South African churches, including the Dutch Reformed Church, are perceived as playing a greater social role since the fall of apartheid, even if they may be ill-equipped to serve such a function, according to recent research. South Africa has remained a strongly religious nation in the 13 years since apartheid was dismantled, with a recent survey showing that adherence to Christianity (79.1 percent) and religion in general (81.9 percent) remains high.
In a study of how the Dutch Reformed Church has responded to such national problems as poverty, crime, AIDS, and racism, it was found that congregations still largely focus on local problems, such as providing motivation and inspiration for members to work on these issues. The study, which was presented by Jan Bisschoff of the University of Pretoria at the meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion in Tampa in early November, found that poverty and unemployment and family issues were the most likely to be directly addressed by Dutch Reformed congregations. A major change is the growth of small groups where members come together and initiate projects themselves rather than relying on congregational committees to do the work.
Another study presented at the conference by Johannes Erasmus of the University of Stellenbosch found that South Africans today tend to view the Dutch Reformed and other churches as more open institutions than in the pre-1994 period and that they are more likely to address social issues. The study, which focused on the town of Paarl and how its residents view its major churches (Dutch Reformed, Uniting Reformed, Anglican, and Catholic), found that most respondents agreed that the churches were more open and more likely to work with each other than they did before 1994.
Regarding welfare, respondents said that congregations were more likely to address this social issue now than before 1994, but it was noted that because of decreasing state subsidies, that issue has become a more common concern throughout the church and society. In contrast, the majority of public officials felt the social role of the churches since 1994 has declined, often citing the decline of religious activism generated by the issue of apartheid.