ABSTRACT. Although no conventional biography of Allan Boesak has been published, either by himself or others, as far as we are aware, we have enough data. The unsettling Story about Allan Boesak’s Involvement in the Struggle against Apartheid. Mary-Anne Plaatjies-Van Huffel. University of Stellenbosch. Anti-apartheid activist and pastor, Allan Boesak, has criticised South African churches for forgetting their role in the new South Africa.
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The making of Allan Aubrey Boesak: Theologian and political activist. Although no conventional biography of Allan Boesak bowsak been published, either by himself or others, as far as we are aware, we have enough data and information in various places to make small beginnings of the long overdue task. Boesak’s phenomenal contribution to political theology, black theology and ecumenism both in South Africa and internationally, deserves deliberate acknowledgement.
In this essay, we attempt an appraisal of the contribution of Allan Boesak to politics and theology by focusing on key milestones and reflections in his life. We take our cue from Boesak’s own self-definition of being a theologian and a political activist and proceed to explore some of the roots and sources of his theology and political activism.
Dutch Reformed Mission Church.
Allan Aubrey Boesak
World Alliance of Reformed Churches. Among the people marked for elimination, Allan Boesak was one of the people marked for killing by racist gunman Barend Strydom at Strijdom Square in Pretoria on the 15th of November We know this because Barend Strydom said so himself later when he appeared in court Moss When his ideal plan did not work out, he randomly killed eight black people, with seven dying on the spot.
To this day, the eight people Strydom killed remain virtually nameless, as the media has been more fascinated with the killing rituals of Barend Strydom. Yet it is fair to add that had Strydom succeeded in assassinating Boesak, black South Africa would have experienced a loss akin to that experienced when Steve Biko inexplicably died in police detention.
I dare say it would have been a loss similar to that later experienced when Chris Hani was assassinated in Such has been the stature of Allan Boesak in the South African struggle for justice. Few have contributed as impactfully to the shape and form of South African resistance in the crucial period between and For four decades now, Allan Boesak has remained an influential voice and actor both as ‘theologian and political activist’ Boesak Several difficulties attend to the task of appraising the life and work of Allan Boesak.
The obesak during which he was in his prime is as rich and diverse as boedak contribution of Boesak to the struggle in church and society. The s are marked as much by the rise of Black Consciousness as they are about the concomitant rise of the Bantustan System.
Bossak was in the 70s that the full weight of the banning of political organizations and individuals was felt, driving the major political organisations underground. During this period, Apartheid repression of Black thought, creativity, leadership, and resistance took some of its most brutal forms.
And yet it was also a most creative period too. With the likes of Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Ruth First and others in exile and the likes of Walter Sisulu, Robert Sobukwe, Aaron Motsoaledi and other in jail, a new crop of leaders emerged, some from the unlikeliest of sections of society. On top of these developments a new mass movement of resistance, led by the youth, boesaj shape across the nation. Alongside his peers at the time, Allan Boesak was at the heart of the burgeoning and youth-led mass movement – as actor, interpreter, thinker, voice and prominent leader.
As well as the complexity of the epoch another difficulty faced by anyone who takes on the task of assessing the work of Boesak is that the Boesak character, life and work are complex and multi-faceted. Taking a cue from his own self-definition, Boesak is at once a theologian and a political activist. But he is much more. He is a wordsmith and an orator, bodsak preacher and debater, a scholar and a researcher, a man, a husband, and a father. Above all he is human, all too human.
The Making of Allan Boesak. In his unconventional biography Boesak Boesak appears to regard the speech he made ‘standing on a table on the lawn in front of the cafeteria on the campus of the University of Western Cape’ UWC Boesak I recall the moment as crossing an important divide: I would seek earnest answers to the challenges posed to the church and theology, as well as politics, by Aunt Meraai Arendse, Steve Biko and the children of Soweto Boesak It is after all the place where, at the age of 17, he enrolled for his undergraduate studies in theology.
South Africa: Overcoming Apartheid
I was to find nothing in my theological training over five years, nothing at all, had prepared me for this. The theology taught me by white Dutch Reformed missionaries was totally inadequate to deal with the crises of faith that grew out of poverty, socio-economic injustices, and political oppression. Even though he does not rate the education he received at UWC very highly, suggesting that by the time he completed his studies there, he was ‘a coloured who, like most of us, were at best pulling on the leash’ Boesak Enrolled into the Dutch Reformed Mission Church Theological Seminary at the University of Western Cape as a teenager, ordained as the youngest minister in Paarl, at the age of twenty-two, Boesak was, by all accounts an boessk achiever – a young man of great promise and one of the best recruits into the DRC Mission Church in those days.
After spending six years in the tranquil and scholarly surroundings of Kampen in the Netherlands, now armed with a doctorate in theology, the then thirty-year old Allan Boesak returned in to a South Africa, different South Africa from the one he left behind. In this too, is a remarkable fact that should not be glossed over. For an under 30 black South African to obtain a doctorate before would be a remarkable feat at any time, including today.
But this kind of achievement was rare in the seventies. The late Johan Heyns, booesak professor at Stellenbosch, already spotted the immense bosak ability of the young Boesak, supporting him in his desire for postgraduate studies.
When Boesak went to bid farewell to Heyns before departing for the Netherlands, Heyns had said of the young Boesak: And all of a sudden, I had to face the fact that not all white people were the same Boesak Our generation has been blessed to witness the blossoming and the fulfillment of the promise that the young Boesak was.
