No one more clearly or eloquently speaks about the South Africa situation than Allan Boesak. He is the president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and moderator of the Dutch Reformed Mission Church in South Africa. On March 13, 1988, Allan Boesak preached to a “packed house” at St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town, South Africa, using the title “Your Days Are Over!” A portion of that stirring message is included here as an introduction. (The statement to be considered by Annual Conference begins with THE CALL on page 234.)
Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree; and he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life . . .” (1 Kgs. 19:4).
This scripture, so well known, is a very beautiful story, one of those gripping stories that I remember so well from my childhood. Elijah—that great prophet who becomes the symbol of prophecy for Israel and for the church of all times—is now under this broom tree completely dispirited, tired, ready even to give up his life.
Before this, Elijah had made up his mind that it was time to come to grips with Israel and with all these prophets of Baal who were misleading the people, and with Jezebel and her husband, Ahab, who formed the government of the day. And so they came to Mount Carmel, and there Elijah made his challenge, “Today you must make your choice. Either you choose Baal or you choose God.” And you remember the incredible victory for Elijah and for God on that day.
And then came the message from Jezebel, saying, “Tomorrow I will have you killed because you are the kind of minister who does not want to keep out of politics.” That’s essentially what she said. “You keep interfering, you are inspired by I-don’t-know-who. But I am telling you now, you must stop this, because you are going to die.”
Elijah flees for his life, finds himself under this broom tree, and says to God, “It is over now, God. I cannot take this anymore. I cannot stand all these threats anymore. I cannot fight this battle anymore.”
And then there comes this marvelous moment when God sends the angel. And the angel tells Elijah, “Rise up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you; because I want you to go even farther than you have come now.”
But Elijah had no intention to go on another journey. He did not have the courage to face Jezebel and Ahab again.
But God said, “Oh no, Elijah, this is not the end of the road for you. There is still some work for you to do.”
God understands that there may come a time in the lives of people when we get tired. God understands that the struggle is long, drawn-out, tear-filled, and we may get tired. God understands that the powers that we face in this world are the powers of evil, and destruction, and violence and intimidation, and we get tired. God understands that when you get up in the morning and you have to fight the same fight that you have been fighting for 20 years, and 40 years, and 50 years, you get tired. God understands that bumper sticker that says, “Ten years of P. W. Botha, 40 years of apartheid, and a lifetime of suffering.”
And so our battle has come. For more than 300 years now, we have been fighting for our human dignity—and we get tired. We have been fighting for liberation and for freedom, and sometimes we get tired. We have been fighting against this government that has done everything in its power to cripple our movement and to kill our people, and we get tired.
Sometimes I get tired of fighting the same battle over and over again—two years of a state of emergency, children of 8 and 9 and 10 and 11 and 12 years old in prison being tortured, children being shot in the streets, parents not knowing where to go, our hearts filled with despair day after day. And sometimes you get tired.
Sometimes we get tired of picking up the telephone and wondering whether there’s going to be another threat against our lives. When will they stop trying to subject us to the kind of psychological and physical terror that our people have been living under? And so sometimes, just sometimes, we feel like Elijah.
But you must not worry when you feel like that, my brothers and sisters. Don’t feel bad, because God understands. Don’t think that God wants you to be strong all the time, 24 hours a day, 60 minutes of every hour, 60 seconds of every minute. Elijah was in that same position, and God told Elijah, “I understand, Elijah, just how you feel. I understand your pain. I understand the worry that you carry in your heart.”
But God also says, “Don’t lie there, Elijah. Don’t give up now. Get up there and walk to the mountain of God, because I have a message for you. I have work for you.”
God says to Elijah, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Ahab, you have displeased me. You will no longer sit on the throne of Israel.’ And go and tell Jezebel, ‘The dogs will eat your flesh.’”
And it seems to me, my brothers and sisters, that if we think of what is happening in this country, if we think of how time after time after time we have to try again—and the church meetings get banned, and our rallies get banned, and churches get tear-gassed, and people get detained, and children get terrorized—then we can’t give up the struggle now. Don’t say, “Let us lie down under the broom tree;” don’t say, “There is no future for us;” don’t say, “There is no road for us to walk on;” because God has work for you to do.
