Zambezi Industrial Mission

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The Zambezi Industrial Mission was a Baptist mission founded in British Central Africa, now Malawi, in 1892 by Joseph Booth, an independent and radical clergyman whose aim was to create a self-supporting mission providing African converts with the educational, technical and economic skills to lead the development of their country towards independence. After disagreements with his colleagues, Booth left the mission in 1897, but it continued as a largely self-supporting Industrial mission until 1930. After this, it continued as a conventional mission church with growing numbers of congregations and members. After Malawi became independent, it was renamed the Zambezi Evangelical Church which since 2010 has been under the overall control of Malawian staff. In 2012, the church had about 150 clergy serving over 500 congregations with 100,000 members in Malawi, and was governed by a national Synod meeting bi-annually.

The Industrial Mission Concept[edit]

The idea of a self-supporting mission was pioneered in India by William Carey, a Baptist minister and founder of the Baptist Missionary Society. This combined missionary evangelism and teaching with agriculture and commercial activities.[1] The Industrial Mission movement in Africa arose in the late 19th century because many missionaries considered that European mine-owners, planters, and traders treated Africans mainly as a source of cheap manual labour, and did not want them educated or trained beyond what was necessary to perform routine tasks. Industrial missions wished to combine industrial training with Christian teaching and thought that practical training, rather than an education which would turn-out clerks or book-keepers in subordinate positions, would be more likely to promote African development. After training in European agricultural methods to produce economic crops, or in useful crafts such as carpentry or making clothes and shoes and mechanical trades, it was expected that those it trained would remain with the mission, allowing it to become self-supporting. The aim of Industrial missions was to help Africans live successfully in their own society, not as wage labourers or share-croppers dependent on European businesses. However, the main Christian denominations expected that their Industrial missions would be superintended by European missionaries.[2]

Joseph Booth and the founding of Zambezi Industrial Mission[edit]

Booth’s background[edit]

Joseph Booth was born in Derby, England in 1852. He left home aged 14 and, in the following years, educated himself through extensive reading which led him to adopt radical ideas about politics, economics and society. Before he was twenty, he joined the Baptist Church, and he married for the first time in 1872. In 1880, Booth emigrated first to Auckland, New Zealand and later to Melbourne, Australia where he became a successful businessman. After 1886, Booth became more active in his local Baptist Church and more fundamental. In 1891 he decided to sell his business and, despite the death of his first wife, he left Australia with his two young children to start his missionary career, choosing to work in Africa.[3]

Booth obtained funds from British Baptists to set-up an independent Baptist mission in the newly created British Central Africa protectorate. By the time he arrived there in 1892 with his children, he was already 40, a radical and independently minded missionary. He was immediately critical of the reluctance of the Scottish Presbyterian mission at Blantyre to admit Africans as full church members,[4] Even before establishing the Zambezi Industrial Mission, Booth had an vision of African churches independent of European control. These self-supporting industrial missions would train African pastors who would take over their running and in turn set-up new industrial missions. His aim was not just to convert but to develop educational and economic skills, so that African converts could lead the development of their own country. Booth made his egalitarian outlook explicit: all men were brothers. All the missions that he founded focused on the equality of all worshipers.[5]

Founding the Mission[edit]

In 1892, Booth started with no site or buildings for his mission and initially no staff, but with funds from Britain. As the mission needed to become self-supporting, Booth decided to locate it close to the existing commercial centre and market of Blantyre. Although the foundation of the Zambezi Industrial Mission is often dated from 1892, the land for the mission was purchased in 1893 and its main buildings came into use in 1894.[6] The only African who obtained a Certificates of Claim (equivalent to a freehold title) to land as part of the colonial land settlement was Kumtaja, who had bought 37,947 acres of land 1888 and 1891. In 1893 Kumtaja sold 26,537 acres to Joseph Booth. This became the site of the Zambezi Industrial Mission, and Booth transferred the title of this land to the charity which controlled the mission when he left in 1897.[7]

Booth also founded the Nyassa Industrial Mission in 1893 near Blantyre, which later became the Evangelical Church of Malawi. He then founded the Baptist Industrial Mission in 1895 near Ntcheu, and in later years he organised or supported several others mission schemes, including the African Christian Union, the British Christian Union, and the British African Congress.[8] Although some of institutions he began, including the Zambezi Industrial Mission, survive today as missions or local churches in Malawi, others failed. After setting these institutions up, Booth usually did not remain with them for long, so their later survival was due to their own efforts. The failure of the others was often caused by lack of finance, natural disasters or deficient personnel, factors Booth could not control. However, some failures arose from Booth's weaknesses including his restlessness and his inability to compromise with any lack of commitment or failures by his colleagues.[9]

