The final day of hearings of the Truth Commission in South Africa into the role played by the churches during the apartheid years has heard an apology from the Dutch Reformed Church which supported the system of racial segregation in the country. The Church said it hoped to re-unite the Dutch Reformed white, black and mixed race sister churches which were separated decades ago. Richard Downes reports from Johannesburg.
"The Dutch Reform Church was the most powerful religious institution in South Africa. Most of the country's Presidents and Prime Ministers during the apartheid years were members and it was only in 1992, two years after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, that the Church acknowledged aparthied as a sin. The Reverend Swanerpoel, speaking on behalf of the Church, confessed to great wrongs in the past and said the Church was guilty of spiritual and structural injustices under apartheid. Not everyone was happy with that apology: one theologian said a great opportunity had been missed because the Church authorities made no mention of amends for past wrong-doings. The Dutch Reformed congregation was expelled from the World Council of Churches in the early 1980's and has not yet been re-admitted, partly because it continues to be racially segregated with white churches and white congregations still controlling huge amounts of land and wealth. Many people who have come before the Truth Commission confess to gross human rights violations such as murder and abduction have cited the church as the spiritual inspiration for their gruesome work in support of the former apartheid regime. The Dutch Reformed Church submission brings to an end three days of testimony from the religious community about their role in the apartheid system. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who chairs the body, said much had been achieved and expressed the hope that the Church's truth-telling would lead to an improved moral climate in South Africa."