My brothers and my sisters, we are entering a new phase of persecution of the church in this country now. But there can be no turning back. Those of you who have decided to follow Jesus Christ must follow Jesus Christ now, even into the streets of this country and into the face of the casspirs, and the guns, and the water cannons, and the tear gas. What you have to understand is that the church’s witness in this country today will stand or fall by our faithfulness to confront the South African government in the evil it persists in doing. Jesus Christ is Lord. The battle is on! But Jesus Christ is Lord!
And so the government of South Africa has signed its own death warrant. No government can challenge the living God and survive.
A statement by the Church of the Brethren on oppression and injustice in South Africa must begin with our suffering brothers and sisters who live in South Africa. We are informed when we listen to the urgency of their messages from widely read and respected publications such as The Kairos Document and the Harare Declaration. We are challenged and inspired when we read the words of Allan Boesak as he proclaims the gospel. These representative voices among millions who suffer daily under the apartheid regime in South Africa issue a call to Christians and other caring persons all over the world.
On September 15, 1985, over 150 Christians from more than 20 denominations in South Africa published their “Challenge to the Church: A Theological Statement on the Political Crisis in South Africa.” This theological statement, better known as The Kairos Document, evolved over a period of several months from grassroots discussions by both lay- and clergy-persons in communities and churches throughout South Africa. Since the 1985 publication, thousands of African Christians, black and white, have added their signatures to the document. It begins with this urgent message:
The time has come. The moment of truth has arrived. South Africa has been plunged into a crisis that is shaking the foundations and there is every indication that the crisis has only just begun and that it will deepen and become even more threatening in the months to come. It is the Kairos or moment of truth not only for apartheid but also for the church (page 1).
Kairos is a Greek word that means the measurement of time in terms of events, rather than by the calendar. Jesus used this concept of measurement when he said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The Kairos Document comments on South Africa’s “moment of truth” with these words:
For very many Christians in South Africa this is the Kairos, the moment of grace and opportunity, the favorable time in which God issues a challenge to decisive action. It is a dangerous time because, if this opportunity is missed, and allowed to pass by, the loss for the church, for the gospel and for all the people of South Africa will be immeasurable (page 1).
By the end of 1985, The Kairos Document had contributed in a major way to the Harare Declaration by leaders of churches from Western Europe, North America, Australia, South Africa, and other parts of Africa, along with representatives of the World Council of Churches, World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Lutheran World Federation and All Africa Conference of Churches. Representatives of these world communions of faith met in a special session in Harare, Zimbabwe, December 4-6, 1985. The central purpose of the meeting was for the worldwide church to listen to the sisters and brothers from South Africa, and the message was very clearly expressed and heard, that the time left to avert massive bloodshed is short. The Harare Declaration reminded Christians everywhere that there can be no compromise with, or reform of, the apartheid system; the system must be isolated by the world community and totally dismantled. The situation in South Africa has worsened since 1985; therefore, the message to the world is far more urgent.
How do we build a relationship of identity and compassion with the oppressed people of God in South Africa? Most of us do not hear the cry of the oppressed, for we are members of an affluent culture that sometimes associates suffering with evil and pain with wrong-doing. Positions of wealth and privilege “turn the world upside down” by either blaming the oppressed for their own oppression or by simply ignoring the whole matter, hoping it will somehow go away with time. In the meantime, life goes on: The victimized continue to suffer and die and the affluent and comfortable continue to live in isolation.
In our Schwarzenau beginnings, Brethren knew the meaning of suffering. We, too, were resident aliens in our own land of birth. Our Brethren heritage of faithfulness in adversity enables us to embrace a “theology of accompaniment,” for we have been called by churches and Christians in South Africa “to watch with them” as they struggle for liberation. Our watchfulness, however, goes beyond observation. We are New Testament people who affirm the truth and reality of Matthew 25. This Great Judgment passage says in part:
“Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”
The Church of the Brethren, born in the midst of chaotic and disruptive human experiences, is being called to be present and to stand in solidarity with our suffering brothers and sisters in South Africa. We will strengthen our own faith and resolve as we educate ourselves anew in a “theology of the cross,” which is quite literally a way of life for millions all over the world, and especially so in South Africa.
