Chloe Engle

Mr. Hjelmgren

World History

Period 7



South Africa: Religion


            While the practice of Apartheid was officially defeated in 1994, religious practices are still tied to race and politics. Contemporary South Africa is largely composed of Christian religions including Anglican, Methodist, Catholic, and Charismatic Christian movements. The Dutch Reformed Church is still popular with the Dutch ancestry while the large South African Indian population, practices Hinduism, as well as its own branch of the Dutch Reform Church. There is a growing Jewish population who arrived after WWII and a small Russian and Greek Orthodox group as well (Ross 183). Tribal religions coexist with Christian religions, especially those related to the Bantu and Zulu tribes. While lacking a formal church structure and traditionally ritualistic with earth idols, tribal religions are respected throughout South Africa. Modern South African religions can be dated to the arrival of the Portuguese explorer Bartholomeu Diaz in 1488.

            In 1488 Diaz arrived at the tip of South Africa and christened it The Cape of Good Hope (Welsh 9). Establishing a colony at Mossel Bay, the Portuguese paved the way for a Catholic-Christian missionary system that still survives today. In1497 Vasco de Gama arrived and smaller settlements were established with peaceful relations with the native South Africans. In 1652 the Dutch East India Company was created and by 1658 the Dutch reformed church under Jan Van Riebeeck was established. South Africa became a destination for those fleeing religious persecution throughout Europe including Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, and Presbyterians. By 1799 the London Missionary Society, the Glasgow Missionary Society, and the Wesleylan Methodist Society were teaching native South Africans religion as well as reading (Meredith 46).

            The current religious atmosphere is unique in that it still reflects its missionary past. However, the turmoil of the late 19th Century Boer War created large divides between the English/Anglican faction and the Dutch/Reformed Church. Religion in South Africa became “increasingly separatist where it was once a haven for religious refugees it is now also adopted a political dimension as well” (Ross 170). After the Boer War the Dutch Afrikaners, who suffered great persecution under the British, returned to their strong Dutch Reformed Church as a way of political survival. The presence of the Dutch Reform Church grew and eventually rejected the Dutch Reformed Mission Church that was established in 1881 for “Colored Peoples” (Meredith 204). The Anglican Church saw this separation of color as the first move toward the Apartheid policy of 1948. The Anglican Church, Catholics, Jews, and Methodists also rejected Apartheid. In the 1990’s, the South African Catholic Defense League (mostly white) and the Methodist Church (mostly black) lead reform movements against Apartheid. Bishop Desmond Tutu formed The South African Council of Churches (SACC) during the 1980’s and remains and outspoken opponent of religious persecution in the world (Ross 173).

            South Africa has come a long way from its tribal, missionary, and Dutch Reform Christian roots. That a missionary system is still in place speaks to the colonial past of South Africa and suggests that as a country it has suffered invasion, persecution, and exploitation and the Apartheid policy is still a work in progress. Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela’s message of religious tolerance is an important part in all of the practicing religions co-existing in South Africa today.

Annotated Bibliography


Brookes, Edgar. Apartheid: A Documentary Study of South Africa, New York: Barnes and Noble, 1968.


This book was helpful in tracing the history of modern South Africa. Brookes discusses how and why Apartheid changed the face and politics of South Africa.


Davis, Stephen M. Apartheid’s Rebels, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.


Davis’s book discusses the underground resistance movement during Apartheid.               He spent six years with the ANC (African National Congress) who were the rebels who broke the censorship battles with the press.


Duke, Lynne. Mandela, Mobutu, and Me: A Newswoman’s African Journey, New York: Doubleday, 2003.


Washington Post correspondent Lynne Duke travelled in South Africa droning the 90’s recording the displacement of people to camps in Angola and the killing felids of Rwanda.


Goodman, David. Fault Lines: Journeys Into The New South Africa, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.


David Goodman is a freelance journalist who lived in South Africa at the height of Apartheid and witnessed the cruelty of the white politicians and the work of Mandela and Desmond Tutu. This book was helpful in giving an outsiders opinion of how the work of an imprisoned man could change Apartheid.


Mallaby, Sebastian. After Apartheid: The Future of South Africa, New York: Times Books, 1992.


Mallaby is the African correspondent for The Economist. His book was helpful in indentifying the tension that still exists between South Africa and other African nations.


Meredith, Martin. Diamonds, Gold and War: The British, The Boers and the Making of South Africa, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007.


Meredith is a journalist and biographer. This book describes the fight for the gold and diamond riches in South Africa. It Is helpful because two men Cecil Rhodes and Paul Kruger are at the core of the struggle to claim huge chunks of land regardless of the tribes that live there and would never share in the white mans discoveries.


O’Malley, Padraig. Shades of Difference, New York: Viking, 2007


O’Malley tells the story of the most unlikely hero of the Apartheid movement, an Indian named Mac Maharaj. He was a leader of the liberation movement in South Africa who was tortured for his politics. This book demonstrates the international interest in Apartheid and its leaders.


Ross, Robert. A Concise History of South Africa, New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.


Robert Ross is a professor in Holland who has traveled widely in South Africa. His book gives a good overview of the history of South Africa from about 1500 to the election of Nelson Mandela.


            Welsh, Frank. South Africa: A Narrative History, New York: Kodanasha International, 1999.


Frank Welsh was a leading British banker at Grindlays Bank in South Africa and India. This book discusses the fact that South Africa now has a well-developed financial and legal system. It gives a helpful history of how the economy of South Africa works.