C.F. Beyers Naude, 89, a ranking Afrikaner cleric who spent decades spouting biblical justifications for the South African apartheid regime and later was branded an ethnic traitor after he dissented with the government's racist policies, died Sept. 7 at a retirement home in Johannesburg. He had circulatory problems.

Mr. Naude, the son of a fanatical nationalist cleric, spent much of his life supporting the ruling political party of the Afrikaners, the descendants of Dutch and French settlers. He became a much-respected member of the Dutch Reformed Church, dominated by Afrikaners, and the Afrikaner secret society known as "Broederbond," or League of Brothers.

Much of his life, he suppressed his mixed feelings about the religious imprimatur his church bestowed on his country's segregationist politics. His outspoken change of conscience manifested itself in the early 1960s after he visited black Christian churches and after the government-backed Sharpeville massacres.

Relinquishing an assured future, he formed a multiracial and multidenominational alternative to the Dutch Reformed Church and braced for payback.

He was ejected from the church, saw a gasoline bomb lobbed at his home and was fined for refusing to appear at kangaroo commissions probing his work.

He decried in speeches and articles "more and more parallels" between his government and that of Nazi Germany. He became convinced that he could not work within the apartheid structure and wholeheartedly began to support a society with black leadership.

In 1977, the South African minister of law and order banned Mr. Naude from public speaking or making public statements for five years. He also was essentially placed under house arrest without official explanation.

He refused to appeal a second banning order in 1982, because, he said, "to do so would lend credibility to a charade of justice."

He joined a black congregation affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church and lobbied world leaders and financial institutions to hasten his government's demise. With the end of the apartheid regime in 1994, he was hailed publicly.

Nelson Mandela, the first post-apartheid president, praised Mr. Naude as an "Afrikaner prophet."

Christiaan Frederick Beyers Naude, one of eight children, was born in Roodepoort on May 10, 1915, and raised in Cape Town. His father named him for a general he had served during the Boer War, the fight for independence from British rule. His father also was convinced that the British would never leave, despite signing a treaty, and helped found the Broederbond.

Mr. Naude studied theology at the University of Stellenbosch, a heavily Afrikaans institution where his teachers included future prime minister H.F. Verwoerd. Despite growing reservations about racism, he said he "nevertheless had a deep hankering to remain part of the Afrikaner community."

His church's teachings were said to follow such logical consistency that slow, moderate change was largely anathema to its culture. In other words, one could not simply desegregate water fountains and park benches without destroying the whole rationale for preventing blacks from voting and attaining political power.

The more Mr. Naude saw of black Christian services, the humiliations of daily life and the economic plight of migrant workers, the more he returned to the Bible to search for some moral rationale to the system. He found none.

After the 1960 Sharpeville massacres, in which government troops killed dozens of blacks demonstrating against laws that restricted their movement, Mr. Naude began to have "a new crisis of faith."

"It was a frightening experience," he said years later, "like a pincer movement closing in on the foundations of your life."

The World Council of Churches denounced the killings and sent a delegation to meet with clerics in Johannesburg. Mr. Naude, who was among those present, declined to dispute the council's statement, despite pressure by Verwoerd.

In the early 1960s, Mr. Naude formed the Christian Institute of South Africa to forge bonds with black Christians. Later, the government decreed the group an "affected organization," dooming it financially.

When officials of the Dutch Reformed Church asked him to choose between it and his institute, he chose the latter.

According to a published account, he chose as his farewell sermon, in 1963, the theme "We must show greater loyalty to God than to man."

Then he removed his robe and stepped off the pulpit. He warned his wife, Ilse, a missionary's daughter, "We must prepare for 10 years in the wilderness."

She survives him, as do four children; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

As Mr. Naude fought for liberalizing social forces, he won a libel suit in 1967 against another theologian who wrote that Mr. Naude was a communist who advocated revolution and sabotage against the government.

He went on to receive several human rights honors, at least one of which he could not accept because of the banning order.

His second banning, in 1982, was less rigidly enforced because of his ill health. He was a counselor to conscience-stricken army conscripts who did not wish to enforce racist laws. He attended a black church, where he danced to African rhythms and became known as "Oom Bey," or Uncle Bey.

Mr. Naude succeeded Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel laureate, as head of the South African Council of Churches.

In recent years, he was frail but feted. He never outwardly expressed spite for his former opponents.

"I am an Afrikaner," he said. "I saw myself never as anything else but an Afrikaner, and I'm very grateful for the small contribution which I could have made."

C.F. Beyers Naude is pushed in his wheelchair by Nelson Mandela in July.