Original Research - Special Collection: Reception of Biblical Discourse in Africa

Moffat’s seTlhaping translation as invasion: Re-translation resources for decolonisation

Gerald O. West
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 79, No 4 | a8895 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v79i4.8895 | © 2023 Gerald O. West | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 13 April 2023 | Published: 19 December 2023

About the author(s)

Gerald O. West, School of Religion, Philosophy, and Classics and Ujamaa Centre, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa


In the book The Stolen Bible: From Tool of Imperialism to African Icon (2016) the author provided a detailed analysis of Robert Moffat’s translation practice. In this article the author takes that analysis further, using the theoretical framework provided by Nathan Esala in this PhD thesis and forthcoming book, namely ‘translation as invasion’. Esala traces the colonial history of Africa-based translation practice, theorising the practice as ‘translation as invasion’. This article draws on Esala’s theorising in re-analysing Moffat’s translation practice among the BaTlhaping. The article then goes on to argue for forms of decolonial ‘re-translation’, focussing on two forms of decolonial translation, Contextual Bible Study (CBS) as translation (as advocated by Esala) and Julius Nyerere’s use of indigenous Tanzanian poetics for translating the gospels. The article uses Michel Foucault’s notion of ‘heterotopic space’ and Sithembiso Zwane’s notions of ‘invigorated space’ and ‘invented space’ to theorise CBS and Nyerere’s poetics as forms of decolonial space for African-led re-translation, with potential implications for African community-based participatory development.

Contribution: The article demonstrates how translation as a form of colonial invasion is practised by the missionary Robert Moffat, and how such forms of translation are being resisted through indigenous African reception of the Bible through re-translation practices.


Robert Moffat; BaTlhaping; re-translation; decolonial; heterotopia; Contextual Bible Study.

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Goal 10: Reduced inequalities


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