Rachel Simpson reflects on two key, defining moments in South Africa during 2017
South Africa’s wounds of division have been temporarily bound by two decades of political correctness. But beneath the well-intended rainbow bandage is a festering sore that will only grow worse unless South Africa as a nation seeks a healing deeper than what the law can provide or enforce.
“The land needs to be healed like never before,” Angus Buchan, renowned evangelist and farmer, stated passionately. But the question which begs to be answered is: Where do we go to be healed? We have tried as people, as leaders, to bandage our own wounds, to cover up and suppress our rage, hatred, hurt and betrayal. We have quickly hidden the horrific past under a bandage, but infection, ugly, and deadly, is spreading beneath it. It is time to call the Master Physician. In His presence, we need to remove the bandage, examine the wound, and do just as He says, that we may be healed.
Many have described 1994 as a miracle for South Africa and so it was. A nation segregated suddenly united — or so it seemed; those oppressed and without rights given rights. But when we examine the past and the two decades of leadership which has still left people suffering in poverty, nursing wounds of hatred, anger, despair and hopelessness, we are a country living in failure and defeat. The parallel to the nation of Israel in Exodus is striking. We have come out from under the slavery of Egypt. We have tasted freedom. But we are now wandering in the desert.
Let us not lose hope, however, for we are wandering in the desert with God. Change had to happen in the hearts of the Israelite nation, and change must also happen in our own hearts. 2017 has been a significant year for South Africans; God is doing great things in our country. We feel as if we are on the brink of the Promised Land. The excitement is tangible, as it must have been all those years ago for the Israelites.
Two important things happened as the people of God crossed over into the Promised Land. They came to a place called Gilgal meaning “circle or wheel” just at the time of the Passover, that same festival they had celebrated when they left Egypt and its slavery. God renewed His covenant to them there, bringing them full circle. Not only that, but the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you” (Joshua 5:9). God removed their shame, the stigma and scars of a nation enslaved, and the contempt of the other nations around them. Beth Moore writes in Believing God, “Gilgal [is] the place where two highly significant works occur:
- God brings you full circle and breaks any looming cycle of failure
- God rolls away your reproach.”
First crossroad: It is time prayer day
We as a nation have come to our own Gilgal; we are being brought full circle. God is renewing His covenant with us. He is rolling away our reproach as we repent. I believe that not only the timing but the location of the #ItIsTime prayer meeting in Bloemfontein and the Parliamentary Prayer Day in Cape Town are hugely significant for us as a nation. Beth Moore writes, “We know we’re coming full circle with God when we stand at a very similar crossroad where we made such a mess of life before, but this time we take a different road!”
Bloemfontein is one such crossroad. As the judicial capital of South Africa, it is the place where the unjust laws of apartheid were enforced, a place which historically is a reminder of division and racial hatred as capital of the Orange Free State. Segregationist policies were passed here as early as 1860, and a memorial of the thousands of Afrikaners who died in British concentration camps during the South African War stands in the city as well. In 1939 the evil pro-Nazi Ossewabrandwag was launched in Bloemfontein, gaining support with those passionate about Afrikaner nationalism, and who excused their sabotage and cruelty as “holy fanatism” as explained in Reader’s Digest “Illustrated history of South Africa — the real story”.
But significantly, Bloemfontein is also the place where the beautiful hymn by early missionary Tiyo Soga Lizalise Dinga Dingalako tixo WeNyaniso (Fulfil Thy Promise God of Truth) rang out amongst several hundred in 1912 at the formation of the South African Native National Congress, later the African National Congress. 105 years later, the hymn and its wonderful words have come true in the same city: “Every knee in this land should bow before you until every tongue proclaims your glory. Reign, rule, Lord Jesus, through you joy and happiness shall come.”
One million attended the #ItIsTime prayer meeting in Bloemfontein on April 22 this year, and one million knees bowed in repentance, black and white, side by side, hand in hand. The fact that there was a majority of white South Africans present was also significant in repenting of the racism which was so central to the apartheid laws made and which even now casts a shadow over our land. Pixley Seme, a passionate lawyer who played an important role in the formation of the South African National Congress, wrote in October 1911, that “The demon of racialism must be buried and forgotten; it has shed amongst us sufficient blood. We are one people. These divisions, these jealousies, are the cause of all our woes and of all our backwardness today.” His words, over a hundred years ago, ring true of South Africa today.
And yet, as we knelt praying and repenting on a farm in Bloemfontein, hope that this would change rooted itself in many hearts. Prayers for the restoration of our families, communities, and nation were echoed by a million. God is surely at work in our country, taking us back to places of significance that we might choose right, and experience redemption.
