I wrote in my previous post how badly Britain and Germany stumbled morally speaking (ignoring their political folly for a moment) in the first decade of the 20th Century far away in Southern Africa. They crossed moral lines that were unthinkable before. Not only did they provoke wars with distant peoples far smaller and weaker (as mighty empires) in an effort to take their lands, gold and cattle, but they went so far as to openly make war against innocent women and children and even the elderly. The Boer War (1899 – 1902) and the Herero War (1904) with their concentration camps reduced the Afrikaner people with 10%, the Nama with 50% and the Herero with 80%.
We saw why it happened. For the best part of two centuries Enlightenment prophets undermined and attacked the Bible as God’s holy and inspired Word, championing man’s autonomy and radical freedom, and secretly feeding his hubris.
Some tried to warn (I mentioned Dostoevsky, Van Prinsterer and even Albert Schweitzer) but Europe’s establishment was unimpressed. The shock-waves of the Boer and Herero Wars respectively had little effect. Europe was sailing confidently into the night, just like the Titanic on her maiden voyage of 1912, thinking that not even God could sink her.
But then came the big bang! World War I broke out like a vicious fight in a toddler’s playpen, for no specific reason. After all the mayhem and bloodshed, no-one could tell what it was all about. Looking back we know: hubris had a lot to do with it…
My point was this: All that hubris was not caused by Jesus and his apostles, whom Europe’s leading thinkers despised so much for two centuries. Rather, it was the net-result of two centuries of human arrogance and its delusions about absolute freedom. I wish my liberal professors in Pretoria told me that 35 years ago. And so as soon as these European boys were far from home, they had a go for it… on the green prairies of South Africa and in the hot sands of Namibia. They knew, they could get a lot done, before news would ever reach mama’s ears and the bishop’s sermons back home.
But then the twentieth century rolled on. And the Afrikaner also stepped into the snare of national pride and greed.
South Africa stumbled too
Maybe we did not stumble as badly as Germany and Britain did, and maybe our motives were more noble, and yet we stumbled badly for sure. After all our struggles to get back onto our feet after the Boer War, national pride and even greed became rampant since the fifties and sixties. In 1948 the National Party was voted into power with Apartheid as its official platform. We inherited racial segregation from the British. Apartheid simply meant “separateness”. Now we were going to implement racial segregation with all its implications by law, and with all its dehumanizing impact on the non-white peoples of our country – to secure our national survival (and our prosperity!) Yes we were going to implement separateness on every level of society, except for the labour market, because we needed these Black and Coloured folks’ labour power so badly.
I think Chief Albert Luthuli of the ANC basically got it right when he said in Rosettenville in 1949:
“The spirit of selfish exclusiveness shows itself in a tendency to regard civilization as the sole possession and production of white people. Hence the plea that Africans must develop along their own lines. The tragedy… behind this claim is that white South Africa tends to forget its God-given mission to spread civilization and not to hoard it, and thus to ensure its survival and growth” (John W. de Cruchy, The Church Struggle in South Africa, p. 56)
There’s a lot of truth in Luthuli’s words, even though thankfully we did not hoard everything for ourselves. Examples are too many mention. Let me single one out. I recall how as a kid I sometimes went with my dad to the University of the North where he trained Black teachers for twenty years. I vividly recall how impressed I was with the beautiful campus, nestled away in the rocky hills of the Northern Transvaal. It was a campus built for the Northern-Sotho people by the White government. There were other examples similar to this, like the largest hospital in the world at the time, the Baragwanath, built in Soweto.
Nonetheless, Apartheid was declared a “crime against humanity” sometime in the seventies by the United Nations. Was it really that bad?
The only way we can answer that question is to take Isaiah 28:17 as our norm: Thus says the Lord: “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line”. Now, if that is our standard (and please read Isaiah for its context) and I look at the cumulative effect of Apartheid on the psyche of our nation and on the next generation, then I have to say – that in spite of some good intentions – it was a massive mistake and incredibly short-sighted. It was indeed an unjust and oppressive system.
But was it all bad?
That’s the next question we must boldly face. Even a Nobel Prize winner the likes of Mr. FW de Klerk got in very hot water in the hyper-politically correct milieu of South African politics, when he dared to say it was not all bad. Yet respected historian and author of The Afrikaners – Herman Giliomee – basically came to the same conclusion.
So what would our definition of “all bad” sound like? In my book it would mean “hell”. Now, there were many times and places when the twentieth century looked and felt like hell, but South Africa, in my estimation was not one of them. Please keep in mind that Afrikaners ruled South Africa from 1910 to 1990, when they eventually dismantled the whole system themselves. It was not Mandela that did it!
