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Minister Preaches Against Apartheid, Endures Fellow Afrikaners’ Wrath

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Times Staff Writer

Like an Old Testament prophet emerging from the wilderness to warn of God’s wrath and urge repentance, the Rev. C. F. Beyers Naude is attacking apartheid, South Africa’s system of strict racial segregation, and admonishing whites that greater violence, even civil war, lies ahead if they do not share power with the country’s black majority.

“This country is in a deepening crisis,” says Naude, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, his face grave, his voice intense with anxiety. “I am afraid we have to prepare ourselves for a period of violence before we will be able to come to a new understanding. We are facing a tragedy in which many more people may die.”

Government reforms alone will not be enough to avert a civil war, Naude tells whites, individually and in groups. They must break down the racial barriers that underlie apartheid, he says, calm their fears about the future and work with the nation’s 25 million blacks for fundamental changes, including eventual majority rule.

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‘Need to Be Said’

“These are not things people like to hear, but they are things that need to be said,” Naude commented in a recent interview here. “It is a slow process, a painful process, but an urgent and necessary one, of helping them learn what is going on, of increasing their concern about the crisis our country is in and challenging them to reconsider the options.”

With the vigor of Jeremiah, whose 6th Century BC summons to the ancient Israelis for moral reform, personal and social, were backed by threats of doom, Naude began telling people things they did not want to hear 25 years ago, condemning apartheid as heresy and a sin that would earn South Africa the anger of God.

But like the prophets of ancient Israel, Naude has been largely rejected by his countrymen, the 2.9 million Afrikaners. They are descendants of the Dutch, French and German colonists who hold most of the political power here, who do not want to hear his denunciations of apartheid or his warnings of what will happen if it is not ended.

When Naude became director in 1963 of the now-outlawed Christian Institute, an ecumenical group that promoted political, economic and social change and fostered the study here of liberation and black theology, he was forced to give up both his posts as a pastor and as a leading official of the powerful Dutch Reformed Church.

“We must obey God rather than men,” he declared in his farewell sermon, quoting from the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament.

Naude, Family Ostracized

When he resigned that same year from the Afrikaner Broederbond, the secret society of Afrikaner leaders committed to Afrikaner dominance of the country, the word went out that he had betrayed his people. His father had helped found the society, and Naude had joined it as young minister in 1940. He and his family were ostracized by the close-knit Afrikaner community.

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For seven years, until last September, he was a “banned person,” barred by an unchallengeable government order as a threat to state security from all political activities, prohibited from meeting more than one person at a time and not allowed to be quoted in South Africa.

Now, as general secretary of the Council of Churches, which unites about 15 million Christians here and for more than a decade has been in the forefront of the campaign against apartheid, Naude is at once one of the most respected and, to the government, threatening opposition leaders.

Bishop Desmond M. Tutu, the Nobel peace laureate, wrote Naude on his 70th birthday last month: “You have been an inspiration to many with your martyrdom . . . not a red martyrdom where you spilled your blood, but a white martyrdom where you have suffered for the things you have held dear and in which you have believed.

‘Beacon of Hope’

“You have shown us what it means to have the courage of your convictions whatever the cost. You are a remarkable sign of hope that God’s grace can work the miracle of converting someone (of Afrikaner origin and a one-time supporter of apartheid). But, more wonderfully, you are a beacon of hope . . . showing just what a tremendous country this is going to be when the color of one’s skin will be a total irrelevance. Praise be to God for you.”

But, President Pieter W. Botha, acknowledging Naude’s growing influence, has twice denounced him in speeches to Parliament for taking “the lead in fomenting disobedience, violence and destruction” under what Botha called “the guise of moral and religious conviction.” Naude and other clergy in the anti-apartheid campaign “want to see this country go up in flames,” Botha said. “They want to bring this country to its knees.”

Naude stirred the greatest controversy recently with his call for a campaign of civil disobedience to force not only an end to apartheid but the establishment of a new political system bringing whites and blacks together in what he envisions as a “democratic, unitary state with universal suffrage.”

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“We have come to the point in South Africa--it is already overdue--where the choice is a very simple one,” he said. “Those of us wishing to see that a fundamental change toward a more just society is achieved have one of two options--either we have to support violent measures or we have to support well-planned civil disobedience to hasten the process of change.