The Church of the Brethren has been concerned about the racial policies of South Africa since the beginning of the apartheid system in 1948. We have expressed our concerns through Annual Conference, the General Board, Church World Service and the National Council of Churches. In 1973, a relationship was established with Bishop Desmond Tutu. At that time, Bishop Tutu was an emerging leader of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). (He has since become Archbishop of Cape Town.) At Bishop Tutu’s invitation in 1974, the World Council of Churches established a committee of European, American, and African church leaders to study the racism problem and to support the black church in South Africa. General Board staff member Roger Ingold served on that committee. We have had similar involvements from time to time since then.
In 1975, the Church of the Brethren started offering financial support to the SACC for leadership training. These small financial grants have been given annually since then. In the early 1980s, a relationship was established with Allan Boesak, who has been interested in the peace position of the Church of the Brethren. Boesak has cultivated a relationship with us and sought our support in the black church’s struggle in South Africa. Many Brethren recall Boesak’s address at the 1985 Annual Conference, especially his plea for us to take seriously Christ’s message of peace with justice.
The Church of the Brethren over the years has made several statements about racism, the apartheid regime in South Africa, divestiture of investments, and violence. A partial listing of our statements by the Annual Conference and the General Board is printed below for an easy reference. While not every one refers specifically to South Africa, each addresses issues that are of significant concern in the South African context.
1950—Annual Conference Statement on Race Relations
1967—General Board Statement on Apartheid in South Africa
1984—General Board Resolution: In This Time of Terrible Belligerence
1985—Annual Conference Statement: A Quest For Order
1986—Annual Conference Statement: Divestiture of Investment in South Africa
1986—Annual Conference Resolution: Making the Connection
1986—General Board Statement on Divestiture in South Africa
1988—Annual Conference Resolution: Responsible Citizenship in an Election Year
Before we can stand in solidarity with others who are suffering, it is imperative that we understand the theological context in which we live and serve. We are first of all believers in an incarnational faith (John 1:14 and John 3:16), and our understanding of that faith has ethical and moral implications that affect every aspect of our daily living. Three implications of our faith are readily apparent—1) our historic peace position, 2) our understanding of reconciliation, and 3) our understanding of the “body of Christ.”
The Incarnation and the reign of God in Christ are expressed in several different ways in the New Testament, but each points to the same truth that God took the initiative by coming to humanity. Whether we affirm the birth narratives of Matthew and Luke, embrace the prologue of John 1, or exclaim the truth of the familiar John 3:16 passage, we are giving testimony to the belief that God entered our world in the person (flesh) of Jesus. In addition to the testimony of faith about the Incarnation, we also proclaim the reign of God. God’s reign is one of redemption: “For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17). The Gospels declare that God confirmed Christ Jesus in his redemptive role at his baptism, by saying: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17b). Jesus, affirming his own uniqueness by saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6), understood the nature of his calling at the very beginning of his ministry. When given the writings of Isaiah in the synagogue, Jesus turned to chapter 61 and read:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18-19).
The world Jesus came to save crucified the Savior, but that was not the end of the “good news”. The resurrected Lord walks the many Emmaus roads of the world, bringing comfort to the sufferers and seekers inside and outside of Israel as well as to the hurting and disappointed disciples. The resurrected Lord opens our eyes to truth through the blessing and sharing of bread (Luke 24:30-31) in the face of chaos and disaster. Jesus promised the presence of the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, “whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26).
Luke (Acts 2) proclaims that the gift of the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost, creating a community (the church) out of a diverse and scattered group of nations. The apostle Paul, affirming the gift of the Holy Spirit, calls the new community of believers the “body of Christ” (1 Cor. 12:27). Paul further states:
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:12-13).
If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Cor. 12:26).
As Christ’s body, the church is called to live out the mission Jesus accepted for himself. As stated earlier. Jesus read from Isaiah 61 in the synagogue and said to his listeners: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21). While Jesus moved among all kinds of people, he clearly identified with the poor, hungry, and oppressed of his society. And Matthew 25 makes clear the expectations placed on Jesus’ followers.
