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Beyers Naudé


Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naudé

Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naudé (more commonly known as Beyers Naudé or simply Oom Bey (Uncle Bey) in Afrikaans) (10 May 1915 - 7 September 2004) was an Afrikaner-South African cleric, theologian and anti-apartheid activist.

One of eight children, he was born in Roodepoort, Transvaal but grew up in Cape Town. He was named after a general his father had served under during the second Anglo-Boer War. Naudé studied theology at the University of Stellenbosch, where one of his teachers was the future prime minister (and driving force behind so-called grand apartheid, chief-architect of apartheid,) H.F. Verwoerd.

Beyers Naudé's father was an Afrikaner cleric and a founder of the Broederbond ("Brotherhood" or "League of Brothers" in Afrikaans), a powerful Afrikaner male secret society which played a dominant role in apartheid South Africa. The Broederbond became especially synonymous with the Afrikaner-dominated National Party that won power in 1948 and started to implement the racial segregation policy of apartheid.

Like his father, Naudé became a cleric in the South African Dutch Reformed Church and joined the Broederbond, preaching a religious justification for apartheid. However, he began to doubt the religious justification for apartheid after attending interracial church services in the 1950's. After the Sharpeville massacre in 1960 (during which the South African police killed 69 blacks protesting restrictions on their freedom of movement), his faith in his church's teachings was completely shattered; he was alone among his church's delegates in supporting a landmark proclamation in the same year by the World Council of Churches that rejected any theological basis for apartheid.

As a result of his actions, Naudé was put under enormous pressure by the Afrikaner political and church establishment and he thus subsequently quit both his church post and Johannesburg congregation as well as resigned from the Broederbond in 1963. The Dutch Reformed Church later left the World Council of Churches. In 1980, Naudé was admitted as a cleric to the Dutch Reformed church's black African affiliate.

During the three decades subsequent to his resignation, Naudé's vocal support for racial reconciliation and equal rights led to upheavals in the Dutch Reformed Church as well as police surveillance of his private life. He became an underground supporter of the anti-apartheid resistance and helped to move its members in and out of the country. From 1977 to 1984, the South African government declared him a "banned person" (which meant a de facto form of house arrest), that severely restricted his movements and interactions with others.

After his unbanning in 1985, he succeeded Archbishop Desmond Tutu as chairman of the South African Council of Churches. Naudé was also the only Afrikaner member of the African National Congress delegation during the negotiations in the early 1990's with the National Party government which led to the transition to democracy.

Despite his long association with the African National Congress, Naudé never actually joined the party. This fact, as well as the constant ill health he suffered from during the last few years of his life, caused him to be politically sidelined.

His official state funeral took place on Saturday 18 September 2004, with President Thabo Mbeki and other dignitaries and high-ranking ANC officials in attendance. Naudé's ashes were scattered in the township of Alexandra, just outside Johannesburg.He was survived by his wife Ilse and four children.

(from: Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia)

Throughout the history of the Church, those who have truly mirrored the life and prophetic call of Jesus have been few. Yet the few have been significant in the shaping of this world and the heralding of the dawn of God's kingdom. Our post-age is no different in this respect. Popular and establishment 'Christianity' struggles as the seduced bedfellow of the dominant cultural milieu. However, in every era God raises those who critique the principalities and powers with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During the period of Apartheid in South Africa, whilst the role of the Dutch Reformed Church in shaping Afrikaner nationalism is well-known, there was a countervailing Christian tradition that questioned South African government policies, stretching back to the nineteenth century. It is this tradition that I wish to bring to light, for it was a movement of God in a desperate hour. It is an abiding example of the exodus tradition and one that can strengthen our contemporary determination to follow Jesus' example of solidarity with the poor and oppressed against the tide of a globalised corporatist ascendancy .
My article will attempt to show that resistance to white hegemony emerged from both liberal and radical strands within the mainline bodies of the Church in South Africa. While dissidence always remained the prerogative of a minority of churchmen, as Afrikaner dominance and racism solidified from the time of union, it would be the radical strand that became the effective heart and soul of Christian resistance. Radical Christian leaders were those whom allowed themselves to be converted by the blacks with whom they were engaged in mission. For them a new biblical imperative emerged. By identifying themselves with the oppressed they ultimately fought more passionately and deliberately against the systemic evil of white hegemony.

Resistance to white supremacy also came from within the heart of Afrikanerdom, although the lead was given mainly by one man, namely, Beyers Naude. In many ways he became the symbol of resistance par excellence. It was one thing to radically resist from without, it was entirely something else to do it from within. Naude was a member of the Afrikaner Broederbond and for a time became Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK). Many in prominent Afrikaner circles perceived his leadership and intellectual potential and predicted that one day he would be prime minister.13 It was his solid Afrikaner heritage and these impeccable Afrikaner qualifications that make him the archetypal symbol of the process of politicisation and theological radicalisation. Like Huddleston and others, it was exposure to the plight of blacks that began the process of change in heart and mind.14 It ought to be admitted however, that it is never just circumstance or experience that modifies or revolutionises a person's thinking and living. A change of heart is also dependent upon certain attitudes that have already been formed, through which experience is filtered and interpreted. This was certainly the case with Naude. Even during his academic years, he was already showing signs of independent thought, religious scepticism, a healthy distrust of theoretical detachment and the signs of political and theological dissent.15

