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The True South African – Beyers Naudé

"Take a look at Beyers"

“If someone asks me what kind of a person a New South African should be, I will say: 'Take a look at Beyers and his wife Ilse.'” - former president of South Africa, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 23 May 1995.

On 10 May 1915 a son was born to the Reverend Jozua Naudé and his wife Adriana Johanna in the mining town of Roodepoort in the then Transvaal Province of the Union of South Africa. Jozua Naudé was a passionate supporter of the Boers who had 13 years before been beaten by the might of the British Empire. Jozua and Ada decided to call this son, their fourth child, Christiaan Frederick Beyers, after Jozua's friend the Boer General. But as the boy grew up in the Cape Province town of Graaf Reinett to which the family moved 1921, he was known as Beyers (often shortened to Bey).

There was little in this beginning to indicate that the boy would grow up to one who would be labelled later by his people as a “volksverraaier” (a traitor to his people) for his rejection of apartheid and his championing of human rights in the oppressive society of a South Africa ruled by the Nationalist Party.

Beyers Naud.

Beyers Naud.

The Afrikaner Nationalist

This remarkable man, known to thousands, if not millions, in South Africa and abroad, as “Oom Bey” (Uncle Bey), followed his father's footsteps into the ministry of the Dutch Reformed Church after completing his studies at the University of Stellenbosch, known at the time as the breeding ground of Afrikaner nationalism. Beyers followed the pattern, becoming in 1940 the youngest member of the Afrikaner Broederbond (Afrikaner Brotherhood), a highly secretive organisation dedicated to achieving Afrikaner dominance is all aspects of life in South Africa.

In the same year Beyers married Ilse, daughter and granddaughter of Moravian missionaries from Genadendal (Valley of Mercy), the oldest mission station in South Africa. He had met her and they had fallen in love while still at the University of Stellenbosch. He had also a month earlier (at the end of July) entered the ministry of the Dutch Reformed Church as the junior minister of the Wellington, Cape, parish.

By the time of the Nationalist Party victory in 1948 Beyers and Ilse were living in Pretoria with their three sons Johan, Jozua and Hermann. Their only daughter, Liesl, was born in 1950.

Johan Naud speaking at the launch of Colleen Ryan's updated biography of Beyers. 18 August 2005. The launch was held in a meeting room of the Aasvoelkop Church. Photo Tony McGregor

Johan Naud speaking at the launch of Colleen Ryan's updated biography of Beyers. 18 August 2005. The launch was held in a meeting room of the Aasvoelkop Church. Photo Tony McGregor

The light begins to dawn

An experience which began a process of internal searching and questioning for Beyers was his six month trip abroad in which he studied youth work in the church. This was an exciting time for Beyers as he began to change much of his thinking around issues of church and society. The motivation for the trip and his questioning came from discussions with students at the University of Pretoria as well as the historical changes beginning elsewhere in Africa where independence movements were gaining momentum in the colonies of Britain, France, Portugal and Belgium.

As Beyers himself would write later, “With independent African states beginning to emerge, I began to think about the future role of the church on the continent and in South Africa. I thought about the old concept of mission, and wondered whether the church would be ready for the challenges if would have to meet.”

The trip abroad had led to profound disquiet in Beyers's heart: “I had to go abroad in order to be confronted by situations of injustices in my own country,” he wrote. “I was led to the conclusion that there was no way in which the policy of apartheid could be justified on scriptural grounds.”

His thinking and studies were leading him into painful places, painful thoughts, given his deep Afrikaner roots and loyalties: “In this process I had to overcome all the accepted views, traditional outlooks, deep feelings of loyalty, and to see that this was essential if I wanted to remain obedient to the call of Christ and to the truth of the gospel.”

Beyers was aware what this kind of thinking on the part of a person who was seen as something of an up-and-coming leader within church and community could entail: “I began to realise something of the price that would have to be paid.”

Aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre. 21 March 1960

Aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre. 21 March 1960


Sharpeville to Cottesloe

Then came a cataclysmic event in South African history – the shootings at Sharpeville, a black township south of Johannesburg, where police opened fire on an unarmed crowd of black people protesting against the infamous “Pass Laws” and killed 69 of them.

By this time Beyers was Dominee (minister) of the Aasvoëlkop parish in Johannesburg, in a mostly upper-middle-class suburb called Northcliff. Here he began in earnest to study and question, and formed Bible study groups with fellow ministers who were also questioning the church's role in society, and in particular, its role relative to apartheid.

The Sharpeville massacre put the spotlight squarely on the churches and their roles in society, especially as the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Joost de Blank, sent a letter to the World Council of Churches (WCC) demanding the the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa be expelled from that body. The WCC sent one of the body's associate general secretary, Dr Robert Billheimer, on a fact finding mission to South Africa.

As a result of Billheimer's mission a consultation was organised for December 1960 at which all WCC member churches in South Africa would examine the situation in South Africa and what the role of the churches should be.

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Beyers was nominated to serve on the planning committee for the consultation with representatives from other churches. The consultation took place at Cottesloe, a men's residence of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and so gained fame (or notoriety, according to one's viewpoint) as the Cottesloe Consultation.

Group photo at the launch of "Pilgrimage of Faith". From left: Johan Naud, Tannie Ilse, Colleen Ryan, Bernard Spong and lifelong Beyers friend Dr Wolfram Kistner. Photo Tony McGregor

Group photo at the launch of "Pilgrimage of Faith". From left: Johan Naud, Tannie Ilse, Colleen Ryan, Bernard Spong and lifelong Beyers friend Dr Wolfram Kistner. Photo Tony McGregor

Cottesloe to the Christian Institute

Apart from the controversial nature of the outcomes of the consultation, part of the notoriety it achieved in some people's eyes was the fact that delegates, who were drawn from all races, ate and lived together for the duration. The reaction to Cottesloe on the part of the Afrikaner press and the government was decisive in pushing Beyers into a more radical questioning, into taking a stand: “I felt I had been struggling for such a long time. I asked myself: 'How long are you going to remain silent and fearful? ' Eventually I came to the point where I said I can't continue to live this way. It is not possible. How will I live? What will I preach? … How do I justify this kind of duplicity?”

The final push for Beyers came from the meeting of the Transvaal Synod of his church in Pril 1961, where the Cottesloe statement was discussed for two and a half days, at the end of which time the delegates to Cottesloe, were, in the words of Beyers's biographer Colleen Ryan, “asked to sit like accused men in the front of the hall, and were given an opportunity to speak.” (Pilgrimage of Faith , David Philip, 2005)

Beyers later wrote: “For me it was a turning point in my life, because the night before the final decision was made at the synod, I to decide – would I because of pressure, political pressure and other pressures which were being exercised, give in and accept, or would I stand by my convictions which over a period of years had become rooted in me as firm and holy Christian convictions? I decided on the latter course … I could not see my way clear to giving way on a single one of those resolutions (the Cottesloe resolutions), because I was convinced that they were in accordance with the truth of the gospel.”

In the end, the synod voted to reject all of the Cottesloe resolutions and to withdraw from the WCC. As he would say later, Cottesloe was, for the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC), “ event where the DRC allowed the voice of blood, passion and nationalism to override the voice of God.” (Quoted in Charles Villa-Vicencio's brilliant book, The Spirit of Hope, Skotaville, n.d. But around 1994)

The Pilgrimage of Faith begins

In 1962 Beyers and a group of members of one of his Bible study groups (most of which had meantime ceased functioning because of the Dutch Reformed Church's reaction to Cottesloe) decided to start a journal, which they called Pro Veritate , and Beyers agreed to become editor.

Later that same year Beyers and a group of supporters decided to for the Christian Institute (CI) and he decided to leave the Broederbond. To guide the formation of the CIU a group of people formed themselves into a committee which started to plan the CI.

