Post-Apartheid South Africa: The Missed Zacchaeus Moment by the Christian Beneficiaries of Apartheid. A pastoral message to the people gathered in Bloemfontein.

Today, 22 April 2017, it is suggested that over a million Christians will be gathering in the farming areas of Bloemfontein to pray for South Africa. They are led there by an evangelical fervour because of the multiple crises taking place in South Africa. It’s a non-surprising event. It’s a common action in South Africa that when there are political challenges, we assemble people in mass gatherings for a somewhat charismatic experience. Some call it a move of God. Others simply call it a mass meeting.

I am a committed Christian. I support church activities and donate to missions and good causes monthly. I preach as a lay servant occasionally. I write often. I have worked in Christian ministry for a significant part of my life.

I am also a sceptic of the events taking place in Bloemfontein today.

On so many levels I fear that this is a laager and not a sacred assembly, that it’s the men of the day, largely the Christian beneficiaries of apartheid, gathering as they always have, to fortify, inspire and strategize. But change they won’t.

Here’s my question: What will they do to show South Africa that this is not a laager but a genuine sacred assembly? Like at previous assemblies of this nature, I know that they will cry tears of forgiveness and make declarations of repentance. They will quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 many times over. Like before, I know that they will hug each other and build amazing friendships across the cultural barriers. And that will all come to an end on Sunday. They will return to their separate schools, separate homes and they will write their cheques out to donate towards the preservation of the world they know. Transformative Justice for the poor will not appear on the average Christian radar.

In generalised articles like these I am going to acknowledge that there are Christians who, having benefitted from Apartheid, have embraced a justice orientation towards repentance, and are exemplary representatives of the Christian faith in how they live in South Africa and in how they view their assets. I have met many of them. Some of them are close friends. But there too few of them.

And let me further add the great respect I have for many beneficiaries of Apartheid benefits, who, without a claim to the Judeo-Christian orientation, have displayed justice and generosity as a hallmark of the way they live today.  Both these groups of people inspire me greatly.

This event is called “It is Time”. I suppose that “It is Time” is a typical South Africa euphemism for “Ons is nou gatvol.” Let me give the organisers the benefit of the more positive use of the phrase. It is time to do something. But this is where my scepticism lingers. Why was it not time in April 1994, when the horrors of apartheid were finally voted out of power and their sins laid bare on the altar of public pain? Why was the moment of black pain, traumatically told at TRC Hearing after TRC Hearing, not the time? Why was Nelson Mandela’s death not the time? Why was the brutal murder of Dr Johan Heyns not the time? Why was the death of Anene Booysen not the time? Or the death of Kwezi not the time? Let’s state clearly that the Zuma-Gupta political alliance alone is enough to make it time. That corrupt alliance is a disease in this country. But I suspect that “It is Time” in Bloemfontein because finally the beneficiaries of Apartheid have heard the term “Radical Economic Transformation” too often recently. And they hope that their prayers and repentance today will allay judgement and bring a more favourable dispensation upon the “pray-ers”, their families and their cultural notions. This nation has a “Gelofte Dag” psychosis that distorts our engagement with the reality we live in. We will painfully seek a covenant with God, but we will not see the true world around us which that covenant is supposed to lovingly and graciously serve.

In this vein I have been pondering the multiple missed opportunities by the Christian beneficiaries of apartheid to show the change they profess they have undergone. It’s simply not there on the scale required to be worthy of the Christian community in this country. If the people praying in Bloemfontein showed a bias towards a profound pouring of social and economic justice, and place causes like the plight of the black student and the poor at the centre of their repentance, I would gladly write the organisers a public letter of apology. But Bloemfontein will be like Newlands and Ellis Park – pray, pray, pray and then continue the practices of injustice towards other citizens such as the poor, women, the LGBT community, black students etc. But in God’s eyes it’s not the justice that we do to our brother or sister that counts. It’s the justice we do to the stranger, the one who hates us and to the one who is not like us, that counts.

