The Vrije Universiteit And South Africa ~ 125 Years Of Sentiments And Good Faith


This academic year (2005), the Vrije Universiteit enjoys its 125th anniversary.[i] In 1879, a handful of orthodox reformed Dutch gentlemen founded an Association for the advancement of Christian Higher Education, and on 20 October 1880, Abraham Kuyper inaugurated the Vrije Universiteit, Academia libera reformata, by delivering his famous lecture on Sphere Sovereignty, Soevereiniteit in eigen kring.

Kuyper was never a very modest man, and he certainly was not inclined to be modest at that moment. The credits of the university he opened, were three faculties, five professors and five students. As an accomplished rhetorician he described it as onze kleine School, met den Universiteitsnaam zelve tot blozens toe verlegen (our small school, blushing to be called a university). This was not meant as an apology, but rather to make a Hegelian turn: the real credits of the VU were writ­ten in the Synod of Dordt, its claim to nobi­lity was the cou­rage and moral dedi­cation of its sup­por­ters, and its worldwide value and impor­tance (Kuyper 1880). In the Kuype­rian world pano­ra­ma, his Uni­ver­sity would become the intel­lec­tual centre of the inter­nati­onal Calvinist world – the acade­mic power-house for all the re­for­med chur­ches, nati­ons and societies in Euro­pe, Ame­rica, and the Dutch colo­nies in the East. And for South Africa, of cour­se.

October 1880: this is also the month in which Piet Cronjé, on be­half of 127 Transvaler burghers, de­cla­red to the Landdrost of Pot­chefstroom that they would no longer pay any taxes to the Bri­tish go­vern­ment, as that government had ille­gally an­nexed and stolen their country (Van Oordt 1898). His language was quite akin to what Abraham Kuyper had written as a commentary on Shep­sto­ne’s an­nexation of the Transvaal in 1877, when he stated in his daily De Stan­daard: rob­bery is a sin to the eyes of the Lord, even by a crow­ned robber.

As a journalist and politician, Kuyper followed the South African developments on a daily basis. He was well-informed about the South African situation. He had met personally with the rising star of the Afrikaner Movement, editor of Die Patriot, chairman of the Genootskap van Regte Afri­ka­ners and founder of the Afri­kaner Bond, the Revd. S.J. du Toit. And he was regu­lar­ly in­formed by the Revd. Frans Lion Cachet, back in the Nether­lands after a stay in South Africa for more than thir­ty ye­ars. Kuy­per welcomed Paardekraal and the declaration of in­de­pen­dence of the Trans­vaal Volk. He was very ac­tive in the Am­ster­dam Trans­vaal Committee and, in May 1881, became one of the foun­ders of a coun­trywide, lasting pro-Boer organi­sation, the Neder­lands-Zuid-Afrikaanse Vereni­ging (NZAV). The mem­bers of the NZAV consis­ted mainly of liberals and con­serva­ti­ves and some radi­cals, such as so­ci­al-democrats and antirevo­lutio­naries. In close coop­era­tion with S.J. du Toit, now Superintendent of Edu­cation in the Trans­vaal, Kuyper tried to dominate the coop­era­tion with the Trans­vaal (material aid, advice on the deve­lopment of the new Afrikaner Republic, emi­gra­ti­on), to pro­tect the good or­tho­doxy of the Trans­vaal­ers ­against the ungod­ly Dutch liber­als – as had happened in the 1870s, when Pre­si­dent Burgers – a de­frocked liberal DRC (NGK) dominee! – with the help of his libe­ral Dutch friends had tried to moder­nise the edu­ca­tion and had ­made a mess of the Trans­vaal, only to pre­pare it for an­nexation by Shep­stone!

