Naude was a South African cleric, theologian and the leading Afrikaner anti-apartheid activist.
The Sharpeville massacre in 1960 ended his support for his church's political teachings. In the three decades after his resignation from the denomination, Naudé's vocal support for racial reconciliation and equal rights led to upheavals in the Dutch Reformed Church.
In response to Sharpeville, the World Council of Churches (WCC) sent a delegation to Johannesburg to meet with clerics. Naudé, by then the moderator of his church district, helped to organize a consultation between the WCC and eighty South African church delegates in Cottesloe, a Johannesburg suburb. The consultation's resolutions rejected race as the basis of exclusion from churches, and affirmed the right of all people to own land and have a say in how they are governed. Naudé alone among his church's delegates steadfastly continued to reject any theological basis for apartheid after Prime Minister Verwoerd forced the DRC delegation to repudiate the consultation.The Dutch Reformed Church later left the World Council of Churches.In 1963 Naudé founded the Christian Institute of Southern Africa (CI), an ecumenical organization with the aim of fostering reconciliation through interracial dialogue, research, and publications. The DRC forced Naudé to choose between his status as minister and directorship of the CI. He then resigned his church post and resigned from the Broederbond in 1963. As a result, he lost his status as minister in the Dutch Reformed Church.
From 1977 to 1984 the South African government "banned" Naudé — a form of house arrest with severe restrictions on his movements and interactions.
In 1980 Naudé and three other DRC theologians broke with the DRC and was accepted as clergy by the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa, the black African denomination established by the white Dutch Reformed Church. After his unbanning in 1985, he succeeded Archbishop Desmond Tutu as secretary general of the South African Council of Churches. In this role he called for the release of political prisoners (especially Nelson Mandela) and negotiation with the African National Congress.In 1987 the apartheid regime outlawed public pleas for the release of detainees. But Naudé pressed Christians to continue to publicly pray for detainees, despite government threats of imprisonment.
Naude passed away on 7 September 2004