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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

versión On-line ISSN 2224-7912
versión impresa ISSN 0041-4751


STRAUSS, PJ. The Dutch Reformed Church and the Rebellion of 1914-1915: Was the Council of Churches ecclesiastically reconciliatory?. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2020, vol.60, n.4-2, pp.1226-1242. ISSN 2224-7912.

The Rebellion which took place in South Africa in 1914 to 1915 can be described as a violent clash between Afrikaner and Afrikaner: between Afrikaners in the service of the South African army, and Afrikaners as rebels. The Rebellion was neither well planned nor properly executed and lastedfor only three to four months. In the process 190 rebels and 132 soldiers were killed. As an act of resistance against the South African Government and its declared intention to take over the Government of German South West Africa (now Namibia), the Rebellion was a tragic failure. It led to an emotional division in Afrikaner circles which lasted for decades. The Rebellion was an example of the conflict between Afrikaner nationalism and British imperialism in Southern Africa in the nineteenth and twentieth century. The Botha Government intended to take over German West Africa for strategic reasons on behalf of Great Britain in the First World War (1914-1918). Many Afrikaners regarded this as morally wrong - they were supporters of a defensive war only - as well as contrary to their goodwill towards Germany, which had supported the Boer Republics morally against Britain during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), only 12 years previously. The majority of Afrikaners belonged to the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC). This factor, together with the spiritual and physical disorder in South African society at the time, put the Rebellion on the agenda of the DRC. The broadest assembly in the DRC, consisting of 30 people - the Federal Council of Churches - called a meeting in conjunction with a conference of 92 DRC ministers in Bloemfontein, central South Africa from 27 to 29 January 1915. The Federal Council saw itself as an instrument acting on behalf of "our" people to bring about unity, spiritual health and a new spiritual strength. They felt that a divided church could not fulfil its task as a church in society if "our" people were divided. Well-known ministers of the DRC took the initiative for the meeting. Among them was JD Kestell, lovingly referred to by Afrikaners as "Vader (Father) Kestell". The upcoming young minister from Graaff-Reinet, and future South African Prime Minister from 1948 to 1958, dr. DF Malan, was asked to draft a list of proposals for the conference/council. As a filter for the Federal Council, the conference accepted the draft proposals - more or less the work of Malan - on 28 January 1915. Their resolutions were unanimously and, on behalf of the DRC, officially accepted by the Council on 29 January 1915. The Council requested church councils not to discipline members as rebels before emotions had toned down after the war. At this stage - in January 1915 - the Council rendered it impossible for the church as an outsider to determine the causes of the Rebellion. That had to be done if discipline were to be implemented according to justice. The Council supported law and order in the state, as well as society and family, and decided that resistance against the Government could only be justified if it happened in the light of God's Word and with a conscience enlightened by the Word. However, they realised that peace and justice would not be restored in South Africa if the resistance were to be answered by violence only. The Government and people had to find out what had caused the conflict and talk about the reasons for resistance. That would allow justice to prevail and true peace and order to be restored. The DRC accepted its calling to serve the Afrikaner because it was a Christian and national church. Although the Council did not choose between government and rebels, it nevertheless harboured an underlying sympathy for the latter. It accepted that a justified rebellion was possible. It also wanted talks about the causes for the clash to enable rebels to be restored with dignity and honour in society. Apart from this, the Council accepted two important resolutions: resolutions which, if accepted by the authorities, would pave the way towards peace after the Rebellion. In the case of teachers who might be fired by the Government for participating in the revolt, the Council requested a proper investigation before such termination of service and the acknowledgement of circumstances, which could lead to a softer approach. The Council also asked that the death penalty not be used again after the rebel and soldier Jopie Fourie had been shot for high treason on 20 December 1914. The Council seemed to be sensitive to the emotional reaction of their church members in this regard. With these talks as a proposal, the Council opened the way for reconciliation to follow and dignified peace to be accomplished. However, the Council did not initiate any other initiatives, and the emotional and economic damage of the Rebellion had to be addressed by the Afrikaner and Afrikaner institutions themselves. Such an institution was the Helpmekaar Fund, from which damages caused by the rebels were paid and a study fund established for young Afrikaners. Companies such as the well-known Santam and Sanlam also ensued from this fund. The Dutch Reformed Federal Council of Churches, as an assembly in the church, did not do everything in its power as an arm of the church to achieve justice and reconciliation after the Rebellion, but nevertheless helped that peace and reconciliation be restored.

Palabras clave : Rebellion; resistance in light of the Word; respect for authorities; revolt or rebellion in the light of God's Word only; thorough investigation of divergent issues; justice and pardoning; reconciliation and justice.

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