Naude's resistance burst on to the South African stage in the wake of the Sharpville massacre in March, 1960. Soon after, World Council of Churches (WCC) representatives met with their South African member churches in Cottesloe and produced the Consultation Statement which moderately questioned the biblical and theological basis of apartheid.16Under pressure from Prime Minister Verwoerd the NGK withdrew from the WCC. Naude was left standing alone. He said later '... I was convinced that those resolutions were in accordance with the truth of the Gospel.' 17

After Sharpville, the Verwoerd Government moved swiftly to completely suppress black resistance so as to focus on implementing its grand system for total separation of blacks from whites, known as apartheid18. From this point on, Naude would prove to be a tenacious and influential adversary of the apartheid system. Naude later described Sharpville as the moment when his conscience 'came out of hiding.'19 Naude became convinced that an independent ecumenical movement of individual Christians opposed to apartheid needed to be formed urgently. By August 1963 he had founded the Christian Institute (CI) which functioned as a grass roots network for study, discussion, publishing and ecumenical protests.20 A month after its establishment, Naude was forced to resign as NGK Moderator and was then denied clergy status within the NGK. It is difficult to appreciate the personal and emotional cost of Naude's decision to take such a public stand against his own race and religion in this period when race and religion were the primary determinants of Afrikaner nationhood. His resolve was especially courageous because at this time he did not know whether he would be accepted by the black community as a campaigner in solidarity, because after all he was an Afrikaner.

In short, Naude was prepared to risk everything for the fight against apartheid. This eventually endeared him to all in the resistance movement, both black and white. In the years that followed Naude and the CI were smeared by both the DRC and the Government . The CI was frequently branded communist, its staff detained and overseas funding stopped. Naude became the target of the Security Police, right-wing terrorism, and libel suits. In 1972, Naude and the CI staff refused to testify before a Government enquiry on the basis that it was not judicial.21The result was that Naude had to stand trial - a trial which would drag on for three years. In October 1977, following the CI's vehement attack on the Government over the June 1976 Soweto uprising, it was declared an illegal organisation. Naude and eighteen other leaders were to face the punishment of the apartheid state; they were banned. Naude's banning was suddenly lifted eight years later in September 1984.22In a interview in 1988 Naude graphically described what banning entailed: "A banned person cannot be quoted by the press. A banned person cannot write anything with a view to publication. A banned person can never meet socially with more than one person at a time. A banned person is restricted to a specific area of a city or a town. A banned person is not allowed to enter any educational institution or any place where any material is being prepared with a view to publishing. A banned person is not allowed to give any educational instructions to anybody except his or her own children. So, for all practical purposes, a banned person becomes a non-person. A banned person is simply removed from the public eye, and the public voice."23

(from: Christian Resistance to Apartheid in South Africa - A brief history, by Kim Thoday)

After completing his last sermon in which he placed “ the authority of God before the authority of man” he removed his robes and left his church. Naudé and his family were completely ostracized by their fellow Afrikaners. He told his wife, “Whatever happens, we will be together and God will be with us.” Naude was embraced by the Black community and joined a Dutch Reformed congregation led by Reverend Sam Guti in Alexandra.

Valli Moosa, a member of the ANC National Executive Committee, spoke at his funeral:

"Minority groups feel uncertain and too many people are still asking: who is a true South African or what do you have to look like or speak like to be a true South African. Oom Bey's life makes it absolutely clear that: he, or she, who is white-skinned and Afrikaans speaking is as much South African, and as complete a South African as he, or she, who is dark skinned and speaks Sepedi.

No person exists as a linear being and Oom Bey demonstrated in the most visible and profound manner that we exist as beings in a multiple of ways which allows us to be Afrikaans speaking, culturally an Afrikaner but equally each others keepers across cultural and ethnic lines. The one does not exclude the other.

Dearest Oom Bey, thank you for your life. Thank you for your humanity. We will remember you forever. Your cherished memory will always bring a smile on our faces, a lump in our throats and a tug on our collective conscience".

MESJ - Mormons for Equality and Social Justice and her independent sister social justice organization MWV - Mormone vir Waarheid en Versoening (Afrikaans for: Mormons for Truth and Reconcilliation) honor Beyers Naude as a role model for truth and reconcilliation. It is clear that as Latter-day Saints we recognize many elements in the life of Beyers Naude that remind us of our own ongoing struggle for truth and reconcilliation.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a court-like body assembled in South Africa after the end of Apartheid. Anybody who felt they had been a victim of violence could come forward and be heard at the TRC. Perpetrators of violence could also give testimony and request amnesty from prosecution. The hearings were national and international news and many sessions were televised on national television. The TRC was a crucial component of the transition to full and free democracy in South Africa and, despite some flaws, is generally regarded as very successful.

The following statement in Afrikaans and English testify of the liberating effect of speaking the truth : And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. (John 8:32)

Beyers Naude, 'n profeet in sy eie land, het van die Waarheid getuig en gedemonstreer dat die Waarheid 'n mens inderdaad vrymaak!

Beyers Naude, a prophet in his own country, has witnessed of the Truth and has demonstrated that it is indeed the Truth that sets people free!

April 2006 - Robert Poort