Aloysius OSB Roest and Rafael Robina Ramírez 

Religious shrines in South Africa: a meeting place for pilgrims in the interfaith community

Aloysius OSB Roest

Aloysius OSB Roest and Rafael Robina Ramírez 

Religious shrines in South Africa: a meeting place for pilgrims in the interfaith community

Religious devotion in South Africa presents a complex and diverse picture, reflecting the rich cultural mix that characterizes the country. This diversity is the result of centuries of history, including indigenous African beliefs, the influence of European colonizers and the migrations of diverse communities over time.

During the apartheid regime, religion played a central role in South African society. Some churches positioned themselves as bulwarks in the struggle against racial segregation, providing moral and practical support to the oppressed. The Anglican Church, under the leadership of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, was particularly vocal in its opposition to apartheid. On the other hand, other religious denominations supported the regime, justifying segregation with biblical interpretations.

According to the latest official South African census of 2022 (Stats SA), the country's religious landscape is distributed as follows: Christians constitute the majority with 78.8% of the population, where Catholics are approximately 7.1%. 

Traditional African religions, which have experienced a resurgence in recent decades, represent 2.4% of the population. Muslims make up 1.9%, Hindus 1.1%, and other religions 1.3%. It is notable that 14.5% of the population claims no religious affiliation, reflecting an overall trend toward secularization.

Religious tourism plays a significant role in the South African economy. According to the South African Department of Tourism (South African Tourism Annual Report 2022/2023), heritage and cultural tourism, which includes visits to religious sites, accounts for approximately 40% of all tourism visits to the country. 

This encompasses both international and domestic tourists, underlining the importance of religious sites not only as places of worship, but also as cultural and historical attractions.

Among the most visited religious sites, three iconic sites stand out: the Nizamiye Mosque in Midrand, which attracts around 100,000 visitors a year; St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town, which receives over 200,000 visitors annually; and the Ngome Marian Shrine, which welcomes some 50,000 pilgrims each year. 

These sites are not only centers of religious devotion, but also serve as cross-cultural meeting points, fostering dialogue and understanding between different communities.

Rafael Robina Ramírez 

The Nizamiye Mosque in Midrand 

The Nizamiye Mosque, located in Midrand between Johannesburg and Pretoria, is a stunning testament to South Africa's Islamic architecture and cultural diversity. Opened in 2012, this majestic structure is the largest mosque in the southern hemisphere and a faithful replica of the Selimiye Mosque in Edirne, Turkey. The project was conceived and financed by Turkish-South African businessman Ali Katircioglu, who dreamed of creating a cultural bridge between his native country and his adopted home.

The mosque has quickly become a place of pilgrimage not only for Muslims, but also for tourists and architecture lovers of all faiths. Its impressive Ottoman design, with its four tall minarets soaring skyward, its majestic domes dominating the skyline and its elaborate Iznik tiles adorning the interior walls, attracts visitors from all over the world, leaving them in awe of its beauty and grandeur.

What makes this place especially attractive is its spirit of openness and welcome to all visitors, regardless of their faith. The mosque offers regular guided tours that not only explain the intricate details of Islamic architecture, but also provide an in-depth insight into Muslim traditions and practices, thus fostering intercultural understanding and interfaith dialogue.

In addition to its religious function, the Nizamiye Mosque complex has become an active and vibrant community center. It includes a school that offers quality education, a clinic that provides accessible health services to the local community, and a lively bazaar where visitors can experience the rich Turkish culture through its cuisine and handicrafts. These additional elements have transformed the mosque into a true hub of social and cultural activity, attracting a diverse range of visitors and contributing significantly to the multicultural fabric of South Africa.

St. George's Cathedral in Cape Town 

St. George's Cathedral, located in the heart of Cape Town, is a beacon of hope and a living testimony to the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Known affectionately as the "People's Cathedral," this imposing Anglican structure, the oldest in the country, has become an important center of pilgrimage and a symbol of resistance and reconciliation.

Built in the 19th century, the cathedral acquired its nickname during the dark years of apartheid, when it became a bastion of resistance against the oppressive regime. Under the courageous leadership of Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the cathedral became a haven for activists and a beacon of hope for those fighting for freedom and equality.

