Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa

With the first Dutch settlement on the Cape (1652, Jan Van Riebeck), the Reformed Church appeared in South Africa. The Cape Colony grew only slowly; it was primarily a way station on the Dutch East India Company route to the Indies. The company paid the pastors, who were under the jurisdiction of the classis of Amsterdam. During the French Revolution, the cape came under British control. The South African Dutch, the “Boers,” moved northward, formed their own independent states (Transvaal, Orange Free State), and organized their own Reformed churches. By 1859 these churches had their own seminary at Stellenbosch. Events in the Netherlands had echoes in South Africa, so that the Separation of 1834 produced similar small conservative breakaways, which in turn started a more orthodox seminary, at Pochefstroom (1869). The Boer War at the turn of the century brought the independent trekker states under British control, and the churches united (1909) in the Reformed Church of South Africa, with the conservative splinter churches remaining separate. Characterized by relative orthodoxy in dogma and adherence to traditional morality, the Reformed Church has had some difficulty in defining its role in relation to the mission churches among the natives. It has viewed the problem as one similar to that of relations between whites and Indians in America, and has supported “apartheid,” or the independent cultural growth of the two groups. In practice, apartheid has proved a cloak for white supremacy and has thus come under attack from within the church. Total membership is around 1.4 million, with some 150,000 in mission churches.