Kuyper had a real interest in South Africa, both as a Dutch na­tio­nalist and as a Calvinist. According to him – and to every Dutchman at that time! – the Afrikaners were fel­low des­cen­dants of the Geu­zen, stock of the pious heroes from the Gol­den Age of the Netherlands, kinsmen (stamverwan­ten) and co-believers; brethren (geest­ver­wan­ten). In early 1882 Kuy­per se­ri­ously planned a trip to the Trans­vaal. Formally as a tou­rist and journalist, a member of the Board of the NZAV, a friend and admirer – but of course also as a con­sul­tant, gi­ving ad­vice on how to orga­nise a Christian-na­tio­nal, an­tire­volu­tio­nary, re­for­med South African Repu­blic. The Board of the VU would not permit its Rec­tor Magnifi­cus a leave for half a year – and the­reby deci­ded­ly denied South Africa a chan­ce to tur­n its his­tory!

In 1883-84 Kuyper was ac­tive as an ad­visor and PR-man to the Deputa­tion of S.J.P. Kru­ger, Genl. N.J. Smit and S.J. du Toit, nego­tiating the Con­ven­tion of Lon­don. Kuyper also orga­nised the welcome reception of the Deputation in the Ne­ther­lands af­ter­wards, in 1884. And in 1900 he wrote La crise sud-afri­caine, the most in­fluential pro-Boer pamphlet of the An­glo-Boer War next to Smuts’ A Cen­tury of Wrong. The role of Kuy­per, by then Prime Minister of the Ne­therlands (1901-1905), in en­ding the An­glo-Boer War is well-known, as well as his fine 1904 fare­well tri­bute to the deceased Pre­si­dent Kru­ger: ‘This Moyse … that fighter for his nati­on, united, in its langu­age and its free fat­her­land … in God’s time to be we will see him suc­cee­ded by a Jos­hua’.

The Dutch view of South Africa was domi­na­ted for much more than half a century by these pro-Boer sympa­thies, the fee­lings of kinship and national pride, fostered by the Bri­tish atro­ci­ties du­ring the Anglo-Boer War. South African his­tory and Afri­kaans lite­rature were part of the curri­culum of the Dutch High Schools and the Government stimulated public at­tention for Afrikaner events, for example in 1925 (100th anni­ver­sary of Paul Kru­ger), 1938 and 1949 (Great Trek, Voor­trek­ker monu­ment), and 1952 (Van Riebeeck Festival).

At the Vrije Uni­ver­si­teit, the general Dutch pro-Boer sympa­thies were enlarged by a strong consciousness of the common reli­gi­on between Afrikaner and Protestant Dutchmen. They sha­red the same reli­gious and ecclesiastical tradition, read the same Sta­ten­bij­bel and sang the same 18th century Dutch edition of the Psalms. Both were part of the in­ter­na­tio­nal Cal­vi­nist movement, burg­hers of the worldwide Cal­vi­nist Empi­re. In this virtual Calvi­nist realm, the VU was considered as its in­tel­lec­tual ca­pi­tal, the first and only Calvinist uni­ver­sity in the world. Its professors, therefore, taught in Ger­many, Hun­gary, Scotland, Huguenot France, the United Sta­tes, and from 1924 onwards even in South Africa (H.H. Kuyper, C. van Geld­eren, V. Hepp, A.A. van Schel­ven). And, of course, the 1935 publi­cation Koers in die Kri­sis did con­tai­n not only chapters wri­tten ­by VU pro­fesso­rs, but also a welcome by the leader of the Dutch Refor­med movement, and the Prime Minister of the Netherlands (1925-1926, 1933-1939), Hen­dri­kus Colijn.

The contacts of the VU with South Africa date from its ear­liest days. ­In his con­gratu­latory letter from 1880, S.J. du Toit so­lem­nly pro­mised Kuy­per to send Afrika­ner stu­dents. Du Toit was im­pressed by Kuyper and was glad to coop­era­te. But in time, Du Toit es­tranged himself from the Kuy­pe­rian domi­nan­ce and extended his Dutch con­tacts, suppor­ted by Paul Kru­ger. Their friends­hip broke down. Fin­ding funds and coop­era­tion at all Dutch uni­ver­si­ties, Du Toit opted in 1884 for a South African Aca­demy in the Ne­ther­lands (proposed by the Leiden li­beral histo­rian Fruin), thereby denying the uni­que role of the VU as sole des­tination for Transvaal stu­dents in the Ne­ther­lands. By doing this, Du Toit chose to coop­erate with li­be­rals, hea­thens and Jews, according to Kuy­per.