So let us look at three unbiased sources to prove my point.
We first look at a six-part documentary series (or book) by Harvard Historian Niall Ferguson War of the World. In it he tells the grim tale of the death and destruction of the twentieth century. The entire century seems like one endless blood-fest, from beginning to end. From the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, right up to Rwandan Genocide of ‘94 and the Balkan wars it was one long war. And guess what? Most of these wars were caused by… race! One race viewing the other as vermin!
And yet, coming to the end of the documentary series, you ask yourself as a South African: “Where is South Africa in all this? Why did the bloodletting not spill over to our shores? Why did we not view each other as vermin?”
Here’s our second source: Nigel Cawthorne’s 100 Tyrants. History Most Evil Despots and Dictators. He has forty tyrants from the twentieth century alone! Ten from Latin America, nine from Africa, eight from Europe, etc. And yet, not even one from South Africa. My goodness! And that country was ruled by Afrikaners for eight decades ..
Here’s my last source: David Berlinski’s The Devil’s Delusion – Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions. He’s out to prove Harvard Psychology professor Steven Pinker wrong. The latter argued that modernity has created a shockingly happy and noble world. So Berlinski provided a three-page catalog of 62 conflicts killing over 163 million people during the last century. Not such a happy and noble picture. Dr. Pinker will have to ‘tink’ again!
But again, you go through the endless list of massacres and mayhem, and you ask yourself: Where is South Africa in three pages or sordid savagery? Nowhere! But, if I listen to some leftist gurus, we ought to be right up there a few slots under Hitler and Stalin’s brutal regimes. Berlinski even mentions three slaughter-parties right next door to us, in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and Angola, but South Africa is nowhere to be found on three pages!
Everything was not so bad under Afrikaner-rule. The idea that everything was bad did not come from our own people. It came from a relentless media campaign launched against South Africa from the liberal West and the Communist East.
In 1976 a study was conducted by America’s five largest news outlets to find out which country came in for the most bashing? The Vietnam War was just over and America’s conscience was bothering her relentlessly. So, here’s the result of the study: In third place was Cuba with seven stories. In second the monstrous Khmer Rouge with 16 stories. And in the first place? The Republic of South Africa with a whopping 513 stories! It is hard not to cry. (Please check out Harry Booyens’ riveting and amazingly well-documented work AmaBhulu – The Birth and the Death of the Second America (2014) for these stats on page 434.)
And yet we were the Cinderella of the globe, or should I say the Dracula in the eyes of many. Yet we did not make it into Ferguson, Cawthorne or Berlinski’s books! Strange. It does seem to me too many Westerners lived with a bad conscience during those years, looking for a little brother to whip into shape. They found him in the Republic of South Africa and its neighbour Rhodesia. It is so easy of course, when the target of your abuse is far away. And if you can harvest a lot of votes by sounding so righteous about a complex scenario on the other side of the world.
Why was there no major blood-letting in South Africa?
So why did we not make it into these books and films? The answer again is simple. Where are the mass graves? The gas chambers? The skeleton piles? Paton’s Cry the Beloved Country would have told you if there were any. When they asked Bishop Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Committee in the early 90’s how many died under White rule, he could only come up with a couple of thousand. And that number even included those killed during a 21 year long border-war against a Soviet-inspired enemy! And yet, even those lives were too many. When I stood in the building where Steve Biko hid during the seventies, before he died under arrest, I felt the pain and the stain of that crime and injustice.
The answer to the riddle is not so hard to find. Why did South Africa have no killing fields? Why could Mr. Nelson Mandela dare to hand the Rugby World Cup with a big smile to the Springbok captain, a year after white rule ended? Or why did Mandela for that matter have a respected Afrikaner woman as his closest assistant for many years until his death?
Because we were by and large not the kind of folks the liberal West tried to make us out to be for so long. In fact, if we were so bad, then I find it astonishing that so many Western countries consider White South Africans as some of their best new citizens!
But we have not yet answered the question: Why? Why were there so few deaths relatively speaking? Remember the race difference in South Africa was much bigger than in most of these other conflicts.
The answer is: It was not because of us. It was because of Him! It was because of the living God speaking through Scripture and the Holy Spirit saving souls and restraining evil through its Gospel. Secular-humanists of the world: Listen!
Let me explain by focusing on the ruling class; the Afrikaners. The Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa (DRC) was by far the largest white denomination in the country for that whole period of 1910 – 1980. 80% plus of all Afrikaners belonged to it. Most of the rest of the population belonged to other churches. Every Sunday God’s Word was read and preached across our beautiful land… also among the ruling class.
