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To What Extent Has Religion Declined In South Africa?

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Industrialisation and urbanisation has now evidently become the “new religion” globally and nationally. In the course of the apartheid regime and colonialization, religion has developed itself automatically with the immigration of various races into South Africa. Christianity was brought in by European settlers and spread amongst Africans throughout the tension between the amaXhosa and the colonial powers, taking place in the Eastern Cape. The Islamic religion was transferred by Malay slaves led by Sheik Yusuf. Labourers from India was taken to KwaZulu-Natal and Hinduism then emerged in South Africa (Stewart & Zaaiman , 2018, pp. 140-142). After South Africa birthed democracy in 1994, diverse religions melted their way into South Africa due to the 1996 constitution endorsing freedom of religion (Chipkin & Leatt , 2011). However, it is a contradiction as South Africa is considered to be a rainbow nation with rich diversity and yet the profane is considered to decrease the value of religion. In this essay the domination of secularisation will be argued to the extent of religion declining.

The rise of religion during the apartheid

The decline of religion can be referred to secularisation. According to Chipkin and Leatt (2011), secularisation was introduced in Europe where there was a noticeable decrease in religion value and theorists believed this would spread globally. This was rather a counterstatement where other countries such as the USA became more secular whilst Europe was an exception (Chipkin & Leatt, 2011). South Africa being quite a diverse country has shown that Christianity is emphasised with the presence of additional religions such as Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism. Christianity was a critical backbone throughout the apartheid. This faith was modified politically with the use of the Dutch Reformed Church and Christian national education and the enforcement of Bantu education. Christianity was also used as a “shield” to oppose apartheid (Chipkin & Leatt , 2011). Religion was emphasised in the eyes of the negotiators when democracy was being achieved. The negotiators then regarded other religions present in the country. There is no clear evidence about other belief systems being active during this time, however, the role of religion was an important element during the post-apartheid era because it legitimised religion in the rainbow nation.

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Sacred vs profane

In accordance to (Evason , 2015), the first religion introduced in South Africa was the Khoisan and according to (Stewart & Zaaiman , 2018), the San and the Khoisan were the first people to develop the belief system and had a “deep awareness of the supernatural realm” (Stewart & Zaaiman,2018, p. 140). This is the beginning of enforcing strong practices of rituals and the philosophy of the supernatural. Due to the colonisation by the European settlers, the powerful African belief system still existed, however, the conflict between the State and the African people grew stronger. With this being said, the crisis and the challenge of the rise of the dead proved to be invalid and this resulted in African people adopting the Christian religion. South Africa now has its unique historical concept of Christianity. The resurgence of different cultures were relocated in the new South Africa, making South Africa religiously diverse. To answer the question of this essay, Apartheid can be classified as an automatic response to Secularisation. The African traditional beliefs were challenged against the Europeans to prove evidence of the supernatural. Colonialism used Christianity to tame or “brainwash” others to prevent themselves from opposing the apartheid. This can be proved with historical reference of the Europeans spreading western Christianity, that too Christianity being emphasized throughout the apartheid regime, enforced secularisation. Therefore, it may be safe to say, this paradigm is used in modern society in reference to the victory of the Europeans against Africans. This sets a norm to conceptualise that it is normal to not believe in the supernatural…creating a sense of secularisation.

Other factors contributing to the decline of religion in South Africa

The history of South Africa revealed the role of religion and how it was used during the apartheid, Post-apartheid however was shortly was making its way towards the 21st century. The immediate thought everyone may get upon hearing “21st century”, this can be referred to modernisation which relates to technology, and according to Stewart & Zaaiman (2018, p.149) “government, the marketplace and education”. These factors are becoming more influencial in society where religion is considered to be personal therapy and guidance. Bryan Wilson believed that rationality and religion opposes each other, yet rationality is considered to be powerful and more useful in modern day society. Another factor that argues the extent of declining religion in South Africa especially, is the presence of poverty. Poverty can add to inequality within society and to some extent , some religions encourage contriubutions such as charity. This rather drives people away that’s facing poverty and unemployment as they cannot contribute anything. Since unemployment and poverty is commonly faced in South Africa, secularisation is identified.


In this essay I introduced secularisation and how the presence of religion has impacted during apartheid, especially Christianity. History of the revival of religion in South Africa, has been referred to and argued that it was apartheid that flattened out the value of religion thus how South Africa has become secular. I then referred to modernity and poverty being external factors in contributing to a secular nation. In conclusion , Karl Marx argued that religion with regards to the conflict perspective is that change is resisted and prominent issues within South Africa such as poverty cannot be resolved with religion (Stewart & Zaaiman , 2018). It is not the problem of secularisation in South Africa; however, it is the use of rationality and taking action in making this country a better nation.

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