The following year became the “crunch” year for Beyers. In April 1963, to his own, and many other's, intense surprise, he was elected, by quite a large margin, to the position of Moderator of the Southern Transvaal Synod of the DRC.

In August of 1963 the CI was formally constituted and, anticipating a negative reaction, the Naudé family moved out of the church house in Roosevelt Park suburb and into their own home in the near-by suburb of Greenside.

Beyers came to the point where he had to choose between the CI and the church, as the moderature made it clear that he could not continue his membership in both: “I had to decide whether I would remain within the … church [leadership] and therefore within the confines and restraints which were clearly set for myself and for my future ministry, or otherwise to risk the step into the unknown, into what to me had become a decision of obedience to my faith. It was very painful. But it became clear to me that I had no option. If I wanted to remain obedient to my Christian calling, if I wanted to also help my own people in a wider sphere, I had to accept the directorship [of the CI].”

Beyers announced his decision to the Aasvoëlkop congregation in his sermon on Sunday 22 September 1963: “...the choice facing me is not primarily a choice between pastoral work and other Christian work or between the church and Pro Veritate , or between the church and the Christian Institute. No, the choice goes much deeper; it is a choice between obedience in faith and subjection to the authority of the church. And by unconditional obedience to the latter, I would save face but lose my soul.”

At his farewell service in the congregation on 3 November that year Beyers told his parishioners, “What lies ahead, no one knows – but that is not really important. ...Wrestle with Him, the living Word, just as Jacob wrestled with God … Whoever does that will discover what every man and every community must discover: the answer to our question, the light for our life, the hope for our future, lies in total obedience to Him who is the living Word – and to Him alone.”

After the service Beyers formally handed over his robe of office and stepped into that lonely unknown.

It was the beginning of a “Pilgrimage of Faith” that would include unimaginable hardship and great blessing.

Subpoenas being served on Beyers and staff members, 1973. Photo The Star

Subpoenas being served on Beyers and staff members, 1973. Photo The Star

Persecution and banning

The hardship and persecution did not take long to arrive. In May 1966 the security police raided his and Ilse's home, the offices of the CI, and the homes of the executive of the CI. In February 1972 then Prime Minister John Vorster appointed a Parliamentary Select Committee to investigate a number of organisations, including the CI. Beyers refused to testify to this committee and was jailed in October 1976 as a result.

Then came one of the darkest days in the story of the resistance to apartheid – the banning of a number organisations and individuals on 18 October 1977. Beyers was served with a five-year banning order, severely restricting his movement and making it illegal for him to enter a black township or to meet with more than one other person at a time. The banning, when it expired, was extended for a further three years.

The CI was also banned on that dreadful day, putting an end to all of Beyers's hard work in bringing together people on the basis of a common Christian faith.

During the next seven years Beyers worked tirelessly, mostly alone, to build bridges between people, to try to help keep the flame of freedom and understanding burning. It was a dark, lonely and difficult time for him and Ilse.

Ethel Kennedy presents Beyers with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. 1985

Ethel Kennedy presents Beyers with the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award. 1985

Recognition and accolades

When the banning order was finally lifted in 1984, a year short of its term, Beyers immediately set to work again to bring people together and for democratic values.

His work was so recognised by the black community and the liberation movements that when the time came in 1992 for negotiations to end apartheid, the African National Congress (ANC), of which Beyers was not a member, appointed him a members of their negotiating team.

From being an outcast to his own people, Beyers was welcomed back into the fold after the 1994 elections. There are roads and schools now named after him, he has been honoured by the government in many ways.

When Oom Bey turned 80 in 1995 then president Mandela said: “Beyers Naudé became an outcast amongst the Afrikaners, amongst many whites and amongst the church that he loved. Such is the price that prophets are required to pay. Standing in the tradition of great Afrikaners and Patriots like Braam Fischer, Betty Du Toit and others, his life is a shining beacon to all South Africans – both black and white. It demonstrates what it means to rise above race, to be a true South African.”

Desmond Tutu and Beyers Naud share a joke.

Desmond Tutu and Beyers Naud share a joke.

