Speech of the President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, at the Special Official Funeral of Dr C.F. Beyers Naude, Aasvoëlkop Drc, Johannesburg, 18 September 2004

Tannie Ilse Naude and members of the Naude family,
Our distinguished international guests,
Fellow South Africans and fellow mourners:

On the victory of Prometheus, the poet Shelley wrote:

"Gentleness, Virtue, Wisdom, and Endurance -
These are the seals of that most firm assurance
Which bars the pit over Destruction's strength...
To suffer woes which Hope thinks infinite;
To forgive wrongs darker than death or night;
To defy Power, which seems omnipotent;
To love, and bear; to hope till Hope creates
From its own wreck the thing it contemplates;
Neither to change, nor falter, nor repent;
This, like thy glory, Titan, is to be
Good, great and joyous, beautiful and free;
This is alone Life; Joy, Empire, and Victory."

While he lived, Beyers Naude like Prometheus, defied power that seemed omnipotent. He suffered woes, which hope thought infinite. Despite his pain he did not change, falter or repent. He hoped for justice for all his people, both black and white, ready to sacrifice the gift of hope for the realisation of the people's dream for freedom, equality and peace.

He forgave wrongs darker than death or night. He neither lost his love for his people nor his capacity to bear the pain of their rejection. A Titan to the last, he was good, great and joyous, beautiful and free. That, alone, gave meaning to his life.

As we grieve because we have been robbed of our own Oom Bey, all of us must, today, extend our heartfelt thanks to the Afrikaner people that they blessed us by bestowing on us the gift that was Beyers Naude.

To you, Tannie Ilse and the rest of our Afrikaner mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, we must, today, convey our unalterable gratitude that you gave us a son of all our people, who taught us by what he did and who he was, that we are all of us God's children, despite what those who ruled in His name did to define some among us as other than human beings created in God's image.

Terwyl ons vandag rou omdat ons beroof is van ons geliefde Oom Bey, moet ons almal ons dank betuig aan die Afrikaner mense omdat hulle ons gesëen het met die geskenk van 'n Beyers Naude.

Aan jou, tannie Ilse, en alle ander Afrikaner moeders en vaders, broers en susters, moet ons vandag ons innige dankbaarheid betuig vir 'n seun wat ons deur sy dade en deur wie hy was, geleer het dat ons almal God se kinders is. Dit het hy gedoen ten spyte daarvan dat diegene wat in God se naam regeer het, sommige van ons gedefinieer het as iets anders as mense wat na God se beeld geskape is.

Unavoidably, the history books will always tell the story of what happened during the difficult days of apartheid rule. They will speak of the cruelty that was done. They will tell of the suffering that enveloped the land. They will relate a tale of pain and terrible enmities that claimed the lives of many innocent people.

If it were not for the gift granted to us by the Afrikaner people when they brought Beyers Naude into our midst, future generations would have read the history books full of hatred, fear and loathing. Knowledge of the past would have turned them away from acknowledgement and joyful acceptance of the diversity of our nation. What they would come to know of our past would drive them to seek to open old wounds and resume old wars, to seek vengeance for past deeds that cannot be undone.

Beyers Naude stands out as the bulwark that will deny our country that terrible eventuality. The 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.

Beyers Naude staan uit as die skans wat daardie aaklige gebeurtenis in ons land voorkom het. Die opofferings wat hy gemaak het, het verseker dat ons vrede en versoening behaal het, want dit het dié gene wat vergelding gesoek het oortuig dat die Afrikanermense nie hulle vyand is nie - want Beyers Naude was nie hulle vyand nie, maar hulle kameraad, vriend en leier.

I have spoken as I have not to praise Oom Bey, but to tell the truth about who he was and what he did.

None of us will have been surprised that Oom Bey left instructions that nobody should sing his praises when the time came to say our last farewell. I believe that we have an obligation to respect his desires in this regard.

We have therefore come to the Aasvoëlkop NG Kerk today to say farewell to Oom Bey, to reflect on what he did for our country and people, to do what we did not do while he lived, to say of him that he will forever occupy his rightful place among the front ranks of the heroes and heroines who brought us our freedom.

We have not come to praise him, but to thank him for who he was and for the many spiritual and material gifts of the heart he gave out freely to many individuals and to our people as a whole.

To explain who he was, he said, "I can only be who I am". We are here today to confess our everlasting sense of obligation to Oom Bey that he was, and throughout his life remained who he was, and not whom others might have wanted him to be.

When he spoke about the most difficult moments in his life, he said his actions demonstrated "that side of Afrikanerdom which (others) have never been able to tame. It is an Afrikaner willingness to cross frontiers - relating the Afrikaner experience of exploitation, poverty and struggle to others who face similar experiences."

Moved by what he said of himself, and what he did without denying his identity, we are here to celebrate the life of an Afrikaner who refused to be tamed, an Afrikaner Prometheus Unbound. Like Shelley's Prometheus, Beyers Naude also spoke out and said:

"I would fain
Be what it is my destiny to be,
The saviour and the strength of suffering man,
Or sink into the original gulf of things."

It was Beyers Naude's destiny to be a new Voortrekker, the saviour and strength of our suffering people, incapable of sinking into the original gulf of things into which he was born, because an inner voice summoned him to cross many frontiers.

Beyers Naude was bestem om 'n nuwe Voortrekker te wees - die redder en krag van ons mense in lyding. Hy het nie versink in die golfvloed van invloede wat tydens sy geboorte geheers het nie, want 'n innerlike stem het hom opgeroep om menige grenslyne oor te steek.

