- 1930-2007 (Creation)
Level of description
Extent and medium
Name of creator
In 1894, Miss A.P. Ferguson, principal of Huguenot University College, attended a seminal conference of Christian organisations in Northfield, USA. She was instrumental in getting the nascent international student Christian organisation to extend its operation into South Africa, and in 1896 the organising secretary, L.D. Wishard, visited South Africa and arranged an inaugural conference in Stellenbosch from 24 to 29 July. From this conference emerged the Students’ Christian Association (SCA) or Christen-Studentevereeniging (CSV) as it was known in Afrikaans.
The SCA spread quickly throughout the country, extending beyond the major universities to encompass schools as well as other tertiary education institutions. However, its history was dogged throughout by racial and cultural tensions, reflecting the wider socio-political realities within the country. Between 1915 and 1917, for example, a group of Afrikaans church leaders strove to establish a separate Afrikaans organisation, in order to give pre-eminence to the needs of Afrikaner students, but after considerable campaigning and negotiations, the parent body voted against segregation. Relations between white and black adherents came under the spotlight at a conference held at Fort Hare in 1930. The conference was organised by the African-American missionary Max Yergan, who headed the Bantu Section of the SCA at the time. Ostensibly organised to heal racial rifts, the conference elicited severe criticism from conservative sectors of the white churches and wider community.
As the degree and effects of racial segregation within South African society increased, particularly after 1948, the SCA, while remaining a constitutionally unified body, effectively operated along racial lines – English and Afrikaans speakers each had their own “sections”, as did black, coloured and Indian students. At a meeting held in January 1965, it was eventually decided to formalise this de facto situation; the original body was dissolved and reconstituted as four new organisations focused on tertiary institutions: the Students’ Christian Association (SCA), representing the (mainly) English speaking white student body; the Afrikaanse Christen Studentevereeniging (ACSV); the Association for Christian Students (ACS), which grew out of the original Coloured Section, and the Christian Student Movement (CSM), originally the Bantu Section. The Scripture Union (SU) was approached to take over the SCA’s work in schools.
The organisation was also beset, at times, with doctrinal controversies. These resulted particularly from the efforts of some leaders to position the organisation within the conservative evangelical tradition, while others proposed a more liberal ecumenical position.
In January 1992 representatives of SCA, SCM, ACS, ACSV, SU and Student Union for Christian Action (SUCA) met in Stellenbosch for consultations. Repenting of the “unbiblical” division that had occurred in 1965, they committed themselves “to a vision of a united ministry/movement in schools and tertiary institutions for the sake of our Christian witness in the world". After a process of negotiations ACSA and ACS reunited to form the Uniting Christian Students’ Association of SA (UCSA) and SCM and SCA reunited to form the Students’ Christian Organisation (SCO) in 1997.