South Africa deciding what to do about its 'nagging conscience'

The Naudes of South Africa like a certain ''wild'' look to their garden, now in full blossom under a warming sun here south of the equator.

Expressions of freedom and unrestrained growth are especially appreciated, since Beyers Naude - one of the most prominent white dissidents in South Africa - has been silenced and restricted over the past five years by a government banning order.

Mr. Naude's banning order expires at the end of October, and South Africans are wondering if the disturbing views of this elderly minister about the rights of blacks in this white-ruled country will now be tolerated by Pretoria. Whatever the decision, no one doubts it will be made at a very high level, given Naude's rather special position, which is described by some as a ''nagging conscience'' to the South African government.

As a young man, Naude seemed destined for a different kind of prominence. He was born into a respected family of Afrikaners - the Dutch descendants who now rule South Africa. He accepted the basic principles of apartheid (forced racial segregation), gained increasingly prestigious positions as minister in the powerful Dutch Reformed (Nederduitse Gereformeerde or NG) Church, and in 1940 was inducted into the secret political-cultural Afrikaans Broederbond.

But by 1977, Naude's views had changed so radically that he had become an archenemy of the NG Church, the Broederbond, and the South African government. In a wave of government repression in October 1977, Naude and a host of other activists - most of them black - were banned or arrested by the police.

At the time, Naude was director of the Christian Institute, which was the only nonblack organization of the 18 groups outlawed in the 1977 government crackdown.

Today, Naude spends most of his time in a book-lined study in a quiet suburb of Johannesburg. He reads, studies, and offers personal counseling to the considerable number of whites and blacks who have come to know him through his years of church service and work at the Christian Institute. However, as a banned person he can receive visitors only one at a time.

For five years, Naude has been unable to earn a living and has relied on his wife's part-time salary as well as occasional prize money from international awards. (He has received the Reinhold Niebuhr prize from Chicago University as well as awards from the Free Churches of Sweden and of the Bruno Kreisky Foundation in Austria.)

Naude's banning order denies him freedom of movement, association, or expression. One provision prohibits his being quoted in a newspaper, so any of his views contained in this article must come from independent sources who are familiar with his thinking.

The views that alienated Naude from the government in the first place were probably those embraced by the Christian Institute, although no one can be sure, since the government is not obliged to reveal reasons for banning a person.

The Christian Institute, an organization of ''concerned'' individual Christians, slowly evolved from its founding in 1963 as a ''reformist'' group to one that had come to question the whole apartheid structure of South Africa. The institute went so far as to endorse the thinking of prominent ''black consciousness'' leaders of the time who said that fundamental change in South Africa would be initiated and ultimately implemented by blacks. It was an implicit acceptance of the inevitability of blacks gaining power in South Africa.

The Christian Institute, with Naude's full support, backed ''black initiative'' toward change, urged boycotts against South Africa, and voiced support of black liberation movements outside South Africa that acted in accord with the gospel.

Today, knowledgeable sources indicate Naude still stands by these convictions and will probably not shy away from them, even should his banning order be lifted. People who know him well say he has become even more convinced that in South Africa violent conflict and white-black polarization are escalating and will continue to do so as long as the government refuses to bring blacks into the political decisionmaking process.

Sources say Naude sees the government's recent ''power-sharing'' initiative to bring Indian and Colored (mixed-race) minorities into Parliament, while excluding the black majority, as a plan that will only hasten a violent conflict in South Africa.

These sources also say Naude is particularly concerned that there has been a retrogression in white political thought in the past five years, moving slowly but surely away from any willingness to give blacks meaningful political rights in South Africa. Sources say he attributes the hardening of white attitudes to the whites' perception that the African states surrounding South Africa are being mismanaged under black rule. Zimbabwe would be the most recent example of this in the eyes of whites.

Those who know Naude well also say that despite his banning he remains proud of his Afrikaner heritage, even though he has been largely ostracized from that community. Sources say Naude feels Afrikaners must be convinced that white-minority rule is not only morally wrong, but cannot be perpetuated through force. These sources say Naude believes South Africa's problems will stop growing worse only when the government begins a meaningful dialogue with blacks that will start a stormy but hopeful process of reconciliation.

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