Charles Pamla

South African Revival Leader and Translator for William Taylor

Charles Pamla was born of Christian parents at Butterworth in the Transkei in 1834. His father, Mdingazwe, was the son of Zulu, a prominent chief of the Amabambo tribe in Natal. Charles Pamla was converted to Christianity early in life and was baptized by Rev. W. H. Garner. Soon he experienced a strong desire to study the Bible and preach the Christian gospel. Pamla had a brief scholastic education at a Dutch school in Nyara. It is said that while herding sheep Pamla would preach to the trees so as to give himself practice in public speaking.

When his family moved from Peddie to Keiskamahoek, near King William’s Town, Charles Pamla became a class leader and lay preacher. Here he was to come under the influence of Robert Lamplough, who was stationed at Annshaw. His main task in the early years of his ministry was to act as interpreter for Lam plough. The art of interpreting was far from easy but Pamla excelled to the point of being an “unpaid evangelist” in this office. Pamla labored for many years as an unpaid evangelist, mainly among Chief Kama’s people in the Annshaw circuit. Pamla was eventually allowed to candidate for the Methodist ministry in 1866.

When Methodist Episcopal preacher and traveling evangelist William Taylor arrived at King William’s Town in 1866 as part of his evangelistic tour of South Africa, Lamplough and Pamla walked twenty-four miles with two other colleagues from Annshaw to “warm themselves at the fire” in King William’s Town. It was here that Lamplough introduced Pamla to William Taylor. While Taylor preached to white people, Pamla devoted several days preaching to Black people. Pamla seems to have engendered more responses to Christianity than Taylor, in King William’s Town at least.

Taylor was obviously impressed with the results of Pamla’s preaching. He had longed to preach to Black people, but, as we have seen, he could make little advance through an interpreter. Now with the help of Charles Pamla, confidence in successfully preaching through an interpreter was restored. The scene was now set for a series of revivals South African Methodism had never before experienced. Together, Taylor and Pamla preached throughout South Africa. When Taylor moved to Natal, he concentrated his preaching among the white congregations. He could spare little time for the Black population, and Pamla preached among them by himself. He preached at Maritzburg, Edendale, Durban, Verulam, and elsewhere.

In Durban, Charles Pamla and William Taylor parted company. Taylor and his family sailed for London in the aftermath of an “ever-memorable” year in South Africa. Pamla returned home, and on the way he stopped at Port Elizabeth to lead another manifestation of the revival. Pamla again proved himself to be the principal agent in sustaining the momentum of religious conversions among Blacks and in ensuring that the revivals with Taylor were not a temporary excitement.

Adapted from Daryl M. Balia, “Bridge Over Troubled Waters: Charles Pamla and the Taylor Revival in South Africa.” Methodist History 30 no. 2 (January 1992): 78-90.

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