“It is not enough to criticize and condemn violence. The blacks are no longer impressed by that kind of argument or that kind of approach. They are saying, ‘Prove to us that nonviolent means, such as civil disobedience, are more effective in achieving the goal of liberation than our belief that violence regrettably is a necessary tool.’ If we as a community, both black and white, apply our minds much more seriously to this strategy, we could make substantial gains and minimize the danger, the tragedy of a bloody conflict.”

Campaign of Civil Disobedience

After Naude won support from the annual conference of the Council of Churches for a campaign of civil disobedience, two officers of the Security Police visited him with “a friendly message” from Louis le Grange, the minister of law and order, warning that the campaign could lead to “confrontation with the authorities and eventually violence.”

Le Grange has the power as minister to “ban” Naude again as a threat to national security or order his indefinite detention without trial. The police said they were investigating whether Naude’s call for a campaign of civil disobedience constituted a crime under the security laws.

Later, Naude was attacked again by Botha for calling for the withdrawal of police and troops from the country’s troubled black townships to reduce the unrest.

“I must warn you against irresponsible action,” Botha said in a letter. “You have no mandate to assume this arrogant attitude on national affairs. You should decide whether (the Council of Churches) is a church organization or a political activist group.”

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Naude replied that he and the Council of Churches had a moral duty to oppose apartheid, “for if we do not speak, the stones will cry out.”

“Where the rule of man is in contradiction with the rule of God, as is the case regarding the policy of apartheid, we are in duty bound to obey God rather than man, not only for our own sake but also for the sake of protecting the highest interests of the state,” Naude said.

Arrested at Demonstration

Following the fatal shootings by the police of at least 20 blacks at Langa, near Port Elizabeth in eastern Cape province, during a funeral procession March 21, Naude and other clergy led a march of more than 2,000 people on Parliament in Cape Town--the first such large, multiracial, nonviolent protest here in 25 years. The police arrested 264 people, including Naude, for holding an unauthorized demonstration near Parliament, but the government later dropped the charges.

Naude said his support for a well-focused, carefully planned, nonviolent campaign of civil disobedience to bring an end to apartheid goes back “many, many years, but could never find any meaningful support for these convictions.”

“Only as the situation of violence began to escalate,” he said, “did people concerned about change begin to think about these options (of civil disobedience) more seriously.”

In Naude’s view, the current crisis makes such efforts more urgent than ever. Drawing on reports from white and black clergy throughout South Africa, Naude warned: “We have to recognize clearly that in certain parts of the country we now have a situation of civil war.”

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Six months ago, Naude feared that South Africa was slipping into “a Northern Ireland situation,” with long-term but largely containable political violence between whites and blacks, but now he worries that a “Beirut situation” is developing, with blacks fighting each other as well as whites in an escalating spiral of violence.

Government Slowness Decried

“The government is faced with a serious dilemma and challenge on the part of the black community,” Naude said, “and increasingly students, workers and community organizations are demanding more rapid and fundamental changes of policies and in the political structure itself. The government, however sincere in its intentions to advance reforms, by the very nature of its white constituency will find it extremely difficult to bring about these reforms faster than they are doing at the present time.

“This means we are in an insoluble conflict situation for the time being where white resistance and black demands have created such a wide gap that it is difficult to bring them together without a period of crisis and conflict, which very regrettably would include bloodshed.

“Another problem the government has to face is that the vast majority of whites, even though they may be willing to make significant concessions to the demands of the black community, would not be willing to concede one fundamental demand under any circumstances--that is, to share political power with blacks. This is especially so if it were seen as opening the door to majority rule, which from their point of view would be nothing less than black rule.

“Within the black community, however, the insistence on full political rights in a unitary state is rising all the time. The politicization on the part of black youth, especially in the (urban) townships, has increased so dramatically in the past few years that they, for example, are no longer satisfied with purely educational reforms. Their target now is to obtain political power and political control.”

Naude acknowledged that some progress is being made and that whites, “in their own interests as well as in the interests of the blacks,” are making “substantial concessions,” some of which would have been unthinkable five years ago, but he warned that these are still far from enough to ease the present crisis and avoid further violence.

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‘Difficult Steps’

Naude offers no easy solution to this dilemma, only several “admittedly difficult steps” to move toward peace:

--Legalization of the African National Congress and the Pan-Africanist Congress of Azania, both banned in 1960.

--Release of political prisoners, such as black nationalist leader Nelson R. Mandela.

--Return of exiles so that blacks can discuss among themselves and with whites the country’s future and the establishment of a democratic political system.

