Federal Theological Seminary of Southern Africa


Established in 1963, the Federal Theological Seminary of Southern Africa, also known as Fedsem, occupies a unique place in South African history. Despite its controversial closure in 1993, it is regarded by many of its former students, staff and associates as one of the most remarkable achievements of the Christian church in South Africa. A symbol of ecumenism, it also exemplifies the churches' resistance to apartheid. This is why, more than 20 years after its demise, it continues to evoke powerful emotions.

By and large, however, the history of the seminary remains unwritten. With the help of Lumkile Grootboom, a minister of the United Congregational Church of South Africa, Philippe Denis collected more than 30 interviews of former staff and students of the seminary. These oral testimonies complement the various collections of written documents which are scattered throughout South Africa. They constitute one of the main sources of the book published by Philippe Denis and Graham Duncan in 2011 under the title The native school which caused all the trouble. A history of the Federal Theological Seminary (Cluster Publications)


Denis, Philippe, "Fedsem ten years later. The unwritten history of an ecumenical seminary", Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 117 (November 2003), pp. 68-79. 

--, "Joe Wing and the Theological Federal Seminary (1988 -1991)", in Steve de Gruchy and Desmond van der Water (eds), Spirit Undaunted. The life and legacy of Joe Wing(Pietermaritzburg, Cluster Publications, 2005), pp. 171-179. 

--, "The rocky road to unity: the worship debate at Fedsem during the 1980s", Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae 32/1 (May 2006), pp. 201-231. 

--, "Men of the Cloth: The Federal Theological Seminary of Southern Africa, Inkatha and the Struggle against Apartheid", Journal of Southern African Studies, 34/2 (2008), pp. 305-324.

--, "Unfinished business. The painful closure of the Theological Seminary of Southern Africa", Missionalia, 37/1 (April 2009), 5-19.

-- "Seminary networks and Black Consciousness in the 1970", South African Historical Journal, 62/1 (2010), 62-82.

Denis, Philippe and Graham Duncan, The native school which caused all the trouble. A history of the Federal Theological Seminary (Pietermaritzburg: Cluster Publications, 2011).