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Calvinism and South African women: Christina Landman

February 28, 2013 in Gender Violence, South Africa, uncategorized

Afrikaner Calvinism

Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae , October 2009, 35(2), 89-102

Calvinism and South African women:

a short historical overview Christina LandmanCh

Research Institute for Theology and Religion

University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa


For the past three-and-a-half centuries, Christian women in South Africa have chosen for pietistic expressions of their faith, even when their teachers or husbands were committed to dogmatic Calvinism. This article traces the history of female piety in South Africa from its Calvinist introduction by Maria Quevellerius, the wife of Jan van Riebeeck. It tells the history of women in South Africa, both black and white, who were exposed to the sin-soul-salvation model of belief imposed upon them by missionaries, and who read pietistic literature from countries abroad. Three types of female piety are evident in South Africa today: firstly in black women healers; secondly in women attending the Worthy Women conferences where they openly assume subordinate roles vis-à-vis their husbands; and thirdly in women who accept the decision by the 2009 Synod of the ultra-Calvinist Reformed Churches in South Africa not to allow women to become elders or pastors.

This article examines the historically relevant question of the influence of Calvinism on these three forms of female piety, and seeks reasons for the apparent absence of Calvinist loyalties amongst South African women. While Calvinism regulates the fate of (especially white) women in South Africa as regards their formal recognition as elders and pastors, women themselves seem to feel comfortable within the worship patterns of pietism and revivalism which, in the final instance, are as sexist as was local Calvinism.


“Local Calvinism was as sexist as it was racist.” These words appear on the back cover of a book, The piety of Afrikaans women (Landman 1994), published in the same year that South Africa held its first democratic elections.

page 2

This article explores both the history behind and consequences of this statement, and will therefore consist of two parts. In the first part, the history of local Calvinism and its influence on the lives of local women – both black and white – will be described in broad terms. To look at Calvinism from an historical point of view is particularly appropriate in 2009, a year commemorating the birth of John Calvin 500 years ago; and we will evaluate his legacy, especially during colonial times.

The second part of this article looks at the 15 years subsequent to the writing of the above statement to determine whether that aspect of Calvinism that was used to colonise the minds of men has been exposed and its influence broken. An inevitable question that arises is whether Calvinism is part of the future of South Africa’s church life, or whether it remains a stubborn remnant of its colonial past.

 Calvinism from Maria van Riebeeck to Marie du Toit

Maria Quevellerius van Riebeeck, Krotoa and orthodox Calvinism

The first generation of women converts in South Africa were not converted by the prayer – or any religious actions leading from it – that was read publicly by Jan van Riebeeck after having set foot on African soil on Sunday 7 April 1652, the first day of the new moon. In fact, the Journal of Jan van Riebeeck (Thom (ed.) 1954) which details his stay at the Cape reveals little concern for the people, and apparently more concern for the sheep. The journal tells of daily bartering for sheep with the local Khoekhoe, and the harsh and savage punishment that slaves received for stealing sheep: sheep seemed to be of more value than human beings, a principle that runs counter to many Calvinist principles.

The first generation of “Calvinist” converts at the Cape were Khoekhoe, and they were female. We have the story of one such female convert. But this is only half a story, referred to briefly in Van Riebeeck’s Journal.

Krotoa (1642–1674) was taught the rudiments of Christianity through the Calvinism of Maria Quevellerius, the huisvrouw van Jan van Riebeeck (Mees 1952), as the woman of the house was responsible for the religious education of her house workers.

What type of religion did Maria Quevellerius bring with her from Rotterdam in the Netherlands to the Cape in Africa? What did she tell Krotoa about God and about being religious?

Maria’s father, Abraham Quevellerius, was a Reformed minister in Rotterdam. He was known to be a strict follower of orthodox Calvinism, especially as far as the teaching of predestination was concerned. And, according to her biographer Mees (1952), there is no reason to believe that the young Maria entertained ideas independent from Calvinist orthodoxy.

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