Benevolence with a twist of racism: time to renew thinking — Craig Bailie

(PHOTO: A Community Entrepreneur)

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.

(PHOTO: Stern Strategy Group)

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.


  1. I pray to respond to this article in a specific way, please. I also received the appeal for help to farmers via Whats App, and forwarded it to two “black” pastors with the appeal to make help to farmers and especially food security in SA an inter-cultural objective. Personally I experience challenges in multi-cultural SA. After answering a call to rural mission in Southern-Africa in 1994, and having used most of our household’s private resources as few are interested in facing the Great Commission challenges of the exploited villages of the eastern DR Congo’s Conflict Mineral zone and isolated villages along the Congo River and its tributaries, I was dismayed by 2010, to notice the cultural war being weighed against white farmers and white squatters who do not get much help from government and “white” taxes. Regrettably I agree, the Messiah from Nazareth is not yet the Messiah of a New South Africa.

  2. Hi Craig. A really great and thoughtful article that causes us to reflect on the attitudes and beliefs that we whites have without even realising it. I pray that God will help me on my journey as a recovering racist.

  3. Thank you so much for this article. I saw the video and yes, the farmers need help but I did not like that he referred to helping white people. Everyone that battles needs help, black white, etc.

  4. If one uses the same measure that Craig Bailie uses to come to his conclusion of racism(i.e. the taps on the arm and the references to Kruger’s day), then I believe that it’s fair to say that there is a fair bit of contortion in his article as well. Even so, there is nothing like a dose of judgement and criticism to bring the condemned to their knees, and Bailie does just that.
    Don’t get me wrong, I have appreciated the many Gateway writers who have all contributed something towards racial reconciliation in our country, but I’m deeply disturbed that Bailie could not find any other examples to bring his little story without pointing a finger at farmers (notwithstanding his sad sympathy speech in the beginning) and the Afrikaner community in general.
    Unlike this pastor who gives the impression that he is big into social media (and this discussion is all about impressions, is it not?), I am big into socialising in the more personal and traditional way, like braais and dinner parties etc. At these social interactions I am always pleasantly amazed how genuinely repentant my Afrikaner speaking Christian friends are about the evils of apartheid, and how they have embraced our new South Africa with everything they’ve got. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about many of my English speaking Christian friends, who only need there to be no people of colour around to show their true feelings, because they cannot do it on social media anymore.
    I have come to a conclusion that many English speaking white South Africans (even the Christians) have never really repented of their part in our past, because it was easier and more convenient to blame the Afrikaners for it. This is, of course, using the same generalisation measure which Bailie uses, with his contorted perceptions.
    The sooner that Bailie and other young Christian leaders realise that social media is also a powerful tool of the enemy, the better, and that much of what is now being portrayed as the gospel of the kingdom is actually subtle and cunning liberalism.
    Don’t be fooled by everything you read in the media and in the biased history books, this country did not become a miraculous “rainbow nation” in 1994 through social action (we tried that in the 1970’s and it did not work) or through de Klerk and Mandela, although they were instruments that God used. This country’s miracle started in the 1980’s when God poured out His Holy Spirit throughout this land, and men’s hearts were changed. Never forget that!
    Oh, and it’s not that we were indifferent to the social and political evils in our land, no. For example, when that great revivalist John Wimber and his entire leadership team finally came to South Africa, after much delay, he opened the week long power evangelism conference to a packed Nasrec hall by saying that our racism was the cause of their delay, which needed a clear word from God to come. But believe me, God’s answer to our sinful country was not (another)five days of teaching how to be nice to one another, but an anointing of God’s power to change men’s hearts through signs and wonders.
    Pity how we’ve so forgotten that, to which the Apostle Paul would probably say “O foolish, South Africans, who has bewitched you? …… Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?”