When the Dutch settled in South Africa in the 16th and 17th centuries they transplanted their Dutch Reformed theology to the African continent. Jan van Riebeeck formally established the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) of South Africa in 1652.
The history of the church has been very much bound with the politics of the Afrikaner community of South Africa. The church supported the system of apartheid, which institutionalized separation and stratification of the people of South Africa according to race. The social segregation of Black, Coloured and White people was reflected in the establishment of churches of these three groups. In the 1980s the church was expelled from the World Alliance of Reformed Churches for its support of apartheid. In 1986 the church showed its repentance by preaching for all members of all racial groups to pray under, one umbrella, thus making South African history by welcoming Black people back in the church.
In spite of the end of apartheid, racial divides still exists within the church. In 1996 the DRC had 1 288 837 White members, the Uniting Reformed Church (mainly Coloured) had 1 216 252 members, and the Reformed Church in Africa (mainly Indian) had 2 386 members. More recently the church labelled apartheid as a sin in the hope of uniting its congregants regardless of race. The DRC of South Africa uses the symbols of bread and wine to commemorate the death of Jesus Christ. Baptismal water symbolises the death of the old sinful self and the rebirth into new life.
The Headquarters of the Main Centre is in Pretoria.