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Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae

versión On-line ISSN 2412-4265
versión impresa ISSN 1017-0499

Studia Hist. Ecc. vol.48 no.1 Pretoria  2022 



Neither White nor Black: The Dutch Reformed Mission Church and the Colour Issue (1881-1982)



Eugene A. Fortein

University of the Free State




This study investigates the role and understanding of race, particularly "Coloured" identity on the formation and life of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church. Particular focus is given to how the DRMC has dealt with and responded to the colour issue since its inception. An attempt is made to indicate how the history of the DRMC and "Coloured" identity in South Africa are inextricably bound up together. More emphasis is placed on "Coloured" being perceived as neither White nor Black and how the initial critique from the DRMC comprised of "Coloureds" being "less" than White, but superior than Blacks. The study concludes with the influence of Steve Biko and the Black Consciousness Movement on the DRMC.

Keywords: Dutch Reformed Mission Church; Dutch Reformed Church; "Coloured"; race; apartheid; Black consciousness




South Africans, particularly Black South Africans, are burdened by colour and race. It was and still is a millstone around their necks. South Africa's racial constructs originated not only to specify the colour differences, but purely for economic motives. The colour issue can be traced back to Jan van Riebeeck and the VOC's permanent arrival at the Cape in 1652, where a clear distinction was made between the "Hottentoten"1 and those coming from Europe. Eventually, the colour issue undergirded much of the ecclesiastical and societal dynamics, as race became a signifier to include or exclude and to allocate a certain degree of rights (political and social) depending on where you find yourself on the pigmentation hierarchy of White (at the top), "Coloured"2 or those of mixed descent (in the middle), or Black (at the bottom).

Important work has been done on the history of the DRMC by Kriel (1961),3 Loff (1981),4 and Adonis (1982)5 and will feature in this investigation. This study attempts to investigate the reciprocal relationship between the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (hereafter DRMC) and the colour issue and how the history of the DRMC and "Coloured" identity are inextricably bound up together. As the title suggests, the DRMC was established for "Coloureds," which I call "the sandwich people"; caught in the middle by being adjudged neither White nor Black. First of all, this study will consider the events preceding the establishment of the DRMC. In addition, the ambivalent perceptions of the colour issue within the DRMC will come under the spotlight. Furthermore, the focus centres around the pivotal importance of the Black Consciousness Movement (hereafter BCM) on the DRMC and the subsequent deconstruction of the "Coloured" identity.


No Fear, no Race, no Colour, no DRMC

The concept of race is as old as time. A majority of scholars couple the emergence of race with the advent of the 17th century Renaissance and 18th-century Enlightenment, more commonly known as modernity. Recent scholars, like Mangcu (2015), dispute the notion that racial prejudice is a modern invention. He maintains that there is copious evidence pointing to forms of racial prejudice dating back to ancient times, referring to Pharaonic Egypt and the Graeco-Roman Period. Nevertheless, race is a puissant and destructive force in the creation of the modern world, as evidenced in the torrid history of Africa. It set apart colonisers and the colonised as well as masters from the slaves. Racial prejudice gravitates around the seeming disparities of Blacks' body parts, i.e., dark skin tone, curly hair, as well as other features like language, culture, and so forth. Since its earliest inception, race would become an intricate part of South Africa's DNA, as predicted by the following prayer given to Jan van Riebeeck by the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, hereafter VOC) to open its meetings at the Cape:

O merciful, gracious God and heavenly Father, since it has pleased your Divine Majesty to call us to manage the affairs of the Dutch East Indian Company here at the Cape of Good Hope, and ... [we] in your holy Name have gathered with our Council ... to take decisions by which the best service to the Company will be furthered, justice will be maintained and, if it be possible, your true Reformed Christian religion will be spread and expanded in course of time among these wild/savage and brutal natives to the praise and honour of your Name. . This we pray and desire in the Name of your dear Son, our Mediator and Saviour Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray: Our Father ...6 (Smith 1980, 5)

In, Elkeen in sy eie Taal (1980), Smith mentions that this prayer of the VOC represents the two poles that would determine the position of the compass needle according to which direction the history of South Africa would play out. Smith believes that upholding the law and the expansion of the Christian faith formed the two cardinal poles that would dominate the population pattern of South Africa throughout history. The implementation of the Christianisation programme at the Cape under the VOC consisted mainly of the incorporation of the natives and slaves into the religious exercises and Christian teaching for officers of the VOC (Smith 1980, 26). It can, therefore, be concluded that the VOC's original intention was that the natives and slaves, together with their officials, would congregate as part of one congregation. Smith (1980, 26) notes that arrangements were made regarding the regular attendance of the religious practices by all slaves, young and old, every night and twice on a Sunday. Arrangements were even taken for the inclusion of the slave children in the school education system under the guidance of the sick comforters.

Elphick provides an extensive report in his book, The Equality of Believers (2012), of the missionary work done by the various mission societies at the Cape. Elphick (2012, 1) puts the White settlers' fear of equality as the driving force behind the development of the rigid racial hierarchy at the Cape, with Whites at the top and the slaves and Khoi/San at the bottom. The fear of equality sprung from the argument that the celebration of the Lord's Supper and ministry of the Baptism would put slaves and natives on equal status with the White settlers. On 2 November 1824, the first synod of the DRC took place on South African soil and set forth the early foundations of racial divisions in church and society. At this first synod, the DRC took measures to minister separately to slaves and natives by implementing the office of the missionary (Acta Synodi DRC 1824, 37).7

At the next synod in 1826, a decision, Reglement betrekkelijk het ordenen van Zendelingen (Rules regarding the ordering of Missionaries) was adopted, which stated clearly from the outset that the missionaries' ministry and jurisdiction were limited to the "gentiles" (Acta Synodi 1826, 1-5). The missionary was not allowed to perform any ministerial duties in the White part of the congregation. The rules also emphasised that where a missionary did not comply with this order, his status would be terminated immediately (Acta Synodi 1826, 1 -5). With this ruling came a clear distinction in the ministry of the White Christians on the one hand, and Black Christians on the other. According to Van Rooi (2010, 16), this practice did not only set the tone for a separate ministry for the natives, slaves, and freed slaves from their White brothers and sisters, but also for the subsequent establishment of separate congregations and denominations.

