Unisa recently honoured Rev Dr Samuel Palo Ernest Buti, for his contribution towards a new South Africa. I am greatful to have known him and worked with him. He was a dignified church leader with a sharp intellect. He was fearless.
Rev SPE Buti, a third generation pastor, grew up with his father, Rev ETS Buti being the first moderator of the then Dutch Reformed Church in Africa, General Synod. Born on 1 June 1934, he grew up in the rural areas of the then Western Transvaal (now North West province) and received his academic and professional education primarily in Afrikaans.
He graduated from the Stofberg Theological Seminary in 1959 and began his pastoral ministry in 1960, in Alexandra, where he continued to serve until his retirement. Initially his ministry was under duress, as community members were suspicious of his allegiance to the white Dutch Reformed Church. The church buildings were burnt down at some point. His own journey was however a journey of a growing conscientization and activism. Of this, fellow pastor Rev ZE Mokgoebo writes, 'Serving his parish with this uneasy conscience and being involved in the DRCA's struggles and the struggles of the community of Alexandra, would lead Sam to a critical awareness and an involvement from which he would not easily retreat.' (1983:134)
In 1971 he went for further studies in the Netherlands, which sharpened his intellectual resistance against ecclesial and social apartheid. He became one of organisers and founders of the Alexandra Liaison Committee resisting the proposed resettlement of Alexandra, by the apartheid government and also chairperson of the Black Renaissance Convention.
In 1977 he was elected as the President of the South African Council of Churches, as the bitter confrontation between the government of the day and prophetic church deepened. This was a period where this confrontation shifted from critical engagement to non-collaboration and non-violent protest.
The protest action was also prevalent, in the two terms that he served, as vice-president of the international Reformed Ecumenical Synod. In 1980 he staged a boycott of participation where the white Dutch Reformed Church, supporting apartheid, participated.
In 1982, he earned a Master of Theology from the Princeton Theological Seminary and continued to travel worldwide and be involved in church leadership, fighting the cause of the oppressed, globally.
In the meanwhile, he was elected as mayor of Alexandra, in the mid 80s. This however did not sit well with a substantive percentage of the people of Alexandra and in 1985, his house was bombed and the pressure was taking a toll on his family. After consultation with the then political prisoner and now ex-President, Nelson Mandela, he decided to quit politics and in 1987 he was again elected the Moderator of the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa, which in 1994, led to the establishment of the Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa, to which he was elected as the Vice-Chairperson (Assesor) of the General Synod.
His relentless commitment to the struggles of the poor and oppressed was acknowledged on 25 Oct 2008, when Selbourne Street was renamed Reverend Sam Buti street and in 2010 when Unisa confered upon him an honorary doctorate.
May his legacy live on !