I’m certain the Bloemfontein organisers know that justice – a drastic, visible, painful, costly justice – is a pre-condition for revival. Anything else is simply a deception of the masses to delay the coming radical economic transformation.

Jesus encountered about four or five wealthy men (yep, it had to be men) according to the Gospel records.
On another day I will write in detail about what those encounters reveal about radical economic transformation. Because radical economic transformation is actually a Biblical concept.

The rich man who wanted to inherit eternal life had to give half of his possessions to the poor. That’s radical economic transformation.

The rich man who threw scraps at the poor man Lazarus ended up in hell for his treatment of the poor man. That’s radical economic transformation.

The rich man who proudly gave some money to the temple and felt quite proud about his gift vs the value of the gift given by the poor woman, was pointed out as one who is giving way too little. That’s radical economic transformation.

One of the other famous rich man encounters is with a wealthy Jewish tax collector who was a self-confessed crook on a Gupta-like self-enrichment scheme. He benefitted extra-ordinarily from a system where he charged a basic tax as per his Roman employers criteria and then was free to add on any additional sums for anything he wished to make off that. At random. His exploitation knew no bounds and was legendary. When he encounters the forgiveness of Jesus – in fact, the full embrace of acceptance of his humanity by Jesus – he does what the Christian beneficiaries of apartheid had failed to do: He says: “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” Talk about Radical Economic Transformation!

This is the Zacchaeus Moment that the Christian beneficiaries of apartheid missed in 1994. Overnight poverty in Jericho was dealt a death blow. The city’s poor of the day received a trust made up of 50% of a living, very wealthy man’s estate and everybody who was exploited during the Zacchaeus Tax Abuse Regime received a 400% cash injection from one man. That’s radical economic transformation. It’s in the same Bible the Bloemfontein people will be praying through today. It is time that they understood that.

Because Zacchaeus considered the grace and embrace he received from Jesus as liberating, he acted to reciprocate – and he did so to the people around him – to his sphere of influence. And this is part of the reason why black South Africa is so angry and sceptical, because the Jesus-like grace and embracing issued by Black South Africans to the beneficiaries of Apartheid in 1994, after years of exploitation and hunger and destruction of black people by these specifically Christian beneficiaries of apartheid, the Christian beneficiaries of apartheid said thank you and left, returning to live in their neighbourhoods, preserving their schools, keeping their jobs, benefiting from a new globally open market, but failed to seize the Zacchaeus opportunity. If the Christian beneficiaries of apartheid had stepped up, like Zacchaeus did, and went beyond the confession and forgiveness seeking, and actively gave away parts of the economic advantage and assets that they gained under apartheid, they would have created, led and owned one of the most significant global examples of radical economic transformation in the world.

The Christian beneficiaries of Apartheid missed their Zacchaeus moment. And ever since then they have fought to retain more and more of their influence but increasingly lost more and more of their moral authority. They have fought to retain their communities. They have fought to retain their schools. They have fought to retain their language. They have fought to retain their churches. They have fought to retain their denominations. As an example, I continue to remain flabbergasted at how many Christian denominations are still organised along racial lines in 2017. And such behaviour is contrasted against the actions of Zacchaeus, who valued his embrace and inclusion as of priceless value – more than any of the assets he owned.

Jesus, upon seeing Zacchaeus’ actions says these words: “Today salvation has come to this house”. The concept of “salvation” that Jesus refers to here is defined by Strong’s Concordance of Biblical terms as a comprehensive reference meaning welfare, prosperity, deliverance, preservation, salvation, safety”. The concept of “house” in the sentence refers to “sphere of influence”. So let’s rewrite what Jesus said: “Today welfare and prosperity as well as deliverance from destructive practices have come to this man’s sphere of influence”.

That’s what I call South Africa’s missed Zacchaeus Moment.

