I’m reading Prof. Jonathan Jansen’s book “Knowledge in the blood” for the second time this week. I believe it is a critically important book for white Christians in South Africa. Jansen is the first black rector of the University of Free State.
The book tracks his experiences at the University of Pretoria in the seven years he worked there as the Dean of Education. The book explores his experiences with Afrikaner students – the book is subtitled “Confronting race and the apartheid past”.
I believe this topic is vitally important for the Afrikaner today. I strongly believe that if we don’t theologize into the issues of race, racism and identity as South Africans – then we will simply continue in our cocooned existences.
Apartheid was built on a theological justification. People were taught this system in churches. When Apartheid fell, did the church teach a new story or did we just stop propagating the old ideology without “renewing our minds” towards a counter-narrative? Are we living with the same apartheid mind (church) in a post-Apartheid South Africa?
Jansen’s observations in this book is poignant and the scholarship excellent.
As a beneficiary of Apartheid who was born in the seventies I feel that it is my duty to follow Jesus into this area of our South African history and life. I know this is a minority position – so if you don’t agree with me then I would implore you to join me on this journey anyway (you can start by buying the book – I don’t receive royalties).
The book opens with the following observation,
“It will never happen again. This is the first and only generation of South Africans that would have lived through one of the most dramatic social transitions of the twentieth century. Nobody else would be able to tell this story with the direct experience of having lived on both sides of the 1990s, the decade in which everything changed.” p.1
It amazes me to think that I/we get the privilege to live in the story Jansen talks about and describes as “one of the most dramatic social transitions of the twentieth century”.
In between the husbanding, parenting, friendships and working we, as South Africans, are living in a society whose story has gripped the world (especially in the early 90’s). Do we realize the amazing epoch we’re living in?
In the first few pages of the book Jansen talks about how the transition to democracy has demoted a large group of Afrikaners from their automatic positions of privilege (mostly a psychological defeat). He describes that within this process,
“ … Afrikaners lose the battle for Afrikaans in the public domain – that is, in state departments and in government facilities, from post offices to railways, from airports to streets. The common language of Afrikaans loses its sure footing as black nationalists take over political power, except in three cultural spheres: schools, churches and universities.
With the second defeat, the struggle for Afrikaans and to some extent Afrikaner protectionism is now restricted to these three spheres. Of the three, the churches are the most secure; they are the only space in which Afrikaners can be left alone to be white and Afrikaans without interference; they remain the only arena that is, in many cases, still all-white and all-Afrikaans in the new South Africa; true, there is external pressure to change from the broad church community, and there are voices of conscience within the mainstream Afrikaner churches pressing for a broader sense of mission and for recognition by world bodies that once ejected them from the international faith community; but it is entirely up to these churches, once indistinguishable from the state, to decide whether and when they will change.” P.35
It is at this point of reading the book that I realized how much work has to be done inside the white Afrikaner churches.
I understand something of this change.
Three years ago Kleipot opened up our worship space to other South Africans by adopting English as our community language. It was a tough time and we’re still on this journey.
The South African Afrikaner “church” space can become healthy. Or it can be a festering space where identity is built on protectionist neo-Afrikaner nationalism and reeks of racism.
I recently had two experiences that show how this protectionist tactic is still alive.
Parents in our church told how the Christian kindergarten where their daughter is enrolled had a meeting to discuss how they will keep black children out by speaking Afrikaans. For the school there is no paradox between this exclusive attitude and proclaiming Christianity – of deliberately using language to exclude others.
The second incident was at a wedding where during the prayer at the banquet the person asked for God’s protection for the Afrikaner who is being attacked from every side.
It is in church where I believe that followers of Jesus should reorder their identity-forming habits away from excluding boundary markers – especially those ones used during apartheid.
Does Jesus follow a pattern in which (to use Jansen’s phrase) “the Afrikaner can be left alone to be white and Afrikaans without interference?”
So here is my question for the day: Is there a place for all-white Afrikaans speaking churches in the New South Africa. If yes, why? If not, why?