Afrikaner Reformed Churches

Protestant Christianity rooted itself in Southern Africa in 1652 when Dutch colonists permanently settled at the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa. The Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie [VOC] (Dutch East India Company), a major Dutch naval trading house, originally developed a refreshment base on the shores of Table Bay for ships en route between Europe and East Asia. It also allowed the Company to maintain its monopoly over the Spice Trade. The settlement quickly grew into a thriving European colony. During the first 130 years of the Cape-Dutch colony, the society and church were under jurisdiction of the VOC, and thus ensured that the community was served by only the Calvinistic Nederlandse Hervormde of Gereformeerde Kerk (Netherland Reformed Church) of the Dutch Republic (officially the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands) of that time. The Presbytery (Ring) of Amsterdam in the Netherlands oversaw the church activities at the Cape.1-3

For the first thirteen years, the spiritual needs of the VOC colonists at the Cape of Good Hope were partly addressed by either the local sick comforter (sieketrooster) who would conduct readings from published sermons, or by a visiting minister on board a passing ship. Meetings were initially held in the Fort of Good Hope (Fort de Goede Hoop), which was later replaced by the Castle of Good Hope (Kasteel de Goede Hoop). As the number of VOC employees and burghers (town inhabitants) grew, the meeting place at the Fort became too small and church gatherings were moved to the barns on nearby farms such as Coornhoop en De Schuer. When the building of the Castle finally commenced in 1665, meetings were moved to a wooden shed near the building site. In that same year, the Church of the Cape of Good Hope was officially founded, with the arrival of the first permanent ordained minister, Joannes van Arckel (1640 – 1666) on 23 August 1665. At the Castle, the Board Room situated in the centre buildings of the Castle, called “De Kat”, was used for church gatherings on Sundays.2-5 The cornerstone of the first church building was laid on 28 December 1700 by Willem Adriaan van der Stel (1664 – 1733), who was Governor of the Cape from 1699 to 1707. The building took three years to complete and was inaugurated on 6 January 1704. This specific church became known as the Grootte Kerk, and later also as Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK) Kaapstad (Dutch Reformed Church [DRC] Cape Town).4,6-8 It remained the only congregation at the Cape of Good Hope for 21 years until 1686, when DRC Stellenbosch was founded.2-4 The name of the Church of the Cape was officially finalised on 14 November 1842 as Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk van Suid-Afrika (NGK) or Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa (DRC). This brought an end to confusing terms that was used interchangeably in correspondence and documentation, which included Gereformeerde Kerk van die Kaap, Hervormde Kerk van die Kaap (both translate to Reformed Church of the Cape), Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, De Hollandsche Gereformeerde Kerk (both translate to Dutch Reformed Church) and Nederduitse/Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk van Suid-Afrika (Netherdutch Reformed Church of South Africa).2,4,9

The church at the Cape of Good Hope limited itself to the European colonists, but also included some of the mixed parentage individuals (with mixed European and slave/Khoi-Khoi ancestry, later to become known as the Coloured Community). Freed slaves (vryswartes) were also welcomed, on the condition that they converted to Christianity.2,10 By the end of the eighteenth century there were seven congregations within the expanding Cape Colony. They were Tafelvallei/Cape Town (1665), Stellenbosch (1686), Drakenstein/Paarl (1691), Roodezand/Het Land van Waveren/Tulbagh (1743), Swartland/Malmesbury (1745), Graaff-Reinet (1792) and Swellendam (1798) [Founding date in brackets].2-4