Returning to Paul’s understanding of the church and its response to God’s action in Christ, 2 Corinthians 5:16-20a makes the church an agent of reconciliation:
From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once regarded Christ from a human point of view, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.
As indicated above, there are three important faith implications for the Church of the Brethren as it seeks to “watch with” the suffering Christians of South Africa. First, what do we mean by nonviolence and peace? Second, what is the role of a reconciler in the struggle for liberation when we see one side as morally and ethically right and the other side as morally and ethically wrong? And, third, how does our understanding of the “body of Christ” help us in our response to South Africa? The Kairos Document is instructive in these important questions, for we must embrace a theology that is relevant to the South African context.
The Kairos theologians critique three very different theologies at work in South Africa—1) state theology, 2) church theology, and 3) prophetic theology.
State theology, based on biblical passages such as Romans 13:1-7, is used to give a theological and biblical justification to the policies of the white minority government. The oppressive state claims absolute and divine authority for itself, defines the nature of law and order, and brands virtually everyone a communist who rejects the state theology. P. W. Botha, the state president, reacts angrily to those who question the authority of his government. Botha delivered the following message, on national television, in reaction to a march on Parliament by a large body of Christians protesting the mistreatment of black leaders:
I grew up in an environment where the Lord was served, where the love of God, his church and his Word was transferred to me, and which I cherish in my heart to this very day. This is why I strive to conduct my personal life, and my service as state president, according to the principles of the Christian faith. This government has in the light of the message of the Bible, gone out of its way to serve the people of this country . . . It is a well-known fact that South Africa is a country which cherishes and safeguards freedom of religion . . . Can you quote one single instance from the Word of God in which it appears that Christ advocated violence against the state; or led a demonstration against the state; or broke a law of the state? (SOJOURNERS, August/September 1988, page 16).
The Kairos theologians believe that Paul in Romans 13 was not addressing the issue of a just or unjust state. Paul was simply stating that there always will be a need for some kind of state, or secular government, and Christians “are not exonerated from subjection to secular laws and authorities” (The Kairos Document, page 4). While secular authority—law and order—is God-given, specific administrations of that authority may in fact be evil, as is clearly the case of the Roman government in Revelation 13. The government of any state ceases to be “the servant of God” when it betrays its divine calling.
Church theology was also on the minds of the Kairos theologians. Church theology sees reconciliation as the key to all forms of problem-solving. Reconciliation in cases of dispute and dissension is workable and usable when both disputants have a degree of truth associated with their positions. In such cases, the disagreeing parties can talk, negotiate, use the services of a third party, and attempt to arrive at a compromise that is acceptable to both sides. There are at times, however, when one side is clearly right and the other side is clearly wrong, and there can be no compromise with evil. To ask oppressed South African Christians to negotiate with the apartheid system “is to ask us who are oppressed to accept our own oppression and to become reconciled to the intolerable crimes that are committed against us” (Ibid., page 9). No reconciliation is possible in South Africa without justice” (Idem). Justice means that apartheid cannot be reformed; it must be replaced.
The church also needs to approach the matter of nonviolence carefully, for it often plays into the hands of the oppressor. When the state believes it rules by “divine right” it uses the church’s pronouncements against violence to refer to the actions by those in the townships who are struggling for liberation. The pronouncement by the church “excludes the structural, institutional, and unrepentant violence of the state and especially the oppressive and naked violence of the police and the army. These things are not counted as violence, and even when they are acknowledged to be ‘excessive’ they are called ‘misconduct’ or even ‘atrocities’ but never violence” (Ibid., page 12). When the church embraces a nonviolent position, it must be clear about all forms of violence, especially state violence done in the name of God.
Prophetic theology, according to the Kairos theologians, is the theology for this time (Kairos) in South Africa. Yahweh called for a prophetic theology that stood with the oppressed Hebrews in Egypt and against the pharaoh. The call came to Moses, asking him to lead the people to freedom. Jesus embraced a prophetic theology when he read from Isaiah 61 and accepted his own anointment as a liberator of the oppressed.
