White heroes of the Anti-apartheid struggle
Whites against apartheid
The death this past weekend of anti-apartheid cleric Dr Nico Smith, coming so soon after the death of another anti-apartheid struggle veteran, Sheena Duncan, has made more urgent for me the writing of a series of Hubs which I have long planned. These Hubs will be about those whites who put their lives, often quite literally, on the line in the struggle against apartheid and for human rights within South Africa.
Some of them are well-known, like Dr Beyers Naude, others less known, like the Reverend Bernard Spong, but all of them were powerful witnesses to the possibility of a free, non-racial and truly democratic South Africa.
For me it is urgent that the story of the whites who struggled against apartheid be told, as there is a common misperception that the the anti-apartheid struggle was exclusively one of blacks against whites, and, as the white struggle veterans die, we are more and more likely to forget their immense contribution to justice and freedom in South Africa.
Apartheid and the National Security Ideology
The apartheid ideology was a racist ideology, an ideology which promoted the idea that some people were of more value than others because of the colour of their skins. However, it is important to understand that apartheid stood firmly rooted in the national security ideology.
National Security Ideology (NSI) is the belief that the security of the state comes before the rights of its citizens. NSI is, from a Christian perspective, idolatrous, as it makes the State into a kind of idol before which all must bow, a god whose every command is to be unquestioningly obeyed.
A State founded on the NSI is able to abrogate the rights of citizens who dare to question its authority as they are, by definition, “enemies of the State” and therefore don't have rights. So they can be imprisoned without trial, tortured, even executed, without legal challenge as the rule of law is subjugated to the demands of State security. The rule of Habeas Corpus is almost always either limited or completely done away with in such a State.
Their contributions should not be forgotten
The apartheid State was such a State and in it even whites were unfree.
This lesson was forcefully brought home to Dr Nico Smith in 1963 when, on a trip to Europe, he met famed Swiss theologian Karl Barth, who asked him: “Are you free to preach the truths of the Gospel in South Africa?”
Smith told Time Magazine journalists Otto Friedrich and Peter Hawthorne in 1988: “Barth asked me the question three times, almost as Jesus Christ asks Peter, 'Do you love me?' I found that I could not really answer the question truthfully. I thought I was free, and yet I was not sure.”
The whites who stood against apartheid in the more than 40 years of its existence as official policy all came to that conclusion – they were not free while their black brothers and sisters were not free.
The list of white heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle is long. I will be covering just some of them to give readers here an overview of them, their lives in brief, their beliefs, their participation in the struggle. I hope readers will find these Hubs interesting.
The people I will cover will include some of the well-known people like Dr Beyers Naude and Dr Nico Smith. These two were clerics of the Dutch Reformed Church which was called “the Nationalist Party at prayer” because most of that party's leaders and members were drawn from that denomination. The fact that they broke away from that Church and became principled opponents of apartheid caused them great hardship and torment of spirit.
Then there were the less-known ones like academic David Webster, union leader Helen Joseph, politician Margaret Ballinger and lawyer Bram Fischer, missionary Bernard Spong and of course, the legendary “troublesome priest” of Sophiatown, Trevor Huddleston.
These people all made, in their own ways, a lasting and valuable contribution to freedom in South Africa, and their lives are inspirational to a new generation of people. What the ruling African National Congress (ANC) said of Dr Smith this week: “He fought with distinction the apartheid regime for all of us to achieve the freedoms we now enjoy,” could be said of all of these wonderful people.
They were, each of them in their own way, sources of hope and encouragement when times were dark and there seemed little evidence of any basis for hope. The apartheid regime, especially in the mid to late 80s, became a cruel, heartless engine of violence and hate, with people dying and disappearing in ever-increasing numbers, and de facto martial law ruled over much of the country. In that situation these brave men and women served the cause of freedom and justice, putting the welfare of others way above their own. For this they should be remembered with gratitude by all who love freedom, especially in South Africa.
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