The latter half of the eighteenth century saw the decline of the VOC and after a few sea port battles, the Cape was by 1806 undoubtedly a British Colony.2-4 Over the next thirty years the British government at the Cape introduced their own administrations, policies and laws. Not all the burghers at the Cape were satisfied with these changes, as well as the micro-management they were subjected to. Disgruntlement therefore grew, particularly in the border districts of Cradock, Graaff-Reinet, Somerset and Uitenhage. Increased taxes, the emancipation of slaves, the systematic anglicization of the Dutch-speaking Reformed Church congregations through the appointment of Scottish ministers, the frequent attacks and raids on district farms by Khoi-San gangs with no protection provided by the government, as well as the economical impact of the ongoing drought, plagues and pests all contributed to the motivation of the farming settlers (also called Boers) to leave the colony and move inland. This led to the Great Trek of 1835 to 1845 when between 12 000 and 14 000 Boers, known as the Voortrekkers, migrated inland with their live stock, and possessions packed in ox wagons. Although the Great Trek was a deliberate attempt to create distance between the British government and the Trekkers, with the ultimate goal of political emancipation and an independent state of their own, the settlers had every intention to keep ties with the Cape Reformed Church, thus maintaining membership with the church.2,3,11,12 One of the Voortrekker leaders, Pieter Mauritz “Piet” Retief (1780 – 1838) wrote on 9 September 1837 to Andries Stockenström – then the lieutenant governor of the eastern district, British Kaffraria, from 13 September 1836 to 9 August 1838 – the following: “Our religious services are by no means neglected, but on the contrary earnestly and constantly conducted according to the established forms and principles of the Dutch Reformed Church”.12-14

The Church in the Cape, however, condoned the Great Trek, and no ordained minister wanted to join the migrating trekkers as they moved into the areas that became later known as Natal, Orange Free State and Transvaal. The only spiritual leader among the Voortrekkers was Erasmus Smit, a missionary from the Netherlands who joined the Voortrekkers in 1836. He was married to the daughter of the Voortrekker leader, Gerhardus Marthinus “Gerrit” Maritz (1797 – 1838). Erasmus conducted sermons, marriages, christenings and funerals. Another pastor, Rev. Daniel Lindley – an American Presbyterian missionary among the Zulu nation since 1837 – also started to labour among the Voortrekkers and conducted church services primarily at Pietermaritzburg (founded in December 1838), but he also visited congregations at Port Natal (renamed to Durban), Weenen, Winburg and Potchefstroom until 1847 when he returned to his full-time mission work among the Zulus.2,3,11,12,15-17 With the gradual settlement of Voortrekker communities in the interior and the founding of new congregations, the official link with the Reformed Church in the British Cape Colony was maintained via the Presbytery of the Transgariep. The Cape Synod approved this relationship.2,13 By the early 1850’s, permanent DRC ministers at some of these congregation in the Orange Free State and in British Natal would visit congregations that had no clergy at all, particularly in the Transvaal. They would deliver sermons, marry couples, baptise children and confirm new members into the church. Such ministers were Rev. Andrew Murray jr. (1828 – 1917) of DRC Bloemfontein and his brother-in-law, Rev. Johannes Henoch Neethling (1826 – 1904).13,18-20With the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR), also known as the Transvaal Republic, being declared an independent Boer Republic on 17 January 1852, the intention was that the church ties with the Cape Synod would remain unchanged. It was Murray and Neethling, who as deputies of the Cape Synod, met in May 1852 at Potchefstroom in the ZAR, with representatives of the various Transvaal congregations regarding their continued ties with the Cape Church. However, eighteen months later on 22 November 1853, during a follow-up meeting at Potchefstroom, the ZAR Council (Volksraad) and most of the Transvaal church congregations (DRC congregations in the ZAR) voted to be no longer part of the Cape Synod. Thus, a new autonomous DRC was established in the ZAR.2,3,13 The church was served by Rev. Dirk van der Hoff, the first permanent minister north of the Vaal River, who had to travel vast distances to reach the few congregations spread out within the ZAR. Van der Hoff would eventually become one of the strongest advocates for the name-change of the church.13,21 With the acceptance of Article 20 of the ZAR Constitution in 1858, the name was changed to Nederduitsche Hervormde Kerk in Afrika [NHKA] (Netherdutch Reformed Church in Africa [NRCA]). A major reason for cutting all ties with the DRC in British Cape Colony, was political, because the ZAR wanted to leave no backdoor open through which Britain could have any influence in the ZAR. The NRCA eventually became the state-supported church of the ZAR.2,3,13