It would be wrong to understand the present conflict in South Africa as simply a racial struggle. The racial issue is present, but “we are not dealing with two equal races or nations, each with its own selfish group interests. The situation . . . is one of oppression. The conflict is between the oppressor and the oppressed. The conflict is between two irreconcilable causes or interests in which the one is just and the other is unjust” (Ibid.
p> The apartheid system is in power by violent force and it is irreformable. All so-called reforms are made in accordance with the desires of the small white minority that elected the government and for the benefit of that minority community. Apartheid may claim to be the reign of God, but in reality it is a reign of terror.
But, there is hope. There is hope for all of us. But, the road to that hope is going to be very hard and very painful. The conflict and the struggle will have to intensify in the months and years ahead because there is no other way to remove the injustice and oppression. But, God is with us. We can only learn to become the instruments of his peace even unto death. We must participate in the cross of Christ if we are to have the hope of participating in his resurrection (Ibid., page 21).
When the Johannesburg offices of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) were bombed in August 1988, it was a predictable outgrowth of the tortured history of what is today called the Republic of South Africa (RSA). Located at the southern tip of the African continent, the territory of the RSA is peopled by a diverse people; those who are indigenous (Khoisan), by Africans who migrated from the north, by Asians (Indians) who came to Africa during the British colonial period, and by Europeans. Today the interrelationship of this richly pluralistic population is rigidly defined under the apartheid system.
Before the whites (Dutch) arrived in southern Africa, the inhabitants—the Khoikhoi and the San (both groups jointly identified as the Khoisan)—though culturally diverse, had developed strong economic and cultural relationships. The Khoikhoi people were ranchers and owned enormous herds of cattle. When the Europeans landed at Table Bay on the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 to replenish their supplies, they fell in love with the mild and soft Mediterranean-type climate. They decided to stay. That momentous decision by the Europeans was the beginning of a total disruption of the indigenous culture and history.
The inhabitants welcomed the white immigrants as friends, and they were willing to trade cattle for copper, iron, tobacco, and brandy, which the Dutch brought along with them from Holland. In time, however, the Dutch needed more land to graze their growing herds. So, they simply took it from the Khoisan, often as much as 6,000 acres a person. This “free land” and guaranteed income from other white traders passing by the Cape lured thousands of other Europeans (Germans, French, and British) to the new “promised land.” By the middle of the 18th century, there were over 5,000 whites living in the Cape area. These Europeans shared a common Protestant religion—the belief-structure of John Calvin’s Reformed Church—which united them into a very homogeneous group. Their Calvinistic theology of being God’s “chosen people” in the new promised land, coupled with their frontier outlook on life, led them to believe that southern Africa was theirs for the taking. These white settlers (Boers—farmers) eventually became known as the Afrikaners.
The “chosen people” mentality of the Europeans led them to devalue the worth of the indigenous African peoples. Consequently, as the need for labor on the large white ranches and farms grew beyond what the whites themselves could provide, they turned to slavery of blacks as a “free” labor force. The slaves were viewed, of course, as inferior persons, given to whites by God as servants. Thus, the rigid policy of racial separation (apartheid) was created to serve the needs of the white culture in black Africa.
The British seized the Cape at the end of the 18th century, and the stage was set for a long and bloody conflict between the Boers and the British. In an effort to escape the British domination, the Boers undertook a northern migration (known as the Great Trek in Afrikaner history) in 1836. This northern movement and eventual settlement meant the occupation of additional African land. Naturally, the Boers found themselves in open conflict with several African tribes, most notably the Zulus in Natal. The Zulus, under the very capable leadership of a chief named Shaka, were able to prevent the takeover of their land during an intense 10-month struggle with the white colonialists. Finally, though, the Boers defeated the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River, so named because of the number of Zulus killed. Every December 16 is celebrated by the Afrikaners as a national holiday, which recalls not only the Blood River victory, but also the vow sworn to God by the Boers, before the battle, that they would keep December 16 forever holy if God gave them victory over the Zulus.
