South Africa, The Church in
SOUTH AFRICA, THE CHURCH IN
The Republic of South Africa, located at the southern tip of Africa, is bordered on the north by Botswana and Zimbabwe, on the northeast by Namibia, on the east by Mozambique and Swaziland, on the southeast and south by the Indian Ocean and on the southwest by the South Atlantic Ocean. The region also includes the Prince Edward Islands, located southwest of the mainland in the Atlantic. The region is semiarid except for a subtropical region along the eastern coast. A narrow plain along the southern coast rises to a large plateau region, rising to hills to the north. The wealth of South Africa is in its natural resources, which include diamonds, gold, platinum, chromium, coal, iron ore, manganese, nickel, uranium and copper. Despite the long periods of drought experienced in much of the country, agricultural products include corn, sugar cane, wheat, fruits and vegetables and wool.
From 1910 until 1961 the region was a self-governing colony of the United Kingdom, formed by uniting the Cape, Natal, Free State and Transvaal provinces. Most Europeans are Afrikaners, descendants from Dutch, Huguenot and German settlers who arrived during
the early 18th century. The discovery of diamonds and gold between 1867 and 1886 resulted in the subjugation of the native population by a white minority elite which maintained its social and economic dominance by the rigid policy of racial segregation called apartheid. Due to increasing international condemnation of South Africa's racist policies and the work of nationalists, black rule returned to South Africa in the 1990s.
Catholic Origins and Development. The Catholic Church first came to South Africa when Portuguese explorers arrived late in the 15th century seeking a shorter route to the Orient. In 1488 Bartholemew Dias rounded the Cape of Good Hope. The Portuguese planted stone crosses (padroes ) in several locations along the coast. Cape Cross, St. Blaise Bay, Conception Bay, St. Lucia Bay, Port Natal and other places still bear Catholic names bestowed on them by the Portuguese. Joan de Nova built a small hermitage near St. Blaise Bay in 1501, and in 1635 a Catholic church was built at the mouth of the Umzimkulu River on the Natal coast. However, the Catholic presence in the region ended by the mid-17th century, after Jan van Riebeeck founded Cape Town in 1652. Dutch Calvinists (called Boers) immigrating to the region were bitterly intolerant of Catholicism and expelled all priests and missionaries, causing the disappearance of Catholic life until the 19th century.
England occupied the Cape in 1795, receiving permanent possession by the Treaty of Paris in 1814. Evicted from the region, Boers traveled north in what became known as the Great Trek, founding the republic of Transvaal and Orange Free State. In 1804 three Dutch priests arrived, and one of them, Joannes Lansink, was appointed prefect apostolic. However, the British expelled all three priests in 1805. British tolerance of the Church increased in the next decade, and in 1818 Edward Bede Slater, OSB, of Ampleforth, England, was named vicar apostolic for the Cape of Good Hope, Madagascar and neighboring islands (including Australia and New Zealand). Unable to reside at Cape colony, he was appointed the first vicar apostolic of mauritius in 1819. Slater visited the Cape in 1820, and left Father Scully, an Irishman, who built the first church in 1822, in charge of the mission. In 1837 the Vicariate of the Cape of Good Hope was separated from Mauritius, and Patrick griffith, OP, became the first resident bishop.
With the bishopric established, evangelization of the native South African population began. As the congregations grew, the vicariate of the Cape was separated into eastern and western sections in 1847, and the vicariate of Natal was created in 1850 and entrusted to the oblates of mary immaculate (OMI). Bishop Marie Jean Allard, OMI, Vicar Apostolic of Natal (1850–73), inaugurated missionary efforts among the Zulu and Basuto tribes. In 1879 the Jesuits assumed charge of the Zambezi mission north of the Limpopo River. With the discovery of diamond mines and gold fields, immigrants from many countries arrived in South Africa after 1867, and in 1886 the Vicariate Apostolic of the Orange Free State and the Prefecture Apostolic of Transvaal were created. In 1910, following the Boer Wars, all colonies in the region were united under British rule, and 12 years later Pius XI established an apostolic delegation for South Africa, headquartered in Pretoria. The present hierarchy was established in 1951. In 1991 a group called Afrikaans Apostolate completed a 29-year undertaking by publishing the first Afrikaans Sacramentary and Lectionary.
