The Afrikaanse KonferensieNovember 1, 2006
On December 8, 1968, 425 delegates met for a Special Business Session of the Transvaal Conference. Before the session had ended approximately fifty delegates (including five ministers) had walked out, and in protest at the policies of the Transvaal Conference, resolved to establish a new conference—provisionally named the Suid-Afrikaanse Konferensie. The group did not consider themselves as schismatic, but wanted to remain within the established church structure. On the 15th of December, the group held another meeting and over 200 attended. At this meeting the group took the name Afrikaanse Konferensie van Sewendedag-Adventiste.
In an open letter to the leadership of the Transvaal Conference, the group stated:
“The history of our organization has not been a happy one in this country. The ‘Dutch’ have been continually regarded as inferior and not capable of handling their own affairs. The Afrikaners…have had to be content with crumbs falling from the master’s table.”
In response the SDA Church suspended a number of ministers while others resigned. A number of church members were placed under censure.
Despite denying that Afrikaner church members were in any way ignored or discriminated against, the Transvaal Conference and the South African Union Conference recommended in 1968 that Helderberg College be “as bilingual as possible” and add an Afrikaans-speaking theology lecturer to its staff. They also launched an extensive translation, production, and distribution of Afrikaans literature—including the production of the Trans-African Outlook in Afrikaans.
It is somewhat ironic that the church refused to officially recognise or create an Afrikaans-speaking conference when there were already numerous conferences established along racial/ethnic lines. Edwin de Kock (Helderberg College teacher) pointed this out in an undated manuscript:
“We and the Bantu, Coloured and Indian Believers are one in Christ, however do we have the same congregations and conferences?”
Kock also pointed out that separate conferences along language lines were established in Europe in the 1880’s (Danish, Norwegian, Swedish, and German), and that in 1901 the small Swiss Conference was also divided into German and French-speaking conferences.
In May 1969, the new Conference was formally registered with the South African government. For many this was only an interim measure until the orthodox SDA Church made changes.
At least one SDA congregation transferred its allegiance—the Krugersdorp SDA Church. Many groups were started in other areas, and by April 1969, there were 15 groups meeting in various locations.
The Afrikaanse Konferensie also undertook additional evangelistic efforts (and were very strongly opposed by the orthodox SDA church!).
At the end of 1970, the group reported a membership of almost 1,000.
However, by 1972, a crisis was apparent—the Afrikaanse Konferensie was severely in debt and losing members. Antonio Pantalone attributes this to 3 factors:
- A dramatic loss of membership,
- Excessive spending,
- Misappropriation of funds by some leaders.
It seems that many members of the Afrikaanse Konferensie still considered themselves loyal SDAs. They believed that their actions would result in dialogue with the orthodox SDA church and the breakaway group would soon be incorporated back into the existing church structure. When this did not happen, many returned anyway.
The Afrikaanse Konferensie had big plans—a school, a college, a medical clinic etc. They built a large meeting hall in Bapsfontein, a home for the aged was opened at Cottesloe in Johannesburg, another near Belfast in the Transvaal, and a third in the town of Springs. An aerotorium (inflatable evangelistic tent) was bought for R5500 along with a large truck to transport it. When numbers were reduced the group could not even pay their phone bills.
While the exact situation is unclear there were financial irregularities amongst some of the group’s leaders. This resulted in external audits and eventually a court case.
From this, the Afrikaanse Konferensie was unable to recover. In 1973 Pr von Horsten and a small group applied for re-admittance to the SDA church. Following the group’s complete collapse, six pastors were again employed by the orthodox SDA church. Karl Birkenstock and a small group of followers chose not to return to the church.
It is relevant to note that in 2006, many of the issues that prompted the formation of the Afrikaanse Konferensie have not been solved; and that similar proposals for independent, separate, or minority conferences have been proposed as a result of the ongoing merger/realignment of local conferences in South Africa.
Reference: Antonio Pantalone, “A Missiological Evaluation of the Afrikaanse Konferensie (1968-1974) and its Significance for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church in South Africa.” DTh, University of Durban-Westville, 1999.