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Beyers Naude – A man of God

Thousands of people were at the funeral. The sun was very hot. People sweated as they listened to the speakers. There were a group of young boys and girls wearing ANC colours. They were singing freedom songs.

Then a white man in a safari suit stood up and went to the stage. Everybody was very quiet and listened. His name is Rev. Beyers Naude. He is the secretary of the South African Council of Churches.

A few days after the funeral we spoke to Beyers and asked him to tell us his story.


“I grew up in Graaff-Reinet. I went to school there. In 1932. 1 went to study at the University of Stellenbosch. I studied for a Bachelors and a Masters degree there. I went on to study religion. Then I joined the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk — the Dutch Reformed Church. My parents were very proud of me.

“In 1940, I started to preach all over the country. Then in 1949, I was sent to the University of Pretoria. I was the priest for the students at the university.


“At the same time my church wanted me to study the bible. They wanted me to find parts in the bible that say apartheid is right. I read and I read — for nearly ten years. But I could not find what the church was looking for.

“But all my reading made me think. I began to see that apartheid was a bad thing. But I did not want to write this. I thought I would make the people of my church very angry.


“In 1958, I became a member of the main committee of the Dutch Reformed Church in the Transvaal. There I met young white priests who worked in black and ‘coloured’ townships. They told me that apartheid made their work difficult.

“I had never been to a township before so I did not believe them. But I wanted to go and see for myself. So I went to visit these priests at their churches. Sorne of them worked in mine compounds. I was shocked when I saw how the black miners lived.

“When I visited the priests in the townships, I spoke to the people there. Parents were unhappy about their children’s schooling. And many people said they could not get jobs because of their colour.


“These visits, together with my reading made me think hard. Then in 1961 many people were shot in Sharpeville. I was working in Northcliff at the time.

“The World Council of Churches asked eight churches to find out what happened in Sharpeville. The Dutch Reformed Church was one of these churches. And I was one of their representatives. Most of these eight churches did not like apartheid.

“We had a big meeting to talk about Sharpeville. People blamed apartheid for the shootings. The Dutch Reformed Church did not like what they said. So they left the World Council of Churches.


“In 1963, I joined a group called the Christian Institute. I was the director. The Christian Institute believed that all people were the same — no matter what colour their skin.

“The Dutch Reformed Church did not like the Institute because of this. They also didn’t like it because some of the Institute’s members were Roman Catholics. They told their members not to join the Christian Institute — and they fired me. Today I belong to the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa.

“I was the director of the Christian Institute for 14 years. We worked with groups like the Black People’s Congress, the Black Convention Party and black students. Sometimes we spoke at meetings of these organisations.


“On the 19 October 1977 one of my friends phoned me early in the morning. He said the police were searching his house. I rushed to our offices. There were cops everywhere. They left the office after four hours.

“Before they left, they gave me two letters. One said that the Christian Institute was banned forever. The other letter said I was banned for five years. I was not the only person at the Institute to be banned. Four other people also got banning orders.

“There is one thing I want to say about my family. My children were at Afrikaans schools. They had a hard time. My wife also suffered. We lost many of our Afrikaans friends. But my family stood by me. They helped me with their love and support.


”I was a member of the Broederbond from 1940 to 1963. The Broederbond was a secret society for Afrikaners. They helped Afrikaners to get powerful jobs in the government, in newspapers, all over. I left them because I did not like what they did. So they said I was a sellout and a communist.

“But I think Afrikaners must come out of their ‘laager’. They can also help to kill apartheid. This is what I told my friend, Breyten Breytenbach, the poet. I said he must leave France and come back home. He must help Afrikaners fight apartheid.


“In October 1984, the secretary of the South African Council of Churches, Bishop Tutu, was made the Bishop of Johannesburg. The SACC needed another secretary. But priests did not want to leave their churches for the job. So the SACC asked me to be secretary for two years.

“The SACC helps people who are suffering because of apartheid. We give bursaries to students. We also work with problems in the church, problems people have at home and with their families. We have 15 offices around the country. My job here is to see that everything goes smoothly.”


Beyers is not only loved and respected in South Africa. A university in Holland and one in America have given Beyers honorary degrees to show their respect. So today Beyers is called a doctor.

When Learn and Teach left Beyers, we shook his hand. We felt his warmth and his strength. He has seen many bad things in his life but he is still a man of peace and love. He has been hated and banned. But he has never stopped doing what he knows is right.


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