A momentous prayer meeting took place in the South African Parliament last Friday that is likely to have significance for generations to come.
The focus was on reconciliation, with white people asking forgiveness from blacks, and blacks confessing their sins against the white community in recent years.
Many were reportedly brought to tears during an extended time of prayer and confession, after which farmer-evangelist Angus Buchan addressed MPs and other dignitaries about the need for faith in South Africa.
One MP, Steve Swart, even confessed the government’s anti-Semitism during World War II when Jews who had fled the Holocaust were not allowed to disembark in Cape Town.
The meeting was held in the Parliament’s former main chamber where many discriminatory laws were passed, and was by invitation only due to the venue’s maximum 250 capacity.
Anneke Rabe, praying on behalf of South Africa’s whites, sought forgiveness for the way they had treated the nation’s black, Coloured (mixed race) and Indian population along with other minorities – for oppressive laws, land dispossession and the way the churches condoned apartheid:
“I repent for the way that we shamed, humiliated and oppressed you…for those who died under the evil system of apartheid in Sharpeville, Soweto and many other places; for the inferior education you received under that system; for the pain, anguish, fear and shock you had to endure; for the detentions, imprisonments, tortures and violence.”
Cape Town intercessor Ashley Cloete, a descendant of slaves and the Khoi people, was reduced to tears “when one speaker after another recalled laws that had affected my life down the years such as the Group Areas Act and the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act.
“As a result of the former law, and the related practice of so-called ‘slum clearance’, almost all the buildings and places of my childhood memories had been eradicated. And the latter law was the reason for my exile of just over 18 years,” he told Gateway News.
Representing the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa, Rev Moss Nthla prayed “with a deep sense of awareness of the grace you showed us through what many have described as the miracle of 1994 (the relatively peaceful transfer of power).”
But he went on: “I stand to confess our failure, as a people, to be good stewards of that miracle. We have neither sought nor walked in your ways. As a result, we have harmed ourselves and each other as South Africans. I ask for forgiveness that sadly, a growing number of white South Africans have been made to feel unwelcome in this country and that they have no future for themselves or their children (a possible reference, in part, to the policy of positive discrimination favouring blacks over whites for jobs). I further ask for forgiveness for the thousands of farmers who have been murdered in our country by black people.”
Commenting later on the reference to anti-Semitism, Ashley Cloete said: “The attitude of our present government towards Israel is of course something that we are not at all proud of as followers of the Jewish Jesus, our Lord and Saviour.” (There are moves afoot to downgrade diplomatic ties with Israel). And he also referred to regular worship on Signal Hill (adjacent to Table Mountain) “in our Isaac-Ishmael prayer battle for Jews and Muslims”.
Driving through the wilderness through which the ancient Israelites wandered for 40 years during my recent tour of Israel, I was profoundly struck by the wonder of how they were able to survive in such arid conditions. It was to teach them to depend on God for everything, and learn that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4.4, Deuteronomy 8.3) There were no bakeries or bottle stores there; they had to trust God, who duly provided manna from heaven and water from the rock.
It also occurred to me that trusting God was not an option for them; it wasn’t reserved for the ‘religious’ – they were all in it together. Judaism sees no separation between the sacred and the secular; it’s all part of life. And neither should Christianity, whose roots are in Judaism. That is where we fall down so often.
But South Africa’s Christians have taken the bull by the horns and stepped straight into the very heart of government. Didn’t Jesus say the gates of Hell would not prevail against his church? They are not shy about their faith, or happy to keep it to themselves. They know it’s the only hope for the nation’s future.
Clearly, God has anointed Angus Buchan and others for such auspicious moments, but we have to ask if there is someone in Britain, with comparable courage and conviction, who is prepared to raise his voice among our politicians?
Angus knows where his strength comes from – the mighty power of the Holy Spirit that was first poured out in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost.
In 1960 British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan also addressed the Cape Town Parliament warning of “winds of change” blowing through Africa among nations seeking their independence from colonial powers.
But our farmer friend knows that the only wind of change God requires from leaders in these dark days is the acknowledgement of rule from heaven above, and the restoration of our Judeo-Christian heritage.
As with Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem and Ezra drawing the people back to God by reading the Law, so South Africa is experiencing a restoration – both in spirit and in truth.
Our need in Britain is the same; chiefly for reconciliation with God, though working together in unity with our Christian brethren is a vital first step, without which our secular nation will not fully grasp that we love one another.
Like Angus and his fellow leaders, we also need courage – the sort that caused those who witnessed the boldness of Peter and John to recall that they “had been with Jesus”. (Acts 4.13)
We too need to repent – over the shameful laws we have passed that contradict the commandments handed down to us on Mt Sinai; and over our treatment of Israel, who gave us God’s Law in the first place.
Thankfully, an anti-Semitic campaign calling on the British Government to apologize for the Balfour Declaration (promising to do all we could to restore Jews to their ancient land) has come to nothing. If anything, we should apologize for trying to prevent its eventual implementation, largely through appeasement of Arabs opposing it.
Worse still, we prevented Jews trying to escape the Holocaust from entering the Promised Land through our policy of limited immigration during the (internationally-approved) Mandate we held over the region.
And since we’re discussing South Africa, perhaps we also need to repent over our disgraceful dealings with the Afrikaners, 26,000 of whom perished in the British concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.
I am still proud to be South African, despite my problems with immigration when initially refused re-entry to the UK on my recent return from Israel. My loyalty to the country of my birth is chiefly due to the god-fearing Afrikaners who rescued my orphaned great-grandfather and his siblings from possible death in the veldt following the roadside murder of their widowed father.
My great-grandfather, also Charles, was subsequently brought up in the parsonage of the Rev Andrew Murray, a much-loved revivalist who, together with his famous son of the same name, became a father-figure for Dutch Reformed evangelicals throughout the country.
The passion for Jesus exhibited by so many Afrikaners today is in no small way connected, in my opinion, to the legacy left by the Murray clan – I happen also to share Scottish ancestry with both Angus Buchan and the Murrays.
But it’s about the heart more than our genes. May passion for God’s rule over our nations drive us to our knees, as we are witnessing so powerfully in South Africa, where 1.7 million Christians converged on a farmer’s field to pray for the nation back in April. Amen.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon, and Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com