The Dominican Order has been present in Southern Africa for more than four hundred years. At the peak of its expansion in 1968, when the English and Dutch vicariates amalgamated the friars numbered seventy-four. Most of the time, however, their number was more limited. They ministered in areas as diverse as the Zambezi River, the Mutapa empire, the Cape Colony, the East Rand, the Western Transvaal, the Free State, Johannesburg, Natal, Swaziland and Lesotho.
Writing their history as a continuous narrative is a somewhat artificial exercise, as pointed out in the introduction. Institutionally they belonged to five different entities: the congregation of Portuguese India between 1577 and 1835, a small group of Irish Dominicans in the mid nineteenth century, the South African vicariate of the English province since 1917, its Dutch counterpart since 1932 and the general vicariate of Southern Africa from 1968 to the present day. The Portuguese, Irish, English, Dutch, South African, Basotho and Zimbabwean friars working in Southern Africa wore the same habit and shared the same intellectual tradition. But they can hardly be said to constitute a homogenous group with a shared identity and a common consciousness. It is the methodical gathering of sources, a painstaking and hazardous process, which has allowed me to write their history as a continuum. I have constructed their history. This is not unique for the Dominican friars in Southern Africa of course. All histories are temporary constructs depending on the heuristic and hermeneutical skills of their writers.
The picture shows the Domincan logo on the wall of the church in Stellenbosch, which is made of ceramic tiles and is all that is left of the original Dominican Priory in Stellenbosch. It once adorned the refectory floor in the now-demolished Priory.