South Africa
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Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naudé

10 May 1915 - 07 September 2004

Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naudé was known simply as Beyers Naudé - or in Afrikaans as Oom Bey. He was a South African theologian and a leading Afrikaner anti-apartheid activist.

One of the true Christian prophets of our time

Georges Lemopoulos, Acting Secretary of the World Council of Churches

Naudé was born in Roodepoort into a family that was fully committed to the preservation of Afrikaner nationalism and was one of eight children. He was named after a Boer general who was close to his father, Jozua Naudé.

His father was a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church and was a founding member of the Afrikaner Broederbond, a secret society aimed at promoting Afrikaner nationalism.

Historical years

1921 : The family moved to Graaff-Reinet in the Eastern Cape. Here Naudé matriculated at the Afrikaans Hoër Volkskool.

1931 : He followed in his father's footsteps by studying theology at the University of Stellenbosch.

1939 : He received his degree and completed a Masters degree in languages. He also joined the Broederbond as its youngest member when he was only 25.

1940 : He was appointed Assistant-Minister at the Dutch Reformed Church in Wellington. He married Ilse Weder, the daughter of a Moravian missionary, in August of the same year.

Beyers Naudé ministered to various congregations across the country for the next twenty years. Although he followed the political philosophy of the National Party, he had a huge change of heart after the Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 especially as he had already begun to question the morality of apartheid after witnessing the destruction of black family life under the South African migrant labour system.

1961 : Despite his outspoken opposition to apartheid, Naudé became acting moderator of the Southern Transvaal DRC synod. and was appointed moderator in April of the same year. He was the founder member of the Christian Institute, a nonracial ecumenical organisation that challenged the traditional church while providing humanitarian relief. Naudé was also the editor of the Christian Institute's publication Pro Veritate.

Naudé was serving as minister in the Aasvoëlkop congregation during this time with his own Christian principles, experienced intense inner conflict regarding the church's support of apartheid.

1963 : After 22 years of membership he resigned from the Broederbond and braved complete rejection by the Afrikaner community by condemning apartheid from the pulpit.

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 ostracised by their fellow Afrikaners. He told his wife :

Whatever happens, we will be together and God will be with us

Beyers Naudé

Naudé was embraced by the Black community and joined a Dutch Reformed congregation led by Reverend Sam Guti in Alexandra.

Naudé was forced to resign as minister. His induction as an elder of the Parkhurst DRC in March 1965 caused upheaval in the church community. While addressing youth, he was harassed and forced out of the DRC building in Belgravia. He continued in his position as Director of the Christian Institute.

1965 : The Security Police raided the organisation's premises. Naudé was opposed to violence as a means of change.

1972 : He travelled to Europe where he delivered a sermon at Westminister Abbey, London. He became the first Afrikaans Theologian to be honoured in this way. He continued on to West Germany for talks with church leaders there. In September 1972 he was awarded an honorary doctorate in Theology by the Amsterdam 's Free University for ‘exceptional merit for the development of theological science'.

1973 : Naudé refused to give evidence to the Schlebusch Commission, a parliamentary Commission, which had been established to investigate the Christian Institute, the University Christian Movement, the National Union of South African students and the Institute of Race Relations.

1974 : saw Naudé receive 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'. His passport, which had been confiscated, was returned so that he could travel and receive the award at a ceremony in Chicago, United States of America. On his return it was confiscated again.

1975 : He was fined R50 or one month imprisonment for refusing to testify before the Schlebush Commission. He was arrested for refusing to pay the fine. After spending the night in jail the DRC minister, Dr. Jan van Rooyen, paid the amount and he was released. In December 1975 Naudé was refused a passport to travel to London to address the Royal Institute of International Affairs, and his speech was presented in his absence.

1977 : Naudé and his Christian Institute were banned. Despite the continual persecution he established a ministry to council pastors. He was not allowed to leave his house, or speak to more than one person at a time. He continued to speak to other anti-apartheid activists like Archbishop Desmond Tutu on a one to one basis.

Naudé was awarded a prize for reconciliation and development from the Swedish Free Church and an award from the Bruno Kreisky Foundation in recognition of his ‘untiring work in race relations'.

1980 : Naudé broke away from the DRC and was admitted to the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK) in Africa. His banning order was renewed for a further three years in 1980, but was eased. He was allowed to leave his home, but not the Johannesburg magisterial district.

1983 : Dr Naudé was awarded an honorary Doctorate from the University of Cape Town.

1984 : After seven years Naude's banning order was lifted. He immediately threw himself back into the struggle against apartheid.

1985 : He succeeded Archbishop Tutu as the secretary-general of the South African Council of Churches.

1987 : He formed part of the Afrikaner group that met with ANC representatives in Senegal.

1984 : After hearing F.W. de Klerk’s speech, declaring a new South Africa, he said:

Gee, at last! What I had dreamt, hoped and worked for is becoming a reality!

Beyers Naudé

The demise of apartheid and the move to democracy turned Naudé from pariah to hero. President Nelson Mandela called him :

A living spring of hope for racial reconciliation

Nelson Mandela

1999 : Despite failing health, he opened the inauguration ceremony for President Thabo Mbeki. By the end of the same year he returned to his old congregation of Aasvoëlkop as a worshipper.

2004 : Naudé was voted 36th among the Top 100 Great South Africans in an informal poll conducted by a television program of the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

Honours & Accolades

Beyers Naudé received many honours as well as fourteen honorary doctorates during his lifetime:

1979 : Bruno Kreisky Award (Germany)

1984 : Franklin D Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award (USA)

1985 : African American Institute Award (USA)

1985 : Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award (USA)

1988 : Swedish Labour Movement Award (Sweden)

1993 : He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by the American Friends Service Committee

1995 : Order of Oranje-Nassau (Netherlands)

1997 : Order for Meritorious Service (Gold) (South Africa)

1999 : Order of Merit (Germany)

2001 : The city of Johannesburg, where he had lived most of his life in the suburb of Greenside, honoured Naudé in several ways:

  • Freedom of the City of Johannesburg
  • D F Malan Drive, a major road in Johannesburg, was renamed Beyers Naudé Drive
  • The Library Gardens in downtown Johannesburg bears his name

Naude's contribution in the fight against oppression in South Africa and his challenge to the establishment from which he came makes him one of the country's most courageous heroes.

He is survived by his wife, four children, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.

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