The Boers established two independent Republics following the Zulu defeat—the South African Republic (Transvaal) in 1852 and the Orange Free State in 1854. Relations between the Boers and the British continued to be strained, and resulted in the Anglo-Boer wars in 1880-81 and again in 1899-1902. The precipitating factor that led to war was the discovery of diamonds (1870) and gold (1886) in the Transvaal. Many Europeans (mostly British) flooded the area and disrupted the Boer way of life, which consisted mostly of farming and ranching. The British with their superior “fire power” conquered the two Boer Republics and incorporated them into the British Empire. These two Republics and the British colonies of the Cape and the Natal were united on May 31, 1910, forming the Union of South Africa.
The British dominated all of South Africa until 1948 when the Nationalist Party, predominately conservative Afrikaners, won an upset victory in the national election. The victory over the British that they could not achieve on the battlefield came to them at the ballot box because they capitalized on the racial fear among the whites. The campaign for office in 1948 by the Nationalist Party was built on the platform of apartheid. With election victory, the Afrikaners moved swiftly to consolidate their hold on national politics and control over the non-European population. The Nationalists, who are still in power today, constructed an elaborate system of laws that separate the races. Hundreds of laws poured from national, state, and municipal legislatures to undergird and perpetuate the apartheid system. Due to international pressure, some of the laws, such as the Pass Laws, have been repealed under the guise of reform efforts. Many rigid aspects of the apartheid system remain, and a few of the laws are described below:
Though the government devoted full energies to the implementation of apartheid, the system did not unfold as its architects had hoped. The premise of total separation of the races proved to be economically unfeasible. South Africa’s commercial and manufacturing sectors demanded more labor, which the European community could not provide. As a result, 30 years after its inception, there are more Africans living in urban areas than when the removal program began. A changing economy demanded that Africans be given more managerial posts and this led to a breakdown in the rigid lines of separation laid down in 1948.
Another reason for the failure of apartheid to achieve its goals was the strength of the reaction to apartheid’s brutality in the international community. Many international organizations, especially churches, curtailed their association with the RSA or disassociated themselves altogether. The United Nations condemned the system and voted to support an arms embargo and other forms of economic sanctions.
But central to the failure of apartheid has been the remarkable resistance mounted by the Africans themselves at local, regional, national, and international levels. That resistance was organized in the face of increasingly harsh and repressive measures taken by the government. The courage, persistence, sacrificial devotion to the concept of freedom, and a deep and abiding faith in the justice of their cause has given Africans in South Africa a truly remarkable strength. Persons such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, and Walter Sisulu, all members of the Youth League that was dedicated to interracial peace, have provided courageous leadership. In the first decade after the establishment of apartheid, all of these men joined the African National Congress (ANC), which, along with the South African Indian Congress (SAIC) and a Colored organization—the Franchise Action Committee (FAC)—led the early effort for a peaceful, nonviolent, resistance. In 1958, a nationalist group pulled away from the ANC and formed the Pan-African Congress (PAC).
Nonviolence was dealt a severe body blow on March 21, 1960, when police ordered a large PAC demonstration against the Pass Laws to disperse. When the crowd did not move quickly enough for the police, shots were fired and the crowd panicked and ran. But the firing did not stop until 69 Africans were killed and 186 wounded. Most had been shot in the back. The event, known as the Sharpeville Massacre, focused worldwide attention on the crisis in South Africa and marked the beginning of a long and torturous path of increasingly savage attacks upon human rights and an increasingly vigorous resistance. Despite the fact that Chief Albert Luthuli, President of the ANC, intensified his struggle to keep the resistance nonviolent, he was arrested by the government and charged with treason. Though he received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts, it did not save his life. He was mysteriously killed at a train crossing while under police protection. Many young people fled the country to join the armed resistance, and among those who remained there has been a growing climate of militancy.
The past two decades have been a spiral of ever increasing violence and crisis. In 1968, Steve Biko and others formed the South African Students’ Organization (SASO) with the intention of promoting black awareness, black pride, and black achievement and capabilities. SASO redefined the word “black” to cover all victims of racial oppression. “We are oppressed not as individuals, not as Zulus, Xhosas, Vendas, or Indians,” wrote Biko. “We are oppressed because we are black.” A broad spectrum of students were soon attracted to SASO and in 1972 an adult wing, the Black Peoples’ Convention (BPC) was organized. Black consciousness was expressed in poetry, literature, drama, music, and theology, and in a wide range of community projects.