So in the first twenty years, 1880-1900, the Vrije Universiteit had much to do with South Africa, but not by means of educa­ting young South Africans. As a fine exam­ple of the irony of his­tory, the first South African stu­dent at the VU – except for a Van der Spuy who, in 1882, read theo­logy there for only a couple of months – was, between 1900 and 1903, Japie du Toit, the Cape re­bel and belo­ved son of the loy­alist S.J. du Toit. Japie du Toit was sent to the VU by Gere­for­meer­de admirers and fol­lo­wers of Kuy­per in Pre­toria, more or less ­ag­a­inst the wishes of his fat­her. He was accom­panied by two other Bur­gers­dorp stu­dents, the law stu­dent Koos Pre­torius and Ja­pie’s friend and li­fe­long col­league, Fer­di­nand Post­ma.

J.D. du Toit and F. Postma were Doppers; both got their docto­ra­te from the VU, in 1903 and 1917 respectively, and both be­came well-known aca­de­mics, lea­ders of their church and the Afrika­ner nation. Within 50 years, they transformed the Burgersdorp ­Theo­lo­gi­cal School into the ­Pot­chef­stroom­se Uni­ver­siteit­skol­lege and then the Pot­chef­stroom­se Univer­siteit vir Chris­telike Hoër Onder­wys: the South African ‘Vrije Uni­ver­si­teit’ and the se­cond Cal­vi­nist university in the entire world.

The history of the long rela­ti­ons­hip be­tween the VU and Pot­chefstroom is well-known. Accor­ding to many peop­le and even some historians – in our countries and elsewhere – this rela­tion bore fruit in the ideo­logy of Christian-national A­part­heid. For them, Kuy­per was the father of Soevereiniteit in eigen kring and the­refo­re of Apartheid, and Herman Dooye­weerd, with ­his Wets­krin­gen and schep­pings­ordi­nan­ties, was his prop­het. All of this is more or less pitiable non­sen­se, the result of much mis­un­der­stan­ding or at best of poor scho­lars­hip (Schutte 1987).

After the Peace of Vereeniging, South Africa embarked into the Age of the Generals and, even more im­por­tant, the Age of the Ethnic Mobilisation of the Afrika­ner ­volk. It was sympa­thetically supported by the Netherlands, which la­vishly fun­ded the move­ment for CNO (Christelijk-Nationaal Onderwijs), the first Afrikaner re­sis­tan­ce mo­ve­ment, and welcomed Afri­ka­ner stu­dents at the Dutch uni­versi­ties.

In 1905 a young Stel­len­bosch theo­logi­an, W.A. (Wil­lie) Jou­bert, arrived to stu­dy theology at Utrecht, as Stellen­bosch alum­ni did for half a centu­ry. Within a couple of months he chan­ged Utrecht for the VU. Kuyper and his Gerefor­meerde ker­ken had not been very popular in the DRC (NGK) in South Africa, to say the le­ast. But by now, the NGK was tired of theo­logical libe­ralism and was also turning away from Scot­tish theo­logy and English Metho­dism; it was looking for its con­ti­nen­tal roots and theological scholarship. It is obvious tha­t awake­ning Afri­kaner nationa­lism had much to do with this: a stay in the Netherlands could and would strengthen one’s Afri­ka­ner iden­tity and cultu­re. Ac­cor­ding to Jou­bert, the Utrecht Her­vorm­de theo­logy was out­da­ted. The real ans­wers to to­day’s ques­tions were given by Kuy­per and Her­man Ba­vinck. Their theo­logy was ortho­dox as well as mo­dern, radi­cal even. And it was als­o very successful; it acti­va­ted church and socie­ty, the eman­cipa­tion of the or­tho­dox pro­tes­tants and even facilitated Kuy­per’s ca­reer up to Prime Minister. More­over: the VU was a ha­ven of Humbold­tian scho­lars­hip – Japie du Toit and Ferdi­nand Post­ma unsuc­cessful­ly oppo­sed the strict rules of the VU, that since 1880 reque­sted a pro­pae­deuse, whereas at the same time the Dutch govern­ment dismissed the propaedeuse for the state uni­ver­si­ties. A thorough know­ledge of the Bible, Latin, Greek and Hebrew was required, which was an indication of the fun­da­men­ts of the VU-theology: the Bible and the 16th/17th cen­tury theology. At the same time, the VU was the uni­ver­sity of the kleine luyden, the poor and the non-privi­leged people, for whose emancipation it had been foun­ded. A pro­pae­deu­se, the­re­fore, had to be strict, to be able to win the competi­tion with the libe­ral theologians. But at the time, the VU ac­com­mo­da­ted for those wit­hout a high school classicist training, aspi­ring to real scho­lars­hip.

