A panel of well-known South African speakers participated in a webinar on December 9 in which they tackled tough issues of race in the country.
Billed “Courageous Conversations – Reflections on the Lessons Learnt from Senekal and Brackenfell”, the event was hosted by SACLI (South African Christian Leaders Initiative) and Heartlines.
Speakers included Dr Ramphele Mamphele, Rev Edwin Arrison, Caroline Powell, Nqobile Mdletshe, Robert Ntuli, and Aneke Rabe
The full webinar can be viewed below”
The co-host of the talk, Rev Edwin Arrison, said apartheid was a deliberate system and we should be intentional in dismantling its legacy. A good way was to start with children. We should ask why some children drift from Grade 8 to 12 without cementing firm bonds across racial divides. We should ask what we can do to ensure that entrenched thinking and violence in our society are dealt with effectively and to bring about effective non-racialism?
However, he noted that as a nation, we all live together peaceably every day and that occasional flare-ups that happen are not the norm. Indeed, there are people who are working towards a more cohesive society, he said.
One of the first questions posed to Aneke Rabe, the founder of Victorious Women in Christ, a NPO that helps women reach their God-given potential, was how breaking down rules and barriers requires intentionality from white South Africans.
Aneke shared how, 21 years ago, some people in her community started praying the prayer of Jesus for all believers in John 17 v 20 – 23 — “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Through praying this Scripture regularly Aneke said she had a radical change of heart. God worked mightily and many, genuine friendships were formed that brought deep healing and reconciliation across colour lines. She said she had previously had no idea of the depth of pain caused in our nation by apartheid and the Land Act of 1913 .
Prayers were held at different churches on Thursday evenings. The first time she went into the local township to pray there was not a soul to be seen. She kept on going and at times would arrive to find the church doors locked. This did not deter Aneke and the team — they would simply stand on the grounds and pray.
Then one night, Aneke knew that something was different when they arrived at the township church. The pastor of the local church, Baba Dlamini, stood up and said that they had watched every week as the team had arrived to pray. And they watched the consistency with which Aneke, and the team did their prayer work, and it was this consistency that softened their hearts to at least hear what this was all about.
Aneke shared that night from Galatians 3 that when we are in Christ, we are neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. It does not matter if we are Zulu or Afrikaner, because in Him we are one. We might look, talk, dress differently, but in Him, we are truly one. From that moment on it was a mixed group of people that met together to pray the prayer of Jesus over the area.
A few valuable lessons they learned were:
- Be intentional – go the extra mile in cultivating at least one meaningful relationship with a person of colour. Just ask God to show you. Get out of your comfort zones.
- Have grit — at first, it might not be easy. Be filled with unconditional love and trust God.
- Different cultures have different ways of doing things. One is not better than the other. It is just different. We need to be prepared to learn to respect one another’s ways.
The next to speak on the webinar was Nqobile Mdletshe who poignantly shared her journey of brokenness and how that exposed her to different race groups — particularly white people. With help from Aneke’s organisation she learned there really is very little that separates us.
Nqobile is passionate about young people taking part in these conversations around race. She said a lot of what we know is from what has been passed down to us and we are not encouraged to use our own experiences. Nor are we encouraged to ask questions like: What is it that we should be doing as a country? What does the Word want us to do here? What are we going to do to bring about reconciliation with the help of the Holy Spirit? She encourages entering into the conversation with a servant’s heart, where fault-finding is not the main goal of the conversation.
Robert Ntuli, a pastor from KZN, is quite vocal on land reform and the role of the Church in facilitating reconciliation. He provided a historical background on farm killings during apartheid. He said farm killings and battles around the land are not new. People were forcibly dispossessed of their land and there is no way of moving past that without acknowledging that.
Off the back of that dispossession came crafting of the “Boer” identity of colonialism and land dispossession in the minds of the black people. The “Boer” was really a symbol of white domination and that is a history that still haunts today.
He said farm attacks in the 80s and 90s were political in character although criminal in appearance. The idea was to attack, kill and dispossess. He said there is a similarity in the attacks that are happening today. The attacks of the 80s and 90s were focused on white farmers but there were black casualties – with landmines planted in fields. The farmworkers were encouraged to spy on farms and inform the invaders.
