The Quaker movement arose in Great Britain out of the religious ferment of the mid- 17th century and soon spread to North America. Probably the first members to visit South Africa were whalers from Nantucket, who often called at Table Bay around 1800. Immigrants followed later and settled in various parts of the country. As their numbers grew they gathered for worship and counsel, first in isolated groups, then on a wider basis, until eventually national gatherings became possible. In 1946 the Friends in Southern Africa were given recognition as an autonomous body within the world fellowship. They now have their own places of worship in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Salisbury and Bulawayo, with regular services in a few other centres; also in Malawi, Tanganyika and Zambia. At various dates mission centres were started in Madagascar, on Pemba and in Kenya, where a large membership also function as an autonomous body. Contrary to general opinion, meetings for worship are public occasions, open to all races. Although those of English descent predominate, there are Afrikaans-speaking and Bantu members.
When the Second Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1899 English Friends set up a South African Conciliation Committee; travelling extensively in Natal and the Cape, representatives visited the concentration camps and reported their findings direct to Parliament in London in 190I. Creating a South African Relief Fund, which worked in close co-operation with Emily Hobhouse, both during and after the war, they undertook the personal distribution of clothing, books and money to those in greatest need.
Tracing and then returning many highly prized family Bibles was another small but greatly appreciated gesture of goodwill. As South African members shared in these undertakings, lasting links were created between the two countries. At present Friends in England provide generous support for the locally administered Quaker Service Fund, which offers practical assistance to those facing problems of many kinds. Quakers are also known as Friends, or Religious Society of Friends.