South Africa

Website Grail centre Kleinmond

Early Groups in Johannesburg from 1936

The Grail in Johannesburg was started in 1936 by a group of young South African women, encouraged by some priests, who had had contact with the Grail in England.They met on Saturday afternoons at the presbytery of the Pro Cathedral, studied and ran campaigns based on materials from the English Grail, on the Mass, Marriage, Charity, the Gospels etc.Later they organised retreats, liturgies and courses at the newly established Catholic library and oratory in the City Centre.When Father WP Whelan became bishop of Johannesburg he visited the International Centre of the Grail in the Netherlands, and requested them to establish a Grail Centre in Johannesburg with full time staff.

Established as International Women’s Movement in Rivonia Grail Centre, 1950

The Grail, as an international faith movement of women, was formally established in South Africa in 1950.They bought a farmhouse and a barn on the banks of the Sandspruit River in Rivonia, conveniently situated between Johannesburg and Pretoria.This became the first Grail Centre.It was staffed by three experienced members from the Netherlands and Belgium, who had made a life-long commitment, and one South African.They soon had an active programme for young women and high school girls going, and more members from the USA arrived to help get the movement going.They networked with various Catholic lay organisations, including the Joint Council of Europeans and Africans.

Launch into Lesotho and Uganda

The Rivonia Centre became the halfway house for American Grail members coming to staff or study at the newly established Pius XII University College, in Roma, Basutoland, which drew students from all over Africa, and later became the University of Lesotho.It was also the launching pad for the Grail in Uganda.In 1954 the first South African young women left to participate in the intensive training programmes held in the Netherlands and the United States.

Ecumenical Membership and Inter-Faith Dialogue

Originally the Grail was a Catholic organisation, but in the 60’s women from different denominations were invited to join, and the movement became ecumenical.From the 20’s there had been programmes of dialogue with people of other faiths.Most important was the recognition that all human beings are children of the same God and that we are all members of one human family.This was of special importance in South Africa where people of different races were being ruthlessly separated by the policies of Apartheid.

Response to Apartheid Laws

As one law after another entrenched racial injustice throughout the country during the 50’s and 60’s, Grail members became increasingly involved in efforts to raise consciousness about injustice.The Grail Centres, (in Judith Street, Observatory and from 1967 in Loch Avenue, Parktown) hosted many lectures and discussions on topical issues, including a talk each year by Archbishop Denis Hurley when he returned from one of the sessions of the Vatican council.We were thrilled at the way the Church was “opening wide its windows, and reaching out to respond to the challenges of the modern world”.

Many of us joined Rev. Beyers Naude in the Christian Institute, searching for ways to create a different reality in the country.We also worked through such groups as CARE – Catholic Action for Racial Education – and tried to create opportunities for social cohesion between different race groups.We helped to establish a group of African professional women, who met monthly with Grail members and friends, and though it was illegal, several African women lived with us in the Grail Centres.

Christian Education and LeadershipTraining

Many Grail members also participated in the inter-racial and interdenominational training programme called CELT (Christian Education Leadership Training) in which the courageous and honest exchange of experiences and ideas led to very deep friendships, and a new view of what the church is meant to be and do.

Human relations training and group dynamics became an important part of our work.All the time most Grail members were involved in their professional work and in raising families, while the informal education and health and social work, and the constant personal search for an authentic life-giving spirituality went on.

Work In Johannesburg

Grail members in Johannesburg have been involved for more than 30 years in an income-producing programme for women in Soweto and surrounding areas, in the Catholic Health Services, and have been active in several small but vitally important NGOs, including Cease Fire, Gun-free South Africa, and Earth-Life. In 1985, the Grail launched the Women’s Leadership and Training Programme that recently celebrated its 25th birthday in great style. WLTP has in the past worked with girls and young women in 6 provinces of South Africa on a range of development issues. WLTP is at present based only in KwaZulu Natal

KwaZulu Natal

In 1964 a Grail Centre was established in Durban and was joined by Zulu Grail members in 1972. Currently all Grail members are working in the WLTP Emthonjeni Programme that is based in the foothills of the Ukhahlamba Drakensberg Mountains. From there the Grail team runs an extensive programme for rural girls and young women and for city girls and young women in KwaMashu, Durban.The focus is on women’s self-esteem and gender analysis, ethics and morality, women’s health and HIV and AIDs, the Earth, including work against Climate Change and the Loss of Biodiversity, the promotion of permaculture and the struggle against genetically modified foods.An excellent new training manual, “Emthonjeni – Come to the Wellspring” has grown out of the work with girls and young women.


In the 70’s we learnt of the work of Paulo Freire in Brazil, from the Brazilian and Portuguese Grail members.We realised that both his philosophy and his practical approach to conscientisation could be extremely relevant in South Africa.With Steve Biko and his friends we worked out a practical training programme which has been used effectively in Kenya and many other African countries, known as ‘Training for Transformation’.It has become one of the networks of the international Grail.Most of these programmes in South Africa are now held at the Grail Centre in Kleinmond in the Western Cape.There is also a local community development programme in the Overberg district, and an adult education and job-training centre called Mthimkhulu in Kleinmond

Spirituality is the Foundation of our Life and Work in the Grail

Prayer groups and ongoing spiritual formation is a very important aspect of our work.Among the methods we have found very effective in South Africa is PRH – Personality and Human Relations – initiated by André Rochais in France.Over the years our Christian faith has been deeply enriched by liberation theology, feminist spirituality and creation spirituality.We have learnt much from dialogue with people of other faiths.We rejoice in truth, goodness and beauty wherever these are found.


Grail Centre Johannesburg

Email: grailjoburg at thegrail dot co dot za

Tel: 00 27 (0)11 782 0389

Address: Unit 51 Rose Village, 22 Reunert Drive, Roosevelt Park, Johannesburg


Grail Centre Kleinmond

Email: grailadm at mweb dot co dot za or tft at grailprogrammes dot org dot za

Tel: 00 27 (0)28 271 4887

Address: The Grail Centre, 15th Ave, PO Box 80, 7195 Kleinmond, South Africa.


Email: maitken at wltp dot co dot za

Tel: 00 27 (0)33 701 2601

The Grail, P.O. Box 145, 3257 Underberg, South Africa.


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