Emily Perper | Staff Writer
Chikane is the president of the Apostolic Faith Mission International and a member of the African National Congress. His 2 p.m. lecture, “Daring Death to Save a Nation,” was the third in the Week Three Interfaith Lecture Series “Spies for God.”
Throughout his lecture and Q-and-A session, Chikane reiterated the philosophy of peace and the revolutionary history of anti-apartheid activist Beyers.
Beyers was of white Afrikaan descent. White Afrikaans speakers descended from Dutch, German and French colonists of the 17th and 18th centuries.
“He comes from the heart of Afrikanerdom,” Chikane said. In this way, Beyers’s story is comparable to that of Tuesday’s subject, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
“We understood the type of racism in South Africa as the same as Nazi Germany’s experiences,” Chikane said. “It had to do with what blood you have, as if blood is different. And it had to do with you being classified because of your color or the shade of your color.”
Chikane shared Beyers’ history in brief. Beyers, born in 1915, grew up in an affluent white Afrikaan family. Jozua François Naudé, Beyers’s father, was a dominant force in the Dutch Reformed Church and believed in a theological justification for apartheid. He and others like him believed that the Afrikaan people were the “new Israel,” a chosen nation. The Afrikaans believed they were called by God to rule South Africa, and Beyers accepted this and other racist ideologies and structures.
“It was quite an experience for us who were on the receiving side, that the people who brutalize you are the ones who want to spread the Word (of God) to you,” Chikane said.
He explained that the Afrikaans believed in the stereotype of a savage, “dark” African continent, where they would be the light.
“It was the worst type of brutality we experienced from people who claimed to be civilized,” Chikane said. “They were civilized for themselves but brutalized those who were not part of themselves.”
Beyers’ father refused to accept the British victory in the South African War and devoted himself to promoting Afrikaan nationalism. He also created a secret society, the Broederbond, devoted to infiltrating all realms of South African life to expand Afrikaan influence.
“Unfortunately, it was done at our expense,” Chikane said, referring to non-white South Africans.
Beyers studied at the Stellenbosch University. The Broederbond accepted him for membership when he was 25 years old, and he became a key leader in the Dutch Reformed Church.
The Dutch Reformed Church emphasized a close reading of biblical passages. In reading the Bible and interacting with Christians of other churches and races, Beyers realized that the truth might lie outside of his upbringing.
“The point where he took a stand, he used Acts 5:29, ‘We must obey God, rather than men,’” Chikane said.
Beyers’ original support for anti-apartheid measures was not out of any affection for Africans; rather, he thought apartheid would destroy the progress of the Afrikaana.
Chikane emphasized that Beyers’ change of heart was neither immediate nor easy.
“He struggled with this development (apartheid) in his church; his environment made him a child of his time,” Chikane said.
After 1948, apartheid was made law. Chikane explained the system of passbooks akin to those used in times of slavery. Certain prescribed areas of Johannesburg were prohibited from non-Afrikaaners unless otherwise authorized; a lack of a signature meant arrest and jail. Apartheid outlawed racially mixed marriages and segregated the military and public spaces. Any resistance to apartheid was declared communism.
As he was being tortured, Chikane once asked, “How do you do that?”
The man replied, “You are a communist, and I am doing my job.”
The man would go to church the next day, Chikane said, before returning to continue with his “job.”
Beyers led Bible studies to try to change the minds of his congregation. It didn’t work. Whites and blacks could not worship in the same spaces.
It took a massacre to change his mind. The Sharpeville Massacre in 1960 killed 69 people who were protesting pro-apartheid legislation. Afterwards, all liberation movements were banned. The Dutch Reformed Church supported the government’s decision to crush the uprising and kill the 69 protesters.
At the age of 45, Beyers’ perspective was transformed.
“His change was a miracle, in my view,” Chikane said, comparing Beyers’ “Damascus experience” to the biblical story of St. Paul, who stopped persecuting Jews after a miraculous occurrence on the road to Damascus.
Beyers was considered a traitor to his race for his support for the end of apartheid.
“(He) shook the foundations … of Afrikaana nationalism by challenging racist policies of his own people, which were brutally enforced against millions of our people in the country,” Chakine said.
Because of his position, he lost his leadership position in the Dutch Reformed Church.
“At that point, he decided to obey God, rather than men,” Chikane said.
His worried congregation questioned his decision.
In a sermon, Beyers said God loved diversity and that none could be excluded from the church.
“All laws which hinder love and justice between people are against the will of God,” Chikane said, quoting Beyers.
After Beyers made this announcement, a committee was established to decide upon his discipline. As the words of his final sermon left his lips, a member of the congregation stood and handed him a letter of dismissal. Beyers surrendered peacefully but did not stop his activism.
For his treason, he was imprisoned within the Johannesburg magisterial district for seven years. Authorities attempted to erase Beyers’ presence from public life; quoting his words and publishing his works were prohibited.
His children were harassed by their Afrikaan classmates; Beyers himself could not be close to his mother’s body at her funeral.
As a result of his rejection from the church, Beyers became more ecumenical. He interacted with members of independent churches and studied black consciousness and theology. He helped young white conscientious objectors who did not want to have to kill blacks in the army. He refused to bow to the whims of the government.
Beyers became a pastor to the restricted and oppressed, even in the midst of house arrest.
“He identified with the people, and he even went underground with them,” Chikane said. “For those of us who are black, it was difficult to see any good out of white people, with the experience we had. … It also humanized us, because to have somebody from the Broederbond to come and take sides with you told you this struggle is not about whites and blacks. This struggle is about sin.”
Beyers lived to see the fruits of his labor. Once apartheid was reversed, Beyers’ oppressors came to him and apologized.
Though remnants of apartheid remain in South Africa today, “We have peace,” Chikane said.
Chikane concluded with a warning.
“This is history,” he said. “But what worries me about this history is that all of us are always children of our time, and children tend to repeat the mistakes of their own parents,” Chikane said. “The world will never have peace as long as we strive to protect our sectarian interest … Your security will not be guaranteed by brutalizing other people. The only way you can guarantee your security is to free other people.”