Tannie Ilse and former President Thabo Mbeki at the funeral. Photo The Star

Tannie Ilse and former President Thabo Mbeki at the funeral. Photo The Star

The last word

On 7 September 2004 the light finally went out, the beacon stopped shining. Oom Bey died at the retirement home in which he lived with Ilse. He was given a hero's funeral attended by many dignitaries, including the then president of South Africa, Mr Thabo Mbeki. He was sent to his final resting place, very fittingly, from the church where he had been formally expelled those many years before, Aasvoëlkop.

In his sermon at the funeral Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu, a close friend of Oom Bey through many dark and difficult years, had this to say about God's sense of humour: “God was looking for a champion, someone who would help give Christianity credibility, especially amongst blacks. God was looking for a champion for non-racial justice and democracy, or caring and compassion. He was looking for someone who would stand up against vicious racist oppression, the evil policy of apartheid; someone who would stand up for the fundamental rights of all God's children. God laid his hand on an unlikely candidate, fro the self-same Afrikaner community that had embraced apartheid as a creed and a way of life. Out of this Saul figure he gave us a remarkable Paul, our own Oom Bey.

God gave us this remarkable man, this great Christian leader, this magnificent Afrikaner, this wonderful African. … Right and wrong do matter. Injustice can never have the last word.”

But Desmond Tutu can!

The text and all images on this page, unless otherwise indicated, are by Tony McGregor who hereby asserts his copyright on the material. Should you wish to use any of the text or images feel free to do so with proper attribution and, if possible, a link back to this page. Thank you.

© Tony McGregor 2010


Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on October 28, 2010:

Lisa my dear lady - you are so welcome and thanks very much for your very kind words. I really appreciate your support very much also!

Love and peace


Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on October 28, 2010:

Martie - Dit was 'n klug - geen twyfel! Thanks for the interesting comment, Martie. The propaganda machine was very, very powerful and kept the reality of what was happening in our country away from most whites, I think. I was just lucky to have been born and brought up in places where I couldn't ignore what was going on - and then I met wonderful people like Oom Bey and others who inspired me to look deeper and wider at what was happening.

Thanks again for your great comment.

Love and peace


Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on October 28, 2010:

Nellieanna - your comment warms my heart! There is always more we can do to keep the light of freedom shining!

Love and peace


Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on October 27, 2010:

HH - thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comment. Oom Bey was a great inspiration to those who opposed the dark reign of apartheid.

Love and peace


Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on October 27, 2010:

Christopher - it is the presence of people like Oom Bey that give hope for a better world alive.

Thanks for the visit and the comment.

Love and peace


Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on October 27, 2010:

Neelesh - thanks for your wonderful comment which I really appreciate. Oom Bey was in his own way a "mountain breaker" too!

Love and peace


lisadpreston from Columbus, Ohio on October 26, 2010:

Thanks to DeGreek I got here sooner. I am sometimes amazed at the quality of human beings we have on this planet. This man is a beautiful hero. I never would have heard of him had you not written about him on hubpages. Do you see how important your work here is? Good people like you keep these types of heros alive in the hearts of people like me through your writing. Every time I start to lose faith in humanity I seem to come across one of your hubs and it is restored.. Men like Beyers and the Mountain Breaker give me hope in what is sometimes a hopeless world for me.

Thank you for always shining a light in the darkest of places and I sincerely want to thank you for all of the love and support you have given me.

Love, love, love,


Martie Coetser from South Africa on October 25, 2010:

Tony, if De Greek did not recommend this hub, I would have missed it, perhaps. Beyer’s story is so-so sad... Since I heard it for the first time – about 1989 - it stoked in me only anger and bitterness. Before then I was too busy with my own life to notice the wrongs in our country. I trusted our Government and NG-Church with all my heart. I woke up when that dominee of Rustenburg admitted the wrongs committed by the NG-church. Can’t remember his name now. That came as a horrible shock to me. When I tried to put in on the agenda of a meeting of our church-council - I was a deacon - it was politely rejected. Not to be discussed? To be ignored? I couldn’t believe my ears!