From 1906 to 1940, some 80 South Africans studied at the VU. Theo­logians, mostly: 64 out of 80. Over time they put their stamp on their church and their country, as predikant, professor, kultuur- and ­volks­lei­er. Let me give you some examples.

Willie Joubert got a VU-docto­rate in theology (1910), and af­ter­wards ­wor­ked at Stellenbosch Uni­versity; at first as a pro­fes­sor in Dutch language and literature, later as a PR-officer and ad­mini­stra­tor. He was a fiery Na­tio­na­list and became a mem­ber of the Os­sewa Brand­wag in the 1940s.

B.B. (Bennie) Keet also got a VU doc­torate (in 1913), to be­come a well-known professor in the­ology at Stel­lenbosch. There he in­tro­du­ced the teachings of his VU masters: the et­hics of W. Gees­ink, and the ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal law of F.L. Rutgers and H.H. Kuy­per; and over time he became a well-known oppo­nent of apart­heid.

Keet did not join in the attack by another VU alum­nus and col­league, Prof. E.E. van Rooyen, a­gainst their Stel­len­bosch col­lea­gue J. du Plessis, in the late 1920s. Traditionally, this conflict is said to have been inspired by American fun­da­men­ta­lism against the theo­lo­gi­cal libe­ra­lism of Du Ples­sis, who tried to recon­cile the Bible and mo­dern scien­ce and taught evo­lu­ti­on. Ac­cor­ding to me, the histo­riography cert­ainly un­derra­tes the role of VU theo­logy and theo­lo­gians in this con­flict. Opposi­tion to the philosophy of evolution was one of the pillars of Kuyperian theology, with the Bible as its autho­rity; the con­flict, moreover, was as much about Dutch con­fes­sio­nal piety as opposed to Scottish-British Methodism.

Even more underestimated is the in­flu­ence of the Dutch Christian soci­al mo­ve­ment on these South African stu­dents. The con­cept of a chur­ch that is not only spiritually but also soci­al­ly re­le­vant, tac­kling the daily so­cio-political pro­blems, had a strong impact on them. Not less than three of the early Afri­ka­ner theo­logy stu­dents at the VU went into politi­cs: N.J. van der Merwe, H.A. Lamp­recht and W.P. Steen­kamp, as well as L.J. (Wikus) du Ples­sis, classi­cist, phi­losop­her, economist, and what more. All of them, ap­pal­led by the pi­tia­ble plight of the poor whites (in the first place: poor Afri­kaners) re­jec­ted the lais­sez faire of Botha and Smuts and requested active ac­tion and Chris­tian-so­cial policies. N.J. van der Merwe, a son-in-law to the former Free State President M.T. Steyn, and H.A. Lamprecht were Nationalists, followers of Hert­zog – but Van der Merwe was no Smelter: no fusion with the rand bosses and capi­talists for him!

W.P. Steen­kamp was an Afrika­ner as good as one could want one. His 1910 VU-doctorate could be cal­led a glo­bal scoop: his theo­lo­gi­cal dis­ser­ta­tion Die agnosticisme van Herbert Spencer was the first one worldwide that was writ­ten in Afri­kaans! (By the way: much against the will of the majo­rity of the VU Se­nate: ‘A­frikaans is no language, VU dis­ser­ta­tions have to be written in Stand­ard Dutch, Alge­meen Be­schaafd Ne­der­lands – Afrikaans is at best a degenerated Dutch’ – with the next VU-dis­sertation in Afrikaans being Van der Mer­we’s of 1921!) Steen­kamp also en­tered the South African Par­lia­ment, as the repre­senta­tive of his Nama­qualand pa­rish and constitu­ency; in later years he became a medical doctor, foun­der and re­pre­sen­tative of a Christian Farmers’ and Workers’ Party, and Sena­tor for the Uni­ted Par­ty.

