BLACK AND REFORMED, Apartheid, Liberation and the Calvinist Tradition – Allan Boesak



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    BLACK AND REFORMED, Apartheid, Liberation and the Calvinist Tradition – Allan Boesak

    Post by Nico10 on Mon 05 Dec 2011, 5:27 pm

    Allan Boesak is a very interesting historical figure and the book “BLACK AND REFORMED, Apartheid, Liberation and the Calvinist Tradition” gives great insights into Boesak’s anti-apartheid activism. The work consists of a collection of speeches and sermons, as well as articles by Boesak over a period of roughly four years. In all of these, primarily, Boesak exposes his theology, and his interpretation of South Africa in the 1980’s set against his belief in God.

    While “BLACK AND REFORMED...” gives the reader a great feel of the mind set of Boesak, as well as many other oppressed South Africans at the time, it is a frustrating piece of literature in the way it generalises about South Africa and South Africans and South African issues, without going into too many particulars. In fact, the opening ‘chapter’ (or ‘speech’, if you like), is of such an aggressive and emotional nature that it even discouraged me to read the rest. What is particularly disheartening in that particular piece of work is the way in which Boesak frequently makes gruesome generalisations about the people under discussion. It is all ‘the whites’ this and ‘the blacks’ that, and one can clearly see the anger underlining this piece of work, and it even borders on hate. In fact, later on in the book, Boesak admits that his own views had evolved quite a bit since three years earlier when it bordered on hate, at about the time that particular piece of work was delivered. While one reads it though, one gets the impression that what all this amounts to is a poor way of saying: South African whites are bastards and black is beautiful. In fact, on the topic of ‘black is beautiful’, one certainly is reminded of Steve Biko in Boesak’s words. Yes he even mentions Biko (of course) at times in his speeches. One also finds in Boesak’s words the underlying argument that echo’s in all of Biko’s work, namely that being black is not being inferior to being white. However, in the opening pages of “BLACK AND REFORMED...”, if Boesak is to be compared to Biko, he is no match. Who can match the dry logic of the great Steve Biko? Very view, I dare say.

    However, after struggling through the first chapter of “BLACK AND REFORMED...”, it only gets better. What is so fascinating about this Boesak character is the central role he played in the struggle against apartheid. Many of the speeches contained in “BLACK AND REFORMED...” was delivered during Boesak’s term as the president of the World Counsel of Reformed Churches (WARC). Boesak was elected president of this counsel in 1982, and he made very good use of the platform to struggle against the oppression in his own country. Still, it is frustrating that there is not a lot of historical detail in “BLACK AND REFORMED...”. What takes away a lot of the accessibility of the book is the fact that one needs to have quite a lot of pre-knowledge to really understand it all. Boesak obviously delivered these speeches to audiences who were very up to date with happenings in South Africa at the time, and to others who lived through it all. Thus, “BLACK AND REFORMED...” asks quite a bit of the reader in order to maintain interest, because the text itself doesn’t have a natural tendency to draw one in.

    “BLACK AND REFORMED...” contains some very interesting parts, for example the part on the so-called ‘Black theology’ as well as the so-called ‘theology of revolution’. Boesak gives good descriptions as to the rationale behind the development. There is also a great discussion on the banning of literature by the apartheid regime. Again, it is not written as history, but from the perspective of a theologian. Another issue that Boesak discusses is the disgust that Christians had to live with, knowing that it is the Dutch Reformed Church that played such a central role in the development of apartheid, eventually developing a mandate for the policy straight out of the Bible. How can Christians do these things to each other? These are some of the important issues that Boesak discusses in “BLACK AND REFORMED...”. There is also a very interesting open letter to Desmond Tutu, as well as a letter to the then Minister of Justice of the Republic of South Africa.

    Boesak’s political views is very well displayed in “BLACK AND REFORMED...”. Time and again he pleads for a one man one vote system. He rejects the tri-chamber parliament, and criticises those black South Africans who took part in it. At length, Boesak speaks about justice. Time and again he returns to the issue of the migrant job system, that results in broken homes as well as the flawed homeland system, which required South Africans to carry the hated pass books. Boesak even makes his voice heard on issues of international politics, criticizing the cold war and the race for better arms by the world’s superpowers, amongst these, the regime of Ronald Ragan.

    It is a pity that “BLACK AND REFORMED” does not provide more historical detail, but then Boesak is no historian and these sermons and speeches were not delivered to history departments. They were delivered in a time of crisis in South Africa, and their aim was to inspire and give hope. Today, at the very least, they provide a great window into South Africa’s turbulent past.

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