He said men who were teens in the 80s and 90s are now in their 30s and 40s, generally unemployed and have become politically aware. They feel that the Boers took their land and they need to take it back. As they see the Boer as a symbol of land dispossession, their moral threshold toward the personhood of the Afrikaner is very low. This made it easy for them to feel vindicated in attacking farmers.
He argued the need to understand current farm killings in a broader political context. We need to understand that the front/face of the land debate is going to be in the village, not the city. To redeem the identity of the Boer in the mind of the black person would require the Afrikaner farmers and white community at large, to confront land dispossession and engage in a process of reconciliation and restorative justice, he said.
He said the Church needed to take part in educating villagers to engage in reconciliation politics. The Church must rediscover reconciliation as a theological conviction, a missional engagement, and a discipleship framework. Lastly, importantly – the government must have a very clear policy on the approach to the land debate, he said.
The next panellist, Pieter Bezuidenhout said the increase in farm murders and crime was promoting a perception among white people that that some of the killings were politically motivated. Many felt marginalised, stereotyped and judged for the past, he said.
On Senekal, he said that charging some people with terrorism (these charges were later dropped) over protests and burning of vehicles, showed that the playing field was not equal. He said he felt that the nation is suffering from a degree of PTSD — it is a spiritual problem that needs to be resolved spiritually. In James 4 the writer asks for a deep lament and deep cleansing. He offers the solution: be sorrowful, cry, weep, lament, soul search.
South Africans need to cleanse their hands of past/present injustices. He said there would not be peace while there is so much poverty, unemployment, and inequality in the country. This needs to be rectified and addressed. Purification of racist heart attitudes needed to be confronted. And finally, a humbling before God needed to take place. The Bible is full of social justice and it is not confronted enough.
There is no shortcut to deep cleansing, he said. Pieter said he felt that that storytelling would help — with listening to each other, hearing the hurt of the other person without carrying the guilt but understanding the past and the deep pain that many people come from.
On the Brackenfell incident he said there are many people who insensitively and even arrogantly exhibit an explicit and implicit supremacy attitude. He apologised to those who were hurt and angered by the actions of those mentioned.
On the existential crisis of South Africa, medical doctor and activist Dr Mamphele Ramphele spoke about how to move to a different place of the existential crisis we face. It has been 26 years since the end of apartheid. There has been very little difference made since the end of apartheid and in some cases, it has got worse. Part of the problem was that our own commitments in the preamble to the Constitution were not met. The values of our pre-94 government and post-94 government are not the same and this is where those who were part of the writing of the Constitution were wise in saying that, that pain of the past needs to be acknowledged. Healing is an intentional, time-intensive process, she said.
Secondly, we come from a non-democratic, non-human rights, non-holistic place of being human. We come from a place that destroyed the humanness, the humanity in the core African way of living which was Ubuntu. That was deliberately destroyed. So, we need to re-establish those values. The values of Ubuntu are exactly the values in the international human rights frame. But you cannot just have them because they are in the Constitution. You must embed them in conversations.
And finally, all the comments of the fellow panellists speak to the socio-economic reality of our divisions. Those did not come about accidentally, they were structural. And so, when we look at the two examples from which we should learn, both speak to the real core issues which divide us as a nation, she said.
Colour is not the reason we are divided. Colour was used. With the arrival of the sick and dying on the ships to SA, they were nurtured and nursed by the Khoisan people, who were then summarily dispossessed of their home. That is what happened. The land question is a very deep and spiritual process because of the betrayal of the hospitality of the indigenous people.
Let us put ourselves in the shoes of someone who owned a bicycle that was forcibly taken from them – and several months later that person comes and apologises for taking the bicycle. But when they come to apologise, they are riding that bicycle and they say that you can use the bicycle when I am not using it. Remember I am in control of the bicycle. That is the story of the land in South Africa and education. That we are still talking about these things in 2020, is amazing. There is no understanding that the previously-white schools, which is what these model C schools are, were there at the expense of denying black people education. The problem cannot be solved by simple repentance and acknowledgment. Return the bicycle. You have got to take the bicycle back and have a serious conversation about how we can move forward with rebuilding this country.
We must rediscover our single humanity. There is no difference in human races; there is one race in the world and that is the human race. When we acknowledge our togetherness, we can then together develop a way forward and reimagine South Africa. But that is going to involve giving up the bicycle.