men gathered nearby laughed nervously Moffat sat himself down opposite the bandit and smiled saying, "I can understand why you are not scared of me; you do not know yet in whose name I come."

Africaner looked incredulously at this rather plump man with a flowing beard and said contemptuously, "I fear no one."

"Aah yes," replied Moffat, "but that is because you do not yet know your God and saviour."

Africaner laughed loudly, an irritated dismissive laugh, his men watching joined him, openly poking fun at Moffat.

"So who is this God and what is that big book you hold?" Africaner said looking back with a sneer on his face.

"This book is the Bible and in it are the most important words you will ever hear. They will lead you to God and eternal life but without it you will be condemned to eternal damnation after you die."

Moffat's words struck a chord with Africaner who engaged the missionary in a long philosophical discussion about life and its meaning.

Legend has it that within an hour the hardened Africaner, in front of his men who had gathered around expecting a confrontation, took Moffat's hand and burst into tears.

For the next twenty minutes Moffat counselled Africaner as the bandit wept openly confessing his sins. Before the meat was cooked he was a changed man and the bottle of brandy remained unopened. It was the last bottle that he touched and Jager Africaner changed his name to Christian Africaner. It was Moffat's first of many miracles in the remote African bush.

Africaner's men could not believe the changes in their great leader following his conversion and many went their own way continuing the life of plunder with limited success while others settled down into communities across Namaqualand and the Griqua territory.

In 1819 Moffat brought Christian Africaner, who had a considerable price on his head, before the Governor of the Cape. The missionary had been able to achieve what money had not, and his conversion from banditry to a Christian way of life had already eased the plight of the trek Boers up north. The reports of theft and destruction had dropped dramatically since his miraculous conversion. For the Governor this was to be a life changing moment, gone were his reservations following Anderson's earlier failures and he, from then on, gave missionaries from the London Missionary Society free passage beyond the borders of the Colony.

Now this embellished version of Africaner's conversion is historically correct but NOT if you read Campbell's own commentary written on the key elements behind Jager Africaner's conversion.

In the small thirty page hand sized 1831 Sunday School Booklet entitled "The Life of Africaner" and about Africaner's conversion written by Rev John Campbell. He suddenly displaces Moffat as God's messenger and the tool behind Africaner's miraculous conversion.

Here are extracts from this booklet:

(pp13-14) The succeeding year, viz 1812, when the Rev J Campbell visited Africa, on the affairs of the London Missionary Society, he found it necessary to cross that continent from the eastern to the western side. During this journey, he found every town through which he passed well acquainted with the name of Africaner, and all trembling lest he should pay them a visit; he was the only person whom Mr Campbell was afraid of meeting during this part of his journey. However, on arriving safe at the Missionary station at Pella, on the western side of Africa, he wrote a letter to Africaner, expressing regret that he should be the occasion of so much misery and oppression in that part of Africa - that as he knew there was a God, and a judgment to come, he stated his belief to Africaner that he must be an unhappy man by being the cause of so much unhappiness to others. And as the word of God taught forgiveness, he offered to send a missionary to instruct him and his people, notwithstanding all he had done against the Missionary Institution at Warm Bath, if he expressed a desire to have one sent to him.

So great was the terror of both Namacquas and Bushmen at the name of Africaner, that though a present was to accompany the letter, and payment given to the bearer of it, a considerable time passed before a person could be found of sufficient courage to undertake it.

Six years later (it was actually eight years later in 1820 during Campbell's second trip to South Africa after Moffat had converted Africaner in 1819 - see above) when Africaner met Mr Campbell at Cape Town he said "that the offer of a Missionary which the letter contained made him glad - that in his heart he had long wished for a teacher - that his brother Jager, who could write, had written and answer which was sent across to the Griqua country, and from thence to the colony, that it might proceed to Mr Campbell at the Cape, desiring to see a Missionary, and that he might be an Englishman." This letter never reached Cape Town.

The article goes on to suggest that because of Campbell's letter Africaner was inspired and started getting religious teacher from a Missionary, Mr Ebner, located at Pella.

Of course this is historically incorrect. It was not until Africaner met Moffat that his miraculous conversion occurred and the "loss" of the mysterious letter from Africaner is all too coincidental as is the ridiculous comment that the Namacquas were too fearful to deliver the letter, he was accepted as one of them.

It is thought provoking how Campbell takes the glory away from Moffat and transfers it to himself. Campbell does give Moffat a passing reference, almost as an after thought:

(pp 15) The Missionary, Mr Ebner, who first went to Africaner's kraal, after continuing there upwards of two years, returned to his former station, and was succeeded by Mr Moffat, who was instrumental in building up the new converts in their faith, and adding to their number, and maintaining peace among them.

The words "maintaining peace among them" speak volumes as Africaner attacked Dam Kok's convoy in 1818 as historically recorded and described in "Children of the Mist" - this was many years after Ebner had left and not long before Moffat met the lion of the north.

But in Campbell's fantasy world it was his letter which became the pivotal point behind Africaner's conversion.

I find the article written in the third person by Campbell (who is noted as the author on the cover of the book - see above) implies credibility from a third party source and confirms this man's deception on a number of issues including the Griqua Town coins.

Full transcript of "The Life of Africaner" at this link