… at the Occasion of a
in Uppsala on 10 – 11 May 2015
Beyers Naudé was never my teacher; I was never a pupil or a student of his. Beyers Naudé was an elderly friend, an elder brother from whom I learned and I continue to learn to this day: Beyers Naudé has become, yes is my teacher!
Mine are, therefore, reminiscences and remarks of a younger brother – a son – who is learning and is eager to learn more.
Towards the end of my school-days at the age of 17 to 20 between 1968 and 1970, I heard and read for the first time about that Afrikaans-speaking white pastor who for some years already was being targeted on and fiercely driven from one controversy to the next by various circles in the leadership of his church, the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk [NGK], the Dutch Reformed Church for Afrikaans-speaking Whites, that was notorious for propagating and practicing segregation and subjugation [apartheid] and by opinion-leaders in the Afrikaans-speaking white community including the prime-minister, Verwoerd, and cabinet-ministers in the apartheid-Establishment.
Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naudé, an Afrikaans-speaking white South African, who had come out and had started questioning, preaching and arguing for the need to do away with apartheid – “the need to change!”, attracted the attention of many of my age, who – as children and as descendants of the local population whom especially the Afrikaans-speaking white community was through its apartheid-regime continuing to dispossess and had degraded into a mass of disempowered labourers and voiceless underdogs that they collectively named “Nie-Blanke/Non-Whites” or “Bantu, Kleurlinge/Coloureds, Indians”. Beyers Naudé started posing questions our parents and our elder brothers and sisters had been and were asking and for which many of them were being intimidated or had been silenced – our questions, our demands in the mouth and through the voice of someone ‘from the other side’ who, himself, was still undergoing change of perception in almost every respect and in high speed.
Beyers Naudé was and remained, in all that, son of his parents, member of his Afrikaans-speaking white community, ‘n Boer – as he himself used to say -, for life. Beyers Naudé has, in all that, however, grown into becoming one of the most acknowledged advocates for justice and one of the most impressive examples of ‘a new South African’.
We would listen to Beyers Naudé and argue with him as we would wage a debate with an elderly brother, an uncle, a keen teacher, in the days in which such encounter between “Blanke/White” and “Nie-Blanke/Non-White” was seldom since it had been rendered practically unthinkable by laws and measures of segregation and subjugation [apartheid]. Some of us in the South African Students’ Organisation [SASO] and other groups and organisations of the Black Consciousness Movement [BCM] in those years [1968-1972] came to appreciate the exposure and the confrontation with initiatives and processes connected with Beyers Naudé and the Christian Institute of Southern Africa [CI] of which he was one of the founding-members – initiatives and processes that appealed to us more especially because they were direct and frank in their language and authentic in every respect. Some of these were ventures into rural areas during school holidays to live with families and assist adults that were seeking to learn reading and writing and conversing and exchanging perceptions with them on issues and current events in their vicinity and generally [literacy campaigns and awareness workshops] involving the local youth.
Beyers Naudé had, by then, already got accepted as a reliable advisor and was recognised as a resourceful Partner by leaders of congregations and churches that were soon to be referred to as African Independent Churches.
We youngsters were, however, quite often somewhat consternated and, indeed, indignant when Beyers Naudé would, for example, not avoid sharing platforms with individuals and interest-groups who, as functionaries and beneficiaries of the apartheid-regime, were simply unacceptable to us as potential ‘agents of change’, the Bantustan-functionaries for example. Beyers Naudé exchanged experiences and perceptions even with some of these on issues concerning ‘concepts and models of faith in post-colonial Africa’ in consultations and workshops held among others at the UMphumulo Lutheran Seminary. Beyers Naudé would similarly not bother standing side by side with the likes of Chief Gatsha Buthelezi, head-functionary of the then KwaZulu-Bantustan, and they would call for the stopping and the withdrawal of investments from South Africa – a call we applauded as overdue, a call that, however, could have meant the severest sanctions by the apartheid-regime on both, – a call that revived and enhanced the Struggle remarkably, most probably because both Naudé and Buthelezi were so untypical in the scene and so extremely opposite in their characters and interests as would be more evident not very long after that.
The years in which I was working at the Edendale Lay Ecumenical Centre near Pietermaritzburg [1972-1975], reaching out to initiate and coordinate teams and groups of young people mainly in and around Pietermaritzburg and Durban and facilitating them in their pursuit to question and resist apartheid, I had to do quite often with Beyers Naudé and others from the Christian Institute of Southern Africa (CI) which, of course, cooperated with our Centre.
Very interesting was to observe how polite and correct the encounter and the communication would go. “English”, a medium of communication that was for us even those days ‘nobody’s own language’, enabled us to venture and meet while remaining cautiously aloof. At old age Beyers Naudé used to smile witty over the one and the other phrase that used to be typical of certain constellations and levels of communication and debate – ‘struggle-vocab’.
`Black Consciousness´ meeting `White Consciousness´
Instead of seeking to be speaking ` for the non-Whites´ as some especially English-speaking white students and opinion-leaders [“liberals”] occasionally were fond of doing those years, a generation of young white adults had emerged and was taking shape in and around the Christian Institute and sought to focus on making their own white community aware and sensitive of the need to change and to cooperate in questioning and challenging apartheid. The walk from Grahamstown to Cape Town, the Pilgrimage of Faith, from 16 December 1972 to mid-January 1973, is one of the initiatives that brought about a conscientization-process that was to be followed by clearer and more adamant ventures in the Struggle – an appealing and a very convincing expression of `White Consciousness.´
Three important observations concerning “Oom Bey”, as some of us had in the meantime learned to talk to and about him, come to mind. I shall briefly hint on them, but will not go into detail:
- a man fond of stirring quiet waters and of provoking fierce hounds;
- prepared to cooperate possibly always;
- a field-worker through and through [`n boer – in the best meaning of the word!].
Beyers Naudé would inspire and disappoint interchangeably and continually; one would be keen to rely on him all the same. Three instances in brief:
- Special Fund of the WCC-Programme to Combat Racism
- Initially Beyers Naudé responded in contradicting terms and disappointed us in our approval of the Special Fund as expression of genuine solidarity with the liberation-struggle.
- A pastor preaching about ‘Obedience to God’ before a ‘Commission of Enquiry into certain Organisations’ (the Schlebusch-Commission) [“Civil disobedience; divine obedience”] substantiating his decision of refusing in protest to testify before that Commission . Very inspiring!
- Annual Conference of the South African Council of Churches [SACC], Hammanskraal 1975, arguments in debating in favour of a Resolution calling for the need to allow for conscientious objection to compulsory military conscription and chaplaincy to armed units of the liberation movement in exile and underground. A truly prophetic voice!
Much later – 1985 – meeting in exile:
`Fighting against apartheid in Zulu, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Tswana, Sotho, … means fighting for a future in which people shall live together in freedom – conversing, celebrating and hoping in Zulu, Afrikaans, Xhosa, Tswana, Sotho, … …!´
On Beyers Naudé Drive in Johannesburg to the old-age home for a chat once again. Ilse and Beyers: “Did anyone of us ever really hope to live long enough to also witness the days in which the Change we envisaged eventually starts coming about?”
… What did I learn? What do I learn?
Ben Khumalo-Seegelken, Uppsala, 11 May 2015.