Edited By: Leslyn Kim
Through various forms of institutionalized racial segregation, via government legislation, the system of Apartheid was born. Under the rule of Apartheid (known as “Apartness” in South Africa), meaning the state of being apart, the Nationalist Party (conservative) maintained the minority rule of White South Africans over the majority Black South Africans. The ills of racial segregation and oppression, beginning in 1948, remained as a dark cloud over the country for nearly five decades.
Under the legislation of Apartheid, black South Africans were not allowed to vote or to legally marry white South Africans, and were required to carry racial ID cards containing demographic information – photos, fingerprints, where you lived, where you worked, where you were allowed to go, how long you could be there, and the purpose of being there. This was instituted and mandated under the Population Registration Act of 1950. People were profiled, and visually classified by race by a review board. Later in 1952, black Africans were required to acquire a passbook. As a result, all white South Africans reserved the right to request the passbook from blacks, giving them the ability to scrutinize whether or not blacks had the explicit permission to access particular areas. In addition, segregation grew full-scale from schools, to buses, to park benches, and so on. Very similar to Jim Crow segregation laws that dominated the American Southeast. Without having the legal authority to exist in certain places black could be arrested and thrown in prison.
Nelson Mandela, started as a non-violent activist, but later joined a more radical faction of the organization The A.N.C. – African National Congress. The radical sub-group of the former non-violent group, A.N.C., plotted to sabotage the oppressive National Party government rule through more aggressive means i.e. – bombings of government buildings, etc). As a means to curtail the growing, more aggressive wing of the A.N.C, the government went on a blitz to arrest and prosecute party leaders. Side Note: The American government, specifically the Reagan administration, considered the A.N.C. as a terrorist organization. Mandela was arrested and prosecuted under the legal authority of the pass laws. He was convicted of traveling illegally and later while serving out his first sentence was convicted of sabotage (1962), amounting to a life sentence in prison. Worldwide, his name and face became a symbol of Apartheid. Serving a total of 27 years his sentence was finally commuted by D.W. De Clerk a Dutch Reformed Christian. That leads to my reason for writing this blog, which I intended to be short. LOL
How Calvinism formed the foundation for Apartheid:
“Yet it(South Africa) is a country which roots itself firmly in Calvinism — historic, sixteenth-century Calvinism –with every step it takes (even though the rest of the world may abandon it).” – Rev. Prof. Dr. Francis
You’ll rarely catch this mentioned on mainstream media, but the reason that I wanted to write the blog was to highlight the theology that framed the very mindset of Apartheid in South Africa. Between 1652 to 1835 large masses of Dutch Reformed Calvinists migrated from Europe to settle in South Africa. For a more detailed description of how Calvinism formed the backbone of Apartheid read this article here:
In a nutshell, the tenets of Calvinism, primarily particular predestination and the omnipotence/Sovereignty of God in all things including history (good and evil). The political and physical threat of a majority black South African population (80%) formed the recipe for a theological consciousness that made predestination and election appealing. Assuming the position of a “new Israel”, as chosen people, the brutality and injustice of segregation could be justified by God’s ordained will. White South Africans were the chosen and elect, black South Africans were a byproduct of the curse of Ham. The pagan natives were destined to their plight of oppression. In the book “Race and Politics In South Africa, the author discusses what led to the mentality and attitude of Dutch Reformed Boer’s to native South Africans, stating:
“Their religion, setting them apart from the unelected pagans about them, bred
in them a sense of special destiny as a people.” – C.W. de Kiewet
Furthermore, the South Afrikaner Calvinists held closely to their preference for the law of Old Testament. The cocktail of legalism mixed with Calvinists theology combined to form a socially volatile mindset. They certainly were not alone. Reformed Puritans that migrated to America, and were instrumental in the institution of chattel slavery, shared similar sentiments. This is not necessarily an indictment against Calvinism itself, but a reflection on how theological beliefs, good and bad, have practical implications in life. In fact, European Calvinist were not known to hold to the same views on racism that the Dutch Reformed Afrikaner Calvinists held to. So, no need to broad brush stroke all of Calvinism. It just highlights the need for love to be at the root of any belief. In other words, any theological belief or doctrine not firmly undergirded by love can be dangerous in the hand of fallible men.
