South Africa Table of Contents
In the 1990s, black South Africans form a majority in all large Christian churches in South Africa, except the Dutch Reformed churches, and this was true throughout the apartheid era. In these churches, many people became involved in efforts to reverse or to ameliorate the effects of apartheid policies, but with varying degrees of militancy. Again, there were often significant differences between church leaders and their followers concerning race and politics. For example, senior officials within the Roman Catholic Church in South Africa opposed apartheid, but a group of Catholics formed the South African Catholic Defence League to condemn the church's political involvement and, in particular, to denounce school integration.
Leaders of the Church of the Province of South Africa, the Anglican Church, spoke out in opposition to apartheid, but church members disagreed about tactics for expressing their views. Some white Anglicans vigorously opposed their church's involvement in politics, while many black Anglicans became leaders in the antiapartheid movement. The Methodist Church, which was overwhelmingly black, adopted openly antiapartheid stands on many public issues, but its leaders' activism cost it support among those who feared public scrutiny on this politically sensitive issue.
Religious alliances provided a means of coordinating church opposition to apartheid while minimizing the public exposure of church leaders and parishioners. The South African Council of Churches (SACC) was the most active antiapartheid umbrella organization. The SACC not only opposed apartheid but also offered encouragement to those who contravened race laws. Under the leadership of Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the 1980s, the SACC also attempted to withhold cooperation with the state, as much as possible, in protest against apartheid. SACC leaders were outspoken in their political views, lodging frequent complaints with government officials and organizing numerous peaceful protests.
Countering the efforts of the antiapartheid community, the Christian League of Southern Africa rallied in support of the government's apartheid policies. The Christian League consisted of members of Dutch Reformed and other churches who believed apartheid could be justified on religious grounds. The group won little popular support, however, and was criticized both for its principles and for its tactic of bringing religious and political issues together in the same debate.
The largest and fastest-growing of the African independent churches in the 1990s is the Zion Christian Church. Its members, estimated to number between 2 million and 6 million in more than 4,000 parishes, live primarily in urban townships and rural communities. The church is well known by the abbreviation, ZCC, pronounced "zed-say-say." The ZCC was established in 1910 by Engenas Lekganyane, a farm worker in a rural area that later became Zion City, in the Northern Province. Lekganyane was educated by Scottish Presbyterian missionaries, and the church reflects some elements of that religion. The ZCC took its name from Biblical references to the Mount of Zion in Jerusalem, based in part on the inspiration of a similar community in Zion, Illinois.
The highlight of the ZCC religious calendar is the Easter celebration, which has drawn more than 1 million church members for several days of religious services at Zion City. Zionist beliefs emphasize the healing power of religious faith, and for this reason ZCC leaders sometimes clash with the traditional healers, or sangomas , who are important in many belief systems. Despite occasional conflicts, however, the ZCC respects traditional African religious beliefs, in general, especially those concerning the power of the ancestors to intercede on behalf of humans.
ZCC beliefs are eclectic, but the church's practices are often strict. The ZCC proscribes alcoholic beverages, smoking, and eating pork. It condemns sexual promiscuity and violence. As a result, church members have become known in the business community for their honesty and dependability as employees.
The growth of the independent churches was spurred by the antiapartheid movement. Nevertheless, because devout ZCC members place their spiritual agenda ahead of earthly politics, they generally avoided antiapartheid demonstrations and organizations. As a result, ZCC members were often shunned, and some were even attacked, by antiapartheid militants. President Mandela is popular among ZCC members in the 1990s, however, in part because of his political moderation and antiviolent rhetoric.
Data as of May 1996
South Africa Table of Contents