The South African Council of Churches was founded in May 1968, during one of the darkest periods of South Africa’s history. At the time, the National Party had been in government for 20 years and its policy of apartheid was severely restricting the rights, associations and movements of the majority of South Africans.
Until the establishment of the SACC, South Africa’s churches had generally made little effort to stand together against the injustices of the apartheid regime. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission noted, “Some of the major Christian churches gave their blessing to the system of apartheid.
And many of its early proponents prided themselves in being Christians. Indeed, the system of apartheid was regarded as stemming from the mission of the church.
”Naturally, there were a few notable exceptions to this rule. For instance, in 1949 at an ecumenical conference, Chief Albert Luthuli called for a franchise vote; in 1960, in response to the Sharpeville massacre, the World Council of Churches convened the Cottesloe Consultation in Johannesburg where it challenged its South African member churches to adopt a united stance against apartheid; and in 1963, Beyers Naudé founded the Christian Institute, an ecumenical organisation with the aim of fostering reconciliation through interracial dialogue.