Church Confronts Apartheid. In the 1947 elections, a right-wing party took power in South Africa. The policy of apartheid (officially known as "plural democracies") was introduced in 1952 by Prime Minister D. F. Malan, and touted as a means of preserving the cultural identity of each of the many "nations" that constituted the region by keeping the races separate. The brutal shooting of blacks during the Sharpesville Massacre, which occurred in 1960, concurrently with South Africa's struggle for independence, served as a symbol to the world of the severe repression under this system. In 1977 the government proposed a plan whereby the black majority was to be distributed among nine "homelands" which the government claimed would become independent nations. This scheme failed to receive international recognition, being regarded as unjust, a denial of human rights, and a ruse to perpetuate white domination in South Africa. Apartheid was confronted by such moderate groups as the Christian Institute and Black Consciousness, as well as the African National Congress (ANC), which began campaigns of civil disobedience that would extend for over four decades as it gained in power.
In September of 1977 Black Consciousness leader Stephen Biko died of wounds received while in police custody. The government moved to suppress the rioting and criticism of Biko's death by jailing almost all black leaders except those appointed by the government itself, and by banning several influential white critics. (Banning orders forbade, among other activities, speaking in public or writing for publication.) Among the imprisoned black leaders was Father Smangaliso Mkhatshwa, acting secretary-general of the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference (SACBC). After four months of imprisonment, Mkhatshwa and several others were released, but severe restrictions were placed regarding his movements and activities. In February of 1977 the SACBC called for drastic changes in the organization of South African society, as well as advocating reforms within the Church itself. On racism they declared that "the only solution … consists in conceding full citizen and human rights to all persons in the Republic, not by choice on the false grounds of color, but on the grounds of the common humanity of all men, taught by our Lord Jesus Christ."
The announced policy of Church leaders was contrary to government policy and even illegal in several significant ways. In addition, conflict existed within the Church itself between adherents of the Black Consciousness Movement (including many black priests) and white Church authorities that centered around questions of the extent to which the Church should take a political stance against the government. The South African Catholic Defense League presented an organized objection to the Church's position in support of school integration. Meanwhile, other religious communities also struggled with such conflicts. In April of 1978, the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa cut its ties with its "Mother Church," the Dutch Reformed Church of the Netherlands, which had been critical of South Africa's racial policies despite its South African congregations's support of the government. Because of these conflicts, during the 1970s and 1980s Church leaders were expelled from the country, sometimes even arrested and tortured for their views.
International public opinion combined with a more moderate white government succeeded in bringing an end to apartheid before the end of the century. In the early 1990s came the work of dismantling the apartheid apparatus, and in April of 1994 the White congress voted itself into history. A new constitution went into effect and on May 10, ANC leader Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the first black president of South Africa at the head of a coalition government. In 1996 the country produced a new constitution, which, like the one it replaced, guaranteed religious freedom. In 1997 the Church admitted that, although not active in supporting apartheid policies, it could have done more to prevent them.
Into the 21st Century. By 2000 there were 746 parishes in South Africa tended by 398 diocesan and 749 religious
priests. Other religious included 215 brothers and approximately 2,940 sisters, each of whom served the region's growing Catholic population and some of whom ran the Church's 249 primary and 115 secondary schools throughout the country. Despite the end of apartheid, Church leaders now found themselves forced to publicly confront racism against South Africa's growing Muslim population, which had become the focus of scattered violence by 2000. The midlands area also continued to be visited by violence as Zulu extremists rebelled against the current political system. Ironically, the Church also began to break with the new mixed race government. The government's liberal views involved legalizing abortion in 1996 and the Church responded with a "right to live" campaign. However, despite such conflicts, relations between Church and state remained amicable. During a 1998 meeting between President Mandela and Pope John Paul II, Mandela commented that "No one among us can forget what the Church has done in teaching and health care for our children, when no one else was doing the same thing."
Bibliography: j. e. brady, Trekking for Souls (Cedara, Natal 1952). w. e. brown, The Catholic Church in South Africa from Its Origins to the Present Day (New York 1960). k. s. latourette, A History of the Expansion of Christianity, 7 v. (New York 1937–45) v.5. k. s. latourette, Christianity in a Revolutionary Age: A History of Christianity in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, 5 v. (New York 1958–62) v.3, 5. Bilan du Monde 2:25–36. The Catholic Directory of South Africa (Capetown 1917–). Annuario Pontificio has annual data on all dioceses.
[j. e. brady/eds.]