Then I went into all of this, reading and studying the causes and results of Apartheid, and then I came to the conclusion that our leaders in politics and churches were stubborn, unapproachable, self-centred, unChristy, hard, merciless, et cetera. And on top of this they’ve ruled in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit! Wat 'n klug!

Thanks for this hub. Beyers is one of those who will live forever as a hero. He was a true follower of Jesus.

Take care!

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on October 25, 2010:

I've been so "behind" on following up on even most favorite hubbers' (like tonmac) newest hubs during an especially full time "in real life" - that I missed this one when it first appeared, obviously.

I'm never untouched by the stories of people and places of your amazing land, Tony - so distant from my own habitat, yet with so much kinship. Each of our heroes and champions, such as this amazing "Uncle Bey" - inspires all of us to upgrade our own spheres of influence upon our own worlds. They may not be as dramatic as his, but there is always more we can do, if only in the sharing of inspiration of this calibre with each other. I am glad Da Greek pointed me over here to this one I missed. I would have been deprived if I hadn't found it!

Hello, hello, from London, UK on October 25, 2010:

It is amazing if you look at all these dictatorships there are always people who sacrify a lot and slowly turn it around. Unfortunately, it always takes time and a lot of lives are lost but evendually they to not win. The tribute of Desmond Tutu said it all about such a brave and remarkable man. Thank you for writing this great hub. You done Beyers justice.

Christopher Price from Vermont, USA on October 25, 2010:


I had never heard of Oom Bey before now. This was very informative and a fine tribute.

It is comforting and reassuring to learn that there are humble stubborn people in the world who question the status quo, listen to their consciences and strive to do the right thing despite overwhelming opposition.



neeleshkulkarni from new delhi on October 24, 2010:

the world still exists because some men still have the courage to do what they MUST do and they do it minus all bombast and show.They just quietly step out and do what they need to do- and they change the world-Thanks for bringing one such to my notice.

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on July 08, 2010:

Barbara - thanks so much for the visit and the, as per usual, thoughtful comment. Sorry to respond so late. Have been a bit out of it the last few days, but back in the swing of it now!

Love and peace


Barbara from Stepping past clutter on July 05, 2010:

Thank you, my compassionate friend.

Barbara from Stepping past clutter on July 05, 2010:

“ event where the DRC allowed the voice of blood, passion and nationalism to override the voice of God.”

The profound nature of this statement inspires the deepest recesses of my heart, where God's voice once spoke. I knew men like this when I was in the American Lutheran Church. Men of conviction and passion who would not give in to others claiming Christ but living a lie.

This message resonates powerfully, tonymac.

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on June 28, 2010:

HPR - thank you so much for the wonderful comment. Oom Bey was an inspiration and no doubt the great Mahatma inspired him also.

Love and peace


H P Roychoudhury from Guwahati, India on June 28, 2010:

It is a great hub with the fascinating land South Africa with dedicated people like Beyer, who never dare to face any kind of torture and eventuality for the good cause of humanity. But above all satisfaction lies in his success to achieve human right award. It attracted many great philosophers of the world to this beautiful land, a land beautified by nature and by the activity of great people of the world. The name of Mahatma Gandhi, the Father of Indian Union is also an example for South Africa.

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on June 28, 2010:

Holle - thanks for stopping by and commenting. He was an awesome person!

Love and peace


Holle Abee from Georgia on June 27, 2010:

Great tribute - awesome, in fact!

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on June 27, 2010:

Kim - glad to have made some history enjoyable for you!

Francis - he did it well, indeed!

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, good friends. I appreciate it.

Love and peace


equealla from Pretoria, South Africa on June 26, 2010:

He sure did cause a stir or two in his lifetime. But if you want to make good wine, you have to turn the barrel. Someone had to do it. It was his job, and he did it well. Bless his soul!

