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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 65

Paragraph Numbers 29 to 41

Volume 4

Chapter 3

Subsection 2


29 In most cases, faith communities claimed to cut across divisions of race, gender, class and ethnicity. As such, they would seem by their very existence to have been in opposition to the policies of the apartheid state and, in pursuing their own norms and values, to have constituted a direct challenge to apartheid policies. However, contrary to their own deepest principles, many faith communities mirrored apartheid society, giving the lie to their profession of a loyalty that transcended social divisions.

30 While the submissions of many faith communities focused on their acts of commission and omission, some reflected an ethos where racism was tolerated. Faith communities often helped reinforce the idea that South Africa was a relatively normal society suffering from a few racial problems. Challenges to the consciences of whites were rare. Against this background, the faith communities acknowledged that, either through acts of commission, of legitimisation or of omission, they often, in addition to all else they did, also provided de facto support for apartheid. They either deliberately supported apartheid policies, participated (or advocated participation by their members) in the machinery of the state, refused to oppose a state professing to be ‘Christian’, or simply promoted a consciousness that insulated their members against opposition.

Acts of commission and legitimisation
Active support of state policies and agents

31 The submissions revealed ways in which individual members of churches - even members of those churches that were outspoken against government policies co-operated with the regime or the Security Branch. Nico Smith, a former dominee who was himself outspoken against apartheid, quoted from Goldhagen2: “many of these willing executioners … were members of our congregations.” Many state operatives claimed to have found positive support in Dutch Reformed Church teaching and received the church’s “blessing [for] their weapons of terror”.3 Responding to this, the Dutch Reformed Church confessed to having “misled” its members by presenting “apartheid as a biblical instruction”. From the outselt, the Dutch Reformed Church provided theological and biblical sanction for apartheid, even though some of its theologians questioned this justification. It was only in 1986 that the Dutch Reformed Church’s sanction of apartheid began to be officially questioned.

32 The complicity of the Dutch Reformed Church in the policy of apartheid went beyond simple approval and legitimisation. The church actively promoted apartheid, not least because it served the Afrikaner interests with which it identified. The Dutch Reformed Church admitted that it “often tended to put the interests of its people above the interests of other people.” It gave no examples of times or events when it did not put the interests of the Afrikaner community above those of others.

33 While only the Dutch Reformed Church spoke of giving official sanction to apartheid laws, other faith communities admitted to actions and practices that amounted to acquiescence to them. The Presbyterian Church confessed to giving “qualified support” to government in the 1960s. For example, it defended Bantustan policies in 1965 and the right of the state to suppress “unlawful subversion”.

2 Goldhagen, Daniel Jonah, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust, Abacus: London, 1997. 3 Commissioner Bongani Finca at the hearing.
Involvement in state structures
The Afrikaner churches, universities and other institutions acted as no more than the limbs, hands, feet, and brain of the volk and the State.4

34 Churches participated in state structures, most notably in the military chaplaincy. Chaplains were appointed from the ranks of the Afrikaans churches and the (black) Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk in Afrika, as well as from the ranks of the Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Apostolic Faith Mission and the Roman Catholic churches. The appointment of these chaplains was regulated by formal agreement between the state and the churches. According to a submission to the Commission by Chaplain General Johan de Witt, the Chaplains’ Service, as the official channel through which the churches were able to minister to their members in the South African Defence Force (SADF), provided services in the fields of pastoral care, crisis intervention, welfare problems, operational trauma and the handling of war related stress and anxiety.

35 Whatever the motivation of the individual chaplains, their participation served to reinforce the acceptance of the apartheid cause in the minds of church members, and often ‘justified’ the demonisation of their opponents. Here again, leadership came from the Dutch Reformed Church. Dominee Neels du Plooy, a former SADF chaplain, testified at an earlier hearing5 that those who objected to service in the Defence Forces were described as “unbelievers”. Those who served, on the other hand, were given a New Testament with a special message from South Africa’s then President, PW Botha, telling them that the Bible was their “most important weapon”. This message was later removed, at the request of chaplains from the English-speaking churches.

36 Du Plooy said that the appointment of chaplains and the involvement of the church in the military were governed by an official agreement between the state and the Dutch Reformed Church - approved by both the national synod and Parliament.6 Nico Smith said that many perpetrators of human rights abuses were never challenged by the Dutch Reformed Church but were tacitly or otherwise encouraged in their activities.

37 In its submission, the Apostolic Faith Mission church, dominated by white Afrikaners, also admitted that numerous of its members were “employed in the structures of the former government” and that many had held “top positions in the former government organisations”.

38 Other churches also confessed that their members participated in the state machinery. The Reformed Presbyterian Church, for example, admitted that some of its members took part in homeland structures. Indeed, members of most faith communities did so. The difference lay in whether or not the faith communities themselves gave their support for such activity. Furthermore, while it is true that non-Christians were discriminated against by the state, this changed to some degree after 1984 when Coloured and Indian people were co-opted by the Tricameral Parliament. At this stage, a number of Hindus and Muslims became complicit.

4 Ponti Venter at the hearing. 5 23 July 1997 6 South African Press Association (SAPA) report 23 July 1997. (
Suppression of dissidents

39 Some faith communities confessed that they did not give sufficient support to activists in their communities (see below). Others admitted to suppressing, censuring and condemning dissidents, and even to branding them as ‘heretics’. The torture of Frank Chikane (then General Secretary of the SACC and a leader in the black section of the Apostolic Faith Mission) took place under the supervision of an elder in the white section (who afterwards went off to worship).

40 In addition to such acts of outright repression, there was a failure to support dissidents and activists within community ranks.

41 Even the most apparently benign activity was construed as subversive. Ponti Venter spoke at the hearing of the efforts of the Potchefstroom supporters of the National Initiative of Reconciliation to supply study space for black matriculants during the 1980s. Local churches, under the watchful eye of the Security Forces, labelled the initiative “communist-inspired,” and no church in town would grant it support. The communications of members of Potchefstroom University (a prominent ‘Christian National’ institution) who raised their voices to question apartheid were monitored. Farid Esack spoke of the way Muslim leadership marginalised dissident voices during the struggle years. This was also the case in the Hindu community.

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