Second crossroad: Parliamentary Prayer Day
The second important crossroad God has brought us to as a nation took place in Parliament. Members of cabinet, some of their spouses, officials from parliament, people from the Royal House, bishops, pastors, farmers, university professors, medical doctors, other professionals and Christian leaders from across the country attended the Parliamentary Prayer Day held there on November 24. In choosing the location, Reverend Moss Ntlha, the Head of the Evangelical Alliance in South Africa, said they “looked for a place around the country that is representative of all of us, a place that stands for who we are as a people, as South Africans, a place that all of us look to as a seat of all power in our national life.” Steve Swart of the ACDP party commented that the chamber where the prayer meeting was held was the oldest hidden chamber, the place where Prime Minister Verwoerd passed former unjust legislation, where debates about the Pass laws during apartheid would have taken place, and where Verwoerd was stabbed in 1966. Again God brought the nation to a place where He could bring redemption. How very fitting that the seat of parliament was empty, so that God could take His place there in response to this opening prayer by Pastor Simon Lerefolo:
We ask now for the books of heaven over our nation and country having to do with the matters we bring before you in prayer today to be opened. We ask for every prayer and petition as well as every tear shed to be recorded in these books in heaven. We ask for the courts of heaven to hear and receive our prayers and petitions as evidence before our Heavenly Father, the Righteous Judge, our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who Himself is a propitiation for our sins. We call into remembrance before You everything You have predestined for this nation and country before time. May every accusation written against Your plans and purposes because of our negligence, sins, iniquities, trespasses, and transgressions this day be silenced with the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
A prayerful three hours followed, English and Afrikaans South Africans repenting on behalf of the nation for racism, the passing of unjust laws “with a stroke of a pen dispossessing millions of people”, oppressive legislature “that reduced and removed political representation”, all of this and more causing “deep unspeakable pain”, grief not only for the majority of South Africans, but also to God’s heart.
“Your Word warns us that prophets and priests can dress the broken wounds of your people superficially, saying “Peace! Peace” when there is no peace,” prayed Reverend Cassie Carstens on behalf of the many churches which gave theological and moral backing to apartheid. Michael Cassidy added that not only were Dutch Reformed churches involved but so were many Evangelical and Pentecostal churches for they “saw opposing apartheid as political and therefore unacceptable, but did not see silence, political indifference, even support as political”. Carstens passionately declared on behalf of the church: “We again renounce apartheid, in its intention, its implementation and its consequences as an evil policy, an act of disobedience to God, a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and a sin against the unity of the Christians in the Holy Spirit. We have not only damaged human dignity but we have dishonoured God by presenting in our testimony a God who does not give equal value to every human life. By this we sinned against You our Father, and caused the unbelief of so many.”
Mamphela Ramphele, political activist familiar with the pain apartheid inflicted, extended forgiveness to white South Africans on behalf of the nation: “Today, I also am here, to forgive myself, for not having spoken, acted effectively to make sure that the dreams that united us in 1994 would translate into true freedom, human dignity, and a sense of belonging for all South Africans.… Our job is now to continue this work of making that prayer of our Lord live in our hearts, in our homes, in our workplaces, that we be one.”
On behalf of black South Africans, Reverend Moss Ntlha repented of the lack of stewardship of the miracle of 1994. He confessed “that in our politics, our policies, our practices we have failed to address the roots of inequality, poverty, and unemployment. As a result many South Africans are without hope for a future of dignity and prosperity for themselves and their families.… Often this rage has been directed at white South Africans.”
Nkosinathi Simamane in turn asked forgiveness for the brutal farm murders which have taken place, and for the fact that the “safe, healed … reconciled country” promised by leaders has instead been run “as me against them”. He went on to say, “That will never work, and we ask and recognise that moving forward today there is no black government, there is no white government, there is South African government.”
People repented for the violence and bloodshed of our nation, from pre-colonial days until the present-day, breaking the curse over the land because of it; others confessed the idolatry we as a nation have engaged in, for ancestor worship, materialism, the love of money, the place of business above family, selfish and abusive sexual gratification, pride, individualism and nationalism.
The need for forgiveness
And as the confessions of our nation’s sins went on, the need to overcome the past through forgiveness felt burdensome and yet so freeing. How does one get to that place of forgiveness? Simamane admitted that he could not say what he said in asking forgiveness of white South Africans two years ago. How many of us are in that place today? But God “captured him out of his wilderness” as he put it, showing him the example of Jesus who willingly drank the cup of the Father’s will before him. Let us ask God to bring us to the same point: “…if this cup of reconciliation and forgiveness between blacks and whites cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.”
Yet the God who requires our forgiveness enables it too. A girl whose father had been murdered prayed this prayer at the meeting: “We ask you to walk with us Lord as we answer your calling to be peace makers … open our hearts so that we can forgive our enemies.” For as Reverend Jerry Pillay said too, “God sets us free from all enmity, hostility, and an unforgiving spirit.” It is a miracle of grace that turns our heart of stone into a heart of flesh.
And yet forgiveness is two-fold, there is an outworking of it, an embracing of each other because of it. Reverend Carstens acknowledged “that true confession is demonstrated by tangible transformation, by God-directed deeds of reconciliation and restitution”; by a “doing sorry”. Forgiveness does not just let one off the hook; “true confession relentlessly seeks peace in the heart of the victims and seeks true companionship”.
“I’m seeing a country of milk and honey if we unite,” said Simamane, for this Parliamentary Prayer Day was just a taste of what our nation could be like if we stood as one: black, white, Indian, coloured, women, men, youth and children. As Angus Buchan said, “Where else in the world do we get such a picture of God’s people?” Songs sung in different languages filled the chamber, and the beauty of diversity could not be ignored.
The Lord is redeeming His land. He is rolling away South Africa’s reproach before nations as she repents. The Lord is bringing us full circle. And we can be sure of our healing for He who has promised and cannot lie says:
If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and HEAL their land. (2 Chronicles 7:14)
So, Heal [us], Lord, and [we] shall be healed; save [us] and [we] shall be saved; for you are the one [we] praise. (Jeremiah 17:14)
Our rainbow nation, you will be beautiful; a land of promise, a land of hope. In the words of Elza Meyer: South Africa will be “a country ruled by righteousness, a nation guided by truth; governed by love; inspired by hope; devoted to peace; blessed with abundance; humbly lighting the way for others to follow.” Amen.