According to the international historiography, the VU also taught these South African students Kuyper’s Christian na­tio­nal worldview. That is to say: apart­heid. It is a pity to say, but reality was dif­ferent. Race was not a real pro­blem in that time. The Eu­ropean supe­rio­ri­ty and colo­nial do­mi­nation were not ques­tio­ned, neither in the Netherlands, nor in South Africa. A li­beral and a pro­fessor in mis­sio­lo­gy such as J. du Ples­sis welcomed the se­gregation of the church, due to the vast dif­ference in evolution of the white and black races (Du Plessis 1921; 1926).

Dr. Wm. Nicol, later on an influential DRC predikant at the Wit­wa­ters­rand, an Afrikaner nationalist and in 1948 appointed as Pro­vin­cial Admini­stra­tor of the Transvaal, tells an inte­res­ting story in his me­moirs, Met toga en troffel (Nicol n.d.). Around 1912, he and his South African friends were impressed by Her­man Ba­vinck, his per­so­nality, his theology and psychology. But they did not give a dime for his sociology, writes Nicol. Once they con­fron­ted Bavinck with a raci­al­ly mixed cou­ple (a Dutch woman mar­ried to a Ja­vanese man), whom they had spotted wal­king in Am­ster­dam. If that Java­nese man is an educated Chris­ti­an, I would allow him to marry my own daughter, was Ba­vinck’s ans­wer, puzzling his South African au­dien­ce. Ba­vinck’s view of the brotherhood of all man­kind – also the star­ting point of A.W.F. Iden­burg, for­mer Mi­nis­ter of the Colo­nies and Gover­nor Gene­ral of the Dutch East Indies, Member of the Board of the VU – did not really change their opi­nion. In 1939, one South African tried in his VU doctorate to base the Apart­heid on the Crea­tion and Common Grace, referring to Kuy­per’s belo­ved the­mes of pluri­for­mity, diver­sity and hier­archy, saying that white su­prema­cy is the gift and the­refo­re the ­wish­ of the Crea­tor (Badenhorst 1939). A very bia­sed reading of Kuyper!

In the first half of the 20th century, therefore, the Dutch and Afri­ka­ners shared the idea of stamverwantschap, as a com­mon myth or dre­am. This dream was strong enough to survive World War II. The Dutch and the South Africans expe­rien­ced that dark period in a rather diffe­rent way. The Dutch were shocked by the sto­ries about Pirow’s New Or­der, the Greyshirts and the semi-fascist Os­sewa Brand­wag; they did not understand the anti-Bri­tish, neu­tralist posi­tion of the Na­tio­nal Par­ty. Pro-Boer friends at the VU could not understa­nd the par­ti­ci­pa­tion of Cal­vi­nists such as H.G. Sto­ker, L.J. du Ples­sis and ot­hers in the Ossewa Brandwag. But in time, by corres­pondence and per­so­nal discus­si­ons, ­they lear­ned these situa­tions to in­ter­pret, not as pro-fas­cist but as anti-Bri­tish; as examples of radical Cal­vinist na­tiona­lism, not as signs of nazi-sym­pa­thies, and the apart­heid as a seri­ous en­dea­vour to sti­mulate the culture of both white and black, sepa­rate but equivalent.

Berkouwer, Waterink, Dooye­weerd, J.H. Bavinck: all of them made post-war visits to South Africa (1949-1952) and all of them gave the Afri­ka­ners the bene­fit of the doubt.­ Not­withstanding serious questions about his past and views, the VU Senate in 1952 un­animously voted in favour of a hono­rary doc­torate for the Pot­chefstroom Rektor Prof. dr. ­Joon van Rooy, and for the Cape DRC modera­tor Dr. A.J. van der Merwe. And the same tra­ditional pro-Boer sympathies led the Senate to vote in favour of the formal exchange programme between the VU and its sis­ter univer­sity at Pot­chef­stroom in 1958. In the meantime, increa­sing amounts of South African stu­dents had arri­ved at the VU: 69 in the years 1945-1960, and some 50 in the 1960s, many of them accom­pa­nied by their part­ners­, stay­ing and stu­dying at the VU for a cou­ple of ye­ars.