“There is no other way to reduce conflict and enhance peace,” Naude said at the University of Cape Town at a ceremony honoring him on his 70th birthday. “There is nothing to be gained by anyone in prolonging white minority rule.”

This is a remarkable statement for any South African white to make, astounding for a man of Naude’s background as a staunch Afrikaner nationalist.

Naude’s father, the Rev. Jozua Francois Naude, also a Dutch Reformed minister, named him for Gen. Christiaan Frederick Beyers, one of the Afrikaner commanders in the turn-of-the-century Boer War, after Beyers was killed in another rebellion against British rule in South Africa in 1914.

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As Beyers’ unofficial chaplain in the 2 1/2-year Boer War, Jozua Naude was one of six Boer delegates to peace talks with the British who refused to sign the peace treaty or lay down their arms and thus acquired the reputation as a “true bitterender.” In 1918, Jozua Naude helped found the Afrikaner Broederbond to foster Afrikaner nationalism and bring the Afrikaners to power here.

Taught by White Supremacist

Beyers Naude was educated at Stellenbosch University, the oldest and proudest of the Afrikaans universities, where one of his teachers was Hendrik F. Verwoerd, a strident but charismatic proponent of white supremacy, who greatly strengthened apartheid as prime minister from 1958 until his assassination in 1966 by a white man.

A popular and fiery preacher in the Calvinist tradition of the Dutch Reformed Church, Naude moved through a succession of parishes after his ordination in 1939 until he became moderator of the church’s regional synod and pastor of its most prestigious parish in Johannesburg while still in his 40s.

(Naude is sharply critical of the three white Dutch Reformed denominations for the “refusal of their present official leadership to make the least contribution to fundamental change.” He and his wife, Ilse, joined the black Dutch Reformed Church in Africa in 1980.)

Although Naude began to realize in the mid-1950s what apartheid was doing both to the country’s black majority and to the whites, it was the fatal police shooting of 69 blacks at Sharpeville, south of Johannesburg, on March 21, 1960, that turned him into a fierce opponent of the system.

“Out of that tragedy, God spoke to Beyers Naude,” said Archbishop Denis E. Hurley, the Catholic archbishop of Durban.

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Author Alan Paton, comparing Naude’s conversion with that of St. Paul, said, “One is forced to conclude--because one does not reach such a conclusion lightly--that this is the work of the Holy Spirit and that Beyers Naude was struck down on some Damascene road.”

Elements of Transformation

Naude, analyzing his own change of heart and looking for ways to bring other whites to a similar transformation, sees three elements in it: “First of all, a personal encounter with black people and black problems. Secondly, a theological or religious challenge as a believing Christian to previous beliefs. Thirdly, a specific, historic moment in one’s life to make a choice on principle.”

“One needs these three particular events to bring about such a deep transformation, and the first--personal contacts with blacks and their problems--is an absolute prerequisite,” he said. “A major reason why progress is so slow and so limited is that such contacts between whites and blacks are so limited, restricted as much by personal prejudices and fears and hesitancy even more than by law. . . .

“We should make possible such opportunities, create them, so that whites . . . are exposed to personal contacts and personal discussions and personal confrontations within the black community. Properly organized, such contacts would lead, I am convinced, to a substantial shift in attitudes within the white community, and such a shift is essential if the violence of change is to be minimized.”

Naude’s seven years as a “banned” person confirmed and deepened rather than changed his beliefs, and when the government unexpectedly lifted its order last September, he emerged from his political wilderness to preach again the gospel of reconciliation.

Those years were “most difficult but most enriching,” he said. “They gave me new insights into the Christian faith, into human nature and especially into the problems of South Africa and the way in which we have to go, the direction to find a solution.”

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As Tutu’s successor as general secretary, Naude is pursuing a mission of reconciliation--whites with blacks, English with Afrikaans speakers and, recently, black moderates with radicals--as well as that of an evangelist for reform.

‘Unity of Purpose’

“The churches of this land are torn apart by political divisions, ideological conflicts and doctrinal disputes,” Naude said at the University of Cape Town presentation of a volume of essays in his honor last month. “Now is the time for unity of purpose grounded in the total rejection of the heresy of apartheid. Unless the church is prepared to do this, it will be rejected as irrelevant by the people of God who reach out for his gift in Christ of justice, freedom and life. . . .

“Where we go from here is the right of all the people of this land to decide. If this right is denied to some, it will, I fear, ultimately be taken from all as the country is plunged into total chaos.”

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