Fanie du Toit is the executive director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and is heavily involved in trying to assess the possible sources of reconciliation in South Africa. His current work is focused on trying to deepen the levels of societal reconciliation in the country and...
Post-Apartheid Reconciliation in South Africa
Georgetown University graduate student Ilan Cooper conducted interviews in May 2009 in Mozambique as part of an ongoing research initiative at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. The aim of these interviews was to assess the role of religious actors in South Africa’s...
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Peacebuilding Practitioners Interview Series
We know very little about the role of religion in conflict situations and peacebuilding efforts. Religion intersects with other economic, social, political and other factors in complex ways. And faith communities are often arrayed on different sides of the same issue. In order to learn more about...
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A Discussion with Fanie Du Toit of IJR on the Role of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa’s History
Background: As part of the Peacebuilding Practitioners Interview Series, Ilan Cooper interviewed Fanie du Toit, who is currently the executive director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation and is heavily involved in trying to assess the possible sources of reconciliation in South Africa. In this interview, he shares his projections for the future roles of religious organizations in South Africa. He also reviews the history of the Dutch Reformed Church during the apartheid era.
Interview Conducted on May 22, 2009
Can you speak of your personal experiences of the Dutch Reformed Church?
The Dutch Reformed Church was one of the pillars that provided ideological backing for apartheid. It was very important in justifying apartheid. It was also important in that it in some ways during the worst excesses acted as a check on apartheid atrocities so that it could maintain its Christian veneer. However, in other cases it justified human rights abuses. It had a mild inhibitor affect at times but many times it made crimes acceptable. The Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) helped apartheid tie the Black and Red threats together as a challenge to white, Christian and western values. The DRC chaplains blessed soldiers before they went into Angola and then days later when they committed human rights abuses did little to stop them. They then later turned their backs on them and washed their hands of them. There was a transition in the DRC. In 1986 they issued a document on church and society. They broke ideologically with apartheid. They were still very hesitant of full democracy but they went some way in condemning apartheid.
1989 was an important year. Botha had a stroke, the economy was bankrupt, the violence was escalating, and the Berlin Wall came down. In 1990 there was the Rustenburg Church Conference. This was post the unbanning of the ANC. My theology teacher Jonker went to this Inter-Christian conference. He actually stood up and felt compelled to apologize for the DRC. His speech was heralded as a significant step and Tutu stood up immediately after and accepted the apology. However, the DRC distanced itself from this speech and said it would have to ask its synods for approval. Many rejected it and even those that accepted it caveated their acceptance. Gaum was the moderator of the DRC at the time. He was even the editor of the national church newspaper. He was very suspicious of the TRC. The circuit of Stellenbosch piece that was given to the TRC by me and some colleagues was pretty much the end of our relationship with Gaum. The DRC ended up writing its own piece which was very different.
There is a problem within the DRC that they have a basic inability to accept the language of any others. They must re-write everything in their own words and with their own meaning. Gaum did not participate in the TRC. He instead wrote a book called "Journey with Apartheid." In this he essentially said that the idea of apartheid was not bad and what was intended was not bad it had just gone wrong and excesses had been committed. This did not wash with the country. The DRC cannot participate in anything that is not its own.
After Gaum came Koningsberger, who tried to achieve unity with the Black arm of the DRC. However, this never really occurred. The Black and colored arms merged into the Uniting Reformed Church. However, the white community never united. Then Strauss took over the DRC and he is very conservative. For example, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches came to South Africa to try and united the Uniting Reformed and the DRC. They tried to facilitate rapprochement. However, the Belhar Confession is key. This document is a mild form of liberation theology. It basically says God has solidarity with the poor. The whites will not sign it. The worst thing is that they do not disagree with it. It is just not their own words and if they are to sign the fourth confession (the other three were signed hundreds of years ago) it must be in their own language. There is not enough leading by the Church they rather reflect on concerns too much. Afrikaners have essentially privatized their lives and withdrawn. The DRC has done the same as the constitution allows them too. They have essentially created a separate sphere which is guaranteed by the constitution. So they have lost church unity. I cannot see how this will ever change. It will only change once it no longer matters. While it still has a prophetic role I don’t think this will happen. There is a worldwide challenge being made by the evangelical charismatic churches. Indeed, the DRC strand of this derives from the Presbyterian Scots. Andrew Murray started its revival in South Africa from Wellington and it is weird that this strand of Methodistic piety exists within the DRC.
What is the potential role for religious actors in the future of South Africa?
They could be very important. The two most important institutions in South Africa are the schools and the church (I should say Mosques too). But the religious actors are still largely run along religious lines. They must get their own house in order and then provide South Africa with moral backbone. They must rehabilitate the family. They must deal with issues of urbanization and forced migration which have destroyed the black family unit. This is the most important thing for the church to do and it is not really doing this. It should have a public role of bringing people together but they are too divided for this to happen.
Why is this not happening?
Well some are. But they are caught up in a confusing matrix of different values. And even they do not know what these values are. Racial groups divide the church. Religion is like farming in South Africa & we all have a romantic connection to the land and to religion. It is in our psychological makeup but it is no longer in our physical reality. My prediction is that the DRC will shrink dramatically and rediscover its reformed/Geneva roots.