Kim Harris on June 26, 2010:

Nice work, tonymac. I'm not at all familiar with South African history or apartheid - except Desmond Tutu, and am glad to learn some of it. History is not my favorite subject, so thanks for making it enjoyable too. I love a good story about a person's struggle with their faith, and how they respond. Thanks for that too.

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on June 26, 2010:

Ethel - thanks for your visit and comment. Indeed I believe that the witness of these individuals did make a difference. We would not be where we are today without them. Not that all is hunk-dory now, but it's light years better than the pre-1994 situation.

Love and peace


Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on June 26, 2010:

What a remarkable man. Without these strong individuals who knows where things would end

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on June 26, 2010:

Ruby - thanks for stopping by. The root cause of the conflict in South Africa and Africa as a whole is indeed conflict around land and other resources. The colonialists took over African land from the indigenous people, usually by force and/or trickery, as, for example, in Zimbabwe. But certainly there are now many non-black people in Africa.

CC - the story of Oom Bey is a great example of practical living in the light of Jesus.

Thanks for stopping by, good people.

Love and peace


chasingcars on June 25, 2010:

“God was looking for a champion, someone who would help give Christianity credibility. . .": What a great story and a great couple. It reminds us that the path to Christianity, as any other connection with God's will, is not an easy-chair experience, but the struggle heals the soul, as does the celebration of such stories. Thank you.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on June 25, 2010:

Tony, i learned a lot from this hub, where did i ever get the impression that only black people lived in Africa

until the whites came and tried to take their land?

Thank you for writing this informative piece.

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on June 25, 2010:

Dimitris - such courage is indeed difficult to comprehend. And Oom Bey would have been the first to say he did not do it alone - it was the support of his comrades that kept him going, and his faith, of course.

Nellieanna - thank you for your kind words. Oom Bey's legacy will last for a long, long time, I know. He was a really wonderful person.

Valerie - you are so welcome and it was my honour to write this.

Christine - he was that, indeed!

Tatjana - you are welcome. I always learn from you also!

Micky - thank you, bro. Thank you so much. It is getting such comments as your's and the others here that makes writing worthwhile.

Thanks again everyone.

Love and peace


Micky Dee on June 25, 2010:

This is just beautiful Tony! It's just beautiful!

Tatjana-Mihaela from Zadar, CROATIA on June 25, 2010:

I have learned something new again. Thank you, Tony.

Christine Mulberry on June 24, 2010:

Thank you for yet another great history lesson. What an amazing and inspirational man.

valeriebelew from Metro Atlanta, GA, USA on June 24, 2010:

Awesome, tonymac, and another hub for my collection of whites against the big A. Thanks for this truly remarkable hub. (: v

Nellieanna Hay from TEXAS on June 24, 2010:

I'm simply amazed by the story and how it unfolded and I'm sure - will leave many effects for years to come.

This was a great man. It's remarkable when people rise to such a huge challenge in such a way and stay with it through thick and thin and risk of limb. He abd his devoted partner Ilse and their steadfastness are simply exemplary. Very worhtwhile hub, Tony!

De Greek from UK on June 24, 2010:

"When the banning order was finally lifted in 1984, a year short of its term, Beyers immediately set to work again to bring people together and for democratic values" - the mind just cannot grasp so much courage

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on June 24, 2010:

Charlie - thanks again, good friend!

Love and peace


ralwus on June 24, 2010:

Like I said in the last, giants. May he rest in peace. thanks again Tony. CC

Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on June 24, 2010:

Maxine - thank you. I appreciate your supportive and positive comment.

Love and peace


jandee on June 24, 2010:

Simply inspirational ! Your telling of the man oom Bey and his story,


Tony McGregor (author) from South Africa on June 24, 2010:

Bother Sabu - thanks for visiting and commenting. I think you are right about the similarities with the great Gandhi.

Thanks again

Love and peace


sabu singh on June 24, 2010:

Thank you for this lovely Hub on this remarkable man. There could be quite a lot in common between Oom Bey and another famous man who started his life's journey also from South Africa - Mahatma Gandhi.

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