What God Joined Together: Chapter 3 — Don’t get involved in politics

  1. What God Joined Together: Chapter 1 — Getting acquainted with God’s higher ways
  2. What God Joined Together: Chapter 2 — Don’t marry a foreigner
  3. What God Joined Together: Chapter 3 — Don’t get involved in politics
  4. What God Joined Together: Chapter 4 — The girl from Mühlacker
  5. What God Joined Together: Chapter 5 — Love grows where my Rosemary goes
  6. What God Joined Together: Chapter 6 — Miles apart
  7. What God Joined Together: Chapter 7 — A confession with serious consequences

A serialisation of a new book by Cape Town missionary and author Ashley Cloete about love across the colour divide in the apartheid era. Each week we will publish a new chapter

I cannot say that preparations for Germany were my biggest priority in the months leading up to my scheduled departure. I was teaching and simultaneously completing studies towards a B.A. degree. In the summer vacation at the end of the year, I hopped from one youth camp to the next instead of trying to get my knowledge of the German language on par.

Just before my departure in January 1969, the same bishop who had challenged me so much at that funeral a few months before, warned me earnestly to stay clear of politics whilst in Germany. It was rumoured that agents of the apartheid government were also well represented overseas.

While teaching in Bellville from 1965-68, I had tried to instil the idea of racial equality among my pupils. I would repeatedly tell them, “We are not inferior to ‘Whites’ but also not superior to ‘Blacks’”. Therefore it was quite consistent when I opposed my teacher colleagues who were only clamouring for salary parity with ‘Whites’. I made myself unpopular, suggesting that we should rather fight for salary parity with ‘Blacks’. I was, however, not aware how deep-seated notions were in South African ‘Coloured’ society –
yes, even in my own heart. The acid test started the moment I left South African shores in January 1969. Although there was no apartheid on the steamboat called the Pendennis Castle1, I felt so inferior that I did not dare to use the swimming pool while the ‘Whites’ were still in the water.

In Germany a few weeks later, I was shocked when a very dark-complexioned West African from Togo entered the room at a conference that I attended as a guest. My immediate thought was, “What is he doing here?” I conveniently overlooked that I, too, was a guest who was foreign in the context. I thought I had completely overcome my inculcated racism after being in Europe for about one and a half years, when I was suddenly caught off-guard walking through a subway. A racially mixed couple was walking in my direction, affectionately and unashamedly holding hands. My immediate reaction was, “Are they not afraid of being arrested for contravening the Immorality Act?”

In later years, these personal experiences helped me to have more understanding for other people who wrestled with deep-seated racial or national prejudices. As a native speaker of the Germanic language Afrikaans, and having taken a year of German in my degree studies, I was soon quite fluent in the language. Being a South African of colour meant that I soon gained some renown in the southern German countryside and I was invited to speak about South Africa at various events.

I spoke about the ‘unique problems’ of the country, which I defined as the apartheid government policy, the disunity of the churches and alcoholism. The Lord blessed me with insights that turned out to be quite prophetic. I suggested prayer as a solution to the problems – I believed fervently in the power of prayer, although I was never a great intercessor myself. This was obviously the result of the mentorship and teaching of Dominee Piet Bester and the influence of a few fervent intercessors of Moria Sendingkerk.

Without making a particular effort, I initially heeded Bishop Schaberg’s warning not to get involved in politics. However, a letter from my parents in mid-1969 changed all this in an instant. It shocked me out of my wits to hear that our family had been served with a notice stating that we had to leave our property in Tiervlei under the guise of ‘slum clearance’. Before I left South Africa, we had heard a rumour that our property (the house we lived in and the surrounding piece of vacant land which was suitable for development) had been offered to a businessman from Bellville South. Considering that our solid brick
house by no means resembled the shacks which one thought would qualify for slum clearance, we realized that the rumour which we had initially brushed off as unfounded, was true in all likelihood.

What really enraged me about my mother’s letter was the fact that she mentioned something about “the will of the Lord”. I simply could not see it that way! In my eyes, this was nothing but a blatant wanton move by the Parow Municipality. I felt strongly that thiswould never have been allowed if it hadn’t been for the unjust apartheid-inspired government practices. In my anger, I stopped just short of joining the armed struggle against the apartheid government. I chose instead to write a strong letter of protest to the Parow Municipality. I couldn’t care less if the government would withdraw my passport or apply any other punitive measure and I almost invited the folk at the municipality to pass the information I had sent in the letter on to the authorities in Pretoria.

Sadly, the protest letter did not have any visible effect. A few months after writing it, whilst I was still in Germany, my family was forced to leave our home. My parents moved to the mission station Elim, which was at that time the southern-most village on the African continent. My father became a sort of ‘migrant labourer’, going home to Elim to be with his wife one weekend per month. This, combined with the stress of losing our property for which he had worked so hard, became too much for him. It affected his heart and he had to go into early retirement.

When my parents moved to Elim, fewer visible reminders and bits of news about me reached the Tiervlei community where they had lived. With this, the support from the prayer warriors there began to lessen. During this time of the move to Elim, and in my bitterness surrounding that situation, much of my initial missionary zeal petered out. Instead, I became almost reckless in my opposition to the South African government. I was very critical of the regime, and did not withhold my opinion in public utterances. I justified the strong resentment I felt and implied that I had every right to feel that way. The only constraint with regard to the content of my speeches on South Africa was a moral and religious one. I did want to act responsibly as a follower of Jesus in everything I did.

Next week: Chapter 4 — The girl from Mühlacker

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