PROFILE: Became a regular pioneer in 1914. Served as branch overseer in South Africa for nearly 40 years and died faithful in 1982.
GEORGE PHILLIPS was born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland. He started pioneering in 1914, at the age of 16. In 1917 he was imprisoned for maintaining Christian neutrality. In 1924, Brother Rutherford personally invited him to serve in South Africa. He said, “George, it may be for a year, or it may be for a little longer.”
This was George’s impression on arriving in South Africa: “Compared to Britain, conditions were altogether different and everything connected with the work was so much smaller. At that time, there were only 6 in the full-time service and not more than about 40 doing a little service work. Our territory embraced everything from the Cape to Kenya. How was it going to be covered and an effective witness given in one year? Why worry about that? The thing to do was to get going, use the instruments at hand, and leave the results to Jehovah.
“South Africa is a complex country with many different races and languages. It was a real joy getting to know these different peoples. Organizing the work in such a vast field and laying the necessary foundations on which to build were no easy tasks.
“Down through the years, Jehovah’s loving provision for all my needs, his protection, guidance, and blessing have ever been abundantly manifest. I have learned that ‘godliness with contentment is great gain’ and that if one would remain in ‘the secret place of the Most High,’ one must stick close to his organization and work hard at doing his work in his way.”—1 Timothy 6:6, King James Version; Psalm 91:1.
Great Growth During The War Years
The second world war did not have as dramatic an impact on South Africa as it did on Europe, though many South Africans did fight in Africa and Italy. The war was given much publicity to stir up popular support and to attract recruits. Despite the strong patriotic spirit among the people at that time, the 1940 service year saw a new peak of 881 publishers—a 58.7 percent increase over the preceding year’s peak of 555!
In January 1939, Consolation (now Awake!) was published in Afrikaans for the first time. This was also the first magazine to be printed by Jehovah’s Witnesses in South Africa. Type for this magazine was set by hand, a slow process. Soon it was decided to publish The Watchtower in Afrikaans. Although the brothers did not realize it then, that was a timely decision in view of future events in Europe. A Linotype and a folder were installed. The first issue appeared on June 1, 1940.
Up to this point, the brothers had received the Dutch Watchtower from the Netherlands for Afrikaans readers, since the two languages are similar. But in May 1940, because of Hitler’s invasion of Netherlands, the branch suddenly closed. However, the printing of The Watchtower in Afrikaans had begun in South Africa, so the brothers did not miss any issues of the magazine. Monthly distribution of magazines went up to 17,000.
Progress Despite Censorship
As a result of pressure from religious leaders of Christendom and the government’s alarm over our neutral stand, subscribers’ copies of The Watchtower and Consolation were seized by the censorship authorities in 1940. An official announcement was made banning these publications. Shipments of magazines and literature from overseas were seized on arrival.
Nevertheless, the brothers still received their spiritual food on time. A copy of The Watchtower in English always found its way to the branch office, where it was set and printed.
George Phillips wrote: “While the ban was on, we had . . . the most marvelous evidence of Jehovah’s loving care and protection over his people. We never missed a single issue of The Watchtower. Many a time only one copy of an issue would get through. Sometimes it was a subscriber in one of the Rhodesias [now Zambia and Zimbabwe] or in Portuguese East Africa [now Mozambique] or on a lonely farm in South Africa or a visitor from a boat touching at Cape Town that would supply what was needed.”
In August 1941 all the outgoing mail from the branch office was seized without explanation by the censorship authorities. Later that year, the minister of the interior issued an order to seize all the organization’s publications in the country. At ten o’clock one morning, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) arrived at the branch office with trucks for the purpose of removing all the literature. Brother Phillips checked the order and saw that it was not strictly in accord with the regulations. The books were not listed by name, which was required according to the Government Gazette.
Brother Phillips then asked the CID officers to wait while he contacted a lawyer and made an urgent application to the supreme court for an interdict to restrain the minister of the interior from seizing the literature. His application was successful. By noon the interdict was obtained, and the police left empty-handed. Five days later, the minister withdrew the order and paid our legal fees.
The legal battle regarding the banning of our literature continued for some years. The brothers hid literature in their homes. While they had less literature to use in the field, they made wise use of it. They would lend books to those who wanted to study the Bible. Many accepted the truth at this time.
Toward the end of 1943, a new minister of the interior was appointed. An application for the removal of the ban was submitted and was successful. Early in 1944, the ban was lifted and the large stock of literature that had been seized by the authorities was delivered to the branch office.
How successful were the opposers of true worship in their efforts to stop the Kingdom-preaching activity? The figures for the 1945 service year indicate that Jehovah blessed the dedicated service of his faithful people, and the work forged ahead as never before. An average of 2,991 publishers placed 370,264 pieces of literature and conducted 4,777 Bible studies. This compares well with the peak of 881 publishers in 1940.