In his book, Afgebreekte Skeidsmure weer Opgebou (1982), Adonis deals extensively with the events leading up to the infamous 18578 synod of the DRC, where the separate administering of the Lord's Supper to "gentiles" would be raised once more. Loff (1998, 91 -92) notes that by the time of the 1857 synod, the congregations of Cape Town, Swellendam, Middelburg, and Calvinia were practising separate worship in separate buildings. Plaatjies-Van Huffel (2014, 308) mentions that in Wagenmakersvallei and Tulbagh and many other places, the sacraments had been separately administered to people of mixed descent long before the decision of 1857. This affirms that the 1857 synod of the DRC merely sanctioned an already existing practice into official church policy. Both Loff (1981, 21) and Plaatjies-Van Huffel (2014, 308) agree that the decision of the 1857 synod of the DRC opened the door for the establishment of racially segregated churches in 1881, namely the establishment of the Nederduitsche Gereformeerde Zendingkerk van Zuid-Afrika (Dutch Reformed Mission Church of South Africa). It is clear, according to Adonis (1982, 56), that this decision of the synod was meant as a two-way compromise, where the second part of the decision was intended to be temporary in nature, and that the synod was led by the racial prejudice of some of her White members. This decision laid the early foundations of the official mission policy9 of the DRC of 1935.

Pauw (2007, 71) mentions that by the middle of the 19th century there were two models of mission churches within the DRC. On the one hand, there were the mission churches or "gestichte" that were established by the local DRC congregations, where "Coloureds" could worship. This "gestichte" was under the control of the local DRC congregation. On the other hand, there were the missionary churches founded by missionary societies and which were under the control of the Synodical Mission Commission (Sinodale Sendingkommissie) of the DRC. These mission churches were not directly connected with the local DRC congregation. On Monday 22 November 1880, the DRC approved a Konstitusie10 for the Nederduitsche Gereformeerde Zendingkerk van Zuid-Afrika (DRMC) (Acta Synodi DRC 1880, 72). The same synod instructed the Domestic Missionary Commission (Binnelandse Sendingkommissie) to convene the first meeting of the DRMC. The first meeting of the DRMC was constituted on 5 October 1881, after the secretary of the Domestic Missionary Commission, Rev. J. H. Neetling, delivered the opening sermon (Acta Synodi DRMC 1881, 6).

What was the purpose and nature of the DRMC? To merely state that the constituting of the DRMC was due to the "weakness of some" is a euphemism, as it was born and bred out of the deep-seated resentment (some would argue hatred) of Whites who feared and rejected the equality of people whom they regarded as differently coloured. Henceforth, the DRMC would solely minister to believers of mixed descent, slaves, and natives. If there was no colour issue, there would have been no DRMC, nor any other Black Reformed churches in South Africa. The DRMC was coined the "daughter church" of the DRC, who referred to themselves as the "mother church." The "mother/daughter" metaphor was an apt description of the relationship between the DRC and DRMC, as it was largely a relationship of White domination.11 This domination was made possible by the DRC's provision of White ministers to serve in the Black churches, who were primarily paid with White funds. The DRC further controlled the theological training of future reverends of the Black churches, thereby ensuring that they received a colonised education that would cause no "problems" for the White church. These White ministers were strategically placed within the DRMC to regulate and reinforce the colonial programme. The DRMC underwent further fragmentation along racial lines with the formation of the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (hereafter DRCA) for Blacks and the Reformed Church in Africa (RCA) for Indians.


"Sandwiched" in Church and Society

The colonial project has perpetually placed "Coloureds" in the middle of the population, up to a point that "Coloureds" were made to feel just beneath Whites, but superior to Blacks. This has been evident since the Second World War and was always present in a large part of the "Coloured" psyche, as this study will point out. The participation of the "Coloured people" during the Second World War was a bone of contention among Whites. In a speech delivered on 12 March 1945, D. F. Malan took a firm stance against the participation of "Coloureds" and Blacks in the war (Malan 1945, 3269). He believed that the participation of "Coloureds" and Blacks would lead them to believe that if they are good enough to carry a weapon and defend their country, they are also good enough to enjoy the same rights and position as Whites. He maintained that "Coloureds" and Blacks should never have been sent to the war. Jan Smuts differed from Malan with regards to the execution of segregation against "Coloureds." According to Botha (1960, 100-109), Smuts never intended to legalise segregation against the "Coloureds," only against Blacks. This emphasises the rationale behind the emotion and thoughts of "Coloureds" as a "sandwich people"; in between White and Black-neither White, nor Black.

The history of the DRMC and the construction of the "Coloured" identity as a racial construct, can only be fully recognised against the backdrop of the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). According to Kriel (1961), the aftermath of the war had a definite impact on the well-being and growth of the DRMC. The British military employed thousands of "Coloureds" to assist with safeguarding the Cape Colony against a possible Boer invasion. This led to a growing pro-British sentiment among the "Coloured" community, which enlarged the wedge between themselves and the White Afrikaners (Kriel 1961, 98).

