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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 81

Paragraph Numbers 86 to 97

Volume 4

Chapter 3

Subsection 9

Official statements and resolutions

86 The submissions spoke of numerous statements on apartheid that were issued by faith communities during the mandate period. Some of these demonstrate the variety of ways in which faith communities presented their opposition. The gradual radicalisation of statements – especially after 1976 – is also significant.36

87 Of the Protestant churches, the United Congregational Church, the Presbyterian Church and the SACC made special mention of the ‘Cottesloe Statement’ and Conference (1960), set up in the wake of the Sharpville tragedy. The statement “opposed apartheid in worship”, but also “in prohibition of mixed marriages, migrant labour, low wages, job reservation and permanent exclusion of ‘non-white people’ from government.” The fact that this statement - despite its paternalism in comparison with later documents - went beyond strictly ‘church’ matters in the eyes of the state is significant. Previously churches had only been able to unite against apartheid when their own congregations were directly affected, as with opposition to the 1957 Church Clause. The ‘Cottesloe Statement’ also featured in the Dutch Reformed Church’s ‘Journey’ document as “an important stop”. Not only did it result in the marginalisation of some of its representatives (including Beyers Naudé); it caused “a deep rift between the Dutch Reformed Churches and many other recognised Protestant churches in the country.”37 More than this, it set a precedent for state interference, not simply in the affairs of the Dutch Reformed Church (with which it already enjoyed a special relationship), but in those of the ecumenical churches.

88 The SACC submission stated that ‘The Message to the People of South Africa’ (1968) directly attacked the theological foundations of nationalism, saying that a Christian’s “first loyalty” must be given to Christ, rather than to “a subsection of mankind”. Christian groups began to engage in intensive social analysis in the early 1970s. The Study Project on Christianity in Apartheid Society (SPRO-CAS) was launched after the ‘Message’. SPRO-CAS set up several commissions, covering educational, legal, economic, social and religious areas. Later the Special Programme of Christian Action in Society (SPRO-CAS II) was established to implement the report’s recommendations.

89 Throughout the 1970s, the Council of Churches published materials expressing its opposition to apartheid and envisioning a post-apartheid society. In its submission, it highlighted the ‘Resolution on Conscientious Objection’ (1974) which, amongst other things, questioned the appointment of military chaplains to the SADF, and the ‘Resolution on Non Co-operation’ which urged Christians to withdraw from state structures. Two statements issued in the turbulent 1980s were notable. The first was the ‘Call for Prayer to End Unjust Rule’ which mobilised Christian symbolic resources against the ‘Christian’ state. The second was the ‘Lusaka Statement’ of 1987, which urged the churches to support the efforts of liberation movements, and occasioned “fierce opposition” from SACC members.38 Theology was a battleground, and the term ‘heresy’ was used not only against those who contested classical dogma and its interpretation, but also against those who contested the meaning of such dogma in practice. The influence of Dr Allan Boesak, then President of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), in promoting the adoption of the resolution declaring apartheid a heresy by the WARC in 1982, and subsequently by the World Council of Churches (WCC) and many of its member churches, was of far-reaching significance in the struggle against apartheid.39

90 The ‘Kairos Document’, another watershed statement, was produced by the Institute for Contextual Theology in 1985 and proved highly contentious. Some churches rejected its analysis and theology, claiming it was a ‘sell-out’ to ideology; others (notably the United Congregational Church) set up special study groups in local churches. While the ‘Kairos Document’ was accused of polarising the debate about the relationship between churches and liberation movements, it can be argued that it merely gave expression to existing polarisation. Not all antiapartheid Christian leaders signed it, though it had an impact beyond the Christian churches and was also mentioned in the MYM submission.

91 Dissension in the ranks of the Dutch Reformed Church concerning its support of the government was expressed most notably in the ‘Ope Brief’ [open letter] published by 123 Dutch Reformed Church ministers in 1982.40 However, as admitted in its ‘Journey’ document, the Dutch Reformed Church’s protests were limited largely to private meetings with state officials. The production of the ‘Koinonia Declaration’ in 1977 – a statement which opposed apartheid and its Christian justification – by scholars from the smaller Afrikaans-speaking Gereformeerde Kerke was significant. While the Gereformeerde Kerk declined to make a submission to the Commission, two of its members did so, drawing on the legacy of this statement.41

92 At a denominational level, discrimination in general and the policy of apartheid in particular was rejected as “intrinsically evil” by the Catholic Church in 1960 and as heresy by the United Congregational Church in 1982.42 In 1986, the Presbyterian Church and the United Congregational Church passed resolutions making rejection of apartheid a matter of status confessionis [a situation demanding a new confession of faith], claiming in essence that the church in South Africa stood in the same relation to apartheid as did the German church to Nazism during the 1930s. In 1982, the Uniting Reformed Church, which admitted to a heritage of failing to pronounce strongly on apartheid, produced the ‘Belhar Confession’, the first church confession to be produced on South African soil.