Himself the victim of intolerable pain, imposed on him by those who wanted him to sink into the original gulf of things, he was nevertheless to echo the words of Prometheus, and say:

"I wish no living thing to suffer pain."

But still his tormentors would not let this gentle giant proceed along his chosen path in peace. But he understood that these, who were his people, were but prisoners of a defiant despair and hatred disguised by cold and treacherous smiles. And as he watched their menacing advance, he cried out:

"I see the curse on gestures proud and cold,
And looks of firm defiance, and calm hate,
And such despair as mocks itself with smiles,
Written as on a scroll:"

He knew that the defiant, cold and proud hatred of his persecutors was cursed. He knew it would not last, but would inspire its own defeat. He knew that in the end, gentleness, virtue, wisdom, and endurance would guarantee that our country and people would be saved from hurtling into the abyss.

The great patriot Steve Biko was murdered in 1977. The September edition of the journal of the Beyer's Naude's Christian Institute, "Pro Veritate", published an editorial simply entitled "Steve Biko". In part it said:

"One of the moments of truth in the life of Jesus is recounted in Luke 19:41-44, when Jesus saw that his society was bent on a course that led inevitably to its destruction. 'If you only knew today what is needed for peace! But now you cannot see it! The days will come when your enemies will surround you with barricades, blockade you, and close in on you from walls; not a single stone will they leave in its place, because you did not recognise the time when God came to save you.' In this turmoil of a collapsing society Christ calls for people with vision, conviction and courage to reach out together for the real power of brotherhood and a whole community. Bodies will die, hearts will break, but nothing will detain our spirits or deter God's purpose."

In his report to the last AGM of the Christian Institute on September 10, 1977, just before it was declared a prohibited organisation, National Director Beyers Naude said:

"The majority of the White community views the future with trepidation and uncertainty or with a stubborn determination to fight to the last man to maintain its present power and privilege. The majority of Blacks, again, look at the future with hope and live in the expectation of a liberation, which is certain to come some time in the foreseeable future.

"As a Christian organisation we share the hope of the oppressed and dispossessed for a better day which is dawning - a day of rejoicing in the liberation which Christ has promised to all those who are suffering under the yoke. Equally we sympathise with the millions of Whites who live in growing uncertainty and fear. We believe that Christ has a vital and significant message for both. He wants to lead the Blacks into a life of greater freedom and fulfilment - and equally, He wishes to free the Whites from their fears and their false self-interest which in the long run cannot but destroy them...We move forward in hope and joy in the certain knowledge that where Christ leads, he brings us the assurance of the fulfilment of our striving for justice, liberation and recognition of human dignity."

Beyers Naude was right, and those who used ill-gotten state power to try to defeat his dream were wrong. 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, occasioned by a destructive racial conflict. Today black and white South Africans walk together side by side, together proudly South African.

As we progress on our journey together, we must also recall what the last edition of "Pro Veritate" before it was banned said, that, "Christ calls for people with vision, conviction and courage to reach out together for the real power of brotherhood and a whole community. Bodies will die, hearts will break, but nothing will detain our spirits or deter God's purpose."

"Christus roep mense met visie, oortuiging en moed om uit te reik na die werklige mag van broederskap van die hele gemeenskap. Liggame sal sterf, harte sal breek maar niks sal ons geesdrif gevange hou of God se doel weerhou nie."

Despite the fact that we are free, thanks to the sacrifices that Oom Bey and other freedom fighters made, our country has great need for people with the vision, conviction and courage of a Beyers Naude, who must reach out together for the real power of brotherhood, sisterhood and a whole community.

Oom Bey called on all our people to access and use that power, rather than the power of guns, because he knew that, as a people, we would derive our greatest strength from our unity and the voluntary combination of our collective energies.

He knew that our country would need time to overcome the legacy of our common past. He understood that nothing but a shared sense of brotherhood, sisterhood and community would give us the space to heal the wounds we all carry on our bodies and on our souls.

He called on all of us to understand that the reconciliation we need for the peace and the progress of our country and all our people requires that we work together to achieve that peace and progress. He handed down the lesson to all of us, who together, are his people, without regard to race, colour, gender and age, that we must abandon the false self-interest which in the long run cannot but destroy each and everyone of us.

Beyers Naude was a great son of the people of our country whose very being was infused with a deep sense of compassion. A humble person who would never be able to conceive of himself as other than an ordinary person, he felt in closest communion with the ordinary people of our country, the wretched of the earth.

This was the constituency, such as the people of Alexandra Township, he was convinced deserved his greatest attention. He directed that his ashes should be deposited among these masses. He was determined that even death should not separate him from these, the poor and the downtrodden, whose suffering and pain had caused him to act in a manner that obliged others to categorise and treat him as a traitor.

He was determined to communicate the message to those of us who live, that we too have an obligation to respond to the cries and the needs of the poor of the Alexandra Townships of our country, to work with them to achieve justice, liberation and recognition of human dignity.

I have spoken as I have not to praise Oom Bey, but to tell the truth about who he was and what he did.

I have spoken as I have to convey to him the fond but painful farewell of all our people to a revered son who will forever be our hero, our leader, our inspiration and guide as we engage the challenge to build the South Africa of his dreams and achieve a better life for all our people.

On behalf of all our people, who are today united in their grief and the celebration of Oom Bey's life, I am privileged to convey our sincere condolences to Tannie Ilse and the rest of the Naude family.

O tsamae ka khotso senatla sa dinatla!
Baie dankie.

Issued by: The Presidency
18 September 2004

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