In the aftermath of the war, a substantial number of DMRC congregations broke away from the denomination to join the more pro-British Congregational Union.12 A new political era was marked by the victory of D. F. Malan's National Party (hereafter NP) in 1948, which promoted Afrikaner interests. The NP led its election campaign under the banner of apartheid. Even The Kerkbode, the official mouthpiece of the DRC, of 22 September 1948, reported shortly after the election that apartheid was "a church policy" because it was born from the nucleus of the church (The Kerkbode 1948). It is, therefore, understandable that the only notable ecclesiastical critique against the NP's policy of apartheid officially came from the so-called English-speaking churches. The coming to power of the NP led to a further deterioration of the relationship between the White Afrikaners and "Coloureds." A system of population registration was imported in which the races (Whites, "Coloureds," natives and Asians) would be registered separately and the term "Coloured" was introduced for people of mixed descent. During 1956, the "Coloureds" were registered on separate voter lists and would henceforth be represented by Whites in parliament (Malan 1964, 286; 268). "Coloureds" would subsequently lose their voting rights altogether.

The coming to power of the NP and the implementation of apartheid would hold significant consequences for the DRMC. From 1948 onwards, the Nationalist government designed and passed a gallery of laws, forbidding the hybridisation of races, formalising racial categories and segregation, placing restrictions on the movement of Blacks, and so forth. Every sphere of life would be segregated along racial lines. The DRMC did not manage to escape the consequences of the colour issue. During the synod of 1932, the issue came to the table unexpectedly while the synod was discussing the issue of the "Doop en Lidmaatskap van Sendelinge se Kinders"13 (Acta Synodi DRMC 1932, 14). This debate dates back to the 1928 synod of the DRMC, when it came to light that the Hervormde Kerk14 of Potchefstroom refused to accept the membership certificate of a missionary's, daughter because "it was issued by a church council of a DRMC congregation" (Acta Synodi DRMC 1928, 42). In light of this, the synod instructed her General Synodal Commission to investigate "the matter concerning the Baptism and Membership of Children of Missionaries" during the recess (Acta Synodi DRMC 1928, 9). It was decided that in future, "the registration of Baptism and the Confirmation of children of Missionaries" preferably should take place at the "Mother Church" (Acta Synodi DRMC 1932, 1). Henceforward, missionaries could baptise their children in the DRMC and confirm them as members, while the registration thereof would be recorded in the respective registers of the local DRC congregation. In this way, the children of the missionaries became, for all ends and purposes, members of the DRC, while they seemingly belonged to the DRMC congregation. Thus, the distinction between Black and White members was then promoted. The DRMC synod of 1950 witnessed one of the first voices of critique against apartheid as the Presbytery of Wynberg requested the synod to speak out against apartheid (Acta Synodi DRMC 1950, 160). Loff (1998, 248) states that the synod decided not to enter the discussion on the apartheid policy as the DRMC did not want to approve or disapprove of a political policy. That would remain the official decision of the DRMC until 1974.


DRMC: Not an authentic Black Church

As apartheid legislation swept through the country, it impacted social and religious life. As colour divisions began to take effect, "Coloureds" (and Blacks) were increasingly losing their rights in society. In the USA, Blacks went through a similar struggle when their rights were deducted, which eventually led to the Civil Rights Movement. There is, however, a noteworthy point of difference between the two situations in the USA and South Africa respectively. In his book, The Negro Church in America (1964), Frazier points out that Blacks in the USA arranged themselves within the church. The Black church served as an escape mechanism from the frustrations that came from the oppression in societal life. Frazier states as follows:

As the result of the elimination of Negroes from the political life of the American community, the Negro church became the arena of their political activities. The Negro church was not only an arena of political life for the leaders of Negroes, it had a political meaning for the masses. Although they were denied the right to vote in the American community within their churches, especially the Methodist Churches, they could vote and engage in electing their officers. Outside of the family, the church represented the only other organized social existence. (Frazier 1964, 43-44)

Blacks were excluded from any participation in society based on inferiority. Frazier (1964, 45) notes that Blacks were completely disfranchised and that the public schools provided sub-standard education. Even the justice system had double standards; one standard for Whites and another for Blacks. Blacks were subjected to mob violence involving lynching and burning alive, which were justified even by the White Christian churches (Frazier 1964, 45). Somehow Blacks found a haven and refuge in the Black church, where they could organise their affairs as it shielded them from the contempt and discriminations of the White world. Within the confines of the Black church, Blacks would experience the only acceptance and freedom in a White world. Frazier was correct that the Black church was not only the arena for Black leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, WEB du Bois, John Lewis, and Malcolm X, but also provided spiritual and political meaning for ordinary people.

In an excerpt from "The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song" by Henry Louis Gates Jr, The Harvard Gazette (2021) states that WEB du Bois's "The Preacher, the Music, and the Frenzy' provides a detailed picture of the use of the Black church in all of its forms to describe the revolutionary potential and practice of Black Christianity in forging social change. The Black church in the USA has a long and noble history concerning Black political action, dating back at least to the late 18th century, and it has continued in that role till now. Du Bois stated that the Black church blended both family and ritual functions in an all-encompassing way, and that its organisation was almost political (Savage 2000, 237). Whereas Blacks were excluded from political participation in American society, the Black church became the most important agent for political life among Blacks. While Black people collectively awaited freedom, the Black church provided an interim space brimming with disruptive features. Without the role of the Black church, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would never have been realised when they were (The Harvard Gazette 2021). According to The Harvard Gazette (2021), the Black church is the parent of the Civil Rights Movement, and today's Black Lives Matter movement is one of its heirs.