In the years sincewhen he returned from the Netherlands, Boesak has bequeathed more than twenty monographs, hundreds of moving speeches delivered in rallies, several Bible studies town halls chapels at home and abroad as well as a tangible legacy of political activism 3.
Boesak’s theological education, both by commission and by omission, had a deep influence on him. If his undergraduate studies, taught to the young Boesak at UWC, felt utterly inadequate and inapplicable, it nevertheless also provided him with his initial and crucial theological foundations in reformed theology. Clearly Boesak rated education, especially higher education, very highly.
As student chaplain, the students of UWC were some of the first audiences to listen to his fiery preaching. If UWC was an important milestone in his life, Kampen had a phenomenal impact. When, inthe returned Boesak stood in front of the students, he felt that in Kampen and through his education, ‘he had been remade, [and], he had seen not only something of the world; he had seen the coming of the Black Messiah’ Boesak The sojourn in Kampen consolidated his scholarly habits, namely, the love for writing and reading.
It also sharpened his sense not only of ethical justice but of his primary identity as a theologian. Even as he realized that he was a beneficiary of education in a manner that few were, Boesak took careful note of the intended effects and consequences the bifurcated nature of South African higher education.
For all the benefits of education, Boesak was not unaware of the ‘curious logic of the Apartheid mind: Kampen provided the young Boesak with a dynamic educational space, not contaminated by Apartheid ideology, allowing his intellect to roam and to soar.
Speaking metaphorically, Boesak suggests that before he went to Kampen, he ‘could see the door, but [I] did not yet own the key to open it’.
That is what the Dutch gave me But they did another thing that would have a life-long impact on my theological thinking that would have life-long impact on my theological thinking and political activities: In the Netherlands, I met not the insipid, doctrinaire anaemic Calvin of South African Dutch Reformed pre-ordained election theology, the Calvin who blessed racism and guaranteed the rightness of the theology of Apartheid.
The Calvin I met was the radical Calvin, the constructive revolutionary whose fiery sermons about poverty and wealth, and whose deeply moving sermons about Holy Communion and Baptism, forever captured my mind and heart Boesak In Kampen, Boesak also ‘met’ Abraham Kuyper, not the sanitized and racist ideas of neo-Kuyperism ‘articulated so well by Andries Treunicht’. There, he met also, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the theologian who boeska Hitler and his ideology.
Freed from the constraints of Apartheid book bannings and related, Boesak also started re-reading Steve Alan in Kampen, especially Bikos’s critique of the black church.
Allan Boesak – TEDxIndianapolis
There, Boesak met the Black Messiah and bid farewell to ‘the Jesus of Constantinian Christianity, without thorns but with a crown of laurels An important influence on Boesak while he was in the Netherlands were theologians Paul Lehmann and Nicholas Wolterstorff. He considered, Lehmann’s study, The Transfiguration of Politics, one of ‘the most formative theological studies I have ever read’ in Smit Wolterstorff may have introduced Boesak to the work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Reflecting on his overall experience in the Netherlands, Boesak declared: All I had to do was to find the courage to open the door’ The Impact of Boesak’s Parents. Since Running with Horses was deliberately not meant as a regular autobiography, it does not afford us much insight into the young Boesak’s family. Given his stature, the basics of Boesak’s like are well known.
Born on the 23rd of Februaryin a small Northen Cape farming town of Kakamus, on the banks of the Orange River, Allan was one of the eight children of Willem Andreas Boesak and his wife.
In a brief if also backhanded sort of way, Boesak traces his deepest theological insights to booesak ‘tenacity and purity’ of his mother’s faith, who after the death of his father when he was six years old, brought them all up as a single parent.
Deep down, instinctively, almost, black Christians always knew. Just as my mother knew not how to think politically and somehow always knew about God as God of the poor, the fatherless and bpesak widow. Alan knew because the Bible told her so and because that was her daily experience.
That was her mantra to her eight children after the death of my father, and her won explanation of the tenacity and purity of al,an faith when others would have long given up Boesak From this passage it becomes clear that part of Boesak’s biblical faith came as much from reformed theology as it did from the teachings and the conduct of his own mother.
Long before he went to seminary and to Kampen University for theological training, the young Boesak had observed the deep, resilient and counter-hegemonic faith of his lay mother. In her biography on Trevor Manuel, Pippa Green recounts that the Boesak family was so poor there were no birthday presents.
Instead, Mrs Boesak Snr, would read a Bible text to each of the children on their birthday, pointing out that the word of the Bible was greater than any present.
Clearly, for Allan Boesak, his mother was the example of steadfast faith in the face of great odds. One can almost feel the signature and power of his mother’s approach to the Bible when Boesak He described his mother, Sarah Helene Boesak, nee Mannel as ‘a heroine of the faith, a marvelous woman sllan footprints in the lives of her children will remain large and her memory allaj all of us unsullied’ Boesak In an email exchange with me on 24 Januaryhe described his mother as ‘an extraordinary woman who did a great job in raising her children’.
He goes on to describe her innings thus: Not having had the privilege of much schooling herself, she did not finish Primary School she more than nothing wanted that for her children, and she would go to extraordinary lengths to make that possible. She herself worked day and night – by day as a seamstress in a women’s clothing store, by night she would do people’s washing and as a celebrated cook would sometimes cook special dished people would order.
We would deliver those during the day and over the weekends.
She hoesak for instance take one of the older children out of school for a year, to work and augment our meagre income, and to give the child next in line an opportunity to have a year at school. She did this with all her children except me and my youngest brother. We were the privileged ones. It took my older siblings longer to finish school, but it did mean that all of us got schooling – all my older bodsak became teachers.