The repeal of the Dutch Reformed Churches Union Act, the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa (Private) Act, the Methodist Church of South Africa (Private) Act, the Bible Society of South Africa Act and the associated Amendment Acts was proposed by Mr P Gerber. The motivation for the repeal of the Acts was that the Constitution allowed for freedom of choice of religion and there was no justification for the Acts to remain on the statute books. In addition, the Acts included provisions that violated the constitutional prohibition against racial and gender discrimination in legislation. Consultation with the affected churches and organisations had taken place and although some concerns were raised over the practical implications of the Repeal Bills on the organisations concerned, all parties supported the repeal of the Acts.
Members asked questions about the provision in clause 9 of the Dutch Reformed Churches Union Act that prevented membership of persons of colour in provinces other than the then Cape Colony, the unification of the three churches within the Dutch Reformed Church and the concerns raised by the affected parties during the consultation process. Public hearings on the Bills were to be held at a future date, followed by the Committee’s deliberations on the Bills.
Proposal to repeal the following Acts:
Dutch Reformed Churches Union Act of 1911;
Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa Act No. 24 of 1961 and No. 4 of 1970;
Methodist Church of South Africa Act No. 111 of 1978; and
Bible Society of South Africa Act No. 24 of 1960 and No. 15 of 1970
Mr P Gerber (ANC) briefed the Committee on the historical background of the Acts and the motivation for the four Repeal Bills. The right to freedom of religion was enshrined in Clause 15 of the Constitution and there was no need for three of the hundreds of churches in the country to continue to exist under Acts of Parliament. Although the Constitution concluded with “May God protect our people” and the national anthem was a prayer song,
The Dutch Reformed Churches Union Act was one of the first Acts of Parliament passed by the Union of South Africa. When the Bill was introduced to Parliament in 1910, Members debated the need to pass an Act to govern a church and the inclusion of clause 9 that allowed a person of colour to remain a member of the church only if he resided in the
The Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa Act included provisions that restricted certain occupations from being occupied by women and allowed for different policies to be applied to non-european members of the church.
The same motivation applied for the repeal of the Methodist Church of South Africa Act. Mr Gerber noted that three of the six Acts involved (including the Amendment Acts) were Private Members’ Acts.
Mr Gerber quoted from the minutes of a meeting held by the Bible Society of South Africa on 14 February 1968, where it was recorded that the Society took the decision to approach the Minister of Commerce and Industry to introduce an Act that allowed the Society to be legally entrenched as a company. The reason given was that the Society would enjoy a higher status and esteem if it was a company rather than a welfare society, at little or no cost to the Bible Society itself.
The Chairperson recalled her own experience of discrimination on the basis of her religion. Her application for training as a nurse was turned down because she was a Zionist and not a member of the Dutch Reformed Church.
Adv Z Adhikarie (Senior Parliamentary Legal Adviser) advised that three of the Acts legislated for the whole of
Mr G Lekgetho (ANC) agreed that the repeal of the Acts was long overdue. He was unaware that the Dutch Reformed Church prevented membership of persons of colour outside the
Ms D van der Walt (DA) remarked that the freedom of religious choice was enshrined in the Constitution. The other violations of the Constitution by the Acts were not supported. She asked if the five organisations that were consulted supported the repeal of the Acts and wanted to know if any concerns were raised.
Ms D Ramodibe (ANC) shared the concerns raised by the preceding Members of the Committee.
Mr B Zulu (ANC) asked what the reason was for the clause in the Dutch Reformed Churches Union Act that denied membership of the church if a person of colour left the
The Chairperson asked why the Dutch Reformed Churches Union Act Repeal Bill referred to the Verenigde Gereformeerde Kerk, the Reformed Church of Africa and the Dutch Reformed Church.
Mr Gerber explained that there were differences in the way in which the three churches celebrated communion and in the hymns that were sung at services. Members of the Verenigde Gereformeerde Kerk were mostly coloured and sang an Afrikaans version of Nkosi Sikele Afrika.
In response to Ms Van der Walt’s question, he confirmed that the churches concerned as well as the South African Council of Churches were contacted and that submissions on the proposed Bills were received. The Dutch Reformed Church supported the Repeal Bill but disagreed with the motivation that the repeal of the Act would assist the unification of the churches. The Apostolic Faith Mission and the
Adv Adhikarie added that the Bible Society had raised issues concerning the loss of esteem if a company became a public benefit organisation instead. She said that the legislation was not necessary as any organisation may apply for registration as a public benefit organisation. The transfer of property was not necessary as a public benefit organisation was not prevented from owning property. Both the Companies Act and the Income Tax Act made provision for public benefit organisations and there were no negative consequences to the organisations concerned if the Acts were repealed.
Mr Gerber reported that the South African Council of Churches supported the Bills and commented that the State should not be seen to benefit a few churches by allowing the Acts to remain on the statute books.
In response to Mr Zulu’s question, Mr Gerber said that the motivation for the clause concerning the membership of the church by persons of colour was not known. He said that historically, there was a greater degree of integration in the Cape and it could have been a problem if persons of colour were not allowed to be members of the church in the
Mr Zulu asked if the Act allowed a person of colour to join the church in another province.
Mr Gerber replied that the Act made no provision for such a person to be granted membership of the church in other provinces. He read the provisions of clause 9 of the Act.
Ms M Mdaka (ANC) asked for clarity on clause 9 of the Act.
Mr Gerber replied that the Dutch Reformed Church was shocked that the Act was still on the statute books and was under the impression that it had been repealed. Although the Act was unconstitutional, technically the Act may still be enforced.
Mr Lekgetho asked if the concerns raised by interested parties were addressed during the consultation process.
Ms Van der Walt remarked that all Dutch Reformed Church activities were multiracial. Services were conducted in a third language in some of the churches.
Ms M Mdlalose (NADECO) advised that the leader of NADECO was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church.
Mr Gerber explained that interaction took place with interested parties during the consultation process. Uncertainties regarding the Bills were addressed and the attitude of the affected parties changed as a result. Some concerns were expressed over the technical application of the Bills. He confirmed that mixed services took place but discussions on the unification of the church were long drawn out and a subject of some frustration to him.
The Chairperson remarked that the churches worshipped the same God.
Ms Ramodibe recalled that Beyers Naudé was a member of the Dutch Reformed Church and that changes had been made to the way in which the church operated. She requested clarity on the inability of the church to unify along non-racial lines.
Mr Gerber explained that the Act made provision for segregation within the church. Three churches existed. The members of the Verenigde Gereformeerde Kerk were mostly coloured while the members of the Dutch Reformed Church and the Reformed Church were mostly white. The issue of unification of the churches was desired by the members of the church but had been a long, drawn-out battle. He felt that strong leadership was required to achieve the unification of the churches.
The Chairperson remarked that the issue was the removal of discriminatory legislation.
Mr Gerber replied that the Dutch Reformed Church supported the repeal of the Act. He said the church was unaware that the Act was still on the statute books and was under the impression that it was repealed by the 1961 Amendment Act.
In conclusion, the Chairperson advised that Members of the Committee will have the opportunity to raise questions at the public hearings on the Bills. Deliberations on the Bills will be held at a later date.
The meeting was adjourned.
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