93 The international dimension to church confessions was notable, and was characterised by conferences and statements by ‘linked’ churches in other countries. However, not all overseas structures were heeded by their South African counterparts. The Salvation Army in South Africa remained silent about apartheid crimes even after the condemnation of apartheid by its General, Eva Burrows, in London in 1986. The Seventh Day Adventist Church also confessed that their position on apartheid was “out of step” with its overseas body.

94 Theological resistance was not, of course, limited to the Christian churches. Shortly after the ‘Cottesloe Statement’ was issued, the ‘Call of Islam Declaration’ (1961) was issued by the Cape Town MYM together with the MJC, the Claremont Muslim Youth Association, the Cape Vigilance Association, the Young Men’s Muslim Association and a number of individuals and leaders. This was a declaration that apartheid was contrary to Islam and condemned Group Areas, pass and job reservation legislation. A 1964 national conference called by the MJC protested about the impact of the Group Areas Act on mosque life and passed a series of resolutions urging that, under no circumstances, should mosques be abandoned. In the 1980s, the involvement of many prominent Islamic leaders and members in anti-apartheid structures intensified. Muslim leaders participated in the UDF ‘Don’t Vote’ campaign, arguing that a vote for the Tricameral Parliament was haraam (prohibited). Language particular to Islam was used to intensify Muslim involvement in opposing apartheid.43 Achmat Cassiem established the pro-PAC Qibla Mass Movement and Farid Esack and Ebrahim Rasool established the pro-African National Congress (ANC) Call of Islam. The MYM was also significant during this period.

95 In addition to passing resolutions against the violent policies of the state, statements made by faith communities during the 1980s expressed general concern about the violence sweeping the country. Sometimes this required recognition of the tension between the faith community’s solidarity with the liberation movements and its concern about the violence with which apartheid was often opposed (as in the United Congregational Church submission). “Whilst the United Congregational Church was concerned about the loss of innocent civilian life in guerrilla attacks,” it wrote, “it never allied itself with the hysterical reaction against ‘terrorism’ that the apartheid government orchestrated”. Communities differed on the degree to which anti-apartheid violence was ‘justifiable’ (not simply ‘understandable’). The Uniting Reformed Church stated that “the ambiguous nature of the decision with regard to justified actions against apartheid was often left to the conscience of members.”

96 While it has been suggested that those responsible for the ‘Kairos Document’ share guilt through their support of violent uprisings, it must be pointed out that (whatever their perspective on the armed struggle on the borders) they did not condone ‘necklace’ killings or ‘kangaroo courts’.

97 There were those, too, who claimed a ‘third way’, who argued that all violence was equally wrong and whose statements condemned both sides of the struggle. The Church of England’s 1985 national synod expressed its “abhorrence of all violence and all oppression”. Interestingly, while the Church of England expressed the view that the “only solution” to the problem of violence was to deal with sin through “reconciliation to God”, the United Congregational Church claimed that the only answer (and here it specifically referred to the struggle on the borders between the SADF and the liberation movements) was justice for the people of South Africa.

36 Interestingly it seems that the more evangelical communities (especially the Baptist Union, Rosebank Union Church and Hatfield Christian Church), while claiming to have “made many submissions” to the government opposing apartheid, were vague and did not mention particular instances. Parts of their documentation lack concreteness. 37 Naudé would go on to establish the Christian Institute, originally to agitate for change in the Dutch Reformed Church. 38 See Charles Villa-Vicencio, Trapped in Apartheid, page 158f. Also pages 115, 144, 222. 39 See Jules de Gonsky and Charles Villa-Vicencio (Eds) Apartheid is a Heresy (Cape Town: David Philip, 1983). 40 See David J. Bosch, Adrio Konig and Willem Nicol, Eds. Perspektief Op die Ope Brief (Cape Town, Pretoria & Johannesburg: Human & Rousseau, 1982). 41 See ‘Die Koinonia Verklaring’, Pamphlet (Potchefstroom & Germiston, 1977). 42 According to the MJC submission, the declaration of apartheid as a heresy in terms of Islamic theology dates from the Call of Islam Declaration in 1961. 43 Gerrie Lubbe cited in MJC submission.
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