There are numerous parallels to be drawn between the political and religious life of Blacks in the USA and the oppressed (more specific "Coloureds" for this study) in South Africa. The Population Registration Act of 1950 required people to be identified and registered from birth as one of four distinct racial groups: White, Coloured, Bantu (Black African), and others. This Act was one of the cornerstones of apartheid, as race determined your status in society. Racial consciousness was so deeply embedded in the social fibre of apartheid South Africa that it was reflected in an individual's identity number. According to the Population Registration Act, the racial construct "Coloured" refers to "a person who is not a White person or a native" (SAHO 1950). In real life, a "Coloured" was thus seen as not White and not Black-but people of mixed descent.

In the introduction of the book, Burdened by Race: Coloured Identities in Southern Africa, Adhikari (2013) states that the South African term "Coloured" has a specialised meaning in that it refers to a person of mixed racial ancestry rather than one who is Black, as it does in most other parts of the world. Erasmus (2001, 13) notes that for her growing up labelled as "Coloured" meant knowing that she was not only non-White, but less than White; not only non-Black, but better than Black. She was aware that at the same time, the shape of her nose and the texture of her hair placed her in the middle of the trajectory of beauty.

Cowell (1985) writes that those labelled as "Coloured" in South Africa are a group defined by negatives. He argues that South Africa's people of mixed descent are torn between White and Black, but embraced totally by neither, a racial group of complexities and stratifications defined, in law, only by negatives. He reiterates that to be "Coloured" is to be neither Black nor White, more privileged than Blacks but less privileged than Whites. This intermediate locality in the social hierarchy has always been dependent on the benevolence of Whites. Whiteness was and still is the most prevailing force in the creation and protraction of "Coloured" identity. At times, the Nationalist government had great difficulty in determining racial identities, with a large majority of "Coloureds" being very fair and light-skinned of complexion. The infamous "pencil test"15 was used to determine whether someone was White or "Coloured" and was the chief reason why people were classified and re-classified to certain racial identities.

With the fragmentation of familiar communal life due to the Groups Areas Act,16 the ramifications of the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act17 1949, followed closely by the Immorality Amendment Act of 1950, the Separate Representation of Voters Act, and the Reservation of Separate Amenities Act, to name but a few, came a system of legislation that upheld segregationist policies against non-White citizens of South Africa. While "Coloureds" lost all their political rights in society, being uprooted and killed by the security police, the DRMC (as a church for "Coloureds"), unlike the Black church in the USA, provided little or no support or alternative spaces for her members to express their anger and irritations. Unlike Blacks in the Black church in the USA, "Coloureds" had no freedom and were not permitted to arrange themselves or their own affairs in their own church.

As stated earlier, the entire ecclesiastical life of the DRMC was dominated by the DRC, which supported the state policy of apartheid theologically. The leadership of the DRMC was content to adhere to the decision taken at her synod of 1950, although her members were left devastated by the Group Areas Act and detained by police without trial. The DRMC, at the time, provided no leaders who, like Martin Luther King Jr, could voice the frustrations of her members and interpret the gospel contextually. In reality, there was no difference between the lived experiences of "Coloureds" in society and church. The DMRC was content to be the church for the "sandwich people," dancing to the tune of the "mother church" and keeping her members to believe that they are better than Blacks. All this would begin to change from 1974 onwards as the DRMC began to rid herself of the shackles of the White-dominated DRC. This point will be explicated later on.


Less than White, but better than Black

To declare that the DRMC wholeheartedly supported the DRC and the apartheid policy before 1974, would be inaccurate. There were various voices of critique against apartheid, like that of the Presbytery of Wynberg in 1948, the Presbytery of Wellington in 1948, Rev. (later Dr) I. D. Morkel (who left the DRMC and formed the Calvin Protestant Church), and Rev. D. P. Botha (a previous moderator of the DRMC). The critique from Morkel and Botha is of particular relevance for this study as both presented an argument for the rejection of racial discrimination against "Coloureds," but not against Blacks. Rev. Isaac Morkel was a former minister who served in the DRMC. It was under his leadership that the Presbytery of Wynberg would speak out against apartheid in 1948, which stated that the presbytery declared that they found no grounds in the Scripture for racial apartheid (Acta Presbytery of Wynberg 1948, 48). The Presbytery of Wynberg approved a proposal to the following synod meeting of the DRMC, to be held in 1950, with the anticipation that an official statement against apartheid would be drafted. After the DRMC's decision, taken in 1950, not to engage in the political domain and not to prescribe a political policy to the government, Morkel and 26 members of the Rondebosch congregation left the DRMC to form the Calvin Protestant Church (hereafter CPC) in 1950 (Plaatjies-Van Huffel 2018).

