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Chikane, Frank
b. 1951
Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM)
South Africa

Reverend Frank Chikane, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), was one of the church leaders involved in the 1980s antiapartheid struggle.

Chikane's father was a pastor in the Apostolic Faith Mission (AFM),and as a schoolboy Chikane became involved with the Student Christian Movement (SCM). After secondary school he went to the University of the North to study science and became active with Cyril RAMAPHOSA. Both of them became convinced of the evil of apartheid and that the churches cooperating with this racist system had abandoned Christian morality. The SCM took up the student legal aid fund for African political detainees and fostered the beginnings of the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). Chikane led a week-long sit-in just before his final examinations and, as a result, collapsed from exhaustion and mental stress. Due to his political activities, he was denied permission to retake the exams and left the university without a degree in 1975.

Chikane began working for the AFM and studying theology by correspondence. He was an assistant pastor for several years before he was ordained in 1980 when he finished his courses. The AFM was pentecostal and politically conservative, believing that the church's role is limited to the spiritual life. When Chikane began a range of projects - including a soup kitchen, adult education, and community organizing - he raised concerns among the church hierarchy. He also worked with the Azanian People's Organization (AZAPO), which took up the cause of the BCM when it was banned after BIKO's death. AZAPO's radical challenge to apartheid, based on black racial solidarity, was opposed by both conservative groups and the African National Congress (ANC).

In early 1977, Chikane was detained for a month under the Terrorism Act. Following his release, he was unable to walk because of torture. Over the next several years he was detained several times and was beaten, abused and had his hair torn out. On one occasion, his appearance in court so shocked his church that a number of youth members slipped over the border to Mozambique to join the ANC guerrilla forces. In 1981, Chikane was suspended from the AFM for political involvement. He remained a church member but was not reinstated in his ministry until 1990.

In 1981 Chikane joined the Institute for Contextual Theology, a theological think tank highly receptive to liberation theology, becoming its general secretary in 1983. In 1985 a group of 151 clergy released the Kairos Document, a Christian indictment of apartheid that Chikane played a key role in drafting. The document helped to mobilize significant support from churches overseas and formed the basis for a united church front against apartheid. He also helped launch the United Democratic Front (UDF), an antiapartheid umbrella group that provided a legal presence during the banning of African political action organizations. Chikane was a member of its executive, and in 1985 he, Albertina SISULU, and other UDF leaders were detained.

In 1987, Chikane replaced Dr. Beyers NAUDÉ as general secretary of the SACC, a position he still holds. The South African government's campaign against the churches intensified; the SACC headquarters were bombed and those of the South African Catholic Bishops' Conference were burned down. In a bizarre event, Chikane collapsed while on a U.S. visit in 1989, and it was determined that his clothing had been impregnated with poison.

Norbert C. Brockman


Gastrow, Shelagh (ed.). Who's Who in South African Politics. 3rd edition. New York: Hans Zell, 1990.
Rake, Alan. Who's Who in Africa: Leaders for the 1990s. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1992.

Additional Reading: Chikane, Frank. No Life of My Own (1989).

This article is reproduced, with permission, from An African Biographical Dictionary, copyright © 1994, edited by Norbert C. Brockman, Santa Barbara, California. All rights reserved.