Theo Kotze (1920 - 2003)
The Order of the Baobab in
Profile of Theo Kotze
The Rev Theo Kotze was born at the Heads in Knysna on 19 May 1920. His quest for justice and equality during the apartheid years is well known, especially within the Christian fraternity. He is to be numbered as one of the Christian heroes of those times, and was lieutenant and friend to the iconic Dutch Reformed Church dissenter and founder of the Christian Institute, the Rev Beyers Naude.
A convert to Methodism, and for many years a lively and respected pastor of that church, Kotze saw the moral evil of a social system that institutionalised the opposite of what Christian social fellowship should be. As pastor, he actively threw open, to all South Africans, the doors of the suburban churches where he served, and worked tirelessly to make not only Christians but the community at large aware of the wickedness of the ideology of apartheid.
This was a daunting task indeed. The Government frowned particularly on dissent among brave clerics who challenged its racist ideological assumptions, and the State frequently acted against such people. The powerful Dutch Reformed Churches of the day, described as the “Government at prayer”, were hostile to anyone who did not go with the flow of the government’s divisive policies. Moreover, many white Christians in those days, including in his own church, resented Kotze’s ”dabbling” in politics, and on more than one occasion pressure was put on him to change his forthright attitudes. But he took comfort from the enthusiastic support he received from some brother pastors in the struggle, both black and white.
Kotze, a resolute Christian, had the courage to follow his conviction that struggle against apartheid was a manifestation of the Gospel. In 1969, he crossed his Rubicon, leaving the regular Methodist ministry to become the regional director of the new Christian Institute, and he was responsible for the Cape and Namibia. Beyers Naude was the national director and together, in tumultuous times, they strove to bring relief to those who were under the yoke of the government’s ideological system. This led to them and their families being persecuted and harassed by the Special Branch and right-wing urban vigilantes.
Kotze was put under constant surveillance and his house was raided and searched after the Christian Institute was banned in 1977. Kotze was one of a number of people banned in that year in the October crackdown on black consciousness and the CI. He and his wife Helen kept their Christian morale buoyant with the help of secular friends and like-minded church people. As a banned person, Kotze was restricted to the Wynberg magisterial district and not permitted to meet more than one person at a time; and therefore his religious and social activities were almost totally restricted. He eventually escaped from the country, not long after the dramatic flightof the similarly-banned Donald Woods, Editor of East London’s Daily Dispatch and friend of the murdered Steve Biko.
In exile, Theo and Helen Kotze first lived in the Netherlands and later in the UK, and they both worked on tirelessly in the CI and anti-apartheid cause. Kotze preached sermons and spoke on numerous occasions in Britain and in other countries in this cause; he was given doctoral and other honours by universities and different institutions. He contributed to the struggle right up to the fall ofapartheid. Indeed, Theo and Helen Kotze had by then dedicated their whole lives to the achievement of freedom, guided by an unshakeable social conscience and commitment to Christian principles. They believed in a future of which all South Africans and all humanity could be justly proud. Despite being cut down by a stroke, Theo Kotze lived to experience the new democratic beginning with his feet firmly on South African soil when they returned to Cape Town in the early 1990s. Kotze’s life and legacy inspired many other white compatriots, with whom he came into contact, to rise against apartheid.
Kotze died in Cape Town in 2003, aged 83.