Tribute to Reverend Hendrik Van Wyk: MRM Head in the Northern Cape Premier’s Office

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By: Clyde Ramalaine

When we stand here today summoned by the inevitability of death and the prodigious call of a father, brother, cousin, grandfather, a neighbour, a theologian, cadre and colleague, we must not forget that Reverend Hendrik van Wyk was a complete human. He was  also a lifelong activist, a veteran in his own right since he fought for the liberation of South Africa long before it became popular. Van Wyk knew the evil of the apartheid system that brutally chased him down and arrested him along with others. He knows what it was to be violently flung into a police van with his cadres and to face the humiliation of being made a boy by apartheid dogs. Yes, Hendrik faced the teargas and rubber bullets. He ducked in crowds where live ammunition was fired, and he saw his cadres died.

Van Wyk, the theologian and staunch Lutheran, actualised his theology in working to better his society. I remember his telephone call to inform me that he is back in the Lutheran Church as a pastor and what that meant to him. Yes, I saw him laugh and cry. His call to me to inform me that he is back in the Lutheran Church, a church community he loved. He lived out his agency among the disenfranchised. A profoundly spiritual being who always attempted to be measured, but he hated injustice anywhere. In his epistemology, the words of civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr,” injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere everywhere”, rang more than true. He would not hold his peace when injustice was perpetrated. Van Wyk sacrificed a plethora of opportunities to be the man in the first seat; he knew all too well that serving is not a sign of weakness but the greatest honour as advocated by the Christ of his Salvation.

Heralding from Eastern Cape Van Wyk would make Kimberley and the Northern Cape his abode. To the soil of this historical diamond city, Van Wyk tied his soul and entered covenantal agreements to serve God and man. Yet you cannot separate Van Wyk for his conscious political choices from the days of apartheid. He was a committed ANC member to his transition, equally privileged to have served in several structures and formations. He remained convinced that the ANC represents the values and principles that affect a society freed from the shackles of apartheid ideology and its various expressions that permeates our society. He held on to the idea that the ANC could deal with the demonic triplets of poverty, inequality and unemployment. Van Wyk raised his hand and rose to the occasion to work for the betterment of SA and believed till his death that the ANC in its functional form freed from factional agendas defines the best of an entity to produce freedom.

Yet if Van Wyk suffered the brutality of the apartheid system the callous cowardice of a brutal regime: he would, to his surprise, also learn how savage capitalism and factionalism as a toxic combo came to define his Movement even in his province. He would be exposed to the nascent evil of self-interest that, contrary to a sloganeered ethos of non-racialism, would gnaw at the sinews of liberation at a fundamental level. He would suffer the blight of being side-lined by his own comrades, who savagely plotted his end in the presence of serving where he served best. In his office as MRM Head in the Premier’s office, he would be subjected to grave budgetary constraints to fund projects and programmes of his office. A deliberate ad orchestrated shortage of staff to denying impacting the province with moral regeneration as the objective. Rev, Van Wyk would be exposed to the none support of Departments on cardinal issues and challenges when matters are referred for further help. Yes, Hendrik learned that his comrades in their new flashy offices and fancy cars, tight Italian suits and strings of girlfriends would be as dangerous as apartheid for delaying the necessary radical economic transformation mandate. He often would express his disappointment and dismay at the attitude of leaders who are supposed to serve but instead wanted to be served.  Yet Hendrik never stopped believing in the ANC.

Those who have been in his company would recall that Van Wyk would often tell the joke of how not arrived at a meeting with whites who expected a white Van Wyk. He was a lanky fellow with an imposing stature; you could not miss him in a crowd. Yet he never abused his height advantage and was therefore small in small things but colossal in the weightier matters of justice, law, faith and mercy. His physique appeared intimidating, but his heart was small, meaning he would cry at injustice and raged at deceit. On occasions when he would relay a story from the ’70s and ’80s, he would wink away a tear that would work involuntarily well up in his eyes. Yet Van Wyk could laugh his lungs out and poke fun at others because he was one of us.

