Justifying and unraveling apartheid: mission thought and the public theologies of David Bosch, Nico Smith, and Carel Boshoff, 1948-1994
Lloyd, Stephen James
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This dissertation analyzes the careers of three Afrikaner missionaries, David Bosch, Carel Boshoff, and Nico Smith, who gained international reputations for pioneering alternatives to the South African Nation Party’s (NP) policy of apartheid over the second half of the 20th century. Afrikaners looked to missionaries to be moral leaders on questions of race relations, and missionaries’ public theologies carried significant moral weight. While numerous historians have argued that from the 1930s through the 1950s Afrikaner missionaries played a key role in developing and promoting the moral basis of apartheid in South Africa, they have not, however, addressed how Afrikaner missionaries responded to the political, social, and moral failure of apartheid. By the 1970s, the dissonance between the ideal and the actual implementation of apartheid led Bosch, Smith, and Boshoff—by that time leading public theologians—to a crisis of confidence in the NP, and they began to endorse divergent moral visions for the country’s future. David Bosch and Nico Smith embraced racial unity while Carel Boshoff pursued ethnic separatism. By the mid-1970s, Bosch became a leading proponent of “reconciliation,” which gave Afrikaners new moral language for thinking about themselves as part of a non-racial society. By the mid-1980s, both Bosch and Smith were key leaders in ecumenical and interracial organizations that endorsed a negotiated end to apartheid. They helped to form a growing interracial solidarity of Christians that encouraged and facilitated the democratic transition of 1990/1994. Conservative theologians, like Boshoff, attempted to stem the popularity of reconciliation in Afrikaner political and civil organizations. He was unable to successfully coordinate efforts with other conservatives, and he was increasingly marginalized. Ultimately, Boshoff opted for negotiated ethnic separatism with the African National Congress. This study demonstrates that far from being monolithic, Afrikaner religiosity and racial morality were dynamic and contested. Secondly, it shows that a number of Afrikaner public theologians and moral leaders were actively involved in ending white minority rule in South Africa. Conversely, it also shows that conservative religious leaders were able to transform Afrikaner nationalism, thereby prolonging its influence into the 21st century.