Christian news reporting in South Africa is the poorer after freelance journalist Alf James, 62, died last Sunday in the Life Rosepark Hospital in Bloemfontein, where he spent nine weeks in the intensive care unit following a sudden illness.
Alf leaves his wife Brenda, who runs their farm near Middelburg, their teenage children Brendan, Tammy and Tessa, and his brother, Stan, a Hong Kong-based journalist.
He was a humble and brave man of God who quietly influenced more people than she could have imagined, said Brenda today. He would be missed by many — especially by herself and their children — “but we know where Alf is, in God’s hands — what better place can you be?” she said.
A former anti-apartheid student leader at Wits University in the early 80s, and later a newspaper journalist in Johannesburg, Alf — through a remarkable God-intervention — moved to the Karoo in the 90s, where he met Brenda and later, the Lord.
He first visited Middelburg by accident in the early hours of a morning in the 80s after taking a wrong turn while driving to a student conference in Cape Town. Before he got back to the N1 highway he realised his vehicle was running out of fuel and he stopped at a farm to ask for petrol. At the farm he stumbled on the owner’s family Bible, which he was amazed to discover, from a written inscription, had travelled to South Africa on Jan van Riebeeck’s ship, the Drommadaris in 1652.
At the dawn of democracy in SA in 1994, Alf returned to the Karoo, intending to interview the owner of the Bible, to ask him, what he, as a descendant of one of the first white families to settle in the country, felt about the change taking place in the nation.
Alf did not find the Bible on that trip but he did discover the small town of Nieu Bethesda, with which he was so enamoured that he put down a 10% deposit on a house that was for sale there. After some years of fixing up the house he moved into it in 1999 — a year after meeting Brenda, who was a widow at the time. They married in 2001.
Alf later testified that his wife’s deep faith and relationship with God profoundly influenced him but it took until 2010 for him to give his life to the Lord.
Commenting on her husband’s spiritual walk, Brenda said: “Alf was a man of God. He didn’t waver from his belief in any way. He didn’t compromise. From the time he committed his life to God he followed God more than most would have done. If I look at his Bible — it is worn, it’s underlined and it’s looked after — it was a special book for him.
“And Alf influenced more lives than I could ever have thought of — quietly, and humbly. People have contacted me and shared the way Alf impacted their lives as far as God is concerned — and it’s just beyond comprehension,” she said.
After his salvation Alf got involved with the Karoo Mighty Men Conference (KMMC), which he reported on extensively for Gateway News for seven years. Although he earned his living as a freelance writer for newspapers around the country he gave generously of his time as a volunteer reporter for Gateway News. He reported on many different topics and wrote a number of opinion pieces. He tackled every assignment with passion and always insisted it was his great privilege to volunteer for us. I was blessed indeed to enjoy his friendship, wisdom and encouragement over the past eight years.
Middleburg farmer Jannie Moolman who hosted the KMMC on his farm from 2011 to 2017 commended Alf for the excellent job he did writing the book The KMMC Journey of Faith and Prayer which is still in production.
“There are so many amazing words to describe Alf James, but humility and love for God and his fellow man stand out for me,” he said.
Middelburg farmer and pastor Dave Turner, who coordinated a group of more than 100 people who prayed faithfully for Alf and his family throughout his time in hospital, said in a message to the family: “Our hearts are broken with yours. It’s so hard to understand and we have so many questions. However, we choose to believe the Word that He is a good, good Father and that He will never leave or forsake us, but goes with us through very difficult times like this.”
He paid tribute to Alf for his wholehearted faith in Christ, his sacrificial servant-heartedness, and his friendly demeanour.
Alf’s funeral will be at the Big Church in Nieu Bethesda at 11am on Friday.