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Brothers and sisters of different races gathered in 1974 at Rand Stadium, Johannesburg, South Africa. Inset: A badge card from the “Divine Victory” International Assembly

JANUARY 5, 2024

Fifty Years Ago, a “Divine Victory” Over Racial Segregation in South Africa

Fifty Years Ago, a “Divine Victory” Over Racial Segregation in South Africa

On Sunday, January 6, 1974, a historic convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses was held in South Africa. An audience of 33,408, made up of different races, gathered inside Rand Stadium in Johannesburg for the final session of the “Divine Victory” International Assembly. a This year marks the 50th anniversary of this event.

Beginning in 1948, apartheid laws in South Africa required racial segregation. This impacted the way Jehovah’s Witnesses gathered together for meetings and conventions. Brother Alfred Phatswana, now serving as a member of the South Africa Branch Committee, was ten years old in 1974. He recalls: “During the apartheid era, it was rare to see people of different races meet together.”

The international convention was held from January 2 to 6, 1974. Because of the racial segregation laws, it was not possible to hold the entire convention program in one location with an audience composed of different races. For the first four and a half days of the convention, delegates met in smaller groups in separate venues, based on race and language. However, permission was granted to invite all the delegates to assemble together for the final session on Sunday afternoon at Rand Stadium, the only venue in Johannesburg where interracial gatherings were allowed.

Beginning at 12:00 p.m. on Sunday, delegates from the various venues began flooding into Rand Stadium, arriving by bus, car, and train. Arrangements were made to have the program presented in English and to be simultaneously translated into Afrikaans, Portuguese, Sesotho, and Zulu.

Buses and vehicles that transported the over 33,000 delegates to Rand Stadium on Sunday afternoon, January 6, 1974, for the final session of the “Divine Victory” International Assembly

Branch Committee members Alfred Phatswana (left) and Keith Wiggill (right) both attended the 1974 “Divine Victory” Assembly

The stadium was soon filled to capacity, requiring many to stand for the entire session. Brother Keith Wiggill, also a member of the South Africa Branch Committee, was 23 years old when he attended the convention. He says: “It was an unbelievable occasion and an answer to many prayers that we could all worship together. We had the same faith, believed the same principles, and now momentarily we were not divided by segregation laws. I felt as one with my brothers and sisters.”

At the time of the “Divine Victory” International Assembly in 1974, there were about 25,000 publishers in South Africa. Today, nearly 100,000 brothers and sisters unitedly worship Jehovah throughout the country. Since 1974, South Africa has hosted a number of international conventions, the most recent being the 2019 “Love Never Fails”! International Convention, where nearly 60,000 people from all walks of life were in attendance.

Close to 60,000 people gathered at the 2019 international convention in Johannesburg, South Africa. Inset: A badge card highlights the convention theme “Love Never Fails”!

We are happy to be reminded of the historic convention in 1974 that demonstrated a divine victory over racial and social division. We rejoice to be part of a united brotherhood that continues to bring harmonious praise to Jehovah, our impartial God.—Acts 10:34, 35.

a Conventions were then known as assemblies.