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The Equality of Believers

The Equality of Believers: Protestant Missionaries and the Racial Politics of South Africa

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 448
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    The Equality of Believers
    Book Description:

    From the beginning of the nineteenth century through to 1960, Protestant missionaries were the most important intermediaries between South Africa's ruling white minority and its black majority.The Equality of Believersreconfigures the narrative of race in South Africa by exploring the pivotal role played by these missionaries and their teachings in shaping that nation's history.

    The missionaries articulated a universalist and egalitarian ideology derived from New Testament teachings that rebuked the racial hierarchies endemic to South African society. Yet white settlers, the churches closely tied to them, and even many missionaries evaded or subverted these ideas. In the early years of settlement, the white minority justified its supremacy by equating Christianity with white racial identity. Later, they adopted segregated churches for blacks and whites, followed by segregationist laws blocking blacks' access to prosperity and citizenship-and, eventually, by the ambitious plan of social engineering that was apartheid.

    Providing historical context reaching back to 1652, Elphick concentrates on the era of industrialization, segregation, and the beginnings of apartheid in the first half of the twentieth century. The most ambitious work yet from this renowned historian, Elphick's book reveals the deep religious roots of racial ideas and initiatives that have so profoundly shaped the history of South Africa.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3279-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-ix)
  4. [Map]
    (pp. x-x)
  5. Introduction: The Equality of Believers
    (pp. 1-10)

    Soon after 1652, when the Dutch East India Company established a foothold in southern Africa, the pious wife of the first Dutch commander, Jan van Riebeeck, took into her home a young girl from a nearby Khoisan community. Krotoa (or “Eva”) learned fluent Dutch, became a translator and the company’s ambassador to nearby Khoisan rulers, and was baptized in the Christian faith in the presence of prominent company officials. Krotoa dined frequently with the colony’s elite, and, with the blessing of the government, married a white officer in a Christian wedding. After her husband was killed on an expedition to...

  6. Part I The Missionaries, Their Converts, and Their Enemies

    • 1 The Missionaries: From Egalitarianism to Paternalism
      (pp. 13-25)

      Georg Schmidt, the first full-time missionary in South Africa, was a butcher by trade. He had been converted to Christ on a date he could remember exactly—29 October 1727—through the ministry of Johann Böhme, a linen weaver.¹ Schmidt had lived at Herrnhut in Germany, the highly structured community of the Moravian Brethren, but could not expect to duplicate such a community in South Africa. Settled, in 1737, at Baviaanskloof on the fringe of the Dutch colony, he preached daily to a small and shifting population of indigenous Khoisan² (“Hottentots”), whom the Dutch settlers had reduced to near serfdom,...

    • 2 The Africans: Embracing the Gospel of Equality
      (pp. 26-38)

      When Johannes Theodorus van der Kemp, the pioneer missionary of the London Missionary Society, entered the church of Graaff-Reinet on 1 June 1801, he faced a volatile congregation. Before him was a mixture of white church members and a “greater number of Heathen of the Hottentot and other nations.” The “heathen” greeted Van der Kemp by singing Psalm 134:

      Praise the Lord, all you

      servants of the Lord

      who minister by night in

      the house of the Lord.

      Lift up your hands in the sanctuary

      and praise the Lord.

      Angered that the “heathen” saw themselves as “servants of the Lord”...

    • 3 The Dutch Settlers: Confining the Gospel of Equality
      (pp. 39-51)

      For much of South African history, white settlers sought to confine the egalitarian implications of evangelical missions to the spiritual realm. In the nineteenth century, the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), the spiritual home of most Dutch-speaking settlers, pioneered the practice of segregated churches, and, in the twentieth century, decisively shaped apartheid theory. Yet, paradoxically, by the time it reached its greatest power, the DRC had become one of the most evangelical, mission-minded churches in the country. There was a severe tension between two of its most fervently held commitments—to evangelize people of color and to preserve white supremacy. And...

    • 4 The Political Missionaries: “Our Religion Must Embody Itself in Action”
      (pp. 52-64)

      In 1834, some farmers at Cradock in the Karroo expressed their desire to trek from the Cape Colony to a place “where the domination of Doctor Philip is not acknowledged.” Two years later, Piet Retief, a leader of the Great Trek, referred bitterly to the “Philippine hypocrisy,” which he defined as an “unnatural turning away from God under pretext of spiritual work.” “Dr Philip” and “Philippine” referred to Dr. John Philip, superintendent of the London Missionary Society’s activities in South Africa from 1819 to 1851, a publicist of the grievances of exploited indigenous peoples, an advocate of legal equality between...