For many of them, it was an eye-ope­ning expe­rience. ‘My years of studying in the Nether­lands made me con­sci­ous of the moral problems of apart­heid’, wrote VU alum­nus Willie Jonker (Jonker 1998). Dis­cussions with South Africans in exile in the Netherlands taught me to reject apartheid, wrote another former VU student, Lina Spies.[ii] Regu­lar­ly Pot­chef­stroom pro­fes­sors and ot­hers, invi­ted within the framework of the Cultu­ral Ag­reement, came and lec­tured at the VU, as VU profes­sors did in South Africa.

Gra­dually, ho­wever, more and more peop­le got doubts about the aca­de­mic con­nec­ti­ons with South Africa. We­ren’t these legiti­mising apart­heid? Alrea­dy in the late 1950s the VU-students had said good-bye to the ‘Penning myth’, as their maga­zine Pha­retra had called the tra­ditional pro-Boer sentiments.[iii] Many students and staff mem­bers were ac­tive members of anti-apart­heid movements. The ex­chan­ge with Pot­chef­stroom was sub­ject of de­bate at staff mee­tings from 1969 onwards. In April 1971, Rec­tor Mag­ni­ficus De Gaay Fort­man signed a for­mal let­ter to his Pot­chef­stroom col­league, expres­sing the ‘serious pro­blem we have with the race relati­onships in your country’ and the­reby star­ti­ng a dis­cus­sion about the posi­tion of Pot­chef­stroom, which would do­mi­nate and in the end ter­mi­nate their rela­ti­onship.[iv] At the same time, the VU was clearly sta­ting its own posi­tion: on 20 Oc­tober 1972 the Revd. C.F. Bey­ers Naudé was given an hono­rary de­gree.

Joon van Rooy, A.J. van der Merwe and Bey­ers Naudé: three VU doc­to­res hono­ris causa. Only twen­ty years had passed since 1952, but they had been revolutionary ones. The Netherlands had changed fundamentally, due to developments and processes such as industrialisation and urbanisation, the decoloni­sa­tion of the Dutch Indies, the impact of the feminist move­ment and demo­cra­tisation, the broad secu­la­ri­sa­tion and the depil­lari­sation, the brea­king down of the tra­di­tio­nal reli­gious and so­cio-po­litical barriers; an immensely popular a-histori­cal trend, pro­gressive and optimistic at the same time, of whi­ch people were con­vin­ced it could build a New Baby­lon (Kennedy 1995).

The VU had chan­ged even more, whereas South Africa was in a para­ly­sing sta­te, rigidly trying to stifle the motion of his­tory, deaf to the ever stronger winds of chan­ge. The Ne­ther­lands and South Africa were drifting away from each other at high speed. 1972 was a turning point in the relati­onship of the VU with South Africa, the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, connected by the continu­ation of its Kuyperian back­ground and cha­rac­ter. ­

