Naudé, Beyers

Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naudé was a prominent Afrikaans-speaking cleric who played a major role as critic against Apartheid in South Africa.  As one of eight children he was born on 10 May 1915 in Roodepoort in Gauteng, former Transvaal Province of South Africa. This former prominent Afrikaner was named after the Boer General Christiaan Frederick Beyers, a friend of his father Jozua Franchoise Naudé who also was a Dutch Reformed minister, and who was a central figure in the Afrikaner cultural revival as a pioneer in promoting the Afrikaans language and as one of the founders of the Broederbond (“Brotherhood” or “League of Brothers” in Afrikaans), an Afrikaner society.

When he was 6 his parents moved to Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape where he completed his schooling (Grade 12) in 1931 at the Afrikaans Hoër Volkskool, and Naude then enrolled at the University of Stellenbosch near Cape Town where he received a Masters degree in languages. In 1939 he graduated from the Stellenbosch School of Theology, and in 1940 he was appointed Assistant-Minister at the Dutch Reformed Church in Wellington not far from Cape Town. Soon after his arrival (3 August 1940) he married Ilse Weder. Their first son was born in 1941. They had 4 children.

For 20 years Beyers Naude (fondly known as “oom Bey”) served a pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church at various places throughout the country.  He was known among Afrikaners as a respected clergyman who was convinced of apartheid’s biblical basis. His last position as DRC minister was in a wealthy Pretoria congregation attended by several cabinet members.

A turning point in his life took place in 1960 when he was intensely shaken by the Sharpeville massacre. During this demonstration against the pass laws, which restricted movement and work for Black people, 69 Black South Africans were killed. Naude made a special effort to bethink the Bible’s justification of the principle of segregated development, and found it to be unjust.

During December 1960, Naude attended “The Cottesloe Declaration”, which condemned apartheid, resulting in a rift in mainstream Afrikaans churches. Naudé had become acting moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church district and then moderator, the highest local office. He directed the DRC to accepting the final statement that rejecting apartheid. The Dutch Reformed Churches at once withdrew from the World Council of Churches. Prime Minister, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, led a conservative reaction, which repudiated the position and it led to the resignation of the DRC from the World Council of Churches (WCC).

Naudé refused to change his stance, and in 1963 resigned as moderator of the DRC, and founded the Christian Institute (CI), which was an ecumenical organization aiming to pursue reconciliation through interfaith dialog. He delivered his last sermon on 3 November 1963 at the Aasvoëlkop church, and he subsequently left the Broederbond after being a member for 22 years. During the seventies his life was all about restrictions, imprisonment and banning orders. Now he spoke out against the rising tide of black violence, against apartheid, but as his CI became more radical, it associated itself with the liberation theology of Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), which rejected both white racism and liberal paternalism.

Naudé became an underground supporter of the anti-apartheid resistance and assisted in moving its members in and out of the country. From 1977 t0 1984 the South African government declared him a “banned person” (which meant a de facto form of house arrest), which strictly restricted his movements and interactions with others. He also served as General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) from February 1985 to June 1987. He broke away from the main Dutch Reformed Church in 1988, and he served as co-pastor in the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (formerly known as the Black Dutch Reformed Church – DRCA) with Dr. Sam Buti in AlexandraTownship near Johannesburg until April 1995.

In 1974 Naude received an honorary doctorate of Law from University of Witwatersrand. He was also honoured with the Reinhold Niebuhr Award for ‘steadfast and self-sacrificing services in South Africa for justice and peace’.  In June 1983 Naude was awarded an honorary Dlitt degree from the University of Cape Town.  He succeeded Archbishop Desmond Tutu as secretary-general of the South African Council of Churches in 1984 and held this post until his retirement in 1987.  In the nineties Naudé became part of the African National Congress’ (ANC’s) negotiating team for the 1992 constitutional talks with the government of President F. W. De Klerk.

Dr Naudé died on 7 September 2004 in Johannesburg.  At his funeral service President Thabo Mbeki and other dignitaries and high-ranking ANC officials were in attendance. His ashes were scattered in Alexandra, just outside Johannesburg.  He was survived by his wife Ilse, his four children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren