The first settlers of South Africa brought with them a fundamentalist form of Calvinism, which, in the frontier, remained unrefined. Events in African history have acquired a religious significance when the leaders of Afrikaner nationalism used them as evidence of a divine calling for the Afrikaner people. When neo-Calvinists suggested that God reveals himself in nature and in history, Afrikaner revisionists jumped to the conclusions that God must be recognized in all things, and that the will of God was apparent in all things. The existence and development of the Afrikaner people, therefore, is an act of God, and, because God created the nation, the nation must continue. A similar argument often heard in the past was that God had willed that there should be separate nations and races.
Many early Afrikaners identified with the Israelites of the Old Testament and saw a parallel between their history and that of the Jews. Like the Jews, they believed and fought for their right to nationhood and, perhaps to a large extent, believed that they were, like God's chosen people, forbidden to mix with others not of their blood.
The Dutch Reformed church, clearly the dominant one among Afrikaners, is distinct from other Protestant churches in that its theology is Calvinist in principle; more important, it supports political policies of the National party. By the time the Afrikaner government came to power in 1948, the NGK had lost contact with the original teachings of Calvin and, in so doing, conveniently provided the theological foundation for apartheid. The National party's policies led to the elevation of apartheid to a civil religion in which the secular notions of volk, culture, and politics became prominent features, and the NGK became a virtual puppet of the National party government, often providing scriptural support for apartheid.
The events that occurred in the late 1980s and in the 1990s, which were primarily of a political nature—the freeing of Nelson Mandela from prison, his election as president, and the dismantling of apartheid—will provide a challenge to the survival of the Afrikaners as an ethnic group in the years to come. Because Afrikaners are fiercely loyal and they have expressed their loyalty to the National party, which supported apartheid policies, how they will respond as a group to the dismantling of apartheid will perhaps be a key factor in their survival as an ethnic group. If they cling to a minority view and make that view a necessary part of their identity, as they have in the past, Afrikaners may dissolve into nothing more than a political party. If, on the other hand, they can remain an endogamous group while accepting antiapartheid or non-National party views, their survival as an ethnic group will be more likely.