What’s more, the DRC did mission work all over South Africa and deep into the continent. By 1975 its mission-churches had a membership of 1.6 million, exceeding its white membership by 400 000.
Do you begin to see why death could never rule? It was not because of us, but because of Him! But that’s not the whole story. Apartheid as a policy of separate development was based on the DRC’s mission policy of 1935. One faith, one confession, but different denominations for different peoples. And that mission policy again was based on two underlying motives. The first was practical. People are different, so let them worship with their own folks in their own tongues. The second was fear. Whites were afraid to be outnumbered and eventually lose everything.
However, when you study the countries and conflicts cataloged by Ferguson, you will find that racist innuendo flourished in their speeches and policies. And yet, I am not aware of any such policies or speeches by our governments. At school we were never taught by poem or song to hate other races, although feelings of racial superiority were certainly there, and bitterness about the Boer War was simmering among many. Yet as a police constable and later a DRC pastor, I distinctly recall that no racist talk was tolerated by our leaders. Doing regular family visitation in at least 240 parish homes, I distinctly remember the very few homes where I had to confront openly racist folk as a young pastor between 1989 and 1994.
And yet, its also because of the Bible that we as the older generation must bow our heads in shame. For the Bible says that in Christ there is no more Jew nor Gentile, no more slave nor free, nor man or woman, for in Christ we are all one (Gal. 3:29). It says that Jesus is our peace and that He came to destroy the wall of separation between Jew and Gentile (Ephes. 2:16-19). It tells us that if a poor man (or a Black or Brown person for that matter) enters your assembly, you should treat him or her no different from a rich person and your own people. For this Bible says God is absolutely no respecter of persons, and if we still are, then we should know we have Christ as our Adversary.
How could we have been so silent about these issues for so long? Why did we not raise our voices sooner and louder against laws that said: “You stand over there and not here. Go swim there and not with us; and do not let us not catch you in our neighborhood when the sun is down”. And what about those who paid their workers a mere pittance for their backbreaking labour under the hot African sun? Yes, sometimes silence is violence. Bonhoeffer said: “Not to speak is to speak. Not to act, is to act”. May God Almighty have mercy and forgive us our sin.
How the Bible did it
But now in closing, why exactly is the Gospel such an amazing restraint against evil, apart from its power to save?
Just take First John for instance. It introduces us to only two individuals, who tower over history as the two prototypes of death and life. The one acted according to his fallen nature and took the life of his brother. His name was Cain. The other saw our misery, came to us and gave his life for us. His name is Jesus. That’s the message of the Bible in a nutshell. That’s why South Africa was not only spared, but even blessed in many ways, through all those years
But, the moment secular-humanist and even communist ideology took over since the early 90’s in South Africa, the death toll skyrocketed… It is easy to prove that these violent trends began in the mid-1980’s when the ANC launched its “People’s War” inspired by Marxism. Eventually also the most vulnerable, the unborn, were to pay the price and perish, when secular-humanism won the day and every Christian-based law was swept from the books. Finally it was literally everybody, above all the vulnerable farm folk, that had to face the wrath of a merciless and godless ideology unleashed on the Rainbow Nation.
Civilization is reverence for life
Albert Schweitzer was no solid Biblical theologian. Yet he was a fascinating visionary, speaking about the twentieth century with prophetic insight.
While he was at Lamberene he wrestled with the question: What is civilization? What single factor determines the rise and fall of civilizations? He wrestled with this question for months if not years… And then one day as they were boating up the river and he stared into the African bush it dawned on him: “Yes! Civilization is… reverence for life!” That’s it!
But where does this reverence for life come from? From India or China? From Islam or the Nordic religions? From Aztec or Zulu traditions? Or does it perhaps come from secular humanism? Not at all. It comes from the Bible teaching us that every human being is sacred, created in God’s image.
That is why we must hold on to the Word, like as to lamp in a dark place.
Jesus told us in Luke 15: “If you have lost one sheep out of a hundred, you go after it, until you find it… For let me tell you this, if you don’t care for the one, you will soon not care for any.” And in Luke 10 he told us the story of the Good Samaritan, how we should do good even to those who are not “of our own people” and who may even despise us. But, we will only really do so once we realize that Christ was that despised Samaritan who came to us, when we lay dying by the roadside, due to our wickedness and sin.
Human Rights teetering
Long story short: The whole notion of ‘human rights’ must evaporate once the Bible disappears from our collective consciousness. It simply can’t survive without it. All we will be left then is with “animal rights”. Let us never be so foolish to think that we can discard Christianity and not suffer the consequences.
May the living God have mercy on the Rainbow Nation and on all of Africa.
Oliver Tambo Airport in Johannesburg. Some politicians need to stop and think.