Allan Aubrey Boesak

(February 23, 1945 - )

Dr Allan Aubrey Boesak is a former anti-apartheid activist and leader of the World Alliance of Churches. He was also the patron of the United Democratic Front (UDF).

Early life

Allan Boesak was born at Kakamas, Northern Cape, as one of eight children. His father, a schoolteacher, died when Boesak was six years old. He was raised in Somerset West and as a child worked as a labourer to help support his family. At fourteen, he became a sexton in the separate Coloured sector of the local Nederduitse Gereformeerde Sending-Kerk. After graduating from Bellville Theological Seminary, he worked as a pastor in Paarl between 1967 and 1970. In the early 1970s, he studied at theological institutions in Kampen, Holland, and New York, gaining a PhD in 1975. On his return to South Africa in 1976, his parish was in Cape Town's Bellville South.

Church leader and anti-apartheid activities

He came to prominence when he was unanimously elected head of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in 1982. He became a world celebrity when he introduced the heresy motion at the conference in Ottawa of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, a motion that led to the suspension of the White South African reformed churches from the world body.

In January 1983, Boesak's call for a united front resulted in the formation of the United Democratic Front, an umbrella organisation that swiftly became the main anti-apartheid group in South Africa. Dr Boesak provided the first signature to the Front's `million signature' petition against the South African constitution of 1983, which introduced the Tricameral Parliament that provided separate chambers of Parliament with limited powers for Coloured and Indian minorities, but excluded the 24 million black majority. He described Coloureds and Indians who went along with the Tricameral Parliament as `the junior partners in apartheid'.

Denouncing South Africa's Whites as the `spiritual children of Adolf Hitler', he led demonstrations and preached at funerals for anti-apartheid riot victims. He was a conspicuous advocate of the boycott in 1984 of the Coloured and Indian Parliamentary elections, but after the South African government declared a state of emergency he was one of only a few prominent anti-apartheid leaders who were not restricted. He was also not charged in the 1985 Pietermaritzburg treason proceedings, possibly because he did not hold an executive position in the UDF.

But in 1985 Boesak organised a march on Polsmoor Prison in Cape Town to demand the release of Nelson Mandela, who had been transferred there from Robben Island. Boesak was detained and interrogated and his passport was confiscated. Subversion charges were however dropped, but the security police kept him under constant surveillance in the hope of finding a reason to discredit him.

In October 1986, in his position as Moderator of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Sendingkerk and president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Boesak pleaded for unity at the NG Kerk Synod. He argued that `there could never be reunification on the basis of separateness'. He said it was a matter of urgency that they listened to his appeal for unity based on rejection of apartheid.

Married with four children, Boesak has been described as `driven by ambition but distracted by his libido'. In 1984, he was accused of having an extramarital affair with a White employee of the South African Council of Churches. Boesak admitted to having a relationship, but later explained that it was a `unique and special relationship'. This was a double scandal in a country where apartheid laws banned inter-racial sex. (These laws were only repealed in 1985). Boesak was suspended from his church duties but was reinstated a month later after the Ring van Gestig – the regional authority of his church – exonerated him. The Star accused the Security Police of being behind a smear campaign against Boesak. Nevertheless, Boesak's voice was heard less at mass gatherings after details of his affair were made public in July 1990. He resigned as president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and divorced his wife Dorothy in 1991 to marry journalist and television personality Elna Botha.

Moving on from pulpit to politics, a failed run at high ANC office left him with the post of ANC Western Cape president. The Reverend Nic Appolis succeeded him as moderator of the NG Sendingkerk. However, the election result that brought the ANC to power guaranteed Boesak a post in the new government and he was scheduled to become South Africa's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva. However, two weeks before he was due to leave for Geneva, a corruption and fraud investigation was brought against him. He was accused of intercepting donations from Scandinavia intended for uplifting the poor. A Danish aid agency, Dan Church Aid, started the investigation into funds it had given Boesak's Foundation for Peace and Justice agency in 1985. The agency claimed that they could not account for a large part of a $1 million donation. A Johannesburg law firm which carried out the investigation on behalf of Dan Church made public a report saying that the Foundation for Peace and Justice had `diverted' some $500,000 and that Boesak has `substantially enriched himself' with some of the funds. Later, questions were also raised about a donation of $50,000 Coca-Cola had

made for a community project in the Cape and the alleged misuse of money from a children's trust started by a donation from US singer Paul Simon after his 1992 tour of South Africa.

Boesak was finally charged with the allegations, convicted on four counts of fraud and sentenced to prison in 1999. He was released on bail from the Goodwood Prison in May 2001.

A Farewell to Innocence (1976)

Coming in Out of the Wilderness (1976)

Black and Reformed (1984).

The Finger of God (1982) (a collection of sermons dealing with such matters as the ministry in a Black situation, the death of Steve Biko and the Information Scandal.)

Source: Howcroft, P. (ed.) (undated). “South Africa Encyclopaedia: Prehistory to the year 2000”, unpublished papers with SA History Online.

This biography is from South African History Online. Used by permission. 
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