However, on 11 Februarie 1859 at Rustenburg in the ZAR, disgruntled members broke away from the NRCA to start their own church, the Gereformeerde Kerke van Suid-Afrika [GKSA] (Reformed Churches of South Afrika [RCSA]) – the plural form is used in the name. This rift was not surprising and had a long run-up. In 1814 evangelical hymns were introduced as church hymns in the Cape Church. There were those in the church who were concerned, because the introduction of hymns in addition to the melodious psalms was considered to be the equating of human scripture with the psalms, which are, after all, the inspired Word of God. Particularly in the Colesberg district in the north-eastern part of the Cape Colony, there had been a relentless struggle over the matter since 1837. Later, many of the aggrieved from these regions would participate in the Great Trek. With an established life in the Transvaal (ZAR), the struggle was resumed in 1853 within the NRCA. At its first General Church Meeting, a request from the objectors to remove hymns from church services was denied. Paul Kruger, later State President of the ZAR, was present at the meeting and one of the nineteen church members who had objections to the use of evangelical hymns. In 1859 the matter was again raised without success and the result was the founding of the RCSA. Cape and Free State members of the DRC, who had similar convictions, would soon join the RCSA.13,22

At the DRC Cape Synod of 1862, sisterly relations with the NRCA of the ZAR were accepted and the NRCA was requested to recognise congregations and members who wished to belong to the Cape Synod. The great task of reorganizing these members and congregations into a Dutch Reformed Church in the ZAR was orchestrated from the DRC congregation at Utrecht – located on the south-eastern border with the ZAR – which was affiliated with the Cape Synod. This specific task fell on the shoulders of Rev. Frans Lion Cachet (1835 – 1899). On 3 December 1866 the first General Church Meeting of the re-organised Dutch Reformed Church in the Transvaal was held in the ZAR at Utrecht, thus re-establishing the DRC in the ZAR.2,13,23,24

The Declarations of Faith of these three Afrikaans sister-churches – DRC, NRCA and RCSA – are almost identical, yet any past merger attempts over nearly 200 years have proven futile. In 1885 the NRCA and DRC in the ZAR merged to form the Nederduitsch Hervormde of Gereformeerde Kerk (NHofGK), also known as the Verenigde Kerk [VK] (United Church [UC]). This amalgamation lasted a mere seven years where-after the NRCA separated itself from the unsteady union in 1892. The DRC’s Afrikaner congregations in the Transvaal, however, continued to exists as the NHofGK or UC until 1957 when the name was restored to Dutch Reformed Church in Transvaal.2,3,13,23 In 1944 the Nuwe Protestantse Kerk (New Protestant Church) – renamed in 1986 to Evangelies-Gereformeerde Kerk van Suid-Afrika [EGK] (Evangelic Reformed Church of South Africa [ERC]) – was founded when members broke away from the DRC because of theological differences regarding the end-times and second coming of Jesus Christ, while also seeking a greater spiritual experience during church services.25,26 At that time, the DRC in the four different provinces of the Union of South Africa (1910 -1961), still functioned independently of each other, each under its own Synod. Only in 1962 did the Synods of the Cape, Orange Free State, Natal and Transvaal unify with the establishment of the DRC General Synod (Algemene Sinode) in South Africa.2,3,13,23

