According to AGRI SA, “2015 was declared the driest year in South Africa, in over a century.” Farming is a long-term investment, therefore it is understandable how recovering from a drought, particularly one of significant proportions, is no quick fix.
Farmers who experienced hardship in 2015 continue to struggle as the drought has persisted, unabated, into 2017. A news story published earlier this year draws a correlation between the drought and a sharp rise in the suicide rate of farmers in the Northern Cape during 2016.
Those who are called to agriculture give of their time, sweat, finance and, under the current conditions in South Africa, assuredly their tears. Farmers serve communities that extend well beyond the boundaries of the land that they work and, for this reason alone, they deserve the honour of the billions worldwide that benefit from their toil. Often, and increasingly so in the context of global warming, this toil occurs in the face of challenges that include unfavourable weather patterns.
Added to this challenge, in South Africa, are the issues of crime and an unsympathetic government. This is the context surrounding a video currently circulating social media.
“Oom Johan’s” plea for assistance
The video, sponsored by an outdoor gear and equipment company, features “Oom Johan” making a sincere plea for financial assistance in support of drought-stricken farmers. “Oom Johan” challenges South Africans to take responsibility and assist suffering farmers through prayer and donations.
As noble as the encouragement to assist struggling farmers may be, the message of the video has a fundamental flaw. Within a minute of the video starting, “Oom Johan” makes reference to those who, according to him, are in need of assistance and provides an explanation as to why the viewer should respond. He refers to “ons mense” (our people) while repeatedly tapping on the white skin of his arm. My interpretation is as follows: “Oom Johan” believes that white-skinned viewers should help the struggling farmers on the basis of their skin colour. The result is that “Oom Johan’s” philanthropic plea for assistance is racially tainted.
Furthermore the video is replete with religious references that include the prayer of April 22 (undoubtedly the National Day of Prayer hosted in Bloemfontein), biblical scripture (faith without action is a dead faith) and God Himself.
Following the heartfelt plea by the speaker, the video shows footage of the devastation wrought upon farmers by the relentless drought — this, with Amazing Grace playing in the background.
The choice of song adds some irony to “Oom Johan’s” problematic plea as the lyrics of Amazing Grace were penned by John Newton. The same Newton commanded ships in the British slave trade and later came to believe in God. Subsequent to his conversion, he played a significant role in campaigning for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire — a practice that thrived on racial discrimination.
Emphasis on colour contradicts Christian faith
The contradiction between “Oom Johan’s” reference to the Christian faith and his emphasis on skin colour is a problem that has and continues to bedevil South African society and, more importantly and specifically, many of those who profess the Christian faith.
Christians are called to unity in Christ (Philippians 2:2; 1 Peter 3:8; 1 Corinthians 1:10) — a God who created humankind in His image (Genesis 1:27). In addition, Christians are called to love others as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31), irrespective of skin colour, religious belief, sexual persuasion, ethnicity, nationality, language, age or class.
The message contained in the video has, and will undoubtedly continue to, inspire generosity towards the plight of drought-affected farmers. However, “Oom Johan’s” worldview, and consequential emphasis on skin colour, is detrimental to nation building in this country.
Poor leadership within the Church and at important levels of government serve to challenge the process of reconciliation necessary to nation building. “Oom Johan’s” message has the potential to maintain and increase the wedge already driven between different colour groups of the South African society.
Subsequent to the release of the abovementioned video “Oom Johan” caught wind of a negative reaction to his emphasis on skin colour — the same type of “negativity”, as he calls it, contained in this piece.
His attempt at damage control in an additional video posted on social media, unfortunately for him, does not stand against my reasoning above.
His response to criticism is immediately followed by a description of his plans for “Kruger’s Day” — a relic from South Africa’s pre-1994 past. This only convinces me that “Oom Johan’s” worldview is in need of correction.
The end objective
It is not my intention to discourage those who, if after having viewed the call for help and having considered the transparency and accountability of those managing your donations, still wish to give. The end objective is that farmers receive assistance.
However, Christians must not be deceived by ungodly views centred on skin colour. Can a believer then disseminate “Oom Johan’s” call for help? That Christian must first answer this question: “What will the message in the video mean for those Christians, who, because of their skin colour, are excluded from the call for help?”
The deception convincingly packaged in “Oom Johan’s” call for help served as the underbelly of apartheid — a system that spawned consequences with which we, as a society, are still battling today. This struggle is likely to continue for many years to come. Let us continue to have hope and reform our thinking (Romans 12:2) so that it reflects the love of our Creator and not the divisive nature of humankind, even if the divisiveness exists in the midst of good intentions.