Around 1950 the VU was a small, traditional, conser­va­tive, even narrow-minded institution; somewhat conceited and inten­sely Re­for­med. It denied Totius, poet and Bible trans­la­tor, a for­mer stu­dent, a fellow Cal­vinist and in­flu­ential ec­cle­siasti­cal fi­gure in South Africa, an Hono­rary Doc­to­rate, for rhy­ming the Psalms of David is no work of scho­lars­hip and therefore could not earn a degree of doctor litterae – not even ho­no­ris causa, as the VU pro­fes­sor in Dutch Lin­guis­tics and Li­tera­ture wrote in 1951. The VU still functioned only as aca­demy for the Reformed people. It protected the stu­dents against unde­sira­ble ideas: when in 1950 the liberal N.P. van Wyk Louw was nomi­nated Professor in Afrikaans Language and Culture at the Uni­ver­sity of Am­ster­dam, the VU seriously con­sidered esta­blishing its own chair with a Reformed nomi­nee (Schutte 2004). But by then the Dutch Reformed world was in the process of a revo­lu­ti­onary evo­lution. Internal co­he­sion di­mi­nis­hed and boun­daries were opened. In 1961, staff mem­bers of the VU were still seriously lectured by Curatoren about socialist lea­nings; but in 1964, the Synod of the Gereformeerde Ker­ken ac­cep­ted mem­bers­hip of the social-democrat party (PvdA) for its predi­kants. Kuy­pe­rian the­ology was de­cla­red out­da­ted and the tra­di­tio­nal Gere­for­meer­de way of life dis­ap­pe­ared. Not theo­logical or­tho­doxy but soli­darity with the poor and oppressed qualifies a church; today’s Chris­tia­nity has to be e­cu­me­ni­cal and soci­ally re­le­vant, po­liti­cally pro­gres­sive and an ally of all those who fight for a better world – a verantwoorde revo­lutie (‘a just revolution’), as two VU professors called it in 1968 (Verkuyl and Schulte Nordholt 1968). In 1972, the VU got a new, democratic administration and a new objective, replacing the Kuyperian Calvi­nist Prin­ci­pled Basis (Gereformeerde Beginselen). At the VU, as explained by a Memo­ran­dum, pu­blis­hed by the Col­lege van Be­stuur in 1975, there was a ‘growing awa­re­ness of the rele­van­ce of Chris­tian faith and action for situ­ations of inequa­lity and social in­justice, especially in con­nection with the so called ‘Third World’ [and a new con­scious­ness of] the res­pon­si­bility of uni­ver­si­ties and mem­bers of aca­demic commu­ni­ties with re­gard to the natio­nal and inter­na­tio­nally society in which they func­tion’.[v]

The so­cio­lo­gist of reli­gion ­Ger­ard Dek­ker has la­bel­led the pe­riod between 1960 and 1990 in the history of the Gere­for­meer­de Ker­ken as a si­lent revo­lu­tion. A con­tem­po­rary cri­tic and oppone­nt cal­led it ‘a ­si­lent de­ath’ (Dekker 1992; Jongeling n.d.). Orthodox South African Cal­vi­nists, be­wil­de­red by the headlines of the news from the Ne­therlands and the stories of the revo­lutionary students, ir­ritated by the con­stant ‘parman­tige’ and ‘betwe­terige Hol­landers, con­cluded: the VU is lost and no place for god-fea­ring, ortho­dox Afri­ka­ner students (INEG 1964).

Indeed, the rapidly gro­wing numbers of stu­dents at the VU were no longer god-fea­ring Cal­vinists (Rec­tor Mag­ni­fi­cus I.A. Die­pen­horst once pu­bli­cly warned for the Marxist un­der­mi­ning of the VU via the stu­dent popula­ti­on). And their profes­sors denied the histori­city of Adam and Eve, the whale of Jona and the donkey of Bileam. This deep gap be­tween Am­ster­dam and South Africa also can be de­mon­strated by the ho­norary degree, con­ferred on Mar­tin Lu­ther King by the VU in 1965. King is a fighter for jus­tice, walking in the steps of Jesus, according to hi­s pro­motor Gijs Kuijpers (who, only two years before, had war­ned the Kon­gres teen Kommu­nisme at Pretoria against the irresistible revolt against apart­heid and had applauded Man­dela for his speech at the Rivonia Tri­al)[vi]. But the South African reac­tion was rather sceptic: we have never heard that King is a Cal­vi­nist, by honou­ring him, the VU has sided for his Marxist revolu­tio­nary ideology.

