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TRC Final Report

Page Number (Original) 228

Paragraph Numbers 16 to 19

Volume 4

Chapter 8

Subsection 3

Religious context: a perspective on the role of the church and the chaplaincy

16 The Reverend Neels du Plooy was a chaplain in the SADF between 1977 and 1990. From 1979, he was public relations officer to the Chaplain General and Senior Staff Officer: Publications. His submission to the Commission prompted the following questions:

a Why did the overwhelming majority of healthy, young and motivated South African white males of good standing, Afrikaans and English-speaking, unconditionally do national service - and more even than that, look forward to it?

b Why did parents accept national service as a necessity and a general way of life?

c Why did young people having difficulties at school suddenly see national service as a very good cause and a very good reason to quit school the moment they became eighteen?

d Why did parents feel obliged to inspire young men with problems at home or at school to join national service in the hope that disciplined training, etc. would do them good?

17 Drawing on his extensive personal experience, the Reverend Du Plooy focused on the role of the Church and, in particular, the chaplaincy in “bringing about this positive attitude”.7 While acknowledging that chaplains “did have the freedom to preach the gospel according to their convictions,” and that they played a “vital role ... especially in conveying death messages to service men as well as parents”, he said that his main concern was the “unholy marriage between the church and the state”:

18 In order to understand the role of the military chaplain and the national servicemen chaplains in the SADF, one needs to keep in mind that, especially as far as the mainstream Afrikaans churches were concerned, the church at national synod level co-operated fully with the SADF on issues of military and national service. The church accepted the advice of the leadership of the NP government and Defence Council as far as defence matters were concerned.

This total involvement, and this [is what makes one] ‘heartsore’, was strengthened by the infamous concept of the total onslaught. Through the idea of the total onslaught, the church immediately became an ally in the war. The total onslaught concept assumed that only 20 per cent of the onslaught was of a military nature and the other 80 per cent directed against the economical and spiritual welfare of the people. Therefore the chaplaincy and the church had to be involved in winning the hearts and the minds of the people.
The Church’s main task was to strengthen the spiritual defensibility of its members. The Church was now totally convinced [of] the fact that we were fighting the war ... we were fighting a just war. Almost every synod of the Dutch Reformed Church during this time supported the military effort in their prayers and by way of resolutions of thanks. They acknowledged the fact that the SADF helped to constitute a safer living environment for the peoples of South Africa and serving church members in the SADF...
Chaplains - in the citizen force, commandos and permanent force - had a special task to keep civilian congregations informed. They delivered sermons and addresses to these congregations to console parents as to the special care their sons [were receiving] during national service. Special efforts were made to call on the girlfriends of national servicemen to be positive about the war, because it was for their safety and future that the boyfriend was doing military service. Chaplains even gave guidelines to girlfriends on how they should write their letters to the men on the border or in the townships. For example, [they were told] “never write or talk about problems at home...”

19 Another striking illustration of this ‘unholy marriage’ between church and state was the issue to each soldier of a special edition of the New Testament and Psalms. Bound into the front of this special edition was a message from Mr PW Botha, first as Minister of Defence and later as State President, which read: “This Bible is the most important part of your military equipment...” The Reverend Du Plooy noted “that we eventually in 1989 succeeded in having the message of PW Botha inserted as a loose leaflet and not bound in anymore.”

7 See also Report on Institutional Hearing: Faith Community.
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