Letter to South Africa

The Rev. Dr. Daniel F. Malan,

Prime Minister. Unie van Suid Afrika,

Pretoria, U.S.A.

Most esteemed and reverend brother:

You are well aware of the fact. I am sure that the policy of apartheid associated with your administration does not receive a favorable press in the United States and Canada. It is very ordinary for us to read violently condemnatory descriptions of apartheid and its implications in our newspapers, and even in our religious magazines.

A group of us here in Grand Rapids, mostly ministers in the Christian Reformed denomination—a church very similar to yours in doctrine—feel that there is possibly another side to the apartheid issue than that which is commonly pictured here. We regret the one-sided treatment which this policy seems to have received, and we wish that an adequate statement of the policy from the viewpoint of someone in South Africa might appear in our papers. Then Christian men and women of Reformed persuasion, at least , might possibly come to understand better the principle you have stated.

We are asking you, therefore, to give us such a statement, or to refer our request to someone who can. We do this “with fear and trembling,” of course since we are not unaware of the fact that you are a very busy and important international figure. Nevertheless we make bold to do so, because we are confident that you desire to be understood by your brothers and sisters in the Lord here in our country and in Canada.

The magazine to which we invite your statement is TORCH AND TRUMPET. It is a free Reformed bi-monthly. I am taking the liberty to address a copy of t he last issue to you, so that you may examine it at your leisure. For this request we gladly waive any impracticable space limits…

Sincerely yours,

(Rev.) John H. Piersma




Cape Town. 12th February, 1954

Oakdale Park Christian Reformed Church,

1313 E. Butler Avenue, S.E.

Grand Rapids 7, Michigan, U.S.A.


It was indeed heartening to receive a letter such as yours of the 15th December, asking me for a statement on the much disputed and misunderstood Apartheid policy of the South African Government. Such a request is almost unique in an imperfect word which claims the right to judge others by standards of perfection without prior knowledge of the circumstances which have in the course of centuries contributed to the creation of particular problems.

It must be appreciated from the outset that Apartheid, separation, segregation or differentiation—whatever the name given the traditional racial policy of South Africa—is part and parcel of the South African tradition as practiced since the first Dutch settlement at the Cape in 1652 and still supported by the large majority of white South Africans of the main political parties.

The deep-rooted color consciousness of the white South Africans—a phenomenon quite beyond the comprehension of the uninformed—arises from the fundamental difference between the two groups, White and Black. The difference in color is merely the physical manifestation of the contrast between two irreconcilable ways of life, between barbarism and civilization, between heathenism and Christianity, and finally between overwhelming numerical odds on the one hand and insignificant numbers on the other. Such it was in the early beginnings and such it largely remains. The racial differences are as pronounced today as they were 300 years ago. Small wonder that the instinct of self-preservation is so inherent in the White South Africa. He has retained his identity all these years. He is not willing to surrender it now.

From the outset the European colonists were far outnumbered; there is no doubt that if they had succumbed to the temptation of assimilation, they would have been submerged in the Black heathendom of Africa as effectively as if they had been completely annihilated. Of necessity they had to arm and protect themselves against this ever-growing menace, and how could it better be done than by throwing an impenetrable armor around themselves—the armor of racial purity and self-preservation?

As Lord Balfour stated on a famous occasion: “In South Africa a White nation has established itself in a Black continent which is something that has never before presented itself in the history of mankind.” He might have added that there is no parallel for the South African racial record of non-extermination, non-miscegenation, non-assimilation, but of preaching and practicing Christianity with the retention of racial identity and of mutual respect.

This then is the basis of apartheid. Bot let me point out that there is another and more positive aspect of this creed.

Essentially a positive and non-repressive policy as applied in our en lightened day, apartheid is based on what the Afrikaner believes to be his divine calling and his privilege—to convert the heathen to Christianity without obliterating his national identity. And as you have addressed me in the first place as a Christian and a churchman, let me at the outset summarize for your consideration the point of view of the Dutch Reformed Church with which the other Afrikaans churches are fundamentally in agreement.