In 1994, the Christian beneficiaries of Apartheid had to assemble, as they are doing today in Bloemfontein, and they had to say to black people: “We will give whatever we can, but not less than 20% of our personal wealth over the next ten years – at a rate of 2% per year – to show how remorseful we are, and create a fund, to receive cash and fixed asset donations by every family who benefitted from apartheid, and we will use these funds exclusively to benefit the people that Apartheid exploited and destroyed.” That 2% would have raised over R500 million at 1994 average income calculations from the Christian beneficiaries of apartheid (on very conservative calculations) and growing every year. That would have sent most black children to university in 1994. Investing that wisely to address poverty would have allowed us today to have a fund standing at billions. Such a radical economic transformative statement, by the elders and leaders from the Christian apartheid beneficiaries across South Africa, would have allowed for a totally different trajectory of development in this country. And would have had a Mandela or a Tutu or even a COSATU declare “Today welfare and prosperity as well as deliverance from destructive practices have come to this nation’s sphere of influence”.

But they missed their Zacchaeus moment. They retreated into the laager. They asked for rights and protections for their schools, their religion, and their neighbourhoods. They refused to give the way Zacchaeus gave.

And they missed their Zacchaeus moment.

Now they are all meeting in Bloemfontein again. The laager has been formed, parading as a sacred assembly. They should have heeded the words of the prophet Amos when God spoke through him to say to the assembled people:
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. BUT LET JUSTICE ROLL ON LIKE A RIVER, RIGHTEOUSNESS LIKE A NEVER ENDING STREAM!”

But tonight in Bloemfontein justice and Zacchaeus are absent. For, like in 1994, they will seek God’s blessing on their assets and their welfare. And God is pointing them to Zacchaeus.

by Lorenzo A Davids
22 April 2017

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19 comments

  1. Vertos · April 23

    Wow – huge assumptions without evidence here. Are these people “laagering” because they are predominantly white? Do you really believe your sanitized cynicism is the answer to the ills we face? Rather be there and be a part of the solution as opposed to allowing your own long-standing templates to silt-up your writing. Sadly living in the past. Good luck with the whole Christlike thing.

    Like

    • jack Coetzee · April 28

      Lorenzo Davids I’m in Total agreement I loved every word you wrote so Christlike. Keep it up bro very well said God bless you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. thefatherheart · April 23

    Hi Lorenzo, felt I needed to comment, but it turned out longer than I anticipated, so I placed it as a response on my blog.

    https://thefatherheart.org/2017/04/23/in-defence-of-its-time-but-we-must-act/#more-2089

    Like

  3. Lalie · April 23

    So, let me ask. At which point or after which event will it be acceptable for white Christians to march or pray?
    I wonder if we might not end up reeling off a long list of past events or incidents etc, all the way back to Adam and Eve.

    Another question, what is your view re the black Christians who attended the prayer?

    Oh, to come clean, I am a black Christian. And a radical freedom fighter if ever I knew one. By no means an Uncle Tom.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. brettfish · April 25

    Thank you Lorenzo for this. So much truth in there. We will be known by the fruit we produce – got smashed for writing a similar thing about the Passion Worship event which happened a year ago and yet after thousands gathered to worship and meet with God i haven’t heard specifically of any ripples of that in South Africa – with a million’ish [depends on who you speak to] people at this event, if we don’t see dramatic change in some ways in the next few weeks even, we have to keep asking questions…

    love brett fish

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Genevieve · April 25

    Dear Lorenzo, thank you for this reflection. I am trying to give it time and space to sink in and work in me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Ryan Peter · April 25

    Thanks for this. While I don’t feel comfortable using what has become a political slogan to further political agendas (“Radical Economic Transformation”) and matching that to the Bible, I think that this is a great piece highlighting something that’s troubling me too – that many will just go home, park their car behind their walls, lock their doors, and stay there, rather than now think how they can really engage their community and serve the nation into bringing change.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. deltaza · April 25

    Oh look, Marxism dressed up as Christianity.

