Religious Faith and Anti-Apartheid Activism

The roots of religious activism preceded Desmond Tutu. Most notably, in the 1950s Trevor Huddleston, an Anglican missionary in the Johannesburg area, campaigned to stop the forced removal of more than 60,000 black residents (many of them landowners) in Sophiatown. Government bulldozers eventually destroyed this vibrant, racially mixed community and replaced it with an Afrikaner suburb called Triomf. Even so, Huddleston best-selling 1956 book, Naught For Your Comfort, raised awareness of apartheid's brutality around the world.

Another important religious force was the non-denominational Institute for Contextual Theology (ICT), founded in 1963. It promoted liberation theology, which emphasized the need to put into practice Christ's message to free the poor and oppressed. In 1985, the ICT produced the Kairos document. It rejected 'state-theology' and the meek responses of the mainline churches to apartheid. By this time, the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and the South African Bishops Conference (SABC) had become important components of the movement against apartheid both inside the country and internationally. Among their many overt activities were the SACC's extensive supply of legal and material aid for thousands of detainees and their families and the SABC's issuing of detailed reports on police and army violence in the townships (Walshe 390-94) (TRC Final Report, vol. 4 chap. 3).

The Afrikaner minister Beyers Naudé left the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) after denouncing its racist teachings. Seen as a traitor by many Afrikaners, he became a strong opponent of apartheid. In 1963 Naudé founded the Christian Institute, an ecumenical organization aimed at uniting progressive Christians of all denominations. [Listen to interview segment with Horst Kleinschmidt about Naudé.]

In 1983, Dr. Allan Boesak, a clergyman in the Coloured branch of the DRC, called for the creation of the United Democratic Front to wage massive anti-government protests. [Watch segment of speech by Rev. Boesak.]

Reverend Frank Chikane suffered multiple detentions, severe torture, and an assassination attempt. In addition, the Apostolic Faith Mission Church to which he belonged ousted him because of his political activism. Chikane was a leading figure in the Institute of Contextual Theology and, in 1987, he succeeded Archbishop Tutu as General Secretary of the South African Council of Churches.

Followers of the Hindu religion comprise seventy percent of the one million South African Indians. The most heralded political activist of the Hindu faith is Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi, who came from India to South Africa in 1893. Gandhi's political consciousness began after being forced off a train for refusing to sit in racially segregated seating. He played a prominent role in the struggles for Indian rights in South Africa through his advocacy and leadership in launching passive resistance campaigns in 1906. [Read about Satyagraha Campaign.] Indeed, Gandhi's philosophy and political activism have influenced civil rights activists throughout the world.

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