Dominee George Daneel

Springbok and anti-apartheid campaigner
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The Independent Online

George Murray Daneel, rugby player and church minister: born Calvinia, South Africa 29 August 1904; ordained a minister of the Dutch Reformed Church 1930; married 1940 Johanna Stolp (died 1998; three daughters); died Franschhoek, South Africa 19 October 2004.

George Daneel was the first Springbok to reach the age of 100. He was also one of the first Dutch Reformed Ministers in South Africa to speak out against apartheid - 45 years before the church's Synod finally brought itself to condemn it unequivocally.

As a Springbok rugby star in the late 1920s and as a Dutch Reformed dominee, Daneel was prominent in both of Afrikanerdom's religions. He played forward against the All Blacks in 1928 and toured the UK and Ireland in 1931-32. During the same period he was training for the ministry at Stellenbosch University: his two enthusiasms coming together when, in the heat of a match against the Welsh, he called out to his team in Afrikaans, "Hit and kick if you must, but in heaven's name stop the blasphemy!" He maintained later that the All Blacks were not as tough as the Welsh miners.

In 1940 he married Joey Stolp, whose father had been one of the commandos who captured the young Winston Churchill during the Anglo-Boer War. During the Second World War he served as senior chaplain of the South African forces at El Alamein and in Italy. By 1953 he was minister of a Dutch Reformed Church in Grahamstown, in the Eastern Cape.

That year Daneel attended a multiracial conference in Lusaka, organised by Moral Re-Armament, the international movement for moral and spiritual change with which he had been involved since 1928. Among the other South Africans who took part in the conference was William Nkomo, the first President of the radical Youth League of the African National Congress.

For Daneel and his wife, it was a new experience to meet black people as equals. "My parents were devout Christians," he said, "but when our Coloured servants came in for family prayers they had to sit on the floor." Now the full force of this superiority dawned on him. "It was not just a wrong relationship, it was a sin against God." He apologised publicly to the black people at the conference. "I realised that the relationship between black and white was the biggest issue in the country."

Daneel resigned his job in Grahamstown so as to devote himself wholly to the struggle to change racist attitudes: an issue which he saw as primarily moral and spiritual. Thirty-seven years later, then working in Namibia on the eve of independence, he told me,

Many people hope that political change will bring about the change that is needed. I think it's the opposite: it's got to be moral and spiritual change that will also bring about political change.

Perhaps this explains why Daneel never broke with the Dutch Reformed Church or Afrikanerdom, unlike his more militant contemporary Beyers Naudé. His own stand, though quieter, drew the wrath of both Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, and his successor, John Vorster. And, when political change at last came, he rejoiced.

Daneel went public with his convictions at a packed multiracial meeting at City Hall in Cape Town shortly after the conference in Lusaka, and from then onwards all MRA's meetings were multiracial. Verwoerd wrote to Daneel slating MRA for "not operating on the principle of separate development":

Frustration must inevitably follow for the black intellectual when he does not find the equality in everyday life which you give him in your mixed organisation.

In 1972 Daneel spoke at the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church, describing racial prejudice as "sinful in the eyes of God". His speech was received with cries of "Go to Mozambique!" A motion by another delegate, Professor Ben Marais, calling for the church to open its doors to all races also fell on deaf ears.

Undaunted, Daneel and his colleagues went on two years later to organise a live-in, multiracial, international conference in Pretoria: the first of its kind in South Africa. "We realised that we couldn't, as in the past, just meet together in the day and at night return to our own areas," he explained. The living arrangements had to be cleared at cabinet level, but permission was granted.

In 1978, Daneel wrote to John Vorster, calling for an "honest acknowledgement of guilt and a change of attitude" from Afrikanerdom. Vorster summoned him for an interview, in which he justified his government's policies. Later, after Vorster's death under a cloud of scandal, Daneel heard second-hand that he had remarked, "Daneel was right after all."

George Daneel was born in Calvinia in the Northern Cape in 1904. He was one of nine children of a country pastor. Two of his siblings died in infancy; his mother died when he was 12, and his stepmother in a flu epidemic four years later. When his father married for a third time, George's great- grandmother commented, "Poor Marthinus, he spends all his money on wedding rings and coffins."

In 1982, when George was 78, the Daneels moved to Windhoek, then moving towards independence, and retired to Pretoria in 1990. Joey died in 1998, and George moved to Franschhoek in the Cape Winelands, where he celebrated his 100th birthday, surrounded by family, in August. His Springbok training stood him in good stead: he went on playing tennis until his late eighties.

Mary Lean