    Like

    • Lorenzo A Davids · April 25

      My service in the Kingdom of God has always been to be serve. I know no better way to show God’s love to the world. I think Jesus was accused of the same thing you’re accusing me of. Your name will always be in my prayers. Kindest regards.

      Like

      • Lorenzo I really appreciate your article and the insights you share. Keep speaking boldly!!!!

        Like

  8. Frank · April 25

    While there may be ‘some’ truth in your assumptions, and thats all it is, yiur opinion, I think you have totally missed the boat. Your self confessed sceptism holds you in judgment and ensnares you. Yes, importantantly, reach out to the poor. Give jystice where justice lacks…
    When a man of God, such as Angus Buchun, ( with the fruit to prove. Or more plainly look at his track record) does what God instructs him to do, critism will always be expected. You , Lorenzo, have not discerned the Body of Christ, neither His messenger. You have not discerned the ‘season’ at hand nor the the ‘time’. Regardless of sceptism and opinion, wait, what and see, God move on behalf of His peoples cries.
    ” for we our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in high places”
    Open your eyes.

    Like

    • Lorenzo A Davids · April 25

      Thank you, I value your comments. May it help me become a better follower of Jesus.

      Like

    • Craig · April 25

      Excuse me, doesn’t every terrorist claim to be “following God’s instructions”? Anyone can claim “God told me” which is no excuse nor does it prove anything Of course, maybe we all missed something and God only really speaks to white male farmers. :/

      Like

  9. Craig · April 25

    Thank you, Lorenzo for articulating your thoughts. It is sad that the response from white people – followers of Mr Buchan – will be as defensive and dismissive as represented by the posts above. Rather than take seriously the absence of black people, they prefer to close their eyes and minds to any voice but their own, a cognitive dissonance. After all, If you can label some point of view as “marxism” then it can be dismissed without bothering to consider it. It is a problem when the beneficiaries of apartheid refuse to listen to any voice but their own loud impotent rage. It seems to me that these Mighty Men would rather follow Buchan than the Jesus of the gospels.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. lodewykk · April 26

    Lorenzo, I can not agree with this article.

    You raise some important points and have some cool ideas. More needs to be done. Personally, I can’t see that anyone would mind adding a tax to the end he suggests. Everyone agrees that the economic divide needs to be fixed.

    But man, you read so much fear and hate into white South African christians:
    “…the Christian beneficiaries of apartheid, gathering as they always have, to fortify, inspire and strategize”.
    How does one harbour such deep distrust? It almost seems like you’d believe the SACP’s stories of the DA wanting to re-instate Appartheid.

    You seems to be hinting very strongly at a narrative that white South Africans got their money by cheating it out of black South Africans. Am I alone in finding this overly simplistic?
    Also, Radical Economic Transformation, as proposed by the EFF, is part of a system that has caused some of the worst famine and mass deaths of the 20th century. The idea that wealth is a zero sum game and that redistribution thereof will actually alleviate poverty is a dangerous one. There is reason to fear it. His definition is different, but this is the one actually used in the media.

    I also can’t agree with the insinuation that white South Africans, especially the ones that go to an event’s such as the one organised by A.B, only care about themselves or their own finances. The ones who will feel the worst effects of Zuma’s adventures with the Guptas are, of course the poorest citizens of this country. They are the ones will actually go hungry if the Rand goes to R26/$. This is what has me most angry at Zuma. The fact that he uses his own people so.

    And finally, the way you ends with Amos 5:21:
    [“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me”]
    This uses the verse in an out of context, inflammatory way. The verse is about idolitory and clearly does not apply to this prayer meeting.

    This sort of acusatory narative of distrust and resentment does not bring hope and encouragement. Focusing on and extrapolating from the bad heart you read into people’s good intentions will bring about no good. It wil only serve to bring suspicion and further division amongst an aready divided people. If you wish to help heal South Africa, this is not the way to go about doing it.

