Durban South Africa Temple: Connections with Zulu royal family, members, youth and converts

DURBAN, South Africa — One day before he was to dedicate the Durban South Africa Temple, Elder Ronald A. Rasband conducted the temple’s final public tour, leading the contingent of the Zulu nation’s royal family headed by His Majesty, King Goodwill Zwelithini; Her Majesty, Queen Mchiza; Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the king’s uncle; and other members of the royal family.

The member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles — along with his wife, Sister Melanie Rasband, and other Church leaders and their wives — had spent several hours with the royal family the previous night in an elaborate reception and dinner in Umhlanga, about 17 kilometers north of Durban and the area where the new temple is located. And now, Saturday morning, Feb. 15, the Rasbands and others greeted the Zulu royals delivered in an expansive security-led motorcade that pulled up outside the temple for the one last tour.

Elder Ronald A. Rasband, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Melanie Rasband, give a tour of the Durban South Africa Temple to His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, King of the Zulu nation, in Umhlanga, South Africa, on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.
Elder Ronald A. Rasband, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and his wife, Sister Melanie Rasband, give a tour of the Durban South Africa Temple to His Majesty King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, King of the Zulu nation, in Umhlanga, South Africa, on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Latter-day Saints of the Zulu nation who were helping at the temple Saturday greeted their tribal leaders with reverent bows and soft chants of praise as the royal family members arrived and soon made their way to the temple. Joined by Elder S. Mark Palmer, a General Authority Seventy and president of the Africa Southeast Area, Elder Rasband directed the group through the temple similar to the tours given to other guests during the recent/previous open house, explaining the purpose and blessings of temple ordinances and covenants.

They paused in the celestial room at the tour’s conclusion, seated on the chairs filling the area to accommodate those attending the three Sunday, Feb. 16, dedicatory sessions over which Elder Rasband will preside.

“We normally don’t have conversations in the celestial room,” he said, recapping the experience. “But I had the prompting to allow the king to say something — he said a word had occurred to him yesterday and today. And the word was ‘connection … connection … connection’ — he said it three times.

“He said it in terms of him connecting to his subjects in his kingdom,” said Elder Rasband, “but he also said it in terms of him being connected to his family. I thought it was a beautiful word to have him finish his experience with us after spending a long dinner with us last night and a full tour today — and the word he’s leaving with is ‘connection.’ ”

Connections

The Durban South Africa Temple is providing plenty of opportunities for connections extending beyond those mentioned by King Goodwill Zwelithini. Other connections include the royal family with the Rasbands; the Rasbands in turn with the Zulu people as well as with all the local Church leaders, members and youth; the youth with their ancestors; and the members with their nonmember friends and neighbors.

“We’ve really been touched by the Zulu people, their love of the Lord and the spirit that we feel with them,” Sister Rasband said. “We truly feel as brothers and sisters with them in this family of God.”

Elder Rasband called it “a great honor” for Sister Rasband to be invited by the queen to call each other “sisters,” adding “that doesn’t happen — we were forewarned not to impose those kinds of words with them, but the queen wanted to call Sister Rasband ‘her sister.’ ”

Added Sister Rasband: “And the king called me his sister, too — it was wonderful.”

Sister Melanie Rasband laughs with Her Majesty, Queen Mchiza, wife of Zulu nation King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, during a tour of the Durban South Africa Temple in Umhlanga, South Africa, on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.
Sister Melanie Rasband laughs with Her Majesty, Queen Mchiza, wife of Zulu nation King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, during a tour of the Durban South Africa Temple in Umhlanga, South Africa, on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Before leaving the temple grounds early Saturday afternoon, Elder Rasband, Sister Rasband and Elder Palmer were guests for an interview for Ukhozi FM, a South African national radio station based in Durban that caters to the Zulu-speaking community and is the largest radio station in both South Africa and the African continent.

Ukhozi FM’s Siya Mhlongo asked questions of the three — on topics ranging from Church teachings and values, temple purposes and importance and honoring governing bodies — and then translated the responses in the Zulu language, with its accents, clicks and stops.

“It was fascinating,” said Sister Rasband, listening to their words being translated into Zulu. “I’ve already tried doing the clicking sound — and I’m going to have to practice for a long time.”

The Zulus are just a fraction of the races, tribes, ethnic groups and languages represented among the Latter-day Saints in the Durban temple district of South Africa’s East Cape and KwaZulu Natal provinces as well as the nations of Lesotho and Mozambique. The temple will have its instruction sessions and ordinances conducted in English, Portuguese, Zulu and Xhosa.

The Durban South Africa Temple in Umhlanga, South Africa, on Feb. 13, 2020.
The Durban South Africa Temple in Umhlanga, South Africa, on Feb. 13, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

And Elder and Sister Rasband — accompanied by Elder Carl B. Cook of the Presidency of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Lynette Cook — spent the week prior to the dedication weekend visiting leaders, members and missionaries throughout South Africa and Lesotho, talking about the temple and encouraging the members’ attendance and family history work there.