    • 5 The Missionary Critique of the African: Witchcraft, Marriage, and Sexuality
      (pp. 65-81)

      “The time [is] past, if there ever was such a time, when the one and only goal of missionary effort was, in its narrow sense, the conversion of the heathen.” Speaking at the 1909 General Missionary Conference, James Henderson, principal of the Scottish educational institution at Lovedale, said that missions must embrace “world utility,” that is, the economic and social well-being of Africans, and of South Africa as a whole. They must strive to Christianize all of African culture, and the African personality as well.¹ By the early twentieth century, missionaries were less preoccupied with saving Africans from hellfire than...

    • 6 The Revolt of the Black Clergy: “We Can’t Be Brothers”
      (pp. 82-100)

      In 1904, a rumor, eagerly transmitted by white enemies of missions, spread throughout South Africa and as far north as Rhodesia, that James Stewart, the principal of the Scottish secondary school at Lovedale, regarded his life’s work as a waste and Lovedale as a “splendid failure.” The rumor remained so insistent that the Anglican bishop of Lebombo approached Stewart on his deathbed, where he extracted an authoritative denial, and published it widely in the religious press.¹

      By 1900, when frontier violence and the dangers from disease had abated, many mission stations had become well-run and well-watered settlements, serene under a...

  7. Part II The Benevolent Empire and the Social Gospel

    • 7 The “Native Question” and the Benevolent Empire
      (pp. 103-115)

      While missionaries were debating segregation in the church, South African settlers were asking whether their interests as whites required segregation in the broader society. Africans who were flooding the burgeoning cities offered whites new supplies of cheap labor, and simultaneously threatened their social and political hegemony. Missionaries, too, discerned new opportunities and dangers in African urbanization: newly concentrated populations offered a field for efficient evangelization, but also the danger of moral, social, and even physical degeneration among African converts.

      In 1903, shortly after the British had conquered the Afrikaner Republics in the Anglo-Boer War, Lord Alfred Milner, the British High...

    • 8 A Christian Coalition of Paternal Elites
      (pp. 116-131)

      The Benevolent Empire of missionary endeavor attracted a number of prominent allies who often called themselves, and were called by others, “men of good will” or “friends of the native.” Among these allies were university scholars, secular educators, government bureaucrats, black politicians and intellectuals, and a few white politicians, who were linked, in turn, to similar overseas elites in Great Britain and the United States—church leaders and international mission activists, foundation officers, self-appointed experts on “race relations,” academics, and certain British colonial officials.

      The Benevolent Empire and its network of allies was larger and better-funded than any other organization...

    • 9 The Social Gospel: The Ideology of the Benevolent Empire
      (pp. 132-148)

      The Social Gospel seeped into South African Christianity almost unnoticed, and, perhaps for this reason, has been all but ignored by historians. In the early decades of the twentieth century, many missionaries in South Africa were expanding their faith into sponsorship of social change. Some missionaries, particularly the Americans, called this the Social Gospel. In South Africa, a few called it Social Christianity. Most gave it no name at all. Yet before the Second World War, few intellectual developments in South Africa had greater influence on black white relations.¹

      Early twentieth-century missionaries in South Africa produced little independent theological reflection...

    • 10 High Point of the Christian Alliance: A South African Locarno
      (pp. 149-162)

      By the 1920s, whites had become alarmed by unrest among urban Africans. Several strikes by blacks had been easily suppressed between 1913 and 1920, but the subsequent emergence of a radical black union leader, Clements Kadalie, and growing militancy among the mission-educated members of the South African Native National Congress (renamed the African National Congress in 1923), had stirred white fears. In 1921, the “Israelites” of Enoch Mgijima’s millenarian church defied government orders to vacate their encampment at Bulhoek, near Queenstown, and were massacred by the police; the incident offered a grim confirmation of whites’ fears of black Christianity. To...

    • 11 The Enemies of the Benevolent Empire: Gelykstelling Condemned
      (pp. 163-178)

      In 1904, a Christian youth worker spent a Sunday afternoon in Joubert Park, Johannesburg, recording white men’s views of missions. Of fifty-two interviewees, only two wholeheartedly approved of missions; five were guardedly or partially positive, seven had no opinion, and the remaining thirty-eight were outspokenly hostile.

      The worst natives come from Mission Stations.

      [Christianity] makes rogues of them.

      The Christian Kaffir is worse than the heathen.

      [Missionaries] should teach [Africans] to work, not Religion.

      Natives should be taught to work, not read the Bible.

      [Mission] spoils the native.

      Missionaries teach them they are as good as us.¹

      Missionaries could not...

  8. Part III The Parting of the Ways

    • 12 A Special Education for Africans?
      (pp. 181-201)

      When he introduced his Bantu Education Bill to parliament in 1953, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd derided advocates of “equality” in education who created “expectations in the minds of the Bantu which clash with the possibilities in this country.”¹ Verwoerd was referring to the English-speaking missionaries, the principal educators of Africans in South Africa. He wanted to supplant their supposedly bookish education with an education “adapted” to Africans’ practical needs, and related to their own culture, traditions, and languages. Moreover, Africans’ education should be administered by the Union Department of Native Affairs (NAD) and coordinated with South Africa’s overall “native policy.”...