A considered statement on behalf of the leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church, much the largest church in South Africa, with whose doctrine your own Christian Reformed Church is in main agreement, was issued a few months ago on the occasion of an inter-denominational conference called by the Missionary Council of the Dutch Reformed Church. The principles therein enunciated fairly reflect the basis upon which the Afrikaans Churches have, ever since their establishment, approached South Africa’s complex, multi-racial problem. With due regard to their historical background I may summarize these principles as follows:

1. Missionary work has been practiced in this country from the early beginnings as being the Christian duty of the settlers to the heathen. Only afterwards were the principles formulated which govern the racial policy of the State and of the established Churches here.

2. The Church believes that God in His wisdom so disposed it that the first White men and women who settled at the foot of the Black Continent were profoundly religious people, imbued with a very real zeal to bring the light of the Gospel to the heathen nations of Africa. These first South Africans lit a torch which was carried to the farthest corners of the sub·continent in the course of the last three centuries and whose light now shines upon the greater part of all non-white peoples south of the Equator.

3. Whilst the Church regards the conversion of the heathen as a primary step in his march to civilization it is prepared to face and, in fact, to implement the implications of Christianizing the heathen. Not only has it been busily employed all these many years in establishing mission congregations throughout the length and breadth of the country and far beyond its confines, it has also established separate Churches for the various non-White groups, all of which are fast approaching the stage of complete autonomy.

4. In the early beginnings the Church used the blessings of civilization as a means to attract the heathen, but today the traditional concept of European guardianship has taken the form of fostering and financing to the full the social, educational and economic development of the non-White. And whilst believing that God helps him who helps himself and, therefore, encouraging and assisting the non-European also to exert himself in this general movement of uplift and enlightenment, the Church has at all times vouchsafed the various Black races the right and duty to retain their national identities. Christianity must not rob the non-White of his language and culture. Its function is to permeate and penetrate to the depths of his nationalism, whilst encouraging him to retain and refine those national customs and traditions which do not dash with the Christian tenets.

5. The traditional fear of the Afrikaner of racial equality (equalitarianism) between White and Black derives from his avers ion to miscegenation. The Afrikaner has always believed very firmly that if he is to be true to his primary calling of bringing Christianity to the heathen, he must preserve his racial identity intact. The Church is, therefore, entirely opposed to intermarriage between Black and White and is committed to withstand everything that is calculated to facilitate it. At the same time it does not begrudge the non-White the attainments of a social status commensurate with his highest aspirations. Whereas the Church, therefore, opposes the social equalitarianism which ignores racial and color differences between White and Black in everyday life, it is prepared to do all in its power to implement a social and cultural segregation which will redound to the benefit of both sections.

6. But the duty of the Church has its bounds. It is wrong to expect the Church to enunciate a racial policy for the peoples of South Africa. It is not for the Church to define what the mutual relationships of races and racial groups should be politically. True, the Church is the guardian of the truth, the protector of the down-trodden, the keeper of the nation’s conscience and the denunciator of evil practices, but there its duty ends. To Caesar must be rendered the things that are Caesar’s.

7. The Bible is accepted as being the Word of God and the Dutch Reformed Church accepts the authority of Holy Writ as normative for all the political, social, cultural and religious activities in which man indulges. The Church acknowledges the basic rights of the State as a particular divine institution to regulate the lives and actions of its citizens.

Passing then from the historical and spiritual basis of apartheid to its everyday political application as practiced by the present South African Government, let me remind you that government is the art or the possible. It makes no sense, therefore, to criticize the policy of apartheid in the abstract and without due regard to facts and conditions as they exist and as they have been allowed to develop through the centuries. And may I emphasize that to consider only the rights of the Blacks would be precisely as immoral as to have regard only for the rights of the Whites.

I must ask you to give White South Africans credit for not being a nation of scheming reactionaries imbued with base and inhuman motives, not a nation of fools, blind to the gravity of their vital problem. They are normal human beings. They are a small nation, grappling with one of the most difficult problems in the world. To them millions of semi-barbarous Blacks look for guidance, justice and the Christian way of life.

