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The contribution of Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naudé (1915-2003) as anti-apartheid theologian

“Connected critics are those who are fully engaged in the very enterprise they criticize, yet alienated by the deceits and shortcomings of their own community.”1 Ronald Thiemann

Naudé’s life and thinking was shaped against the background of the era in which he grew up and studied and was involved in the above mentioned capacity. His thinking as student and minister of the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) thus has to be understood against the background of the thinking and events of the late 19th and first few decades of the 20th century. His development is thus shaped by the background of British imperialism; the Corpus Christianum; the South African wars; the socio-economic and cultural political events from the late 1920’s; the rise and establishment of Afrikaner nationalism; and the development of pragmatic and theoretical apartheid.


Naudé was born on 10 May 1915 in the rectory of the DRC Roodepoort congregation in what was known as Transvaal at the time. He was the fourth child of Reverend and Mrs Naudé. Naudé was born during a rebellion in which burghers of the Boer republics refused an order to fight against Germany in the then known as “Duits-Wes”. He grew up in a strict religious and culturally aware household in the Karoo town of Graaff-Reinet, where his father was a minister of the DRC.


He completed his studies in Graaff-Reinet and registered at the University of Stellenbosch in 1932, where he became a resident and later primarius of Wilgenhof residence. Naudé completed his B.A degree during a time when the depression and drought of the 1930’s forced the Afrikaner to move to cities and the court case against Johannes du Plessis made headlines.

He became involved in the social and cultural life at Stellenbosch where he made his mark as a leader. He also enjoyed nature while a member of the hiking club (BTK), where he met his future wife, Ilse Weder. As he was uncertain about his future direction, he completed a Master’s degree in Afrikaans-Nederlands. He was influenced by the thinking of the theologian BB Keet during his studies at the Stellenbosch Seminary. He completed his seminary studies at the end of 1929 and married Ilse Weder on 3 August 1940.

Early career

Naudé started his ministry on 27 July 1940 as assistant minister in Wellington and also became a member of the Afrikaner Broederbond (AB) at the age of 25. In 1942 he was called to Loxton in the Great Karoo where he served that congregation until 1945 upon accepting a call to Pretoria South. After four years he was called to Pretoria East (in 1949) as co-Minister of Ben Marais, who had already then openly questioned the Scriptural basis for racial apartheid. This working relationship, Marais’ book, Die Kleur-krisis en die Weste (1952) (The crisis of colour and the West) and Naudé’s study tour to Europe and North America (1953) in connection with youth work, played an important role in his thinking on apartheid.2 These influences were strengthened further when Naudé – while serving the DRC congregation in Potchefstroom from 1955 to 1959 – attended public meetings of the Reformed Ecumenical Synod in Potchefstroom and was confronted with critical questions on apartheid.3

In November 1959 Naudé became the minister for the DRC congregation Aasvoëlkop in one of the more well-off suburbs of Johannesburg. During this time he took part – as one of the DRC representatives – in the church council of the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Cottesloe (7-14 December 1960). Naudé didn’t bow under the pressure placed on DRC representatives to distance themselves of the decisions. Because of these events his position was increasingly questioned by the DRC, the AB and the National Party. The first edition of the ecumenical publication, Pro Veritate, of which Naudé was a founder member and editor, was published on 15 May 1962.

In spite of the criticism Naudé was elected the first moderator of the DRC’s South Transvaal Synod of 1963. In the same year he resigned as member of the AB. The DRC tried to persuade him to resign as editor of Pro Veritate. Naudé confirmed his position that he could no longer support apartheid by becoming involved in the establishment of the Christian Institute (CI) on 13 August 1963 and was also offered the directorship of the CI. He was pressured into choosing between his position as minister of the DRC on the one hand and on the other hand, his being editor of Pro Veritate and director of the CI. He took a decision in favour of the latter and resigned his position as chairman of the moderature. He also said farewell to the DRC Aasvoëlkop congregation on Sunday 3 November 1963 and lost his status as minister of the DRC. He eventually was welcomed as minister of the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa (DRCA).

House arrest

In 1977 the CI was declared a banned organisation and as a result of his association with the Institute, Naudé was placed under house arrest on 11 October 1977, initially for five years and later extended to seven years. The constraint was lifted on 26 September 1984 and he was subsequently appointed as general secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). Naudé succeeded Archbishop Desmond Tutu in this position and served in the Council from February 1985 until July 1988. After his release Naudé’s criticism against apartheid was relayed to the rest of the world through his involvement in many causes.


Naudé was widely praised for his role in the dismantling of apartheid, as fighter for human rights, prophet and humane pastor to all who suffered under apartheid. He also played a significant role in the development of the ecumenical movement in South Africa.

