Genadendal, six kilometers outside Greyton is the first and oldest mission station in South Africa. Genadendal (‘Valley of Grace’) was founded by Georg Schmidt, an early worker of the Moravian Missionary Society in 1738 when he settled in Baviaans Kloof (Ravine of the Baboons) in the Riviersonderend Valley.
Schmidt became acquainted with an impoverished and dispersed Khoi tribe who were on the threshold of complete extinction. There were already 13 farms in the vicinity and within a short while he formed a small Christian congregation and taught the Khoi to read and write. When he began to baptize his converts there was great dissatisfaction among the Cape Dutch Reformed clergy. According to them, Schmidt was not an ordained minister and so was not permitted to administer the sacraments. After seven years missionary work at Baviaans Kloof, Georg Schmidt had to end his ministry and leave the country.
Only in 1792 did the Moravians in Genadendal obtain permission to resume Schmidt’s work at Baviaans Kloof. When the three men arrived they discovered the ruins of Schmidt’s dwelling, with a great pear tree in the garden. There was also an old woman, Magdalena, whom Schmidt had baptized, whose acquaintance they made. She was able to show them a Bible (on display in the museum) which Schmidt gave to her. The missionaries listened with amazement when she asked her daughter to read a portion of the New Testament to them.
The number of inhabitants increased so much that at one stage Genadendal was the largest settlement in the Colony after Cape Town. In 1806, the name of the mission station was changed to Genadendal (Valley of Grace). To maintain the number of inhabitants permanently on the mission station job creation was necessary and in this way the mission station developed into a self- sufficient community. Home industries flourished, including amongst others the forging of knives (the well known herneuters) and Genadendal became an important educational centre. The first Teachers’ Training College in South Africa, now the Museum building was erected in 1838.
The success of Genadendal and its flourishing community was blighted when it became victim to the iniquities of unjust legislation (Communial Reserve Act of 1909 for Mission Stations), which prevented the inhabitants from obtaining property rights. Genadendal, with its strong religious roots, its industry and training, had the potential to develop into a centre of learning and perhaps even another Stellenbosch. But this was prevented and in 1926 the ‘Teachers’ Training College was closed down by the argument that the ‘coloured’ people had no need of tertiary education, and were better employed on the farms in the area. These policies caused impoverishment, degradation and stagnation of the town, and a loss of community pride.
However, the new democratic elected town council is supporting all efforts to introduce new community projects in order to create jobs on a local level. On 1st February 1995 President Nelson Mandela announced that his official residence in Cape Town has been renamed Genadendal. On 10th October 1995 he paid an official visit.