St. Stephen’s Church on Riebeek square in central Cape Town is the only Dutch Reformed church named after a saint. But the story runs a little deeper than that. The building was erected during the first British occupation as a theatre which opened on
the 17th November 1800; consequently making it the oldest theatre in South Africa and the only theatre to become a church. Back under Dutch regime for a little while it was called the Afrikaansche Schouwburg or simply the Komediehuis.
With the official emancipation of slavery in the Cape in 1838, freed slaves were brought into the Christian society by both the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church. Not even a year later the theatre building was purchased for £3484 and converted to a church for ex-slaves as well as a school for Colored children. In response to these actions, people protested by stoning the Church. The Church was named after the Christian martyr that was stoned to death: St Stephens.
The building, repeatedly menaced with demolition, was proclaimed a historical monument in 1965 and continues to function as a church. It also hosts a music store, café and trendy shops beneath the church, a place that had previously been used for storage.