How Wesleyian Methodism played a role in ending Apartheid:
“O thou God of love, thou who art loving to every man, and- whose mercy is over all thy works; thou who art the Father of the spirits of all flesh, and who art rich in mercy unto all; thou who hast mingled of one blood all the nations upon earth; have compassion upon these outcasts of men, who are trodden down as dung upon the earth! Arise, and help these that have no helper, whose blood is spilt upon the ground like water! Are not these also the work of thine own hands, the purchase of thy Son’s blood? Stir them up to cry unto thee in the land of their captivity; and let their complaint come up before thee; let it enter into thy ears! Make even those that lead them away captive to pity them, and turn their captivity as the rivers in the south. O burst thou all their chains in sunder; more especially the chains of their sins! Thou Saviour of all, make them free, that they may be free indeed!” – John Wesley, Thoughts on Slavery, 1774
I don’t believe that it’s held as fact, but it’s loosely understood that Mandela was a Methodist. What we do know is that his mother was Methodist, he was baptized in a Methodist Church, and he attended a Methodist missionary school. Regardless, the influence of Wesleyian Methodism, and it’s affect on the mindset of South Africa can’t be denied. Methodism in South Africa is the largest mainline denomination. The Arminian influence of Welsey’s theology is evident in the quote above. God is love, he’s rich in mercy to all, he cares for the poor and downtrodden, ALL were puchased by Christ’s blood, Jesus came to set the captives free. This pragmatic approach to the gospel (Wesleyian Methodism), which places emphasis on personal holiness and love of neighbor, is often referred to as “practical divinity”.
… gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness
but social holiness. “Faith working by love” is the length
and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection
(Wesley in the preface to the 1739 Methodist Hymn book).
Wesleys James-like emphasis on faith with works (or deeds) formed the foundation of Methodism. It therefore demanded that true love expressed itself not only in word, high reverance toward scripture, or personal piety but also in deed.
20 If a man say, “I love God,” and hateth his brother, he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?
Hence, slavery and oppression in their American and South African forms were unsustainable in light of the gospel. The idea of God desiring that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9) made the idea of owning slaves (outside of indentured servitude) inconceivable. In other words, how do you witness to men whom you oppress? The reality of this belief showed up shortly after the inception/planting of the Methodist Church in South Africa. The appeal of the Methodist message resulted in the Methodist church yielding the largest number of black South Africans of any mainline denomination. As one would expect, the fruit of the “practical divinity” produced schools, the first translation of the bible in an African language, hospitals that cared for black South Africans, and homes to care for the elderly and orphans.
However, the Methodist Church was not without its own problems. The leadership within the Methodist church was facing tremendous pressure to uphold segregation. The pressure was both internal and external. Internal pressure came from more conservative white leaders within the Methodist Church of South Africa and external pressure from the governing National Party to toe the line. Many other denominations in S. Africa were indeed divided among racial lines, typically from their missionary inception. Nonetheless, in 1958 they made a bold move contrary to the prevailing winds of the time. A resolution was passed at a denominational conference declaring the following:
Like other parts of the life of our country, the church is
facing choices which will determine her future
development, and in particular the choice between unity
and division. The Conference, in prayer and heart-
searching, expressed its conviction that it is the will of God
for the Methodist Church that it should be
one and undivided, trusting to the leading of
God to bring this ideal to ultimate fruition (Minutes of Conference 1958:202).
The church body at large, as well as organizations like SACC (South African Council of Churches) played a prominent role in ending Apartheid in South Africa. The South African government was less likely to attack religious leaders. As a result, their prophetic voice denouncing the system was heard. It helped to shape public opinion and shine light on the injustice of Apartheid.
The beauty of it all is that in the end it was a Dutch Reformed Calvinist F.W. De Clerk (last President of South Africa during Apartheid era) who commuted Nelson Mandela’s life long jail sentence after twenty-seven years. After having a change of heart De Klerk stated that Apartheid was “morally unjustifiable” and “that it could not be reformed, that the concept of separate development had led to manifest injustice and had to be abandoned.” And it was Nelson Mandela, former non-violent A.N.C. member – turned radical, by any means necessary revolutionary, who upon release brought reconciliation and healing to a segregated and divided country.
As Reformed rapper Propaganda once said in his controversial song “Precious Puritans”…….“So I guess it’s true that God really does use crooked sticks
To make straight lines.”
Can’t the same be said for us all?Blessings
 Jennifer Nelson. The Role the Dutch Reformed Church Played in the Rise and Fall of Apartheid (8 August 2003)