Reverend Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naudé was the leading Afrikaner critic of apartheid and an important witness of conscience.
Beyers Naudé’s father, a Dutch Reformed minister, 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, the Afrikaner secret society. He named his son for a general with whom he fought in the Boer War (1899-1902). Naudé followed the family tradition, studying at Stellenbosch University, the center of Afrikaner thought, where he received an MA in languages and a degree in theology in 1939. During that year he became the youngest member of the Broederbond and was ordained in the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC). For 20 years he was a pastor at various places thoughout the country; among Afrikaners he served as a respected clergyman who was convinced of apartheid’s biblical basis. His last position was in a wealthy Pretoria church attended by several cabinet members.
In 1960, Naudé was profoundly shaken by the Sharpeville massacre, in which 69 peaceful Africans were killed while peacefully demonstrating against the pass laws, which restricted movement and work for Africans. Deeply disillusioned, he began an intense study of the Bible and concluded that apartheid was unjust and unsupported by the scriptures. In Sharpeville’s aftermath, the World Council of Churches (WCC) convened a meeting of the leadership of the world’s eight major Reformed bodies to discuss apartheid. Naudé had become acting moderator of his church district and then moderator, the highest local office. He directed the DRC to accepting the final statement that rejected apartheid. In opposition, the South African Prime Minister, Dr. Hendrik VERWOERD, led a conservative backlash that repudiated the position and that resulted in the resignation of the DRC from the WCC. Naudé refused to alter his position in the face of the church synod’s fury. In 1963 he resigned as moderator and founded the Christian Institute (CI), an ecumenical organization to pursue reconciliation through interfaith dialog. For this action he was defrocked, and he subsequently left the Broederbond. He commented to his wife. “We must prepare for ten years in the wilderness.”
Both Naudé and the CI were harassed from the start. When invited to address a DRC youth meeting, he was dragged from the building by DRC officials. The security police also raided his home and the CI offices. Naudé spoke out against the rising tide of black violence as well as against apartheid, but as CI became more radical, it allied itself with the liberation theology of Steve BIKO’s black consciousness movement, which rejected both white racism and liberal paternalism. Many CI staff were banned or had their passports withdrawn.
Naudé and the CI began a campaign of consciousness raising among Christian churches. Deflecting accusations of left-wing WCC interference, he stated that “if blood runs in the streets of South Africa it will not be because the World Council of Churches has done something but because the churches of South Africa have done nothing.” This bold statement prompted a parliamentary inquiry into CI and several other Christian groups in 1973, but Naudé refused to testify. In 1977 he was banned for five years. In 1980 he resigned from the DRC and was received by the African Reformed Church, which accepted his orders and gave him a pulpit. He succeeded Desmond TUTU as secretary-general of the South African Council of Churches in 1984 and held this post until his retirement in 1987. Although he was never connected to the African National Congress, Naudé was named to its negotiating team for the 1992 constitutional talks with the government of F. W. DE KLERK.
Norbert C. Brockman
Gastrow, Shelagh (ed.). Who’s Who in South African Politics. 3rd. edition. New York: Hans Zell, 1990.
Brian, G. McLeod. Naudé: Prophet to South Africa (1978).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from *An African Biographical Dictionary, *copyright © 1994, edited by Norbert C. Brockman, Santa Barbara, California. All rights reserved.