South Africa is a beautiful country. The land, animals and people are beautiful. My experience there was humbling and sobering.
Dr. Paul Alexander reminded us, “To whom much is given, much is required.” He encouraged us to be humble and patient with others as we sort through everything we’ve learned.
Luke 12:47-48, “And that servant who knew his master’s will and didn’t prepare himself or do it will be severely beaten. But the one who did not know and did what deserved punishment will receive a light beating. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be expected.”
This is a sobering verse. We are to receive what the Lord has given us in this knowledge of history and do His will.
I will attempt to articulate what I’ve learned on this trip. I went to South Africa with questions and returned with more questions.
South Africa is in a post-colonial time, meaning they have gained their independence from colonialism. They struggled through the Apartheid colonialism and before that, British colonialism, and before that, Dutch colonialism. Colonialism affected every aspect of life. From language and education to religious beliefs and social norms, nothing was left untouched by the empires. With colonialism came slavery and racism, and South Africa is still dealing with residual effects of the empires that ruled there.
Our first lecture was by Alexander Venter. He lived during Apartheid rule and was struck by the disparity between the wealthy and poor. He decided to live by kingdom justice, meaning God’s kingdom. He noted that kingdom justice is profoundly political. He defined politics as the means of governing the life of the people in the city. Basically, it is how life is ordered in the nation. He also noted that Jesus had a lot to say about how life ought to be ordered. He said, “Jesus is profoundly political. He talks deeply about the ethics of human relationships.” He gave Biblical examples of times when Jesus was neither left nor right, and times when he was conservative and other times, liberal. Alexander said, “His frame of reference was kingdom ethics and not party politics.” He encouraged us to make very clear in our minds the difference between party politics and the political realm we all live in, which is about ethics.
In focusing on kingdom ethics, Alexander Venter was instrumental in establishing an interracial community in Johannesburg in 1990. Six couples, four black and two white, intentionally pooled their money, bought a farm and lived together. Alexander Venter and his wife lived there for 23 years.
We toured the Apartheid museum, and seeing the atrocities was difficult. The question of why kept running through my head. Why on earth would someone oppress others for rocks? For gold and diamonds? Why? Who decided that those had any worth? Who was originally offended by a black person and why did they decide to oppress? Is oppression a reflection into the depths of emptiness in the oppressor’s hearts? The issues are not simple. The struggle is multi-dimensional, and the museum was a lot to take in for me.
Through Mmusi Maimane, the current leader of the Democratic Alliance, we learned about the current political landscape. He talked about the difficult decisions he has had to make and said, “Sometimes, you have to choose between the lesser of two evils.” The problem he continually faces is the issue of land. Do you give back the land, but end up without the ability to produce collectively and make a profit?
In speaking on oppression, Mmusi expounded on a well-known saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” In South Africa, there’s more to that. He said, you can’t just teach a man to fish, you also have to remove the “No Fishing” signs. This is a good indicator of the state of the nation as the empires intentionally established a society where some people were underprivileged and oppressed, namely the black people. Dr. Gerald West also made mention of this saying.
We had an entire day of classes with Dr. Gerald West. He is a very humble man. He lived during the anti-apartheid struggle. He wrote his thesis on how the Bible was the justification of Apartheid and the justification of revolt against it. Dr. West has been doing contextualized Bible studies among the marginalized and poor for the last 30 years. He shared a few examples of how his Bible studies foster dialog and help everyone to see things in the Bible that we wouldn’t otherwise see. This Bible study method values everyone’s perspective.
A thought struck me on our final trip to the airport. This idea of the scarcity of resources, such as land, has been inappropriately spread into all areas of life to included God’s love. Empires create an understanding of supply and demand through the control of materials, such as land and natural resources. I think we tend to relate God’s love as being in short supply just like material things in our world.
Thankfully, God’s love is unlimited and it’s for everyone. Anyone can enter into a relationship with God, through Jesus, without the approval of a government. That’s part of the beauty of what Jesus offers everyone.
One last thought on skin color: I think that a person who is offended by the color of another, offends their creator, God. He created each of us and none of us had any choice in what color our skin would be.
This post barely scratches the surface and I’ve tried to keep it as concise as possible. As Dr. Paul mentioned, this isn’t a remote problem in South Africa; we are all still living in some shadow of colonialism.
As we prepared to leave South Africa, Dr. Carol Alexander encouraged us with Micah 6:8.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8