- Descendants of Dutch settlers who began arriving in South Africa in 1652, Afrikaners constitute the majority of the white Christian population of that country. Their Reformed faith has spread to many in the black population as well.From a small beginning, the Dutch colony at the Cape of Good Hope attracted increasing numbers of settlers, many of them refugees from the protracted conflict between Catholics and Calvin-ists in Holland. Joining the migrants were a number of Huguenots who had fled France for Holland following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. By this time the Dutch Reformed Church had been established in the new colony, and the Huguenots shared its faith.The 1795 French invasion of the Netherlands allowed the English to take over and colonize Cape Town. The number of English settlers steadily increased over the next decades. When in the 1830s the British passed laws abolishing discrimination on the basis of color, the Dutch Boers (farmers), who had had some broader disputes with the native Africans, decided to leave the Cape. In 1835, Afrikaners (people of Africa), as the Dutch had become known, began to head inland, where they fought a number of battles with Zulus and other peoples over control of the land. Following the second Boer War (1899-1901), all the Afrikaners surrendered toBritish authority. Nevertheless, their superior numbers gave them political control by the late 1940s in the whites-only government, and they were able to impose stringent segregation between whites and the other racial groups.The independent Dutch Reformed Church was integral to Afrikaner culture. Adherence to its Calvinist creed further set the Afrikaners apart from British South Africans, most of whom were Anglicans or Methodists. Although divided into three denominations due to doctrinal differences, the Dutch Reformed churches all shared an unusual racial theology, similar to the ideas used by some white Christian Americans in defense of slavery before the Civil War. Drawing on selected strains of Calvinism, they declared that nationality was one of the God-ordained "orders of creation" and concluded that South Africa should enforce apartheid, the strict segregation of its various nations, all white people constituting one such nation. Furthermore, God had foreordained certain nations to be the chosen people.While the Afrikaners were implementing apartheid, Dutch Reformed church leaders were reconnecting with the worldwide Reformed and Protestant communities. The two larger branches (known by their Afrikaner names as the Neder-duitse Gereformeerde Kirj and the Nederduitse Herformde Kerk) affiliated with the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC). In the 1950s, the member churches of the WCC began an intense debate over the compatibility of apartheid and Christianity, which intensified, following the Sharpsville Massacre in 1960. In response, the two South African churches withdrew from the council, an action that has affected South African church relations ever since. The churches remained in the WARC but were suspended in 1982 when the WARC's General Council declared apartheid a sin and its theological justification a heresy. one of the churches broke completely with the alliance, while the other maintained a dialogue and was received back into full membership in 1997.Meanwhile, the Dutch Reformed Mission Church, established in 1881 for Africans who had converted to Reformed Christianity, issued a new statement of faith, the Belhar Confession (1986). It affirmed that "separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin" and rejected "any doctrine which absolutises either natural diversity or the sinful separation of people . . . or breaks the visible and active unity of the church."Following the end of apartheid and whites-only government, South African churches have been engaged in an ongoing struggle with their past, looking for ways to repent racism, offer and accept forgiveness, and move toward a healing of the fissures that divided Protestants along racial, cultural, and linguistic lines via barriers that all now affirm were illegitimate.Further reading:■ Allan Boesak, Black and Reformed: Apartheid, Liberation and the Calvinist Tradition. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 1984)■ John W. de Gruchy, The Church Struggle in South Africa (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 1979)■ T. Dunbar Moodie, The Rise of Afrikanerdom: Power, Apartheid and the Afrikaner Civil Religion (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1975)■ Tracy Kuperus, State, Civil Society and Apartheid in South Africa: An Examination of Dutch Reformed Church-State Relations (Houndmills, Basingstoke, U.K./New York: Macmillan/St. Martin's, 1999).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.