The activities of the organizations prompted reprisals from the government, and in 1973 Biko was banned, which meant he was forbidden to speak in public, to write for publication, to be quoted by others, or to be present with more than one person at a time.
In 1974, Mozambique became independent under black rule, and that further energized black consciousness in South Africa, especially among students. Government policy to restrict the education of blacks to vocational levels, severe shortages in facilities and chronic overcrowding, and widespread violation of the civil rights of students intensified their protests. To make an intolerable situation worse, the government, as stated earlier, introduced the Afrikaans language as the only medium of instruction for most classes in the black (Bantu) schools. The intent was to limit the scope of education and to isolate black Africans from the international community. On June 16, 1976, a protest march was held in Soweto by students, who sang and chanted and carried placards. The police, without warning, fired upon the students at random, killing hundreds of them. Black organizations counted 700 dead and 1,000 wounded. (The official government statement acknowledged that 176 had been killed.) The Soweto uprising resulted in tumultuous riots in dozens of townships throughout the following weeks.
The following year, 1977, the government attempted to crush the Black Consciousness movement through widespread bannings and arrests. Biko was arrested and subjected to solitary confinement and brutal interrogation. He died in police hands in early September when, after severe beatings, he was hauled naked and comatose 700 miles in the bed of a Land Rover to a prison hospital in Pretoria. The official government explanation was that Biko starved himself to death. By this time the base of the protest among the blacks had broadened to the point that government actions could not crush the movement.
The base of the protest movement had broadened and by 1980 there were increased guerrilla attacks. But the clearest expression of mass popular resistance to apartheid came with the formation of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in 1983. An affiliation of over 600 secular and religious organizations, and calling upon the leadership of such men as Allan Boesak and Desmond Tutu, the UDF has sought to create a new dynamic by building upon the non-racial, democratic base. In December 1988, four members of the UDF were convicted of treason and given long jail sentences, not because of overt acts but on the grounds that they are members of an organization that advocated treasonous acts. Archbishop Tutu challenged the government to charge him with treason on the same basis since he had been an ardent supporter of UDF since its inception.
The government proposed constitutional changes in 1983 that formed essentially powerless legislative bodies to represent Asians and Coloreds, and election machinery was established to allow the election of some black officials in the townships. The UDF vigorously opposed these so-called reforms as being empty and charged the government with duplicity in attempting to isolate blacks by dividing them from Asians and Coloreds. Two elections have been held under these constitutional provisions, but with very low voter participation.
Between 1984 and 1986, with troops in the townships and violence increasing in number daily, over 300 children were killed and thousands placed in detention centers. The government declared a state of emergency in July of 1985, and it has been repeated on an annual basis since then. The state of emergency allows the government to close down the news media and to detain persons for an indefinite time without any formal charge. The protests and violence by the government continue today, but the international community is largely excluded from all types of news coverage.
Since 1976, the RSA not only has escalated repressive measures at home, but also its attacks upon the “frontline” states of Angola, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Swaziland, and Lesotho. It is estimated that by 1986 South Africa’s terrorism had cost the frontline states over $10 billion dollars. The RSA made raids into all of these countries, attacking oil refineries, arms depots, railways, crops, dams and homes housing refugees. It mounted what may best be described as a “regional reign of terror”. In 1988 the US State Department admitted in an official report that the South African-backed terrorist group (the MNR or RENAMO) had created over 870,000 refugees and had killed more than 100,000 civilians in Mozambique alone.
Frank Chikane, general secretary of the SACC, stated at the annual meeting of the SACC, June of 1988:
I believe that the year 1988 will go into the annals of history as the year when the church in South Africa, particularly the member churches of the SACC, reached a turning point in their witness against apartheid and its intensified violence against the majority of people in this country. This first half of 1988 has seen the member churches of the council move away from their luxurious traditional position of just making moral and theoretical pronouncements about the evils of apartheid which did not effect any significant change in the system.
