Many initiatives begun by English-speaking missionaries were perpetuated, even into the 1950s, by secular actors who retained a Christian idiom in their activities, along with a Christian commitment to non-violence. Among them were white researchers at the South African Institute of Race Relations; the novelist Alan Paton, whose Cry the Beloved Country moved an international audience with a Christian vision of racial reconciliation; several founders of the interracial Liberal Party; and black politicians such as Albert John Luthuli, secretary-general of the African National Congress from 1952 to 1967 and winner of a Nobel Peace Prize.
Similarly, the Dutch Reformed missionaryrooted vision of apartheid was secularised in the 1950s – a process exemplified in the life of G.B.A. Gerdener, the leading Dutch Reformed mission theorist, who helped draft the Nationalists’ apartheid manifesto in 1948 and, increasingly, in the 1950s shifted much of his activity from the churches to SABRA, a secular Afrikaner think-tank. Gerdener, and also W.W.M. Eiselen, a missionary son who shaped the government’s educational policy for blacks, powerfully expounded apartheid ideas in terms congenial to the Christian conscience of many Afrikaners.
In the mid-1950s, the Nationalist government forced the closing of mission schools and hospitals, thus depriving the missionary movement of its principal power base. Simultaneously in Europe and North America enthusiasm was waning for Protestant missions. Blacks, for their part, were drifting away from the accommodationist tactics of the white missionaries and confronted the government directly in the Programme of Action of 1949 and the Defiance Campaign of 1952. Radical missionary clergy like the English Anglicans Michael Scott and Trevor Huddleston, impatient with their churches’ caution, involved themselves openly in black politics and, in consequence, were expelled or withdrawn from South Africa by their superiors.
In a series of conferences and colloquia, church leaders desperately tried to fend off a final rupture between the English-speaking Protestant churches and the DRC. In 1960 at the Cottesloe Consultation, convened by the World Council of Churches, representatives of the DRC valiantly signalled their disagreement with major contentions and policies of the Nationalist government. Yet soon after, denounced publicly by Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd and repudiated by their own synods, they recanted. The disappearance of missionaries as major players in South Africa coincided almost exactly with the opening of a gap between churches that would not be bridged for decades.