[notice]This testimony penned by Michael Cassidy appears at the end of a 40-days prayer guide for reconciliation — May 7 to June 15 2016[/notice]In 1992 in the run-up towards the first South African non-racial elections in 1994, the country was in a terrible state of alienation, almost everyone from everyone else. In African Enterprise, as we celebrated the 30th anniversary of our first mission to Pietermaritzburg in 1962 and we went with assorted groups of team members to visit key South African leaders on all sides of the spectrum. Thus we visited Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Oliver Tambo and the Executive of the ANC, Bennie Alexander and the Pan Africanist Congress leadership, Brigadier Oupa Gqozo, leader of the Ciskei, President de Klerk, and last but not least the extreme conservative Andries Treurnicht. Here is the story:
Several of our teams were in Pretoria, the capital city. First port of call for one of these was with Dr Andries Treurnicht, leader of the right-wing Conservative Party, viewed throughout South Africa as a notorious white supremacist, the most eloquent and vocal advocate of a volkstaat and possibly the white man most hated by blacks throughout South Africa. I said to John Gatu of Kenya: ‘There is probably not a single black man in South Africa who is willing to do what you are doing today in visiting this man.’
Deep desire to apply principles of the Bible
Gatu raised his eyebrows and smiled his warm Kikuyu smile, as if to say: ‘That’s no problem with me.’ Once seated round the table and served with characteristically strong Afrikaner coffee, Dr Treurnicht, who welcomed us warmly, told us something about his party’s policies. Once a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, and a former newspaper editor in Pretoria, he said that his deep desire had been to apply the principles of the Bible to practical, social and political life. This, he said, was not always easy because in politics the name of the game is power, not the power of God’s Spirit, but the power of man who is a sinner. As such, man will always want to dominate others around him.
“Treurnicht noted that South Africa has a great variety of communities and the question was how to formulate a model in which there existed understanding and cooperation between groups of people without the danger of one group’s dominating another based on man’s sinful power lusts. He said he believed that a system could be found which excluded the possibility of one community’s dominating the others but to find this ‘will take time, patience and much prayer, as well as humility and wisdom’. Testimonies of God working in lives and countries in the spirit of forgiveness were then brought by Bishop Gresford Chitemo of Tanzania and by John Gatu. Treurnicht listened fascinated, his eyes almost popping out of his head. Bishop Chitemo, a man of enormous Christian compassion, touched the Conservative leader when he said: ‘Jesus Christ has changed my life and made me see that every person is precious in His sight. When I committed my life to Him, anger and hatred disappeared and I have a great hope that God is going to do the same thing in South Africa. We are praying for you, Dr Treurnicht, that God will grant you wisdom, understanding and knowledge of how this country should be governed in future.’
Treurnicht seemed moved by the ingenuous and simple sincerity of this gracious Tanzanian. But John Gatu brought the emotional uppercut which impacted all of us. He told Dr Treurnicht that years previously he had been caught up in the Mau Mau movement and had hated whites with a passion. But then he had been converted to Christ. His heart began to change and this hatred diminished dramatically. But he still felt ‘a residual bitterness towards Afrikaners in general, and the Conservative Party in particular, and towards you, Dr Treurnicht, even more particularly’. Treurnicht looked wide-eyed, wondering what on earth was coming next.
Then humbly and slowly, his eyes riveted on Treurnicht’s, Gatu went on: ‘But meeting you here today and sensing in you a warm human being who wants to follow the Lord, I have to say to you that, although I do not agree with your politics at all, or some of your interpretations of the Bible, the Spirit of God is convicting me of my attitude towards you and I want to ask for your forgiveness. While I may not like someone’s views, my Bible does not allow me to be bitter towards that person. I therefore want to give you the right hand of fellowship and greet you as my brother.’ At this he stood and held out his right hand to grasp the hesitating hand of Dr Treurnicht, whose previously startled eyes were now filled with tears. ‘Nothing like this has ever happened to me before’ said Treurnicht. ‘And certainly no black man has ever called me brother before.’
A matter of months later Dr Treurnicht was dead from a violent heart attack. I often wonder where he and others like him might have ended up, had they been loved long beforehand by forgiving black men such as John Gatu.