The Mission under Booth’s leadership[edit]

Under Booth, the Zambezi Industrial Mission mainly taught agricultural skills, notably the growing of coffee which was the main export crop of British Central Africa until a slump in coffee prices in 1905. It also taught a variety of crafts. The mission provided opportunities for African advancement, and Booth came into conflict with the Scottish missions in 1893 and 1894 over attracting their trained converts with higher pay, which encouraged their other workers to demand higher levels of pay. Booth was accused of paying workers 18 shillings per month when the ordinary rate was 3 shillings, and in one instance, paying 45 shillings for a person whose previous monthly wage with the Blantyre Church of Scotland had been seven shillings and sixpence.[10]

Despite Booth’s moderate success in developing the industrial part of the mission and his vision of the Zambezi Industrial Mission as an independent self-supporting mission, it soon came under the control of a British missionary charity. This funded two missionaries from Britain and supplied cash for expansion, which reduced the mission’s independence.[11] By 1896 Booth's disagreements with his missionary colleagues over finance, doctrine and especially African independence led to him to end of his associations with the Zambezi Industrial Mission and also the Nyassa Industrial Mission [12]

Later Developments[edit]

After Booth left, the Zambezi Industrial Mission underwent a period of quiet expansion in the early decades of the 20th century. At first, it was largely self-supporting but after an agricultural price collapse in 1928, it could no longer support its activities largely from its own income. In 1930, its British board ended its status as an Industrial Mission and it then largely relied on funding from Britain.[13] After this change, the Zambesi Mission concentrated in pastoral work and providing Bible College training for intending ministers.

At Malawi’s independence in 1964, it changed its name to the Zambezi Evangelical Church, and after independence, a team of Malawians largely replaced clerical and lay mission workers from overseas. However, until 2010 the Zambesi Mission’s Field Directors, with overall responsibility for the mission’s work in Africa, had always come from Britain. In 2010, Malawians were appointed to the positions of Field Director and Projects Coordinator.[14]

The Zambezi Industrial Mission is now part of a wider organisation, the Zambezi Evangelical Church, whose headquarters are still at Mitsidi. In 2012, the church had about 150 clergy serving over 500 congregations with 100,000 members, and supported two institutes training its pastors. It was governed by a national Synod meeting bi-annually.[15] In 2012, it was reported that several Zambezi Evangelical Church congredations wished for greater autonomy from the headquarters and proposed to break away when this was not conceded. The Malawi Council of Churches was attempting to resolve the dispute.[16]


  1. ^ F D Walker, (1926) William Carey: Missionary Pioneer and Statesman pp. 148, 181.
  2. ^ W D Wilcox, (1913). The Need of Industrial Missions in Africa, pp. 104-107.
  3. ^ H W Langworthy III, (1986). Joseph Booth, Prophet of Radical Change in Central and South Africa, 1891-1915, pp. 24-5.
  4. ^ G. Shepperson and T. Price, (1958). Independent African, pp. 25, 36-8.
  5. ^ H W Langworthy III, (1986). Joseph Booth, Prophet of Radical Change in Central and South Africa, 1891-1915, p. 24.
  6. ^ K Fiedler, (1994). The Story of Faith Missions, p. 53.
  7. ^ B Pachai, (1973). Land Policies in Malawi: An Examination of the Colonial Legacy, p. 693.
  8. ^ K Fiedler, (1994). The Story of Faith Missions, p. 96.
  9. ^ H W Langworthy III, (1986). Joseph Booth, Prophet of Radical Change in Central and South Africa, 1891-1915, p. 26.
  10. ^ H W Langworthy III, (1986). Joseph Booth, Prophet of Radical Change in Central and South Africa, 1891-1915, pp. 26-7.
  11. ^ K Fiedler, (1994). The Story of Faith Missions, pp. 80, 132.
  12. ^ H W Langworthy III, (1986). Joseph Booth, Prophet of Radical Change in Central and South Africa, 1891-1915, p. 26.
  13. ^ K Fiedler, (1994) The Story of Faith Missions, p. 80.
  14. ^ Zambesi Mission news10-11b.html
  15. ^ Zambesi Mission
  16. ^ Nyasa Times