Call to follow Jesus path of reconciliation
Violence, destruction of millions of rands of property, and racial animosity flared on university campuses in North West, Free State, Gauteng, Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal this week amidst protests by students and workers over a range of issues.
During the same week multiracial groups of students (see photo above) prayed and sang together at the University of Pretoria (Tuks) and University of Free State (UFS), and a group of students that gathered daily in front of Tuks to pray for peace reportedly grew bigger than the groups of “#EFF” and “#Frontnasionaal” protesters across the road.
Which is a true picture of our universities? And of our nation, as the campus fallout ripples across social media? The anger, violence and racial animosity? Or the prayerful unity?
In search of God’s perspective
At our weekly Gateway News prayer meeting on Wednesday our team strongly sensed that God was calling us to report and comment on the student unrest in a way that would reflect His perspective of events on our campuses. We have tried to honour that mandate this week (See also: My experience of unrest on campus — A UFS student ; Strong weapons, strong minds and soft hearts: A response to 2016 student protests ; When legitimate student protest is hijacked by sinsiter forces . See also relevant articles by Gateway News columnists who were not aware of our prayer meeting editorial decision: SA needs ‘The Politics of Love and Lessons from my marriage beyond borders ).
But back to the question: which is the true picture? The answer, no doubt depends on the beholder.
The view of Tokelo Nhlapo, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) parliamentary caucus researcher and former Wits University SRC President is coloured by his conviction that black people like himself have every right to hate whites because “the structure of white supremicist racism still remains intact” and 12 million blacks in SA live in extreme poverty and whites earn on average five and a half times more than blacks. He also finds it “extremely offensive that beneficiaries of more than 500 years white supremacy and undeserved privilege further want to police black pain and how it should be expressed”.
“We no longer want empty reconciliation without justice, we demand justice and the expression of our anger is not a mere baseless prejudice. There is no vocabulary to explain black pain or the fact that white people never had to give anything for all the evils they committed,” he writes in a newspaper article published earlier this month.
Poles apart, is the perspective of white student rugby spectators and players who physically attacked protesting black university workers who were singing on the field during a Varsity Cup match at the University of Free State (UFS) on Monday. The response of the white students who were apparently fed-up at the disruption of the intervarsity match triggered anger and an outbreak of vandalism by black students that went on into the night.
Is there any hope of the Tokelo Nhlaphos and the intervarsity rugby spectators ever getting each other? Is the rainbow nation as unattainable as the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?
There is indeed a great Hope for authentic reconciliation in SA — Jesus Christ who is alive in the hearts of the students of different races who demonstrated in a different spirit at the main entrances to Tuks and UFS. Photos of these counter-cultural believers shared on Facebook this week have gone viral and sprinkled seeds of hope in many hearts discouraged by daily media images of anger and conflict.
What difference can be made by Christians who seek and yield to God’s view of and plans for our campuses and nation? Christians who believe that God holds up the true picture of South Africa’s potential and purpose.
An opportunity to demonstrate reconciliation
African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) leader, Rev Kenneth Meshoe, believes that despite heightened racial tension in SA: “We have a nation that before God has an opportunity to be a blessing to the rest of the world in this matter of reconciliation.”
Rev Meshoe, together with ACDP MPs Steve Swart and Cheryllyn Dudley addressed the problem of worsening race relations during a studio discussion on SA politics broadcast this week in the Watchman on the Wall programme on Faith Broadcasting Network.
In response to a question from Family Policy Institute Director Errol Naidoo, Meshoe said that there are voices in the African National Congress and other parties who are using the “race card” to move the country away from the path of reconciliation that was initiated by former president Nelson Mandela and which is biblical. He referred to evidence that people unconnected to universities have been in the thick of some of the unrest. He said this divisive trend requires Christians to play a critical role by actively pursuing a path of reconciliation and demonstrating to the world that it is possible for people of different race groups to work together and live together and love one another.
He said church leaders were the best-equipped group to give direction to the nation in the area of relationships but many were not being heard beyond their congregations. He challenged pastors to use their voices to become ‘nation builders’ and ‘true ministers of reconciliation’.
“If the church will take leadership in this issue [racial reconciliation] rather than allowing unbelievers to run the agenda, I believe that South Africa will turn around,” he said.
Steve Swart said it is time for the Church to arise.
“The issue of racism is a spiritual issue and it needs to be dealt with in prayer and action. So we need to pray against the rising spirit of racism because we know of the violence and anarchy it can cause. But we also need to reach out with reconciliation and each one of us needs to search our own hearts as to what role we are playing and how we can contribute to a healthy and loving and peaceful South Africa on a day-to-day basis.”
Cheryllyn Dudley said SA is a diverse society in which “none of us has a future unless it is a shared future”.
Speaking to white Christians she said: “Anti-white sentiments do not justify any of us to be reactive” and that each one of us has to take responsibility for the words that come out of our mouths, our attitudes and our conduct. Reactive words could provoke people who feel they have nothing to lose to desperate behaviour.
An opposite spirit
“We as Christians, more than anyone, should understand the need for unity and forgiveness and reconciliation and should not get trapped into bitterness and reacting and speaking back. We really should know that people speak out of pain. and when a finger gets put on some past hurts people can react terribly. But it is our responsibility not to react to that. We need to respond with an opposite spirit and be there for those people and recognise that it’s not about us, it’s not about blacks and whites — it is actually about the pain that that person is feeling at that particular time.”