Liberation priest was a hero to the oppressed

Jo Mdhlela

Jo Mdhlela

Because Bishop David Beetge identified with the liberation struggle, he became a struggle hero.

Mlungisi Ntsele, the Anglican struggle priest who was part of the Soweto class of 1976 that struggled against bantu education that represented apartheid oppression, believes bishops should lead from the front and become the conscience of the nation, particularly in times of oppression and injustice.

Ntsele said: "We thank God that Bishop David Beetge showed traits of the peoples' bishop at the beginning of his episcopacy in 1989.

He worked with struggle stalwarts Frank Chikane, Desmond Tutu and others to champion the cause of the struggle and contribute to the demise of apartheid rule."

Beetge employed Anglican priests associated with struggle politics. One such appointment was Black Consciousness stalwart Sabelo Stanley Ntwasa, a contemporary and great friend of Steve Biko.

In 2001, as priest in charge of St Alban's Parish in Daveyton, Benoni, I approached Beetge to consider appointing Ntwasa. Without hesitation, and having read a lot about this "cantankerous" black consciousness priest, the bishop told me, "take him under your wing Jo and we will see where it leads us."

Ntwasa was restored to the church and by the time he died in 2004 he had become an asset to the church and communities he served.

Beetge, 59, died on Saturday after a long battle with cancer.

An accomplished theologian with outstanding qualifications in theology and accounting, Beetge started his career as an accountant but soon invested his energy in theology.

At the time of his death, Beetge was dean of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa and diocesan bishop of the highveld.

Beetge's funeral service will start at the Cathedral Church of St Dunstan in Benoni today at 8am and proceed to the St Dunstan College at 10am. He will be privately cremated on Monday.

He is survived by his wife Carol.