The bulk of Morkel's critique against apartheid and the theological justification thereof rested on the argument that historically, Whites and "Coloureds" had a close link and that apartheid grouped "Coloureds" with other non-Whites such as Blacks (Notule, Skakelkommissie 1948). According to Erwee (1970, 70), Morkel was greatly offended by the equalisation of "Coloureds" and natives by the apartheid policy as if there were any ethnic similarities between the two groups. This was perhaps the reason behind the rationale when Morkel declined the application of 16 Black congregations of the Transkei to be taken up in the CPC. According to Morkel, the gulf between the "Coloured" and Black mentality was so great that such an amalgamation would not be beneficial for both groups (Erwee 1970, 234). The CPC remains a church for predominantly "Coloureds" with very few Black members, which is what Morkel seemingly would have been pleased with. In that sense, the CPC is no different from the DRMC, which Morkel accused of racial prejudice, which was also a racially based church. It is apparent that Morkel's perception of "Coloureds" was that of a "sandwich people"; neither White nor Black. While he was aware that apartheid degraded the "Coloured" identity below White, it meant that "Coloured" was above Blacks as the dissimilarities between "Coloureds" and Whites were seen as small-scale.

Rev. Dawid Botha started his career as a "missionary" serving in the DRMC, where he excelled in the leadership as moderator, assessor, and editor of Die Ligdraer.18 He is a respected emeritus minister in the DRMC, now the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (hereafter URCSA). Muller (2020) argues that Botha was a lifelong critic and was greatly influenced by the devastating effect of apartheid on the "Coloureds," particularly those of congregations he served. It was the aftermath of the Group Areas Act of 1950 that evoked critique from Botha, particularly the government's plan to segregate the Cape Malay and "Coloureds" into two separate categories, and hence to relocate them in different group areas (Muller 2020). Botha voiced his critique in numerous newspapers.

Like Morkel, Botha's critique greatly focused on the devastation of apartheid on "Coloureds," apart from Blacks. In 1960, Botha released a controversial book, Die Opkoms van ons Derde Stand (1960). The foreword was written by the well-known Afrikaans poet, playwright, and scholar, N. P. van Wyk Louw. In this book, Botha argues for the inclusion of "Coloureds" in the White group based on the similarities of language and culture between the two groups. It is on this basis, Botha argues, that apartheid should only be applied to Blacks. Elsewhere Muller (2020) quotes Botha as he stated that he found it easier to vindicate South Africa's Bantustan policy on a sociological basis than on a political one, but found it very difficult to vindicate the government's policy of separate development for Coloured people. Muller quotes Botha as follows on the new housing schemes and Group Areas Act:

For the Coloured communities, especially in the northern provinces, it was a great gain to move to expedient housing schemes from areas where they formerly had to live amongst the Bantus. (Muller 2020)

Analysing both Morkel and Botha, it is apparent that a strong "colour/coloured consciousness" prevailed in the DRMC. By this, I mean that apartheid had succeeded in corrupting the minds of both Whites and the oppressed in believing that a person's humanness is dependent on the pigmentation of his/her skin. Those like Morkel and Botha in the DRMC were moved by the colour issue as a racial construct and by advocating for the rights and liberation of one section of the oppressed, while they sanctioned racial discrimination (albeit perhaps indirectly) to another part. "Coloureds" were effortlessly seen, and perhaps more lamentably by themselves, as the "sandwich" people; neither White, nor Black.


The DRMC and Black Consciousness

The decision taken by the DRMC in 1950 on the colour issue, would remain the official decision of the church for some time. However, in 1974, the DRMC would set her foot on a different path from where she would never return. At the 1974 synod in Worcester, the DRMC began to shake off the colour eyepatches that had blinded her for so long, as very clear decisions were taken on the issues of practical unity among all believers, ecumenical relationships, mixed worship, and the rejection of the Mixed Marriages Act as the core of separate development. Following the discussion on mixed worship, the decision below was accepted by the synod:

(1) dat die Heilige Skrif geen grond erken wat as argument kan dien om 'n medegelowige uit die gemeenskap van 'n aanbiddende Gemeente uit te sluit nie; (2) dat die Heilige Skrif alle pogings om voorsorg vir die vlees te maak deur argument of handeling, veroordeel. Die volgehoue strewe van die lede van die liggaam van Christus om mekaar ten spyte van die teenstellinge aan te neem en lief te hê, lê op die weg van die heiligmaking, waarsonder niemand God sal sien nie; (3) dat daar gesamentlik aanbidding beoefen word dit moet gaan om Christus en die gemeenskap met Hom en verheerliking van God; (4) dat die uitsluiting van anderskleurige gelowiges van die aanbiddingsgeleenthede van blanke gemeentes die toets van die Skrif nie kan deurstaan nie19. (Acta Synodi DRMC 1974, 377)

The proposal of Rev. J. G. Smith and J. N. M. Hartney on the Mixed Marriages Act became the official decision of synod:

Die Heilige Skrif spreek nie 'n oordeel uit oor die gemengde huwelike tussen rasse nie; die aangaan van 'n huwelik is in die eerste plek 'n persoonlike en familiesaak. Kerk en staat moet hulle daarvan weerhou om gemengde huwelike tussen verskillende rasse te verbied omdat hulle geen reg het om die vrye keuse van n huweliksmaat op grond van ras of kleur te verbied nie.20 (Acta Synodi DRMC 1974, 218, 376).

An even more progressive amendment was proposed by the late Rev. (later Prof.) Hannes Adonis and Rev. J. S. van Rooy on the issue of mixed marriages:

Aangesien die Skrif geen verbod plaas op gemengde huwelike op grond van kleur nie, oordeel ons dat hierdie wet n groot deel van ons land se bevolking tot aanstoot stem, omdat dit n belediging teenoor hulle self en hulle bestaan is. Daarom is hierdie wet skadelik vir goeie betrekkinge in ons land. Hierdie verbod, vanweë sy motief om alleen die blanke identiteit te beskerm, is basies selfsugtig, eensydig en beledigend teenoor die Swartmense teen wie dit gemik is. Die Hoogeerwaarde sinode besluit dus om die regering te versoek om die wet op gemengde huwelike te skrap.21 (Acta Synodi DRMC 1974, 376).