Saturday afternoon, the Rasbands and the Cooks — joined by the area presidency and their wives — gathered with invited leaders of the temple district and their spouses for a late-afternoon greeting and dinner at Durban’s Berea meetinghouse.

The importance of a name

Later that evening, the Rasbands and the Cooks — along with Elder Joseph W. Sitati, a General Authority Seventy and first counselor in the area presidency and his wife, Sister Gladys Sitati, and two local teens — spoke to a standing-room-only gathering of youth in a Saturday evening devotional held at the Pinetown meetinghouse.

The youth had been encouraged to do a little family history research in advance and bring a name of an ancestor with them to the devotional — perhaps a name for which they could do temple work. Elder Rasband asked the youth who brought a name they had found to hold it up in the air to show how many had been successful in the assignment.

Youth hold up their family history names as Elder Ronald A. Rasband, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks during a Durban South Africa Temple youth devotional in Durban, South Africa, on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.
Youth hold up their family history names as Elder Ronald A. Rasband, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks during a Durban South Africa Temple youth devotional in Durban, South Africa, on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The latter-day Apostle then stressed to them the importance of that name — and that it was not just a name but represented an individual, a son or daughter of God, many who are still waiting for someone to complete temple ordinances for them.

“I hope you will have as a burning in your bosom the desire to serve Heavenly Father’s children on the other side of the veil,” he said, adding, “This is your mission. This is your destiny … to set them free so they can progress and receive eternal blessings.”

Jonah Von Brughan, age 13, of the Hillcrest Ward in Durban said when he heard Elder Rasband talk of his role with the name he had brought — Thomas Jenkins of the early 1800s — “I felt important, and I felt that I was need to help people. And I felt happy about that.”

Sinqobile Mkhize and other youth listen as Elder Ronald A. Rasband, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks during a Durban South Africa Temple youth devotional in Durban, South Africa, on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020.
Sinqobile Mkhize and other youth listen as Elder Ronald A. Rasband, of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, speaks during a Durban South Africa Temple youth devotional in Durban, South Africa, on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Olwethu Ngwekazi, 17, of the Mavel Ward, said she “really felt the Spirit” when Elder Rasband taught that “the people on the other side of the veil are not dead but should be considered that they are living.” She’s the only member of her family and hasn’t been able to go do baptisms for the dead for several years in the Johannesburg South Africa Temple, since it was seven to eight hours away by car or bus. She said she’s looking forward to the proximity and availability of the new Durban temple.

‘Come and see’

As far as Latter-day Saints making connections with their nonmember friends and neighbors, few throughout South Africa have been as successful as Nokuthula Gladys Gumede, an 80-year-old widow known as “Granny” living in nearby Umlazi.

Nokuthula Gladys Gumede at her home in Umlazi, South Africa, on Feb. 14, 2020.
Nokuthula Gladys Gumede at her home in Umlazi, South Africa, on Feb. 14, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

In the early 1990s, she went to Johannesburg to cook, clean and care for a home with agricultural property and several hired workers. Her 8-year-old daughter befriended one worker, who wore dirty, smelly clothes and ended up being avoided by those around him.

Granny took and machine-washed the dirty clothes and helped care and give attention to the young man — something no one else had done. He in turned promised to bring her a book — the religious book from America that initially excited her was a Book of Mormon, which in turn eventually helped to convert her, with her baptism in 1992. It came at the same time that her young daughter had been encouraging her to find a church that they could attend.

“Why are you going to that church?” asked friends, worried about her safety in the violent times of apartheid in South Africa, with extensive racial tensions between whites and blacks and between black tribes until the abolishment of racial segregation in the mid-1990s.

“They won’t kill me,” she would answer. “This is my new Church, and I want to feel more peace.”

Her husband turned his life around and later became bishop of a local ward before he was killed in an accident. And only two of her seven children are still living today.

But Granny has an extended and connected “family” of sorts, having for decades invited others — including youth and children — to join her in attending Church meetings. She can produce a list of some 120 individuals who she has helped bring into the Church, including one 9-year-old boy who later became her bishop.

“Come and see,” she would tell anyone and everyone. “Come to my Church.”

A temple photo is displayed in Nokuthula Gladys Gumede's home in Umlazi, South Africa, on Feb. 14, 2020.
A temple photo is displayed in Nokuthula Gladys Gumede’s home in Umlazi, South Africa, on Feb. 14, 2020. Credit: Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

The long distance to Johannesburg has kept her from attending the temple in recent years, so she’s happy to have the new Durban temple so close. “Oooh, I’m very happy,” she said, “very happy now the temple is close that I can come here.”