The Cloistered Virtue: Freedom of Speech and the Administration of Justice in the Western World

By Barend Van Niekerk | Go to book overview

EULOGY FOR PROFESSOR BAREND VAN NIEKERK

This eulogy was delivered by Dr. Alan Paton at the funeral service held for Professor van Niekerk in Durban on July 6, 1981.

It is an honor that has been given to me today, by Traute van Niekerk, to deliver the eulogy on the occasion of the funeral of her husband Barend, our gifted, tempestuous, brave, reckless, friend and brother.

It is a cliché often used on occasions such as these to say that we shall never see his like again. But it is not a cliché today, for we shall never see his like again. Traute, like you I have a belief in a Creator, and that we are His creatures, and a part of his creation. And Barend was one of the most extraordinary creatures that this creation has ever seen. His enemies could see only his faults, but those of us who loved and honored him saw rather his virtues, and they were as extraordinary as Barend himself.

He was born, like myself, in Pietermaritzburg, the lovely city, although some 36 years later. His father was a government servant at Cedara, just outside the city. When Barend was a small boy the family moved to Cintsa, a small village near East London, and he went to the Grens school in that city. After he had matriculated he went to the intellectual Mecca of Afrikanerdom, the nursery school of prime ministers and rugby champions, the University of Stellenbosch, where he graduated in law. His academic career could not be described as anything but brilliant, but this intellectual eminence was hidden from many by his downright earthiness, and by the downright earthiness of his language. It is a striking characteristic of Afrikaners that when they pray, they pray in Afrikaans, but when they swear, they swear in English.

Barend was brought up therefore in an Afrikaner world, but by this time he was equally a master of English, I mean intellectual English, as well as the other. I do not need to tell a congregation like this that if you deify your race and your language and your culture and your history, you suffer a great mental and spiritual impoverishment. And even if you do not deify them, but if you exalt them excessively, you suffer the same impoverishment. But Barend broke out of it all, finally, decisively, irrevocably. It would never occur to me to think of him as an Afrikaner. There were no doubt foolish and bigoted people who thought that he had become English. One cannot think of a greater absurdity. It will no doubt come as a surprise to many to learn that his home language, I mean the language of his home with Traute and their two daughters, was German.

After Stellenbosch he went to Heidelberg to study international law and comparative law, and then to Bonn. He became the master of German in the same way that he was already the master of Afrikaans and English. He went to Strasbourg where he became a doctor in political science and a fluent speaker of

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