Roelf Meyer, who attended the 1974 synod of the DRMC, accounts for his observations in the 1974 November edition of Pro Veritate22 Under the heading, n Nuwe Era in Nederduits Gereformeerde Sendingkerk,23 Meyer (1974) describes the tense debates between the White and "Coloured" ministers. He recollects how Rev. Hannes Adonis spoke out against the Mixed Marriages Act by stating that he (Adonis) is not a "Coloured," but a human being, even though the government labelled him as a "Coloured" (Meyer 1974, 6). Here a strong sense of reprobation of the term "Coloured" is revealed by Adonis in both his proposal and statement on mixed marriages. In his proposal, he refers to the insulting nature of the Mix Marriages Act on Blacks as a collective oppressed people. There is no separatism between "Coloured" and Black, as was previously the case with Morkel and Botha. The heading of the editorial of the Pro Veritate edition of November 1974 was as meticulous, as it was prophetic, The Sendingkerk Will never Be the Same Again.

It is noteworthy to mention that the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (hereafter DRCA), in 1975, for the first time in the history of the family of Dutch Reformed Churches, took a clear position on the unscriptural nature of apartheid after the report, The Bible and the Relationship between Races and People,24 was tabled (Adonis 2002, 334). At the same synod, the DRCA decided that they were in favour of a structural association of the four Dutch Reformed Churches in South Africa (Acta Synodi DRCA 1975, 253). With that decision, the DRCA confessed the unity of the church and rejected the separation of believers based on colour. The decisions taken by the DRMC and DRCA were ground-breaking, given the political and theological landscape at the time. Politically, apartheid was at its height. Theologically, the DRC released the document, NG Kerk (1975), Ras, Volk en Nasie en Volkereverhoudinge in die Lig van die Skrif25(hereafter RVN), in which the theological justification of apartheid is advanced.

A new light was beginning to break through at this point in the history of the DRMC and DRCA, as both these racially instituted churches were beginning to see past the colour issue that led to the deconstruction of the apartheid-constructed racial identities. The emergence of Steve Biko and the BCM undoubtedly influenced this shift in the minds of the Black oppressed (Fortein 2015, 122). Biko himself directed a piercing challenge to the church by stating the following:

To this date, Black people find no message for them in the Bible simply because our ministers are still too busy with moral trivialities. They blow these up as the most important things that Jesus had to say to people. They constantly urge the people to find fault in themselves and by so doing detract from the essence of the struggle in which the people are involved. ... Obviously, the only path open for us now is to redefine the message in the Bible and to make it relevant to the struggling masses. (Biko, in Stubbs 2004, 32)

From the mid-1970s onwards there was a very clear and distinct deviation regarding the colour issue, as the DRMC (and DRCA) took up the challenge of Biko and embraced Black theology. However, the shift generated an internal struggle within the DRMC between the younger, progressive generation, inspired by Black consciousness and Black theology. On the other hand, there was a more conservative camp that sought to maintain the status quo (Fortein 2020, 262). The DRMC (and DRCA) became a site of struggle that would last into the 1980s. Where the emphasis previously orbited around the liberation of "Coloureds" and Blacks respectively, the oppressed people rallied together against an oppressive system and towards a more just and dignified society. Boesak (2005, 9) states that the BCM was the first truly non-racial experience for millions of South Africans. It became an essential element of the struggle politics of the eighties and simultaneously fundamental for the future of South Africa. Black consciousness nurtures the sentiments that genuine non-racialism can only come about among equals, and it values the affirmation of the human dignity of Black people. Since the internal struggle in the DRMC (and DRCA) did not create genuine opportunities and spaces for the expression of non-racialism, other avenues had to be sought. Those avenues unfolded in organisations like the Broederkring26 (hereafter BK, later Belydendekring) and the Alliance of Black Reformed Christians in Southern Africa27(hereafter ABRECSA). Both the BK and ABRECSA were organisations where Black, "Coloureds" and Indians united as the oppressed to formulate anti-apartheid arguments. The DRMC, DRCA, and RCA continued to serve the purpose for which it was created, i.e., to cater separately for the spiritual needs of "Coloureds," Blacks and Indians respectively. Hence, the non-racial character of the BK and ABRECSA cannot be underestimated.28

The internal struggle in the DRMC was about far more than mere contestations in biblical hermeneutics or racial perspectives. In essence, it came down to the question of which theology would determine the identity of the DRMC and its role in the fight against apartheid. Plaatjies-Van Huffel (2014, 310) notes that during the mid-1970s, the communities served by the DRMC and the DRCA became increasingly involved in protesting against apartheid. There was indeed a new impetus of resistance from the youth, especially following the Soweto student uprisings. Brought together from all walks of life, White, "Coloured" and Black rallied together as a united front, refuting the apartheid myth that "different races" cannot live and work in harmony. This new non-racial character infiltrated the DRMC, as numerous social justice issues were tabled and extensively deliberated upon at the synods of 1978 and 1982. It is noteworthy to mention that a report "Black Theology and Black Power" was tabled at both the synods of 1978 and 198229 and profoundly influenced decisions taken. The 1978 synod of the DRMC declared apartheid as immoral, and its theological justification a theological heresy (Acta Synodi 1978, 2, 21). For the very first time in history, the 1982 synod of the DRMC directly critiqued and called for the repeal of the Group Areas Act of 1950, the Immorality Amendment Act of 1950, and the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Amendment Act of 1968. The synod implored the government to rescind the laws against mixed marriages (Acta Synodi 1982, 15). At long last, the DRMC fulfilled that which the likes of Morkel so resolutely advocated for.