Naudé was bestowed honourary doctorate degrees by the Vrije Universiteit (1972), University of the Witwatersrand (1974), University of Cape Town (1983), University of Notre Dame in Indianapolis (1985), Garrett Evangelical Seminary in Evanston (1985), University of Limburg in Maastricht (1989), University of Natal (1991) and the University of Durban-Westville (1993). Other international awards include the Bruno Kreisky Award; Reinhold Niebuhr Award;

Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Award (1984); award for Reconciliation and Development from the Swedish Free Church (1984); Robert F Kennedy Human Rights Award (1985); Award for Peace and Freedom from the Swedish Labour movement (1988); Third World Award from Jamaica (1990); and the Order of Orange-Nassau of the Netherlands (1995).

He was finally (as Marais was) honoured in the DRC as a prophet who suffered, was attacked as a heretic by the church in which he grew up, served and tried hard to bring about a rethink on the apartheid policy. This moment of recognition arrived for him during the general synod in 1994 where he was lauded as a prophet whom the DRC maligned for decades.

After a full and controversial life Naudé was laid to rest in September 2004 from the DRC Aasvoëlkop congregation – the last congregation he served in the DRC – amidst national and international recognition and appreciation.

Die bydrae van Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naudé (1915-2003) as anti-apartheidsteoloog

"Connected critics are those who are fully engaged in the very enterprise they criticize, yet alienated by the deceits and shortcomings of their own community."[1] Ronald Thiemann

Naudé se lewe en denke het ontwikkel teen die agtergrond van die tydperk waarin hy grootgeword en gestudeer het en betrokke was in bogemelde hoedanighede. Sy denke as student en leraar van die Ned Geref Kerk moet dus verstaan word teen die agtergrond van die denke en gebeure van die laat-19de en die eerste dekades van die 20ste eeu. Sy ontwikkeling word dus gestempel t een die agtergrond van Britse imperialisme; die Corpus Christianum; die Suid-Afrikaanse oorloë; die sosio-ekonomiese en kultuur-politieke gebeure vanaf die laat 1920's; die opkoms en vestiging van Afrikaner-nasionalisme; en die ontwikkeling van pragmatiese en teoretiese apartheid.


Naudé is gebore op 10 Mei 1915 in die pastorie van die Ned Geref-gemeente Roodepoort in die destydse Transvaal. Hy was die vierde kind van ds en mev Naudé. Naudé is gebore tydens die rebellie toe burgers van die Boererepublieke die opdrag geweier het om teen die Duitsers in die destydse Duits-Wes te gaan veg. Hy het grootgeword in 'n streng godsdienstige en kultuurbewuste huishouding op die Karoodorp Graaff-Reinet, waar sy vader leraar van die Ned Geref Kerk was.


Hy voltooi sy skoolloopbaan in Graaff-Reinet en registreer in 1932 aan die Universiteit van Stellenbosch, waar hy 'n inwoner en later primarius van die koshuis Wilgenhof is. Terwyl die depressie en die droogte van die 1930's die Afrikaner na die stede dwing en die hofsaak teen Johannes du Plessis opspraak maak, voltooi Naudé sy B.A.-graad. Hy raak betrokke by die sosiale en kulturele lewe van Stellenbosch, waar hy homself onderskei as leier. Hy geniet die natuur as lid van die Berg- en Toerklub, waar hy sy toekomstige vrou, Ilse Weder, ontmoet. Omdat hy onseker was oor sy toekoms, voltooi hy eers 'n M.A.-graad in Afrikaans-Nederlands. As teologiestudent aan die Kweekskool op Stellenbosch word hy beïnvloed deur die denke van die teoloog BB Keet. Hy voltooi sy Kweekskoolstudie aan die einde van 1939 en tree in die huwelik met Ilse Weder op 3 Augustus 1940.


Naudé begin sy bediening op 27 Julie 1940 as hulpprediker op Wellington en word op 25-jarige leeftyd lid van die Afrikaner-Broederbond. In 1942 word hy beroep na Loxton in die Groot Karoo en bedien die gemeente tot in 1945, toe hy 'n beroep aanvaar na Pretoria-Suid. Ná vier jaar word hy beroep na Pretoria-Oos (1949) as medeleraar van Ben Marais, wat toe reeds die Skriftuurlike gronde van rasse-apartheid openlik bevraagteken het. Hierdie medeleraarskap, Marais se boek Die Kleur-krisis en die Weste (1952) en Naudé se studiereis na Europa en Noord-Amerika (1953) in verband met jeugwerk het, volgens Naudé, 'n belangrike rol gespeel in die verandering van sy denke in verband met apartheid.[2] Hierdie invloede word verder versterk toe Naudé – wat van 1955 tot 1959 die NG gemeente Potchefstroom bedien het – die openbare byeenkomste van die Gereformeerde Ekumeniese Sinode op Potchefstroom bywoon en gekonfronteer word met kritiese vrae in verband met apartheid.[3]

Naudé word in November 1959 as leraar van die Ned Geref Kerkgemeente Aasvoëlkop in een van die ryker woonbuurte van Johannesburg bevestig. Terwyl hy leraar van hierdie gemeente is, neem hy – as een van die afgevaardigdes van die Ned Geref Kerk – deel aan die kerkberaad van die Wêreldraad van Kerke (WRK) in Cottesloe (7-14 Desember 1960). Naudé het nie onder die druk op die Ned Geref Kerkafgevaardigdes om hulle van die besluite te distansieer, geswig nie. As gevolg van die gebeure word sy standpunt toenemend deur die Ned Geref Kerk, die Afrikaner-Broederbond en die Nasionale Party bevraagteken. Die eerste publikasie van die ekumeniese blad, Pro Veritate, waarvan Naudé 'n stigterslid en redakteur was, het op 15 Mei 1962 verskyn.