Pilgrims from around the world flock to the cathedral to honor the memory of iconic leaders such as Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, who found solace and strength in its hallowed precincts. A particularly poignant symbol inside the cathedral is the cross made from pieces of the barbed wire fence from Robben Island Prison, where Mandela was incarcerated for 18 years. This cross powerfully represents the transformation of suffering into hope and the victory of the human spirit over oppression.

Beyond its profound historical and political significance, St. George's Cathedral is admired for its impressive neo-Gothic architecture. Its majestic spires soar into the Cape Town sky, while its intricate stained glass windows bathe the interior in multicolored light, creating an atmosphere of reverence and contemplation.

The cathedral continues to be a vibrant center of spiritual and community life. Its regular church services attract worshippers from diverse backgrounds, while its commemorative events and educational exhibits on the struggle against apartheid draw visitors from around the world. These events not only honor the past, but also encourage dialogue on current issues of social justice and reconciliation.

As a testament to its continued relevance, St. George's Cathedral remains a gathering place for those who seek inspiration in the ongoing struggle for justice and equality in South Africa and beyond. Its legacy endures as a powerful reminder of the role that faith and community can play in the transformation of a society.

The Marian Shrine of Ngome

The Marian Shrine of Ngome is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and became a place of pilgrimage due to Marian apparitions reported by Sister Reinolda May, a German Benedictine nun, in the 1950s. Sister Reinolda claimed to have had visions of the Virgin Mary, who appeared as the "Tabernacle of the Most High" and asked her to build a chapel in her honor at the site.

According to the accounts, the Virgin Mary appeared to Sister Reinolda on seven occasions, presenting herself as the "Tabernacle of the Most High." These apparitions, although not officially recognized by the Catholic Church, have aroused great interest and devotion among the faithful. 

The shrine, built on the site of the apparitions, has become a pilgrimage destination for people seeking spiritual and physical healing. Many pilgrims report experiencing miracles and healings after visiting the site and drinking from the spring that gushes near the shrine.

What makes Ngome particularly intriguing is its remote location and the humble nature of the apparitions. Unlike better known sites such as Lourdes or Fatima, Ngome maintains an atmosphere of simplicity and tranquility that many pilgrims find deeply moving.

The shrine regularly hosts masses and spiritual retreats, attracting pilgrims from all over South Africa and beyond. Ngome's growing popularity has led to improved facilities to accommodate visitors, including the construction of accommodation and prayer areas.

These three pilgrimage sites in South Africa reflect the rich religious and cultural diversity of the country. Each offers a unique experience: the Nizamiye Mosque impresses with its architectural grandeur and promotes interfaith understanding; St. George's Cathedral inspires with its legacy of fighting for justice; and the Ngome Shrine attracts those seeking a more intimate and miraculous spiritual experience.

Together, these sites demonstrate how faith and spirituality continue to play an important role in modern South African society, attracting pilgrims and tourists of diverse faiths and cultures.


Aloysius OSB Roest holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy and Theology, and a Master of Arts degree in Philosophy. He is currently incardinated as a priest in the Diocese of Keimoes-Upington. He has been participating in different seminaries and publishing several publication in African Philosophy, Theology.Cultural Anthropology, Philosophical Anthropology. Counseling, Public/ Motivational Speaking, Prison rehabilitation programs, Environmental Ethics, Public Speaking, Sustainability.

Rafael Robina Ramírez holds a PhD in Sociology and Business. Associate Professor at the University of Extremadura (Spain). He currently teaches in the Department of Business Management and Sociology and has published 90 articles in prestigious international publishers on topics such as Religious Tourism, Sustainable Tourism, Education, Ethics and 10 books on "business and environmental ethics" and sustainable educational and human development in business. He has participated in more than 100 international and national conferences and 50 seminars in South Africa, United States, United Kingdom, Mexico, Portugal and Germany.

The authors are responsible for the choice and presentation of the facts contained in this document and for the opinions expressed therein, which are not necessarily those of Tourism and Society Think Tank and do not commit the Organization, and should not be attributed to TSTT or its members.

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