Probably for the first time in the history of South Africa, the DRMC (and DRCA), the colour issue had united the oppressed, not based on colour, but as the cause of their oppression. For the first time, the colour issue became irrelevant, with persons being perceived as neither White nor Black, but as oppressed people. The launch of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983 bears testimony to this non-racial character.30Ultimately, the Black oppressed had grasped what Biko meant.

Black consciousness is in essence the realization by the Black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression-the blackness of their skin and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude. It seeks to demonstrate the lie that black is an aberration from the normal, which is white. It is a manifestation of a new realization that by seeking to run away from themselves and to emulate the White man, Blacks are insulting the intelligence of whoever created them black. Black consciousness, therefore, takes cognizance of the deliberateness of God's plan in creating Black people black. It seeks to infuse the Black community with a new-found pride in themselves, their efforts, their value systems, their culture, their religion, and their outlook to life. (Biko 1972, 21)

Elsewhere Biko wrote:

We are oppressed not as individuals, not as Zulus, Xhosas, Vendas or Indians. We are oppressed because we are Black. We must use that very concept to unite ourselves and to respond as a cohesive group. We must cling to each other with a tenacity that must shock the perpetrators of evil. (Biko 1972, 26)

Biko and the philosophy of Black consciousness not only liberated the mind of the oppressed, but also reawakened Black pride, and unified the Black oppressed. It managed to dismantle the racial constructs and prejudice that colonisation and apartheid have managed to instil in the minds of the oppressed. The colourless approach of the BCM deconstructed, among others, the "Coloured" identity that plagued the DRMC and its members since its inception. Most "Coloureds" ceased to refer to themselves as "Coloured," understanding that they are deliberately created by God as of equal value with everyone else, not "sandwiched" in between Black and White.



This study investigated the footprint of the colour issue and the "Coloured" racial identity in the DRMC and how it responded to it. This study does not even begin to exhaust the topic of the impact of race on ecclesiastical life in South Africa, but seeks to foster further research. The events preceding the establishment of the DRMC were discussed to indicate how the genesis of the DRMC is deeply embedded in the issue of colour and race. The further focus, on the ambivalent perceptions of the colour issue within the DRMC, was discussed to indicate the prevalent divergent perspectives and responses on race-more specifically on the "Coloured" identity. The study concludes with the influence of Steve Biko and the BCM on the "liberation" of the DRMC concerning the deconstruction of the term "Coloured" as an apartheid, racial construct. The philosophy of Black consciousness has effected an entirely new era for the DRMC and the Black oppressed people in South Africa. With URCSA's31 (Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa) internal unity being fragile at times, this study can serve as a reminder to the formerly oppressed people of a shared past of oppression, exclusion, and marginalisation. Furthermore, this study can also serve as a reminder as to why the DRMC and DRCA reunited, i.e., to demystify the apartheid lie that supposedly different races are not capable of living, working, and worshiping together. Ultimately, this study reminds us that God created us neither White nor Black.


Author Biography

Eugene Andre Fortein is a lecturer in Church History, at the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of the Free State, South Africa.



