Temperance Movements in South Africa

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The temperance movement was a social and political campaign prominent in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Believing that drink was responsible for many of society’s ills, the numerous temperance societies that were founded over the years sought to instill moderation in, or total abstinence from, the use of alcohol in society. It was a mass international movement, originating in various countries during the 19th century.

The most prominent outcome of course has been the notorious Prohibition period in the USA, but the British and Dutch inspired movements impacted heavily on cultural, political and social life in mid 19th century Cape Town, and supported a strong anti-theatrical movement, in conjunction with the Christian churches of the region. (See Church and Theatre in South Africa)

For more on the general concept, see for example:

"Temperance Movement" in: Wikipedia[1] and The Canadian Encyclopaedia[2]

The Cape of Good Hope Temperance Society

The Cape of Good Hope Temperance Society (sic, but also found more correctly as Cape of Good Hope Temperance Society) was founded at a meeting in Cape Town on 28 January, 1832, with a provincial management as a movement by concerned Methodists, inspired by and responding to the international Temperance movement[3], to fight the abuse of alcohol and the general licentiousness that accompanied it. At one time this also included an anti-theatre lobby.

The first provincial executive of the society consisted of the Reverend Dr John Philip, Doctor J.W. Fairbridge, Doctor S. Baily, the Reverend Dr J. Pears, the Reverend Dr Adamson, and Joseph Dixie, Mr Hutchison and John Fairbairn, with H.E. Rutherfoord and W. Buchanan as secretaries.

In Cape Town the reactions against this movement (as well as the concurrent international abolitionist movement[4]) was great, particularly from the Dutch community, and among many anti-temperance writings, it led to one of the more significant early plays to be written and published in the country, De Nieuwe Ridderorde of De Temperantisten (lit. "The New Knighthood/New Chivalric Order, or the 'Temperantists'/People of the Temperance Movement"), a satirical play in four acts and 26 scenes by Charles Etienne Boniface (1787/8?-1853/4?). In the play a number of the members of the Temperance Society appear as caricatures.

They most probably built the original Temperance Hall in Cape Town.

The Total Abstinence Society

A society active in Cape Town in the 1860s. Among other activities they put on a play in support of moderation in drink, called Trial by Jury of Dr Abstinence and performed to success in the Temperance Hall, and repeated in the Music Hall on Church Square, during October of 1863.

The Women's Christian Temperance Union, Cape Colony chapter

Later examples are the Cape Colony chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, established in Wellington, in the heart of the Cape winelands in 1889[5],as an offshoot of the Unites States movement.

Also found as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union of the Cape Colony.






F.C.L. Bosman, 1928. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel I: 1652-1855. Pretoria: J.H. de Bussy. [6]: pp. 301-304.

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp. 268,

Wallace G. Mills. 1980. The Roots of African Nationalism in the Cape Colony: Temperance 1866-1898. In: The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2, pp. 197-213.[7]

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See also Cape of Good Hope Temperance Society

Later examples are the Cape Colony chapter of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, established in Wellington, in the heart of the Cape winelands in 1889[8],|