    Like

  11. Lorenzo A Davids · April 26

    Hi Lodewyk, thank you for taking the time to comment. I value that. You’re right – the economic divide must be fixed. Whilst the government carries the bulk of this responsibility and has moved at a snail’s pace to create appropriate empowerment systems, my article appeals to Christians here – and in particular to the people who gathered in Bloem – to show how great God is and to sacrifice their Isaac – their assets (a portion only) – as an act of faith in what God will do in this country. Nothing like that has happened yet – in fact most people have no intention to sacrifice by faith – instead I hear of a fortification of assets to “build a Christian nation” – while poor – largely black citizens who have been subject to systemically enforced poverty for generations – remain excluded. I keep looking for the Kingdom of God in the actions of such mass gatherings. Here is a thought: We know that no great thing is acheived without great sacrifice. What will the privileged sacrifice to achieve the dream of a safe, prosperous nation? I keep listening to the voices … and I’m left without any awareness of an Isaac sacrifice. And with that I am not singling out whites – this partcular nation is a message to the Church – of all hues. But every one must determine their Isaac. And then lay it on the altar.
    PS. Dont accuse me of political leaning – “It almost seems like you’d believe the SACP’s stories of the DA wanting to re-instate Appartheid.” I have no political affiliations. I have one allegiance: To Truth. As uncomfotable as it may sound – both to me and my audience.

    Like

  12. Chris · April 26

    Lorenzo
    I know there is soooo much more that needs to be done and that we done too little too late and that is exactly why we need God more than ever to correct our path. It is so difficult to correct the injustices of the past when what we contribute is placed in a bucket full of holes. If you think R500m would have made a differance, think what R50b spend on arms could have achieved; now we want to spend R1t on a nuclear power station?
    Somehow we need to get sensible goverment to come back to our country else there will be very little left for Radical Economic Transformation.
    If you look on the Nelson Mandela foundation web site at the framework of the RDP it was designed to achieve exactly what I interpret you asking us Christian: “Why did you not do it?” Well this is the delima we have, as as far as I remember it was implimented and all tax paying South Africans contributed to it by virtue of a special tax. During the 94/95 tax year allone I belief more than R2b was spend on RDP (I am not a guru on these figures so pls correct me if I am wrong). That is 4 x the amount you belief would have made a real differance, in one year. I belief we have to admit here that this problem is far bigger than us and need Gods special intervention and that is why I went. To pray from my hart for His intervention for the sake of all of us.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Michael Muller · May 2

    Hi Lorenzo. I am a white African Presbyterian minister. Thank you so much for the thoughtful way in which you engaged with what has also been an event about which I have many questions – particularly as it relates to the New Testament model of church, the purpose of the giving of the Holy Spirit and how we pray. Let me add the following:
    First, I was not happy with being told what to do by someone who has – it seems – been functioning separately from the broader church. We were basically commanded to “cancel every other meeting and make sure you are there.”
    Secondly, I find it difficult to conceive of an event being the “last chance” to save our “beloved” country.
    Thirdly, I am not convinced of the numbers being bandied about. Judging by photos I would be surprised if there were 250 000 (which is still a very large gathering).
    So, all in all…lots of questions.
    I also appreciated your challenge of the redistribution of wealth – but it is so hard to translate this Zaccheus opportunity into reality. I do realize that you’re not motivating for those who “have” to be separated from everything to uplift those who “do not have”, but postulate a way that could have made a real difference. In a world where Madiba was president, this may have been a real possibility, for he demonstrated such generosity of spirit that made us all think that anything was possible. Sadly, today the concept alone represents another way for fraudsters and corrupt persons to access wealth that will likely not reach its intended destination.
    May we all think and live a little more generously – like you – and seek ways to be relevant in our service of Christ and our fellow human beings.
    Regards, Mike

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Pingback: It's Time - Adding Action to Faith and Righting Wrongs in South Africa

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