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1 This term may be regarded as derogatory as it was historically used by the European settlers to refer to the Khoi, San and the non-Bantu-speaking indigenous nomadic pastoralists of South Africa.
2 The term is placed in inverted commas throughout the study as it was constructed as a racial classification during apartheid to refer to people of mixed decent. This term may be regarded as derogatory in some circles, which led to the abandonment of the term by those who were previously labelled as "Coloured."
3 Die Geskiedenis van die Ned. Gereformeerde Sendingkerk in Suid-Afrika 1881-1956. 'n Historiese Studie van die Sendingwerk onder die Kleurlingbevolking van Kaapland (The History of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa 1881-1956. A historical Study of the Mission Work among the Coloured People of the Cape Province).
4 Dogter of Verstoteling? Kantaantekeninge by die Geskiedenis van die Ned. Geref. Sendingkerk in Suid-Afrika (Daughter or Ostracised? Side-notes to the History of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa).
5 Die Afgebreekte Skeidsmure weer Opgebou. Die Verstrengeling van die Sendingbeleid van die Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk in Suid-Afrika met die Praktyk en Ideologie van die Apartheid in Historiese Perspektief (The Demolished Partition Walls Rebuilt. The Entanglement of the Mission Policy of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa with the Practice and Ideology of Apartheid in Historical Perspective).
6 My translation.
7 "De Synode heft vasgesteld, dat Zendelingen, Ledematen der Hervormde Kerk zynde voortaan, as zy zulks verlangen, door en wegends de Algemene Kerkvergadering zullen kunnen worden georden, om onder de Gemeenten, door hen uit die Heidenen verzameld, de Heilige Sacramenten te bedienen, onder die bepalingen, welke de Synode dienstig zal oordeelen, des aangaande te maken." (The Synod has established that Missionaries, as Members of the Reformed Church henceforth, if they so desire, can be ordained by and on behalf of the General Church meeting, to work in the congregations, among those gathered out of the Gentiles, to administer the Holy Sacraments, among those provisions, which the Synod will deem fit to make in this regard.)
8 The 1857 synod decision reads as follows: "De Synode beschouwt het wenschlijk en schrifmatig, dat onze ledematen uit de Heidenen, in onze bestaande gemeenten opgenomen en ingelijfd worden, overall waar sulks gescheiden kan; maar waar deze maatregel, ten gevolge van de zwakheid van zommigen, de bevordering van deze zaak van Christus onder de Heidenen, in de weg zoude staan, de gemeente uit de Heidenen opgerigt, of nog op te rigten, hare Christelijke voorregten in een afzonderlijke gebouw of gesticht genieten zal" (Acta Synodi 1857, 168). (The Synod considers it desirable and Scriptural that our members from the Gentiles be included and incorporated into our existing congregations; but where this measure, because of the weakness of some, would hinder the promotion of this cause of Christ among the Gentiles, erect a congregation from the Gentiles, or yet to erect, a separate building where they will enjoy their Christian privileges.)
9 For in-depth discussions on the mission policy of the DRC, see Adonis (1982), Afgebreekte Skeidsmure weer Opgebou; Coetsee (2011), Die kritiese Stem teen Apartheidsteologie in die Ned. Geref. Kerk; Kgatla and Magwira (2015), "The defining Moments for the Dutch Reformed Church Mission Policy of 1935 and 1947," Missionalia 43 (3): 365-383.
10 Constitution.
11 See Van Rooi (2010), In Search of Ecclesial Autonomy; Loff (1981), Dogter of Verstoteling; and Adonis (1982), Afgebreekte Skeidsmure weer Opgebou, for more on the authority of the DRC on the DRMC.
12 See Kriel (1961), Die Geskiedenis van die Nederduitse Gereformeerde Sendingkerk in Suid-Afrika, for a detailed account of the DRMC congregations that broke away.
13 "Baptism and Membership of the Children of the Missionary."
14 Also translated as, Dutch Reformed Church, in English.
15 The pencil test involved sliding a pencil or pen in the hair of a person whose racial group was uncertain. If the pencil fell to the floor, the person "passed" and was considered "White." If it stuck, the person's hair was considered too kinky to be White and the person was classified as "Coloured." An alternate version of the pencil test was available for Blacks who wished to be reclassified as Coloured. In this version, the applicant was asked to put a pencil in their hair and shake their head. If the pencil fell out as a result of the shaking, the person could be reclassified. If it stayed in place, they remained classified as Black.
16 This Act divided cities and towns of South Africa into segregated residential and business areas. Thousands of "Coloureds," Blacks, and Indians were removed from areas classified for White occupation.
17 This Act prohibited marriage or sexual relationships between Whites and people of other race groups in South Africa.
18 It was the official newspaper of the DRMC.
19 (1) that the Holy Scriptures do not acknowledge any ground that could serve as an argument for excluding a fellow believer from the community of a worshiping Church; (2) that the Holy Scriptures condemn all attempts to provide for the flesh by argument or action. The continual striving of the members of the body of Christ to accept one another in the face of adversity and to have life lies in the way of sanctification, without which no one will see God; (3) that there is joint worship, it must be about Christ and communion with Him and glorification of God; (4) that the exclusion of believers of other colours from the worship services of White congregations cannot stand the test of Scripture (my translation).
20 The Holy Scriptures do not condemn mixed marriages between races; getting married is first and foremost a personal and family affair. Church and state should refrain from banning mixed marriages between different races because they have no right to ban the free choice of a spouse on the basis of race or colour (my translation).
21 Since Scripture does not prohibit mixed marriages on the basis of colour, we judge that this law offends a large portion of our country's population because it is an insult to themselves and their existence. Therefore, this law is detrimental to good relations in our country. This law, because of its motive for protecting the White identity alone, is basically selfish, one-sided and insulting to the Black people against whom it is aimed. The Honourable Synod therefore decides to urge the government to scrap the law on mixed marriages (my translation).
22 This was the official newsletter of the Christian Institute (CI).
23 A New Era in Dutch Reformed Mission Church
24 DRCA (n.d.), The Bible and the Relationships between Races and People. A Report by the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa. NG Sendingpers, Bloemfontein.
25 NG Kerk (1975), Race, People and Nation and Human Relations in the Light of Scripture (my translation). This report was approved and accepted by the General Synod of the DRC, October 1974.
26 For more on the Belydendekring, see Mokgoebo (1984), Broederkring: From 1974 to ... In Unity and Justice, The Witness of the Belydende Kring, 13-17, edited by Govender; Crafford (1986), "Die Belydende Kring en ABRECSA en hulle Invloed op Kerklike Verhoudinge in Suid-Afrika," Skrif en Kerk 7 (1); Kritzinger (1984.), "From Broederkring to Belydende Kring. What's in a Name?" In Unity and Justice, The Witness of the Belydende Kring, edited by Govender, 5-12.
27 For more ion ABRECSA, see Crafford (1986), "Die Belydende Kring en ABRECSA en hulle Invloed op Kerklike Verhoudinge in Suid-Afrika," Skrif en Kerk 7 (1); Pauw (2007), "Anti-Apartheid Theology in the Dutch Reformed Family of Churches." Free University of Amsterdam.
28 For more on the influence of the BK and ABRECSA on the DRMC and DRCA, see Fortein (2015), "Allan Boesak en die Nederduitse Gereformeerde Sendingkerk: 'n Teologies-historiese Ondersoek." Stellenbosch University.
29 Acta Synodi DRMC 1978, 269-298; 1982, 377-380.
30 For more on the UDF, see Boesak (2009), Running with Horses. Reflections of an accidental Politician; Du Preez (2003), Pale Native. Memories of a Renegade Reporter.
31 The DRMC and DRCA amalgamated in 1994 to form the Uniting Reformed Church in South Africa.

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