The YCW moves into Soweto and other Black Townships: 1952 to 1965

Stuart Clifton Bate


The Young Christian Workers (YCW) movement in South Africa officially began in Johannesburg in 1949. Within a few years the movement expanded into Soweto and then other surrounding emerging black townships of Johannesburg. The YCW was a movement of the working class: by workers for workers. The young workers were the leaders of the movement. As a movement led by lay people in the church, the YCW is a movement of “Catholic Action” and this dimension will be clarified in the text. The specific focus of this article is an examination of the early history of the YCW in Soweto. This was initiated through the work of a young worker, Eric Tyacke, who was appointed to this mission by the local bishop in Johannesburg, William Patrick Whelan OMI. Missionary priests in the townships, especially those from Belgium and Ireland, facilitated the establishment and development of the movement in their role as chaplains. However, the main means of the primary activity of mission to workers, was carried out by the young worker leaders of the YCW themselves in their places of work and their communities. For this reason a major part of the data collection was through oral history, where possible from those former YCW members still alive, as well as other written sources. This missionary activity will be analysed in terms of a model of method in contextual missiology previously developed by the author. The social context of this period is also examined, as this was the time of establishing racially defined suburbs in Johannesburg as well as restrictions on trade unions, in a time when the apartheid policy of the new nationalist government began to grip. 


Young Christian Workers (YCW); Catholic Action; apartheid; worker ministry; trade unions

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