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The Afrikaanse Konferensie

November 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:

  1. A dramatic loss of membership,
  2. Excessive spending,
  3. 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.

One comment

  1. At the December 8, 1968 Special Business Session of the Transvaal Conference, held in the Carl van Heerden Memorial Hall at Sedaven, one of the delegates of the Springs congregation, elder WGF van den Bergh requested the session for permission to appeal against the proposed appointment of pastor P P van Eck as the new conference president due to the fact that, during a private investigation, it came to light that he was observed in Potgieter Street in Pretoria, negotiating with a Coloured prostitute known by the name of “Florrie”, and was therefore deemed unfit to serve as pastor, let alone being elected as president.

    The Treasurer of the conference at the time, Eric Korff, as well as pastors Engelbrecht, Wessells, Combrinck and van Rensburg were informed beforehand of elder vd Bergh’s intentions to lodge an appeal, and chose to shout him down and to cover up the scandal. After requesting permission to speak for more than fifteen minutes, elder van den Bergh said in Afrikaans:”Mense, ek het die kerk reeds die afgelope 25 jaar gedien as ouderling, en nou word ek nie toegelaat om die Sakesessie toe te spreek nie? Wat staan my nou te doen?!” (People, I have served the church as elder during the past 25 years, and now I am not allowed to address the Session as an elected delegate? What am I to do?) Eric Korff, supported by inter alia JJB Combrinck started chanting : “Loop, Loop, Loop.” Elder vd Bergh obeyed, and therupon left the meeting, followed spontaneously inter alia by elder DF du Plessis, pastors FW von Horsten, PJ Retief, J Birkenstock and KG Birkenstock, who were all informed and well aware of the details of the outcome of the investigation of pastor van Eck’s activities. After prayer and hours of soul-searching consideration, elder van den Bergh decided against reporting the matter to the sunday newespapers, and pastor van Eck’s escapades were later repeated after his transfer to the Cape Conference.

    That day was one of the darkest days ever in the history of Seventh Day Adventism. I was there, and the event is engraved in my mind. The following easter, during a Camp Meeting of the “Afrikaanse Konferensie”, held at Pendock Farm, Pretoria, elder vd Bergh regrettably chose to donate 11 hectares of land at Bapsfontein to the “Afrikaanse Konferensie”. As most of the persons mentioned above have passed away, it is perhaps today time to set the records straight. Not unlike the Soweto schools’ uprising, the matter of the “TAAL” was used as a cover-up of a multitude of sins for which the guilty shall one day have to answer in the Day of Judgement.”

    For additional information I shall reply to whom it may concern.
    agvdb@absamail.co.za



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