statues, fears and a christian response

South Africa is currently in the middle of a ‘statue’ crisis. As I perceive it, a portion of our citizens are unhappy with what these statues of past Colonial and Apartheid heroes represent. There are a lot of frustration, fears and anger being voiced in social circles lately. On Thursday, 9 April 2015, the statue of imperialist, Cecil John Rhodes, was removed from the campus of the University of Cape Town. The governing management of UCT decided to remove the statue after weeks of protests and pressure from students on the campus.

The Rhodes debacle triggered a wave of protests around the country – Grahamstown, Port Elizabeth, Pretoria, Cape Town, etc. Some of these protesters turned to vandalism in defaming monuments of past oppressors. In response to the defamation of statues, some people are also protesting for the preservation of these figures.

With all this going on, I was watching the news the other night, and a remark by one of South Africa’s political leaders struck my heart. He said that the defamation of statues reminded him of similar scenes in Germany in the early 1930s. The Nazi Party under Adolf Hitler tried to remove the Jewish influence on German life by burning all books written by Jews, and about Jews. We all know what happened in the approximately 12 years after that to Jews in Europe under the bloodthirsty Nazis.  When I heard this statement, my heart froze with fear! I thought to myself, “What if this is just the beginning of the extermination of the Afrikaner from South Africa?”

Late into the evening I experienced emotions ranging from anxiety to anger. I suppose a human’s default reaction to the possible threat of your existence is to make a plan – fight or flee.  After some time of contemplating the issues at hand, two thoughts arose in my heart:

  1. What is the Biblical perspective on the unfolding events?
  2. What lies at the root of these protests in the hearts of men?

Both of these questions do not have a singular answer, and I certainly will not try to answer these questions holistically. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit will awaken our hearts to compassion for the people in this situation. In a sense, I’m inviting you on this journey of discovering the heart of God for the people of South Africa. In these past weeks, I’ve come to realise that my heart is far from where God’s heart is at; my thoughts concerning the crisis is certainly not filled with divine revelation, but instead, self-preservation (Isaiah 55:8, 9). It is our usual manner as humans to put our own survival as first priority, yet that is contrary to what Jesus exemplified. He said,

“For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” (Luke 9:24 ESV)

How is our response different to that of the world? Do we run to our corner in fear, or attack the other party in anger and self-justification? Or is there maybe another way, a Christ-honouring way? While the anger started to bubble up from within, I ran through every argument in my head, trying to prove my point of view as the just one. In the midst of this mental conflict, a scripture came to mind,

Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it.” (1 Peter 3:9 NLT)

God knows where retaliation will take mankind. It will just perpetuate the cycle of hatred and revenge. I am just scratching the surface of God’s perspective in the Scriptures on what is happening. Just by simply seeing the unfolding events through the eyes of eternal truths found in the Bible, I can allow God to change my hardened heart. If God can change my heart, He can then start to use me as an agent of change for His Kingdom of love. As a representative of God’s Heavenly Kingdom on earth, the Bible is my ambassadorial directives from the celestial capital. If we’re not immersed in what God’s Word is saying, we will fail miserably in representing Christ on earth (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).

So firstly, I am committing myself to study the Holy Scriptures in order to see and hear God’s heart for our current situation in South Africa. More than that, I want to learn how to share the Good News of Reconciliation with my fellow Africans.

And this brings me to the second question: I do not really know why many South Africans (and especially black Africans) feel aggrieved at the legacy of Apartheid and Colonialism. I know some facts about the injustices committed in the past by the oppressors. But what I’m talking about is not the historic facts; I’m talking about the knowing of the heart. To be honest, there is not a natural empathy in my heart for what the previously disenfranchised suffered. I know what the Apartheid government did was wrong, but it is just an intellectual consent, not a visceral reality.

In order for me to ‘feel for’ the statue protesters, I first need to ‘feel with’ them. In other words, I will not feel compassion for the disenfranchised, if I don’t see and hear and taste and smell and feel what they’ve gone through, and what they are currently going through. Therefore, I have committed myself to read (in their own words) what they have gone through in the past under the hands of the oppressors. I am also trusting God to grant me the boldness to engage my fellow brothers and sisters in hearing their stories. What are their challenges? What are their frustrations? Where are they headed with their lives? And where can I ask forgiveness for what I and my forefathers did that dishonoured their humanity? What role can I play in the redeeming process of broken lives and systems?

My hope is that if God can change me, then maybe I can make a constructive contribution to making South Africa a God-honouring country. My aim is to start where I am with what I’ve got. My prayer is that you will join me in this journey of discovering God’s heart for South Africa and its people, and also how we can display His heart to a people in desperate need.