Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Beyers Naude is Dead

And it grieves us to hear it, as he was a man who showed rare moral courage and a willingness to undergo personal sacrifices for his principles.

Beyers Naude, an Afrikaner cleric who spent half his life using the bible to justify apartheid before becoming one of the anti-apartheid movement's most important moral voices, died early Tuesday, a family spokesman said. He was 89.


Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naude was born in 1915 to a leading Afrikaner nationalist cleric who fought the British in the Boer War and helped found the Broederbond, or ``Brotherhood,'' a secret society of Afrikaner leaders that eventually became synonymous with the apartheid government.
Naude followed his father's path, getting a degree in theology from the University of Stellenbosch, a center of Afrikaner nationalism, and becoming the youngest member of the Broederbond.
As a cleric in South Africa's Dutch Reformed Church, Naude spent years as an unquestioning spiritual leader for Afrikaners -- the descendants of Dutch and French settlers -- and their deeply religious National Party.
The church, which created biblical justifications for South Africa's brutal apartheid racism, was often called ``the National Party at prayer,'' and Naude was seen as a rising religious and political star.
But after attending mixed-race church services in the 1950s, he began to have doubts about his church's doctrine.
The 1960 Sharpeville massacres, where government troops killed 69 black demonstrators, sent Naude into an intense bout of soul searching and Bible study ending with his development of an alternative church theology that condemned racism.
When, with Naude's support, the World Council of Churches issued a statement rejecting apartheid, Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd led a protest that ended with the South African church withdrawing from the council. Naude refused to change his position.
``It was the beginning of loneliness and isolation, something that I would experience again and again in the years ahead,'' Naude once said.
He later helped found the Christian Institute, an organization that worked to promote reconciliation through interfaith dialogue.
In punishment, the church stripped him of his status as a minister. The government harassed him, and security police raided his home.
In 1977, authorities ``banned'' Naude for five years, a punishment that severely restricted his movement and his ability to meet with people.
Here was a genuine Afrikaner hero, one of the few who stood for something greater than narrow group interest at the expense of others. He will be sorely missed.