Allan Aubrey Boesak facts

Allan Boesak (born 1945), co-founder of the United Democratic Front (UDF), was one of the main opponents of apartheid in South Africa and continues to be a political and spritual force.

Allan Aubrey Boesak was born on February 23, 1945 in Kakamas, Cape N.W., South Africa. From an early age he developed his twin interests in religion and politics. Having always wanted to be a minister, Boesak at the age of 14 became sacristan in the Sendingkerk of the Dutch Reformed Church (a “colored”, or mixedrace, offshoot of the white Dutch Reformed Church). After graduating from the Theological Seminary in Bellville in 1967, Boesak was ordained at the age of 23. He married Dorothy Rose Martin in 1969 and had four children (he eventually divorced and then married Elna Botha in 1991). By the end of his adolescence, Boesak had expressed growing dissatisfaction with South African apartheid, a form of strict segregation, especially after the government had invoked racial motives to force his family to relocate.

From 1970 to 1976 Boesak studied at the Theological Institute of Kampen in Holland, where he received his doctorate in ethics. Back in South Africa shortly after the 1976 Soweto riots, Boesak increased his political activity through the church. Boesak’s appeal quickly spread beyond the 2.8 million and a half million “colors” to opponents of apartheid, both white and black. In 1981, several black reformed churches founded ABRECSA (the Alliance of Black Reforming Christians of South Africa) and elected Boesak as president. The declaration of the alliance reflected many of Boesak’s beliefs. He rejected the use of religion as a cultural or racist ideology (as employed by the Dutch White Reformed Church according to the alliance). The alliance declaration also rejected the divorce of religion from political activism. Boesak and the alliance believed that the struggle against apartheid was a struggle for the integrity of Christianity.

Boesak first received international attention in August 1982, when the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) met in Canada. The VARC represented about 150 churches of Calvinist tradition in 76 countries, with a total of over 50 million members. Boesak introduced a motion calling for WARC to declare apartheid a heresy contrary to both the Gospel and the Reformed tradition. The alliance adopted the Declaration on Racism, suspended the Dutch White Reformed Church of South Africa, and unanimously elected Boesak as president of the alliance. His new position has made him the spiritual leader of more than 50 million Christians. This international support base has subsequently protected him from certain forms of government repression. He remained in office until 1989.

In January 1983 Boesak suggested to all groups opposed to the new constitution of the government to unite. Pieter Willem Botha’s government had proposed to give more powers to the president of the state and to allow limited representation in parliament to mixed-race people and Asians, excluding the blacks of South Africa, who made up 73% of the population. Boesak opposed the constitution on moral grounds, as he excluded the majority of South Africans, entrenched apartheid and white domination, and accepted ethnicity as a criterion for politics in South Africa.

At Boesak’s suggestion, a steering committee established the United Democratic Front (UDF). In August 1983, in front of some 20,000 supporters, Boesak helped launch the UDF in Mitchells Plain, outside Cape Town. Boesak was elected patron. In early 1986, the UDF, an umbrella organization for about 700 organizations representing about two million white, mixed-race and black South Africans, was the largest and most powerful legal opposition force in South Africa. Its members and above all its objectives approached those of the then banned African National Congress (ANC).

Boesak has increasingly appeared at the forefront of opposition to the white government. He believed that “apartheid can never be changed”, only “eradicated”. While Boesak preferred non-violent protest, she questioned her success in South Africa: “You can’t talk about violence if you can’t do anything about it. In such a situation, non-violence becomes an oppressive ideology. It helps and favors the oppressor”.

Verbally, Boesak called the South African government “Hitler’s spiritual children” and the South African police a “spiritual killing machine”. Politically, he continued as the leader of the UDF and urged consumers to boycott white businesses and organize a day of prayer for the overthrow of the white government. He opposed President Reagan’s policy of “constructive engagement” with South Africa.

On 27 April 1994 the first elections were held open to all South African citizens, regardless of skin colour. The ANC won over 62% of the popular vote and Nelson Mandela, who had been a political prisoner for over 27 years, was elected president. Boesak became president of the Association of Christian Students in South Africa and founded the Foundation for Peace and Justice in Belleville. He is also the head of economic affairs of the Western Cape African National Congress. South Africa continues to see the Reverend Boesak working as an articulate cleric-politician.

More readings on Allan Aubrey Boesak

No biographies have yet appeared on Allan Boesak. He has written several books, including Good Day to Innocence: A Socio-Ethical Study on Black Theology and Black Power (1977), Finger of God: Sermons on Faith and Socio-Political Responsibility (1982), Walking the Thorns: The Call to Christian Obedience (1984), Black and Reformed: Apartheid, Liberation and Calvinist Tradition (1984), A call to the end of the unjust rule (1987), Comfort and Protest: Reflections on the Revelation of John of Patmos (1987), and If this is treason, I am guilty (1988). An in-depth introduction to South Africa is South Africa: Time Running Out (Study Commission on US Policy towards South Africa, University of California, 1981, 1986).