    • 13 The Abolition of the Cape Franchise: A “Door of Citizenship” Closed
      (pp. 202-221)

      After a near decade of debate, in the evening of 6 April 1936, a joint session of the two houses of the South African Parliament, abolished, by a vote of 168 to 11, the right to vote of Africans in the Cape Province. It was a right they had enjoyed for eighty-three years. In so amending an “entrenched” clause in the South African constitution, Prime Minister Hertzog had realized a lifelong ambition, and guaranteed—so he believed—that the ballot box would never compel whites to yield power to blacks. Members of all parties rose to applaud Hertzog’s achievement, and...

    • 14 The Evangelical Invention of Apartheid
      (pp. 222-237)

      “Calvinism is a determinist creed which consorts naturally with conceptions of racial superiority and of national separateness.” So wrote Leopold Marquard, a liberal Afrikaner, expressing a view widely held throughout the apartheid era by both supporters and enemies of the South African government.¹ But what precisely was the “Calvinism” that so many considered foundational to Afrikaner nationalism and apartheid doctrine? To some historians, it was an Old Testament religion reborn in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries on the South African frontier, well insulated from the European Enlightenment.² Others see it as a product of twentieth-century intellectuals, chiefly “neo-Calvinists” in the...

    • 15 Neo-Calvinism: A Worldview for a Missionary Volk
      (pp. 238-257)

      The Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) missionaries who did so much to develop apartheid thought were—like many of their English-speaking counterparts—evangelicals. The question then arises: What role, if any, did Calvinist or neo-Calvinist doctrines—distinct from evangelical doctrines and sometimes in tension with them—play in providing a theological rationale for apartheid? What of the “theological niceties and minutiae of [neo-Calvinist] interpretation,” which, in the words of the historian Dan O’Meara, “posed in highly abstract and abstruse form the economic, social and political struggles of the day”?¹

      Neo-Calvinism first took root in South Africa in the small Gereformeerde Church...

    • 16 The Stagnation of the Social Gospel
      (pp. 258-278)

      For two generations, missionaries in South Africa had been engaged, in one degree or another, in carrying out the program of the Social Gospel through social work, conflict mediation, social research, and political advocacy. White “friends of the native,” moderate blacks, and even a few sympathetic South African government officials had joined the liberal missionaries in acts of practical benevolence under the banner “the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man.” They seldom invoked the distinctive Christian doctrines of original sin, the incarnation and passion of Christ, or the peril of damnation—nor did they engage in prophetic denunciation...

    • 17 The Abolition of the Mission Schools: A Second “Door of Citizenship” Closed
      (pp. 279-296)

      In 1938, D. F. Malan, the leader of the opposition, declared that whites faced “even a greater and stronger and burgeoning power” than the rapid growth of the black population. “And that [power] is education. For knowledge is power.”

      With our knowledge and our civilization, it is still nothing to see an overwhelming majority of uncivilized and ignorant non-whites standing against us. Our forefathers were in that situation and they were reasonably safe. But it is completely different for a white minority to stand against the overwhelmingly superior power of civilized and educated non-whites who wish to share our way...

    • 18 A Divided Missionary Impulse and Its Political Heirs
      (pp. 297-318)

      In the wake of its 1948 electoral victory, the Nationalist government imposed apartheid on trains and other facilities in the Cape Peninsula; abolished electoral rights granted to Indians by the Smuts regime; and outlawed all marriages, and later, all sexual relations, between whites and people of color. In 1950, three sweeping acts extended the foundations of a rigorously segregated and authoritarian society. The Population Registration Act required all South Africans over sixteen to carry an identity card specifying their race, sometimes with different family members assigned to different races. The Group Areas Act authorized the state to designate urban residential...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 319-326)

    The Voortrekker leader M. W. Pretorius charged the English-speaking missionaries with preaching “that the Gospel changes what was decreed by God, that bap tism and confession destroys the eternal and thus necessary difference between white and black.” Among mission theorists, the English-speakers’ apparent complicity ingelykstelling,or equalization of the races, provoked Cornelis Spoelstra’s neo-Calvinist critique that “Anglo-Saxon” mission schools exposed Africans to “equalization in all thinkable evil,” and the German critique, exemplified by Siegfried Knak’s accusation that “Anglo-Saxon” missionaries ignored “the order of creation [Schöpfungsordnung], the meaning of history, and the coming of God’s Kingdom.” From 1828, when John...

  10. NOTES
    (pp. 327-386)
    (pp. 387-416)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 417-437)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 438-438)