Here a tremendous experiment is being tried; not that fraught with the bloodshed of annihilation, nor that colored by assimilation, but that inspired by a belief in the logic of differentiation, with the acceptance of the basic human rights and responsibilities. Human rights and responsibilities can, however, only be exercised by human beings who are capable of appreciating their significance and it is here that my Government, dealing as it does with a still primitive non-White population, is faced with a major educational problem. In order that you should realize how serious is our appreciation of this problem, let me give you some idea of the progress made since the National Party Government came into power just over five years ago.

Since 1947/48 the Government has increased its expenditure on non-White education from £3,665,600 to an estimated £8,190,000 for the financial year 1953/54. Today nearly 800,000 Bantu children are given their schooling free of charge, whereas many more attend technical and industrial schools and an ever-increasing number are being lined at universities, hospitals and training establishments for the profession of doctors, nurses, police men, clerks, demonstrators, artisans and builders.

In all nearly £11,000,000 is spent annually on the education of non-Whites In South Africa of which the lion share is provided by White South African taxpayers. It is computed that every European taxpayer in our country “carries” more than four non-Whites in order to provide the latter with the essential services involving education, hospitalization, housing, etc.

For apart from education much is done for the physical rehabilitation of the Bantu in his own reserves in many cases the best agricultural land available in our comparatively poor country. So an amount of £3,500,000 was set aside during the past financial-year for betterment works in these areas, where more than 200,000 acres of land has already been reclaimed from the ravishing soil erosion to which it had been exposed as a result of the ignorance of the Black peoples. More than 1,000 storage dams have been built here, 2,000 bore-holes sunk, 7,700 miles of fencing erected and 10,000 miles of roads built. In all these areas irrigation schemes are being undertaken and every effort made, including the improvement of stocks by the introduction of quality bulls (already 2,200 in number), to teach a primitive people the rudiments of sound agricultural practice.

In the field of human rehabilitation an even more ambitious project is being tackled. Disability grants and old age pensions are available to the Bantu in the same way as to the Whites. Almost £2,000,000 was made available to the Bantu for old-age pensions this past year, whereas many public bodies have exercised themselves to meet the many needs of the non-Whites in regard to the disabilities to which they are heir.

The housing of the non-White population is one of the most urgent and complex problems the various authorities have had to face in our country suddenly confronted with considerable industrial expansion. My Government has employed its limited resources to the full in order to meet the emergency created in this field by the quadrupling of our industrial production since the war. In this way £18 1/2 millions have been granted by way of loans for Bantu housing since 1945 and 40,000 sub-economic houses have been erected for Bantu workers since 1935.

The more than a million Colored people (people of mixed race) in our country, are another tremendous responsibility to the Government and a constant drain on the country’s exchequer, filled almost entirely by the White taxpayer. A Colored man may follow any trade or profession he desires. We have Colored lawyers, doctors, teachers, merchants, journalists, artisans, etc.

Nor does most of our industrial legislation make any distinction on the grounds of color. Workers of all races enjoy the same protection under our factory and labour legislation; and Wage Boards, in determining wages, are forbidden by law to discriminate on the grounds of race.

Furthermore the non-Whites of South Africa have full access to all health services. These services have done much to improve their general health. In all major centres well equipped clinics, with properly trained nurses and doctors in attendance, cater for their needs, In addition, they normally receive free hospital treatment.

Allegations that the country’s non-Whites are not accorded political rights, are untrue. In the urban areas, Advisory Boards, whose members are elected by the Presidents of Black urban residential areas, provide all adequate mouthpiece whilst tribal authorities are now being established in terms of the Bantu Authorities Act in the rural areas.

Through this means the Bantu are given the opportunity to play an active part in the administration of their own affairs and as they develop, more responsibilities and duties, as well as privileges, are granted them until they are proved to be competent to govern themselves.

