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Condolences on the passing away of Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naudé

07 September 2004

Letter to Rev. Dr Molefe Tsele, General Secretary of the South African Council of
Churches, 7 September, 2004


Dear Dr Tsele,

It was with sadness that we heard of the passing away this morning of Christiaan
Frederick Beyers Naudé, former moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church of
Transvaal.

Paying tribute to Beyers Naudé, the WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel
Kobia, has said, "Dr Beyers Naudé was one of the true Christian prophets of our
time. He has stood always for truth, defying all the efforts of the South African
apartheid regime to silence him. His voice and the example of his life have been
a source of inspiration and hope for Christian people around the world."
Indeed, the World Council of Churches will remember Dr Beyers Naudé as a
staunch campaigner for justice in South Africa, and for his key role in the ecumenical
movement's struggle against apartheid. We recollect that after the
Sharpeville massacre in 1960, he was instrumental in organizing the WCC sponsored
Cottesloe consultation, which brought together eighty South African church
delegates. The meeting laid bare a deep conflict between the demand for justice
and the concern for church unity. This, we are aware, became a turning point in
Beyers Naudé's life.

As editor of Pro Veritate, as a minister in his church and as the first director of
the Christian Institute of Southern Africa, he focused attention on examining the
injustice of the apartheid system in the light of the scriptures. The institute provided
the vision and dynamic for a relatively small but growing movement among
Christians to give practical witness to their faith. "I have to obey God rather than
man", was Beyers Naudé's explanation of his decision.

In 1970, when the WCC made its first grants to liberation movements like
the African National Congress (ANC), Beyers Naudé was one of the few white
leaders who openly called for understanding of the WCC decision, calling atten-
tion to the "silence of more than 18 million voices of the black population of
South Africa". "They dare not express what they really feel... Talking is no longer
enough. The time for pious words is past," he argued. In 1977, the Christian
Institute was banned, and Beyers Naudé was placed under severe restrictions -
amounting to house arrest - for seven years.

The WCC is thankful for this sacrificial lifestyle he led for the sake of the ecumenical
movement and as a witness to the global church. We remember, with
gratitude, his service from 1985-87 as general secretary of the South African
Council of Churches (SACC). Afterwards he continued to work tirelessly in the
ecumenical field as adviser, consultant and trustee of many non-governmental
organizations concerned with education and solidarity with the oppressed.

His work with his colleague Dr Wolfram Kistner in leading the Ecumenical
Advice Bureau that, until recently, helped many churches and agencies around
the world to interpret developments in the post-apartheid South Africa after the
first democratic elections in 1994, we want to acknowledge, with thanks.

We are aware of the fact that for 23 years a member of the secret Afrikaner
organization the Broederbond, Beyers Naudé came to fully identify with the aspirations
of the black people of his country. In the struggle against apartheid, he
never ceased to try to convert the clergy and laity of the white Dutch reformed
churches who sided with the apartheid regime or who attempted to justify the
policy of apartheid on biblical grounds. Advocating a "confessing church", on the
model first conceived by German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he was largely
rejected by his own people. But we know that he was celebrated and listened
to by many Christians the world over as a prophetic voice. We are proud of the
fact that in 1997 he received South Africa's highest distinction, the Order of
Meritorious Services, from president Nelson Mandela.

Today, we remember him with gratitude and thank God for his life and contributions
to justice and peace in South Africa and the world. We send to the
AACC our deepest condolences and request you to share our deep sadness and
prayers with his wife Ilse and their children.

Georges Lemopoulos
Acting General Secretary