The Reverend Theo Kotze was born at the Heads in Knysna, Cape Province (now Western Cape) on 19 May 1920.Kotze came from Afrikaaner stock. His father, a lawyer, had been gaoled for supporting the Afrikaner rebellion of 1914; but unlike other members of his family, Kotze senior had not been a devout member of the Dutch Reformed Church.He attended the University of the Witwatersrand to study architecture and then dropped out to take up a position as paymaster at Simmer and Jack, one of the Rand gold mines.
In his early twenties Kotze was heavily influenced by Helen Clegg, a Methodist choirgirl, the daughter of an English Methodist minister with a considerable reputation as a preacher. Consequently, Kotze converted to Christianity and through his future in-laws began to meet articulate black Methodists. One minister in particular had a major impact on the young man, Reverend Seth Mokitini. In 1964, Rev. Mokitini was elected as the first African President of the Methodist Conference. By 1948, Kotze had entered a seminary and he was ordained as a priest in 1953. He then took up parish responsibilities amid the estates of the English-speaking sugar barons of the Natal (now kwaZulu-Natal) Coast. There he developed some understanding of economic exploitation through White greed and Black poverty. He also maintained his friendships with black pastors and was sensitised to the sufferings of Black people .
The Sharpeville shooting in 1960 was a major turning point in his life. From that time onward, Kotze’s analysis focused with increasing clarity on the social implications of the Gospel, on the Christian call to a more egalitarian future and hence the need to scrap the whole edifice of Apartheid. After leaving Natal, he accepted a new parish assignment at Sea Point, Cape Province (now Western Cape). Kotze joined the Christian Institute in 1963. In the next few years he enjoyed a growing reputation as a pastor, expanding his congregation to the point where the local Adelphi Cinema had to be rented for major services of 1,000 to 2,000 people. A successful youth recreation and counselling centre was started and the parish published a high-quality newssheet. In 1967, Kotze was awarded a Christian Fellowship Trust Scholarship to visit Britain and Europe where he made a range of important contacts.
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 the doors of the suburban churches where he served to all South Africans. He worked tirelessly to preach Christian values, but also to make the entire community aware of the wickedness of the ideology of Apartheid - a daunting task indeed. Many White Christians during the days of Apartheid, 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. Nevertheless, he took comfort from the enthusiastic support he received from some fellow pastors in the struggle, both Black and White.
He was perhaps influenced most notably by a year (1966) he spent as chaplain to Robben Island, where he had become acquainted with Nelson Mandela and befriended fellow Methodist, Robert Sobukwe. The prison authorities curtailed Kotze’s time as chaplain when they realised that he was cutailing the restrictive conditions placed upon him by using prayer, hymns, private sermons, and confessional acts to pass on messages about family, people and events to the prisoners. Kotze nevertheless continued to preach to Sobukwe until his death from lung cancer, often visiting him in Kimberley where after an early release from Robben Island, Sobukwe had been placed under house arrest by a unique Act of Parliament (the so-called “Sobukwe Clause”).
Kotze had the courage to follow his conviction that the struggle against Apartheid was a manifestation of the Gospel. In 1969, he left the Methodist ministry to become the Regional Director of the new Christian Institute (CI), and he was responsible for the Cape and Namibia. The Reverend 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 often the target for harassment from neo””Nazis and other right”” wingers. One phoned Kotze, asked where his wife was, and said, “Have you ever thought the effects of sulphuric acid in the face?”
Following the expulsion of Abram Onkgopotse Tiro and the entire Student Representative Council, of the University of the North (Turfloop), had been refused permission to continue their studies. As a result, 500 undergraduates walked off the campus, in effect closing the University.. The unrest spread to other Black colleges and to the White English-speaking universities. Although their demonstration had been banned at the last moment, 1,400 whites set off from the University of the Witwatersrand on a march to St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg to protest in sympathy with Tiro and the students of Turfloop. Comparably large demonstrations occurred at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town. In both cities the student gatherings were baton-charged by the police and broken up with brutality and some vindictiveness. In Cape Town, Theo Kotze, Regional Director of the Christian Institute, and the Dean of the Cathedral were among those arrested.
Kotze was placed under constant surveillance and his house was raided and searched after the CI was banned in 1977. Kotze was one of a number of people banned as part of the 1977 October crackdown on the Black Consciousness Movement and the CI. Helen and Theo 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. Therefore his religious and social activities were almost totally restricted.On 14 July 1978, Theo and Helen Kotze reluctantly left South Africa for exile. He departed on a dangerous trip out of the country, smuggled in the trunk of an ambassadorial vehicle across the border into Botswana, where he received United Nations papers before departing for Europe.In exile, the Kotzes first lived in the Netherlands and later in the United Kingdom. They both worked tirelessly for the CI and anti-Apartheid cause. Kotze preached sermons and spoke on numerous occasions in Britain and in other countries for this cause. He was conferred with doctoral and other honours by universities and different institutions.The Kotzes returned to Cape Town in the early 1990s.In 2008, the Government of South Africa awarded Kotze the Grand Counsellor of The Order of the Baobab in Silver for his contribution to the struggle against the injustices of the Apartheid system.The Reverend Theo Kotze died in Cape Town in 2003, aged 83.
The Presidency, (2008) “Theo Kotze (1920”“ 2003) 22 April 2008 Recipient - Grand Counsellor in Silver Grand Counsellor of The Order of the Baobab in Silver” from The Presidency. Available at www.thepresidency.gov.za. [Accessed on 8 February 2013].|
Cochrane J.R., (2003), “In Memory of Theo Kotze, a South African of Courage” from Academia.edu online. Available at www.academia.edu. [Accessed on 8 February 2013].|
Walshe P., (1983). Church Versus State in South Africa: The Case of the Christian Institute. Available at www.books.google.co.za. [Accessed on 8 February 2013].|
SADET, (2004). The Road to Democracy in South Africa: 1970-1980 from South African Democracy Education Trust online. Available at www.books.google.co.za. [Accessed on 8 February 2013].