Local, District and General Councils are firmly established in the Transkei and Ciskei. These Councils play a major part in the administration of the Reserves, at the same time offering the Bantu ample opportunity for self-government, self-expression and increasing development. In addition the Bantu are represented in both Houses of Parliament by White representatives, elected by themselves and given very specific charges.

Contrary to popular belief abroad the Whites and Blacks are practically contemporary settlers in South Africa, the former migrating from Europe, the latter fleeing from the error of Central African internecine wars of extermination.

It is only fifty years since South Africa, until then a poor country, has through the discovery of its vast mineral resources, emerged from its pastoral era. Half a century of immense development has through about the upliftment also of the Bantu far beyond that reached by him in any other country on the sub-continent. The result has been a large scale, illegal migration of Black peoples from the northern territories beyond our borders to South Africa with an ever-increasing aggravation of our non-White problems.

Small wonder that despite the efforts of authorities, central and local, to uplift the Black population, an immense task still awaits them. The recent, unparalleled, industrial development of our cities has laid too great a burden on our municipal government, with resultant, deplorable slum conditions. And marching with housing, educational demands for the non-Whites, of whom a larger percentage are provided with free education than anywhere else in Africa, or for that matter in most Asiatic countries, including India and Pakistan, have become a real burden on the White taxpayer.

But, however heavy the burden, White South Africa is committed to a policy of Bantu development, in keeping with the positive tenets of apartheid, which I would summarize as follows:

1. Energetically to develop the Bantu reserves, both agriculturally and industrially. In industries within the reserves Bantus are to be trained eventually to fill all positions. At the moment a Commission is investigating methods to foster this industrial development.

2. Gradually to extend the powers and functions of local government within the reserves, either through the local councils where these exist, or by adapting and modernizing the traditional Bantu form of government by chief and counselors.

3. Gradually to replace the White officials, professional men, traders, etc. within the reserves by Bantu.

Theoretically the object of the policy of apartheid could be fully achieved by dividing the country into two states, with all the Whites in one, all the Blacks in the other. For the foreseeable future, however, this is simply not practical politics. Whether in time to come we shall reach a stage where some such division, say an a federal basis, will be possible, is a matter we must leave to the future.

In any case, the full implementation of the policy of separate racial development will take very many years. Call it an experiment, if you like, and one could say it is an experiment which is as yet only in its initial stages. Many aspects of the problem are certainly still far from clear, and it would be unwise, even if it were possible, to draw up a blue-print for 50 years ahead. In more than one respect progress will have to be by trial and error. And if in this process we should err, I ask you and your countrymen not to judge our efforts only by our incidental failures nor to reproach us for what you may at this great distance judge as being a lack of the spirit of Christ.

Yours Sincerely,

D.F. Malan (signed)


That Apartheid or racial segregation as advocated and practiced by the present administration of the Union of South Africa government has received much attention and discussion goes without saying. And it is quite unnecessary to add that on our continent most comment on this policy has been sharply critical, if not frankly condemnatory.

The Editorial Committee of Reformed Fellowship. Inc., publishers of this magazine, feel that the issue involved is of sufficient importance to merit the careful attention of any thoughtful person. This, however, is not the particular reason which moved us to seek this article.

Torch and Trumpet is unreservedly committed to the historic Reformed Faith. Sharing that commitment with us are many brothers and sisters in South Africa. many of whom are known to be in sympathy with Apartheid. To this segment of the Reformed world community we feel an obligation. It seems only fair to us that someone should be asked to describe the much-decried Apartheid policy from the administration point of view in order that we who share a common confessional heritage might understand one another better.

Obviously the most eminent spokesman conceivable in this connection is none other than Dr. Daniel F. Malan, at present Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa. To him, therefore. Torch and Trumpet directed its request, and herewith publishes his answer.

We thank the Prime Minister for his willingness to take the time to slate his case for us. The position here taken and the statements made are wholly those of our distinguished guest, and should in no wise be construed as reflecting the editorial opinions of this magazine.