Naudé is ondanks al die kritiek verkies as eerste moderator van die Ned Geref Kerk in Suid-Transvaal se sinode van 1963. Hy bedank in 1963 as lid van die Afrikaner-Broederbond (AB). Hy word deur die Ned Geref Kerk onder druk geplaas om te bedank as redakteur van Pro Veritate. Naudé bevestig sy standpunt dat hy nie langer apartheid kan steun nie, toe hy betrokke raak by die stigting van die Christelike Instituut (CI) op 13 Augustus 1963 en die direkteurskap van die CI aangebied word. Druk word op hom geplaas om te kies tussen sy posisie as leraar van die Ned Geref Kerk aan die een kant en redakteur van Pro Veritate en direkteur van die CI aan die ander kant. Hy neem 'n besluit ten gunste van laasgenoemde – hy bedank as voorsitter van die moderamen en neem afskeid van die Ned Geref-gemeente Aasvoëlkop op Sondag 3 November 1963, met verlies van status as leraar van die Ned Geref Kerk. Hy word egter met verloop van tyd verwelkom as leraar van die Ned Geref Kerk in Afrika (NGKA).


Die CI word in 1977 tot verbode organisasie verklaar en Naudé word as gevolg van sy betrokkenheid by die CI op 11 Oktober 1977 vir vyf jaar, wat later tot sewe jaar verleng is, ingeperk en onder huisarres geplaas. Ná die opheffing van die inperking op 26 September 1984 is hy aangestel as hoofsekretaris van die Suid-Afrikaanse Raad van Kerke (SARK). Naudé het aartsbiskop Desmond Tutu in dié hoedanigheid opgevolg en van Februarie 1985 tot Julie 1988 in die Raad gedien. Ná Naudé se vrylating het hy weer aan vele fronte betrokke geraak waar sy kritiek teen apartheid die wêreld ingestuur is.

Naudé het uit verskeie oorde erkenning ontvang vir die rol wat hy gespeel het in die aftakeling van rasse-apartheid, as stryder vir geregtigheid, profeet, asook humane pastoor vir dié wat onder apartheid gely het. Hy speel ook 'n belangrike rol in die ontwikkeling van die ekumeniese beweging in Suid-Afrika.


Naudé word vereer met eredoktorsgrade van die Vrije Universiteit (1972), Universiteit van die Witwatersrand (1974), Universiteit van Kaapstad (1983), Universiteit van Notre Dame in Indianapolis (1985), Garrett Evangelical Seminary in Evanston (1985), Universiteit van Limburg in Maastricht (1989), Universiteit van Natal (1991) en die Universiteit van Durban-Westville (1993). Ander internasionale toekennings sluit in die Bruno Kreisky-prys; Reinhold Niebuhr-prys; Franklin D. Roosevelt Vier Vryhede-prys (1984); prys vir Rekonsiliasie en Ontwikkeling van die Sweedse Vrye Kerk (1984); Robert F Kennedy Menseregte-prys (1985); Prys vir Vrede en Vryheid van die Sweedse Arbeidersbeweging (1988); Derde Wêreldprys van Jamaika (1990); en die Orde van Oranje-Nassau van Nederland (1995).

Uiteindelik word hy (soos Marais) binne die geledere van die Ned Geref Kerk vereer as profeet wat moes ly onder die aanvegting en verkettering van die kerk waarin hy grootgeword, gedien en gepoog het om die Afrikaner en die Ned Geref Kerk tot besinning te bring oor die beleid van apartheid. Hierdie oomblik van besinning breek vir hom aan tydens die Algemene sinode in 1994, toe hy erken word as profeet wat jare lank verguis is deur die Ned Geref Kerk.

Ná 'n vol en omstrede lewe word hy vanuit die Ned Geref-gemeente Aasvoëlkop – die laaste gemeente wat hy in die Ned Geref Kerk bedien het – te midde van nasionale en internasionale erkenning en waardering te ruste gelê in September 2004.

[1]       Hierdie is 'n aanhaling uit 'n referaat van Ronald Thiemann, "The Public Theologian as Connected Critic", wat hy gelewer het in Praag (Junie 2003), soos gepubliseer in Ackermann (2005: 69).

[2]       Naudé, 1995: 38.

[3]       Villa-Vicencio, 1985: 8.