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19 Sep 2004 08:36
Thousands of mourners, of all races and creeds, packed the Aasvoëlkop Dutch Reformed Church in Northcliff on Saturday to pay their final respects to Afrikaans anti-apartheid activist Beyers Naude in a moving ceremony.
“Oom Bey”—once rejected by his own people for rejecting his church’s justification of apartheid—died on September 7 at the age of 89.
Had it not been for an Afrikaner cleric, the history books would have told a different story of hatred, fear and loathing in South Africa, President Thabo Mbeki told mourners in a eulogy.
“Sacrifices he made guaranteed us our peace and reconciliation because they told those who might have sought vengeance that the Afrikaner people are not their enemies, because Beyers Naude was not their enemy but their comrade, friend and leader,” Mbeki said.
Delivering the eulogy in English and Afrikaans, the president said it was because of Naude that black and white South Africans could walk together.
“Today we are free. Today we can attend to our problems and challenges with no fear that a flood of blood will drown our country.”
Naude’s simple pine coffin, draped in a South African flag, was carried into the church by military pall-bearers.
His 91-year-old wife, Ilse, dressed in a blue suit and carrying a spray of orchids, was engulfed by press photographers as she followed her husband’s coffin into the church.
Looking frail and surrounded by her children she laid the delicate flowers on the casket of the man she was married to for 64 years.
The Aasvoëlkop Dutch Reformed Church was the very same church at which Naude delivered a sermon, in 1963, denouncing the Dutch Reformed Church’s justification of apartheid.
Naude, the son of a founding member of the Broederbond, had been a minister in the Afrikaner church for 20 years before he resigned from both the church and the secret society.
“He preached his last sermon in this church,” former Cape Town Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu said in a sermon that had mourners laughing out loud at the absurdity of South Africa’s political past.
“He was vilified and ostracised. He was a committed Christian banned under the Suppression of Communism Act,” Tutu said.
God had displayed his supreme sense of humour when he chose this Afrikaner to stand up and declare apartheid wrong.
Tutu said Naude could have gone to the highest office in the land but instead he chose to stand up against apartheid.
“He gave the credibility of Christianity back to black people. There are no half-measures when an Afrikaner sees the light ... his commitment is total ... he becomes committed to the hilt.”
Tutu said nothing could have been more excruciating for Naude as an Afrikaner than to be rejected by his own people.
“The more the apartheid system attempted to discredit him, the more his stature grew.”
Tutu said that God had appointed Naude the midwife in the birth of South Africa’s democracy.
A long-time friend of Naude and fellow Afrikaner, anti-apartheid activist Carl Niehaus, said a circle was completed with the funeral being held at the Dutch Reformed Church.
Niehaus recalled how Naude had told him, “I’ve never been as alone as I was then”, referring to the time when he first spoke out against the church.
In a message read on his behalf by South Africa’s High Commissioner to Mozambique, Jesse Duarte, former president Nelson Mandela—a close friend of Naude’s—said a South African was being laid to rest.
In his message, Mandela said Naude reminded him of the journey he had to make in his mind to become a member of the human family instead of just a small community.
Naude had lived the reality of all South Africans being one people with one destiny.
“Beyers lived bravely, courageously and heroically that South African ideal. A great man of our nation has laid down his spear. Hamba kahle [go well], Beyers. Until we meet again, my brother South African,” Mandela said.
Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa and Minister of Provincial and Local Government Sydney Mufamadi were among the pall-bearers who carried Naude’s coffin out of the church and gave it over to waiting military officials.
Ilse Naude, surrounded by her family, stood in the church yard and watched as the hearse carried Naude’s body away as a haunting drum beat was sounded out by the military band.
She consoled others while the Naude children were in tears.
Mbeki, Haiti’s former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide and Deputy President Jacob Zuma stood beside the family outside as the ceremony came to an end.
Naude had directed that his ashes be scattered in Alexandra township.—Sapa
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