I have fond memories of how in 2012, we together led the Northern Cape Religious Intervention to see the Schools restored to normalcy. Together with Pastor Given Pieterse, Evangelist Barend Van Wyk, Rev. Obe Phillips, Pastor Frank Louw and  Pastor Mokallee, to name a few, welcomed me as a Gauntenger to lead a process that started with a reconnaissance study in Olifantshoek. Evangelist Barend Van Wyk invited me to come and help, and after prayer, I, on my expenses, rented a  vehicle and drove to Kimberley. I informed then SG Gwede Mantashe of the call, who expressed great appreciation that I was willing to go and help since there was fire all over, as he put it. I equally informed then spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi that I was heading to assist the process of getting our children back to school. Lesufi too was excited that I was called upon to help. Having spent time with the leaders and community in Olifantshoek, a report was developed, and that report was tabled at a meeting chaired by MEC Sokatsha.

Critical to note for me was not the words of the politician, Sokatsha, who on that day unequivocally told us as religious leaders, “Bishops and pastors, please go into the communities the people do not want to see us as politicians…” but the heart and mind in appreciation of Reverend Van Wyk. He could have wanted to shine and desisted my involvement. No Hendrik in that meeting could not thank me enough and went as far as to say to the MEC and all religious leaders present. “we had no Northern Cape Religious intervention response until Bishop Ramalaine  produced this which now is our first report that  begins our religious intervention.” A selfless person and one who understood how to defer honour has left these shores.

I recall how we in Barkley West and Kuruman met with the Minister of Education Angie Motshekga.  Van Wyk would whisper in my ear in our Afrikaans mother tongue, “Bishop jy weet mos jy moet ons lei ” I recall our early morning drives, one in particular on our way to one of our many community meetings to Olifantshoek, a natural danger spot at the time. In his Grey Audi, we that morning around 7h42am narrowly escaped a kudu who crossed the road at blistering speed on his way to a water hole. It was one of the closest calls of our lives.

Later we would move out of the way as the blue lights brigade of Thuli Madonsela was passing us by since we were heading to the same meeting in Olifantshoek. Shall we ever forget how in the Community hall later, when Public Protector Madonsela began to address the people, she was interrupted by an old lady who asked in simple Afrikaans, “kan ‘n mens nie in jou eie taal gehoor and geantwoord word nie? Her followed on question was even more troublesome,  ” Waar is die predikante wat die proses gelei het wie ons by onse huise besoek het, laat hulle praat.” Madonsela quickly realised this would not be an easy meeting and recognised the religious leaders as the only people who can take the process forward.

Together from this community meeting, we met with the five young men ping men who, by that time was based on a farm a few kilometres outside Olifantshoek. The natural fatherly characteristics of Rev Van Wyk was crucial to aiding us as we engaged the young men and persuaded them to a different mind. Needless to say, after Kentucky lunch, we took pictures with the young men whose real gripe centred in ANC branch and regional politics. As an outflow of this process, I recall how on a Sunday, we drove from Kimberly to Kathu to present a proposal for youth development to a mining company as an outflow of the report we prepared as requested by Minister Motshekga. Her report was tabled in the cabinet by Motshekga. Van Wyk was a  big football supporter, and his team was Kaizer Chiefs.  When my wife and I, on occasion, surprised visited him, he was sporting his favourite Kaizer Chiefs ‘Zebra’ colours.

Perhaps my only regret is that he never yet got to publish the ‘Van Wyk Memoirs’, a necessary part of the mosaic of his involvement in the liberation cause, his several apartheid arrests, even one time on de Waal Drive Cape Town. So, we stood in Olifantshoek, getting ready to meet the community when I implored him not to leave us without publishing his memoirs.

As we this week bid farewell to Reverend Van Wyk, we do so with mixed emotions. Heaven dispatched an angel that served his people and the cause of liberation.  One who emptied himself in typical Biblical  Pauline fashion. I Thank God I was privileged to have met and got to know him. Heaven equally received back its extended gift, and we, in varying ways, will miss him. We will miss his leadership and insight. Our prayers are with the Van Wyk family, his spouse and children and grandchildren, colleagues and comrades and those whose lives he impacted.

One thing is sure Reverend Hendrik Van Wyk was nie papbroek nie. May his dear soul rest in peace. We continue to hold the family in prayer. Dankie Kollega jou werk is voltooid. Hamba Kahle Cadre Van Wyk, Long live your spirit in the next generation.

Bishop Clyde N.S. Ramalaine