Archive for February 23rd, 2009

Some Background about Apartheid

HF Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa 1958-1966

HF Verwoerd

The word apartheid is an Afrikaans word meaning apartness or segregation, to keep apart. Apartheid initially was the manifest that the Herenigde Nationale Party (Reunited National Party) entered into the general elections of 1948 against the other big party in South Africa at the time, the United Party. The Hereningde Nationale Party won the elections and became the ruling party in South Africa with Apartheid as a ruling creed which called for the prohibition of mixed marriages, for the banning of black trade unions and for stricter enforcement of job reservation. The party changed its name to the Nationale Party and ruled until 1994 expanding the ideology of Apartheid to just about every sphere of life in South Africa. HF Verwoerd became prime minister in 1958 and under him Apartheid became the extreme oppressive system that made South Africa a notorious name associated with racism throughout the world.

Lizzie van Zyl - A victim of the British concentration camps

The Afrikaner (Afrikaans speaking white people) tasted what oppression was like during the colonisation and rule of South Africa under Britain, especially during the second Anglo-Boer war. They lost their farms and houses that were forcefully taken and often burned down in the scorched earth policy Britain followed. It is estimated that more than 26 000 women and children died in the British concentration camps and more than 25 000 men were sent overseas as prisoners of war. The Afrikaner was a deeply religious nation grounded in the Christian faith as expressed through Calvinism. Through this lens they saw themselves as the elected nation to rule in the Southern tip of Africa and after 1948 the previously oppressed became the oppressor. (I would like to note here that not all Afrikaner clergy went along with Apartheid but there where people like Beyers Naudé who opposed Apartheid and paid a high price for his convictions.)

Steve Biko died in captivity under the Apartheid regime

Steve Biko died in captivity under the Apartheid regime

My experience with Apartheid was one of mainly ignorance for most of my life up to the age of about 13. The news media was strictly controlled by the government so we only got the “good” news. Whenever people of colour were shown they were portrayed as of lower class – rags for clothes, missing teeth, dirty and less intelligent. There were words that went with this image of them meant to demean as well (I only mention them here to give a fuller picture, they are considered VERY demeaning): kaffer, houtkop, hotnot, meit, booi… White people were seen to be superior in all spheres of life. While in high school (grade 7 to 12) we had what they called Kadettes when the local commando officers of the South African Army would come to train and give us lectures on the Swart Gevaar (black danger) and Rooi Gevaar (red danger – communism). During these lectures they would tell us how all black people opposing the Apartheid government wanted to make South Africa a communist state. All who fought the Apartheid system were seen as terrorists not deserving to live. The history handbooks that we had excluded the history of the Black, Coloured, Indian and Asian people of South Africa except where it clashed with the white man’s history and then we were taught how brave the white men and women were who fought off this danger to the plan of God to let the Afrikaner rule in South Africa. We were utterly indoctrinated.

Whoopi Goldberg in Sarafina!

My eyes were slowly opening to the truth when I left home and went to University. Some of my friends went to the army or police force as part of compulsory conscription of two years to “serve” our country. They came back with many horror stories of raids that they participated in. I couldn’t believe my ears and my heart told me that something was seriously wrong. After I saw the movie Sarafina! together with some other members of our youth group we fell to our knees, repented to God for the sins we and our fellow Afrikaners perpetrated against our brothers and sisters and asked for the healing of our country. Suddenly my eyes were open to all the lies that were told to keep the system of Apartheid going.

Nelson Mandela walking out of prison a free man

The years just prior and after 1994 was one the most wonderful times in history to be alive in South Africa and see how God could change a nation divided by colour and bring healing to many. The un-banning of the ANC, the release of Nelson Mandela, the peaceful elections on 27 April 1994, the smooth transition of government, the 1995 Rugby World Cup and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission all stand out as special moments during this time. Amazing stories of forgiveness and reconciliation was born out of this dark time in South African history like this one about Ginn Fourie and Letlapa Mphahlele.

Apartheid in the Body of Christ?
It is with much sadness that I notice a form of Apartheid growing in the Body of Christ lately and the internet has become a tool to spread the propoganda of this Apartheid. This post about the Neo-Reformed in two parts, here and here, shows a prime example of this. The Neo-Reformed is not the only ones guilty of it and I think we need to look closely among ourselves for signs of this oppressive system.

Let me highlight a few dangers that I see that correspond with the characteristics of the Apartheid system (I would like if we could discuss it further in the thread as I am sure I only see a small tip of this iceberg from my perspective and are probably blind to those in my life.):

  • The idea that one expression of the Christian faith has the monopoly on Truth and that it should be defended against the danger of the ………….. Gevaar.
  • The notion that I am part of a small elect called to bring God’s rule into this world system (culture, governments, moral values) and that this must be defended by all means.
  • The broad brushing of people by labelling them and then assigning the worst of those who fit into that label to the majority.
  • The dehumanising of the above. When we do not know people personally or view them as a group it is easy to vilify them.
  • The debasing names that are being thrown around to demean Christians who think and do differently than we do.
  • Hate speech is acceptable when directed at those outside our expression of Faith or sympathisers of them.
  • The ignorance towards other expressions of Christianity and the caricature following it.

If these things are allowed to continue in the Body of Christ we are entering a new dark age. Who will the world turn to for guidance toward Christ Jesus when His followers can no longer be recognised as there is no love to be found between us?

Moving Towards Truth and Reconciliation
One thing I have learned is as I got to know people of colour personally the idea that was programmed into me about them changed. I met intelligent, righteous, truthful people not different from me as the Apartheid system taught me. The same is true when we get to know Christians from other expressions personally. Personal knowledge of such a person also has a radical impact on our perspective of the group that person belongs to. We learn the truth about people different from us and that helps us on the road of reconciliation. I now purposefully make an effort to meet people of different races than me and of different expressions of Christianity and even Faith than mine.  I found that there are many Christians in all denominations who long for unity. Last week I had the privilege to be part of a Learning Community made up of people from many denominations and with differing backgrounds. We talked, listened and learned from each other and dreamt of how church should and could be in the world today. There are also many community blogs on the Internet where Christians get together and talk about their backgrounds, experiences and hope for the future. These give me hope, my life is being enriched by relationships with people I would previously view with suspicion and I see God work his miraculous power all over.

May we see the truth about ourselves in the body of Christ and reconcile to each other.

May we be freed from this Apartheid system that keeps us apart and from seeing the good in a fellow brother or sister.

May we be known for the love between us.

May we be made one as the Father and the Son are one!

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