That same year 1965, Prof. dr. W.F. de Gaay Fortman (1911-1997) became Rector Magnificus (1965-1972) of the Vrije Univer­si­teit as well as chair­man of the official Dutch Committee for the Cultural Agreement be­tween the Netherlands and South Africa, as suc­cessor to VU President-Curator dr. J. Donner (1891-1981). De Gaay Fort­man, a soft-spo­ken ty­pical Dutch re­gent and influ­en­tial anti-revo­lu­tio­nary poli­ti­ci­an, was born in a pro-Boer fami­ly, and he was not asha­med of these sym­pa­thies and sentiments (Bak 2004). At the same time, he de­tested the South African racial policy. For some years, he had – as the spokes­man of a group of influen­tial Dutch Members of Parlia­ment – tried to orga­nise a visit to South Africa, in order to start an offi­cial dia­lo­gue. But Verwoerd had not given permis­sion for a meeting with Albert Luthulu (1963-1965).

De Gaay Fortman was aware of the fact that a cul­tural ag­ree­ment, and aca­demic and cul­tural relations ­in gene­ral, were no di­rect poli­ti­cal in­struments. Ne­ver­the­less, De Gaay Fortman used them as in­stru­ments to start a cri­ti­cal dialo­gue with South Africa. His South African counter­parts and Pot­chef­stroom col­lea­gues soon dis­co­vered that De Gaay Fortman had indeed drawn the agen­da for that cri­ti­cal dia­lo­gue, in order to de­mon­strate to them the un-Chris­ti­an, inhu­mane and dan­ge­rous cha­racter of apart­heid. Doing so, De Gaay Fortman asked his South African coun­ter­parts to accept a broad, ge­neral concept of cultu­re, in order to send, under the Cul­tu­ral Ag­ree­ment, more black, aca­demically inexperienced South Africans to the Nether­lands to en­rol in the more gene­ral, tech­ni­cal, professi­onal types of educa­tion in the Ne­ther­lands. And he gave them a pragma­tic les­son: the VU solidarity with the chairman of the Christian Institute, the Revd. C.F. Bey­ers Naudé.

In the years 1973-1977, De Gaay Fortman func­tio­ned as Secre­tary of Home Affairs in the Cabinet of the soci­al-demo­crat Joop den Uyl. He stipulated, that the Dutch Government conti­nued a critical dialogue with the South African government, at the same giving priority to black South African students. But his poli­cy of dialogue was made out of date by the So­weto up­ris­ings (1976), and so the Government ended the Cultural Ag­ree­ment.

In that same period, the VU strengthened its contacts with the Christian Institute and built up as­sis­tan­ce pro­gram­me’s for academic institutions for black people in sout­hern Afri­ca­. And the de­bate on the Ex­chan­ge Pro­gram­me be­tween the VU and the Pot­chef­stroom Uni­ver­sity was in­ten­si­fied. Anti-apart­heid ele­ments at the VU wanted a boycott. The Board and the Univer­sity Council wanted to dis­cuss with Potchefstroom the role of Chris­tia­nity in mo­dern so­ciety and the con­tribu­tion of

Chris­tian hig­her edu­ca­tion: to streng­then the human rights, demo­cracy, emanci­pation. There was too much poli­tics and mis­un­der­stan­ding in their discussi­ons, with par­ticipants clinging to un­brid­gea­ble pa­ra­digms, in spite of stam­ver­want­schap and geest­ver­want­schap. By the end of 1976, the VU formally ended the Pot­chef­stroom coop­era­tion. The old sen­ti­ments had faded away, a new good faith was re­quired.

NOTES
i. This essay summarises the chapters 1-6 of my De Vrije Universiteit en Zuid-Afrika, 1880-2005 (Schutte 2005). I have published on the history of Dutch-South African relationships earlier in Schutte 1986 and Schutte 1993.
ii. Lina Spies to the author, 2004.
iii. Pharetra 20.6.1957en 27.1.1960.The Dutch pro-Boer Louwrens Penning (1854-1927) was the author of many novels on the Boer War.
iv. Archives VU: Senate VU to Registrateur Potchefstroomse Universiteit vir CHO, Amsterdam 5.4.1971.
v. [College van Bestuur Vrije Universiteit] Memorandum [Amsterdam, August 1975], pp. i-ii. The Memorandum was written to inform the participants of the Internal Conference of Reformed Institutions for Higher Education, Potchefstroom, 1975.
vi. Prof.dr. G. Kuijpers to the author, 3.3.2003; see also Kuijpers n.d.: 141-66.

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