oa Historia - Die Berlynse Sending en apartheid in Suid-Afrika

Volume 32, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0018-229X



The Berlin Missionary Society and'apartheid' in South Africa. It is interesting to note that over the last two centuries Churches and Missionary Societies have taken the lead in denouncing the South African policies of segregation and apartheid. What seems strange, however, is how little of this criticism has come from German Lutherans, despite the fact that they were amongst the earliest pioneers of mission work in South Africa. This article examines the reasons why one specific German Lutheran denomination, the Berlin Missionary Society which arrived in South Africa in 1834, only officially denounced apartheid as a theological heresy in 1967. For over a century the Berlin missionaries not only supported racial segregation, but in fact played an important role in advancing the very ideas on which the South African government based its greatest experiment of total racial separation -apartheid. This article examines the reasons for the Berlin Missionaries' co-operation with the different South African governments in promoting racial segregation. It is pointed out that under the influence of the famous 19th century missiologist Gustav Warneck, German Protestant Missions strove to convert entire tribes rather than individuals. By so doing they aimed at establishing so-called ""national churches"" (Volkskirchen). Unlike most Anglo-Saxon missionary societies the Germans wanted to transform traditional African societies in such a way that Christianity would be rooted in the ""blood and soil"" (Bodenst�ndigkeit) of traditional society. This was a near impossible task, because by the beginning of the 20th century rapid westernization and urbanization meant that most African societies were already in an advanced stage of disintegration. In practice it meant that in order to succeed the missionaries would have to halt an inevitable process. In order to achieve their aim of establishing Volkskirchen the missionaries viewed segregation, which to their way of thinking would preserve traditional society (Volkstum), as the only guarantee against total detribilization.

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