The break-away in 1987 of the Afrikaanse Protestantse Kerk (APK) (Afrikaans Protestant Church [APC]) from the DRC, on the other hand, was mostly politically motivated. Conservative white members distanced themselves from the DRC’s changing view which supported greater integration between the various ethnic groups in South Africa, particularly between Blacks and Whites. These changes were the result of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches‘ General Council declaration in 1982 that apartheid – the institutionalized political milieu of South Africa from 1948 to 1994 – is a sin and its theological justification a heresy. This declaration resulted in the expulsion of the DRC of South Africa from its membership, which caused much turmoil within the church, resulting in a major review of the church’s approach to racial relations within the South African context. In October 1990, the General Synod of the DRC formally denounced its apartheid’s theology. The APC also rejected the DRC’s use of the new Afrikaans Bible translation (1983) during worship services, and to this day continue to use the 1933 translation.3,27



A large portion of this page was compiled by Rev. Dr. Pieter Kruger, who holds a post-graduate degree in Church History. His invaluable contribution towards the accuracy, completeness and sequence of events in the historic development of the Afrikaner Reformed Church in South Africa that is being presented here as a brief summary, is much appreciated!

  1. Brown, W. 2002. NG Kerk: Waarvandaan. (In Hofmeyr, G., red. NG Kerk 350. LuxVerbi.BM : Wellington)Woods, L. 2008 Handbook of World Religions. 1st Ed. Barbour Publishing, Inc.: Uhrichsville, Ohio, USA
  2. Giliomee, H. & Mbenga, B. 2007 Nuwe geskiedenis van Suid-Afrika. 1ste Ed. Tafelberg: Kaapstad
  3. Illustrated history of South Africa. The real story. 1989 2nd Ed. Reader’s Digest Association South Africa (Pty) Ltd.: Cape Town
  4. Oorsig van die geskiedenis van die NG Kerk. Gemeentegeskiedenisargief.
  5. Castle of Good Hoop.
  6. Groote Kerk.
  7. Groote Kerk, Cape Town.,_Cape_Town
  8. Cape Town, Groote Kerk Dutch Reformed Church. SUNDigital collections. University of Stellenbosch, South Africa.
  9. Coertzen, P. 2002. 1842. Nuwe ‘wetten en bepalingen’ en ‘n nuwe naam. (In Hofmeyr, G., red. NG Kerk 350. LuxVerbi.BM : Wellington
  10. Heese, H.F. 1985. Groep sonder Grense. Die rol en status van die gemengde bevolking aan die Kaap, 1652 – 1795. Instituut van Historiese Navorsing: Universiteit van Wes-Kaap
  11. Binckes, R. 2013. The Great Trek uncut. 1ste Ed. 30º South Publishers: Pinetown
  12. Visagie, J.C. 2014 Voortrekkerleiers en trekroetes. 1ste Ed. Die Erfenisstigting: Pretoria
  13. Van der Watt, P.B. 1989. Die Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk 1652-1905. NG Kerkboekhandel 1988 (Edms) Bpk : Pretoria
  14. Andries Stockenström.
  15. Gerhardus Marthinus Maritz 1797 – 1838.
  16. Erasmus Smit.
  17. Daniel Lindley.
  18. Botha, S.J. 1965 Die toetrede van Lydenburg tot die Nederduitsch Hervormde-kerkverband 1864 en die herafskeiding onder F. Lion Cachet 1866.
  19. Andrew Murray.
  20. J.H. Neethling.
  21. Dirk van der Hoff.
  22. Bingle, P. 2002. 1859: Die Gereformeerde Kerke in Suid-Afrika. (In Hofmeyr, G., red. NG Kerk 350. LuxVerbi.BM : Wellington
  23. Hanekom, T.N., red. 1952. Ons Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk. ’n Gedenkboek by ons derde eeufees 1952. Kaapstad : NG Kerk-uitgewers
  24. Frans Lion Cachet.
  25. Evangelies-Gereformeerde Kerk van Suid-Afrika. Elektroniese Christelike Kernensiklopedie (e-CKE).
  26. Tuisblad van Evangelies-Gereformeerde Kerk.
  27. Afrikaans Protestant Church.