Afrikaner Rebel Becomes ANC Bargainer
Beyers Naude was shunned by his fellows for denouncing apartheid; now he may serve them as an important link. INTERVIEW: SOUTH AFRICAN CLERIC
JOHANNESBURG — WHEN the going gets tough in the talks between the South African government and the African National Congress - as it's nearly sure to do - the Afrikaner negotiators may have to turn increasingly to a man they cast out as a traitor nearly three decades ago. He is the Rev. C.F. Beyers Naude - the Afrikaner theologian who sent shock waves through the establishment in 1963 when he quit as moderator of the southern Transvaal Synod of the powerful Dutch Reformed Church in protest against apartheid.
During the past three decades he has endured banning, harassment, and vilification in the Afrikaans-language press. He has been almost totally ostracized by fellow Afrikaners.
His position as a rising star in the Afrikaner church and his membership of the secret Afrikaner society - the Broederbond (Band of Brothers) - made his rejection all the more traumatic.
Twenty-seven years later, South African politics has turned almost full circle and the Afrikaner leaders of the 1990s are finally coming to terms with the fundamental change of heart Reverend Naude (naw-DEE-ya) had at that time.
He is the only Afrikaner in the African National Congress's (ANC) 12-person negotiating team, which opened historic talks with the government in Cape Town last week. As such, he provides a unique link to the Afrikaners on the other side of the table.
``My impression was that they [the government] felt by the end of our discussions that I could possibly be a kind of sounding-out instrument,'' he said in a Monitor interview Monday.
``When I walked into the tent adjoining the negotiating chamber and began to greet the ministers there was a measure of trepidation in my heart and asking myself how they would receive me,'' he said.
He was grateful, he said, that he felt ``no bitterness, no sense of vindictiveness of any kind toward them. I had to make clear that my opposition was not toward individual Afrikaners or against the Afrikaner people, but against the apartheid policy which they had created,'' he said.
Although not a member of the ANC, he has supported its goals and objectives for the past two decades. ``I didn't have an inkling that I would be considered for inclusion in the team,'' said Naude, who was on a visit abroad when the names were made public. ``Naturally, I felt privileged to be involved.''
While maintaining a life-long rejection of violence, he has always showed an understanding for the circumstances giving rise to the ANC's ``armed struggle.''
His bold stand in backing the black liberation struggle has won him widespread support among black South Africans.
As general-secretary of the anti-apartheid South African Council of Churches between 1985 and 1987 (he followed Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu) Reverend Naude acquired a deeper insight into the black community than perhaps any other Afrikaner.
His endorsement of the political goals of the ANC - particularly its commitment to democracy and non-racialism - has won him a special place in its ranks.
Naude, a humble man who strikes one immediately with his disarming openness, is a sort of lightning-rod for the deep divisions which exist in South African society.
To black South Africans - and some liberal whites - he is a saint of sorts,who challenged, at huge personal cost, the foundations of the establishment that nurtured him.
To many Afrikaners - and conservative whites - he is regarded as a traitor who betrayed the cause of his people. ``The talks gave me the opportunity to discuss with the government, socially, my deep concern for the Afrikaner people,'' he said.
Reverend Naude, named after the Boer Gen. Christiaan Frederick Beyers, came from a top Afrikaner nationalist family. His father, Jozua, was a Dutch Reformed minister and pioneer of the Afrikaans language.
The Dutch Reformed Church was instrumental in formulating apartheid and sustaining it for four decades by lending it the church's moral credibility. Four out of five government officials belong to the 1.7-million member denomination.
Only since 1986 has the church has begun a systematic retreat from apartheid in favor of a non-racial approach based on international norms governing human rights.
Naude's awakening to the evil of apartheid came gradually. It began in 1955, when he undertook a two-year study of his church's Biblical justification for apartheid, which led him to the conclusion that it was not theologically valid. But the turning point came in 1960 when 69 unarmed blacks demonstrating against the pass laws (which restricted movement of blacks within the country) were shot dead by police at Sharpeville, the black township about 40 miles south of Johannesburg. Sharpeville has become the symbol of black resistance to white rule.
Naude's thinking crystallized at the World Council of Churches conference at Cottesloe, Johannesburg, in December 1960 where declarations on the rights of black South Africans were clearly irreconcilable with the apartheid ideology.
His meeting last week with the successors of the white leaders who rejected him was a vindication of the three decades he has spent in protest.
In the most recent issue of the liberal Afrikaner monthly news magazine -- Insig (Insight) - Naude sets forth his ideas on the future role of the Afrikaner.
He says that the Afrikaner will play a leading role in the post-apartheid South Africa:
``The Afrikaner's life is rooted here in Africa and he is much more of an African than he realizes,'' writes Naude.
He said it was possible to protect the interests of Afrikaners and other minorities through guarantees without entrenching them in the Constitution or referring them to Parliament for implementation.
``As I know the Afrikaner - with his political shrewdness, experience, and vision - it goes without saying that no one in this country will exclude him from the political future,'' he said.
``I would ask Afrikaners to feel free to use their language, culture, and meaningful values, and live these out. They can be sure these values will be recognized,'' he said.
He said it was unlikely that Afrikaans - the lingua franca of about 3 million Afrikaners - would retain its status as an official language in a country of 36 million people.
But he stressed that the ANC leadership took ``very seriously'' its relationship with the white community - particularly the Afrikaners. ``They see the Afrikaners as a decisive component in the future,'' he said.
Following his insights at the World Council of Churches meeting in 1960, Naude helped establish the Christian Institute, an ecumenical group to unite Christians of all ethnic groups.
It became a major target of state harassment and its members were hounded by the security police until it was finally outlawed in 1977 and Naude was served with a banning order. The ban was only lifted in 1984.
Naude concedes that when it comes to full negotiations about a new constitution he may have to make a choice between being a cleric and a politician.