This action by Christians in South Africa has become very costly. It is described by Jim Wallis as stepping “into the crucible of fire,” Sojourners (August/September 1988). Their assertive, nonviolent action, such as marches on parliament, work-stay-aways, and other forms of massive demonstrations will bring continuing suffering upon themselves. Nevertheless, their cause is just and right. Our suffering brothers and sisters are willing to pay the cost of radical discipleship to Christ Jesus. As they walk in the ways of the cross, they need the support—theology of accompaniment—from all Christians of the world. The Church of the Brethren, out of its rich heritage of peace, must respond to this need.
The Republic of South Africa gives every indication that it plans to continue its apartheid policies under white-minority rule. The so-called reform efforts appear to be designed to appease the voices of opposition in both the black and white communities. In reality, white-minority rule in South Africa is maintained through a series of annual state emergencies that give the police and the military (South African Defense Force) almost unlimited rights of search and seizure and detention of persons without charge, including many young children. The international community is denied access to events in South Africa because the government has severely restricted the freedom of public communications media.
Our oppressed brothers and sisters in South Africa are calling upon the people of the world, especially Christians, to stand with them, imploring everyone to act now while there is still time for peaceful resolution of the conflict.
The Church of the Brethren condemns apartheid as sin. Apartheid dehumanizes all God’s children, has introduced violence into every facet of life in South Africa, and will destroy the South African State.
We understand that Christian brothers and sisters in South Africa may feel pushed into violent means to bring change in their country, but we pray that a way can be found to avoid a violent response to the violence done against them. Whatever the outcome, we will not abandon them in their oppression and suffering. At the same time, we always will seek to act in a manner that gives integrity to our historic position of nonviolent peacemaking. Any reconciling role we play, however, must acknowledge that the gospel allows compromise with the apartheid system. Apartheid is evil and cannot be reformed; it can only be dismantled and replaced by a just and humane system of government that protects the rights of all citizens regardless of race, color, sex, or creed.
As physical, economic, and psychological violence in South Africa escalates, the urgency of our peacemaking efforts intensifies. We commit ourselves to working to bring an end to all types of violence in South Africa. Our Christian brothers and sisters in South Africa are willing to pay the cost of radical discipleship, and the Church of the Brethren commits itself to stand with them. We urge our members to pray and act now as participants in the struggle for peace with justice in South Africa
Specifically, we urge:
Writer: Allen T. Hansell
Contributors: Kenneth O. Holderread, Lauree Hersch Meyer, Orlando Redekopp, David Waas
Consultants: Charles Bieber, Roger Ingold, Leland Wilson, Dean Miller, Donald Booz, Darla Kay Bowman, Barbara Cuffie, Barbara Daté, Joan Gerig, David Metzler, Louise Baldwin Rieman, Jon Schrock, Roger Schrock
Action of the General Board, March 1989: VOTED that the General Board approve the paper for transmittal to the 1989 Annual Conference through Standing Committee with the recommendation that the paper by adopted by Annual Conference.
Judy Mills Reimer, Chair; Donald E. Miller, General Secretary
Action of the 1989 Annual Conference: Monroe C. Good, a Standing Committee delegate from the Atlantic Northeast district, presented the recommendation from Standing Committee that the 1989 Annual Conference adopt the STATEMENT ON SOUTH AFRICA. The delegate body adopted the recommendation of Standing Committee and accepted the STATEMENT ON SOUTH AFRICA after adopting four amendments, which have been incorporated into the preceding text.
Davenport, T.R.H. South Africa: A Modern History. University of Toronto Press, 1977.
de Gruchy, John W. The Church Struggle in South Africa. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986.
Lelyveld, Joseph. Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black And White. New York: Penguin Books, 1986.
Merdith, Martin. In the Name of Apartheid: South Africa in the Postwar Era. Harper and Row, 1988.
Tutu, Desmond. Hope and Suffering. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1986.
Ungar, Sanford J. Africa: The People and Politics of An Emerging Continent. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc., 1986.
The Kairos Document. “Challenge to the Church. A Theological Comment on the Political Crisis in South Africa.” Johannesburg: The Kairos Theologians, 1985.
Brink, Andre. A Dry White Season. Penguin, 1979.