October 25th,  2007


The Honorable Baleka Mbete

Speaker of the National Parliament


Cape Town


Honorable Speaker,



In this presentation the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) would like to express its support for the repealing of the Dutch Reformed Churches Union Act no 23 of 1911 by supporting The Repeal of the Dutch Reformed Churches Union Repeal Bill, on the following grounds:

1.       This Act should be seen within its historical context, which is the year after the founding of the Union of South Africa on May 31st 1910.  With this the unification of the four British colonies in South Africa (The Cape, Orange Free State, Transvaal and Natal) became a constitutional unit as a colony under the British flag.

2.       At that stage the federated DR Churches (synods) were divided according to the provincial borders of South Africa, which was the Cape Church, the Transvaal Church, the Free State Church and the Natal Church.  This Act resistively empowered the four churches (synods) to unite as one church (a general synod as a synodus contracta), while retaining the four (provincial) synods.

3.       This Act at that stage also protected the rights of Coloured members of the Cape Synod to remain members of a united church. Should they however move to another province, they had to become members of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church (NG Sendingkerk) and as such forfeit their membership of the DRC.  Should they return to the Cape, it would be possible for them to take up their membership in the DRC again.

4.       Because of the fact that the required 75 persent majority vote for unification from all the congregations (represented by the local church counsels) could not be attained in the next year (1912), the unification was never realized in terms of this Act of 1911.

5.       Only in 1962 did these churches unite as one church. This was made possible by the acceptance of The Private Act on the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa, Act no 22 of 1961.  This act repealed alle previous legislation, such as Ordinance no 7 of 1843, Ordinance no 16 of 1845, Ordinance no 2 of 1851, and the Dutch Reformed Ordinance Amendment Act no 9 of 1898 of the Cape of Good Hope. At the same time, Act no 23 of 1911 (the subject of this submission) was rejected as a base for church unity.  This was done, simply because this church unification process was then rightly not (any more) perceived as a uniting of four separate and independent churches, but instead the restoration of one church (herstel van een kerkverband). Since 1862 the four (provincial) members of the same church was organized in four provincial churches (kerkverbande).

6.       Thus, in October 1962 the General Synod of the DR Church was founded in Cape Town when the Cape Synod, the Transvaal Synods, the Free State Synod, the Natal Synod, as well as the synods of the Church of Central Africa (Rhodesia) and South-West Africa (later Namibia) reunited as one church.

7.       Ons grounds of this historical explanation alone, the existence of Act no 23 of 1911 is irrelevant and should therefore be repealed.

8.       Since the acceptance of the (knew) Constitution of South Africa in 1996, the relationship between church and state is determined particularly by sections 15 and 18.  Freedom of Religion and the principle of Free Association in South Africa is guaranteed by these sections.  The organizational functioning of the DR Church is determined by the Kerkorde van die NG Kerk van Suid-Afrika. This is the constitution (church ordinance) of the church.  It is this constitution of the church which would be considered in a case of dispute, in as much as it do not contradict the values of the Constitution, but also because its members voluntarily subject themselves to the confessions of the church.

9.       Under our new Constitution an act like this one of 1911 can in any case not be constitutionally valid, as the respective territories of church (religion) and state are now clearly separated. In this dispensation it is very unlikely that a law relating to individual churches (or religions) would be considered constitutionally possible.  With the acceptance of the Constitution of South Africa in 1996 all laws are to be rewritten, repealed or replaced with new ones in terms of the values stated in the Constitution.

10.   Although the DR Church thus supports the repealing of Act 23 of 1911, we however consider the objectives of the proposed legislation formulated in B. The Objectives of the Proposed Legislation completely inappropriate.  This document clearly states that the intention of the repealing of this act is to remove any obstacles in the process of the unification process of the “Verenigde Gereformeerde Kerk, Reformed Church of Africa en die Dutch Reformed Church”. 

11.   Please note that the names of the churches in this document are not only incorrect, but also incomplete.  The suggested unification will be between four churches, not three. It should be: The Uniting (Verenigende) Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA), the Reformed Church in Africa (RCA), the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (DRCA) and the Dutch Reformed Church of South-Africa (DRC). 

12.   Our objection to the specific motivation in this document is on the following grounds:

13.   The Act of 1911 has got nothing to do with the current process of unification of the DR Church with the other churches in the DRC family (refer to 2-6 above). It was concerned with the four separate, DR Church synods of the four provinces of the Union of South Africa.

14.   The Dutch Reformed Church herewith does not deny that Act 23 of 1911, article/clause 9 do indeed discriminated against Coloured members of the Cape synod (see point 3 above).  It should however be noted that this act referred to members of the DRC – and not members of any of the other DR Church mission churches.

15.   The further argument that “The unification of these three churches is long overdue and all efforts must be made to assist in this process” is completely irrelevant (and of no meaning) to the repealing of Act 23 of 1911.

16.   The motivation for the repealing of this act of 1911 should not be grounded in the present unification process, but in the irrelevance of the act itself, as describe above – particularly in the light of the fact that the objective of this act was in any case reached with the founding of the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa in 1962.

Thank you for the privilege to serve this matter in a positive way. The Dutch Reformed Church trusts that our presentation will help the National Parliament to make a positive decision by repealing Act no 23 of 1911.


JJ Gerber (dr)                                                                          BJ du Toit (dr)

General Secretary                                                                              Parliamentary Desk