The (dis)continuity of the Johannesburg West Dutch Reformed Church: a study of the impact and significance of the conversion of a former Dutch Reformed Church into a mosque

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

This dissertation examines how cultural significance has changed through the reuse (conversion) of an existing religious building to perform a new religious function. The conversion of the former Johannesburg West Nederduitsche Gereformeerde Kerk (Dutch Reformed Church) to become the Masjid-ul-Islam is used as a vehicle for this study. The history of the Afrikaner and South African Muslim communities and their architecture is explored as well as the history of the changes to the building. The post-colonial concept of hybridity is used to understand the new identity of the building. This new identity determined as being hybrid. Concepts of memory and its use in the construction of identity are further examined with the former church being understood as a site of memory. Through the personal perceptions of significance expressed by both the mosque and church communities the change in significance is explored. It is determined that the building is the site of hybrid memory, with multiple layers of significance which have created a sense of continuity for both communities creating a sense of place and continuity in the post- Apartheid city. The building has come to be a symbol of the changes that have occurred in post-Apartheid South Africa through its layering of history, sense of inclusivity and regeneration.