South Africa—Many Races, Many Conflicts, But Some Find Peace
By “Awake!” correspondent in South Africa
SOUTH AFRICA is a land of striking contrasts. Wide fertile plains, vast deserts, mountain ranges, rivers cutting through gorges and winding through green valleys. A fascinating variety of animal, bird, and plant life abounds. Here, also, a rich variety of races meet.
Sadly, though, this mingling of races has brought problems. “South Africa,” wrote Sir Laurens van der Post, “has a greater variety of human tensions than any other country in the world: there are tensions between white and Asians, black and Asians, white and Cape coloureds, Afrikaner* and British, and between both Afrikaner and British and black.”
Who was here first? Surprisingly, none of the above-mentioned peoples! “It is undeniable that of the tribes of today the Bushman is the ‘oldest inhabitant’ and that the others are immigrants, black from the north and white from the south,” wrote Dr. Tyrrell in Tribal Peoples of Southern Africa. The Bushmen are an endangered yellow-tinged race similar in size to the Pygmies of central Africa. They are among the last people of earth who survive solely by hunting and gathering.
Closely resembling the Bushmen were the Hottentots—believed to be a mixture of Bushmen and blacks. They also hunted but, unlike the Bushmen, raised their own cattle and sheep. Inhabiting the southern coastal regions, the Hottentots were the first to come in contact with the whites—who settled on Africa’s southern tip from the year 1652.
From the fourth century onward, black African tribes began penetrating southern Africa. In time the blacks came to number millions—separated into hundreds of tribes, each with its own chieftain. Certain tribes of the same language formed larger national groups, such as the Zulu, Xhosa, Sotho, Tswana, Pedi, Venda, and Tsonga.
The Push for Land
The way of life of the Bushman was not compatible with that of the Hottentots and the African tribesmen. War over land intensified with the arrival of Europeans, who required large farms for their stocks. Though incredibly courageous, the little hunter was forced to give way, finally succumbing to the sophisticated weapons of the white man. Some were absorbed into other nations, like the Sotho, while others survived in the inhospitable Kalahari.
After initial warfare, the Hottentots were more willing to surrender and serve the white settlers. In time, they formed part of the Cape-Coloured community, an outgoing, friendly people of mixed race—including European ancestry—who vary in colour from white to dark brown.
The elimination of the Bushman and the subduing of the Hottentot did not bring peace to South Africa. As the book Gold and Workers explains: “There began a bitter struggle for land, first in the eastern Cape between the Xhosa and the Dutch and later the British, then later in Natal between the Zulus and the Dutch and the British . . . The turning point came when Britain sent large armies to South Africa. They settled the outcome. With their horses, their modern guns and their cannons, they were eventually able to crush the Xhosa in the eastern Cape and the Zulus in Natal.”
In 1899, 20 years later, the Anglo-Boer war started, lasting almost four years. It was a conflict between whites of English and of Dutch descent, costing upwards of 40,000 lives. Picture the spectacle that confronted the blacks. Here were “Christians,” who brought them the Bible, slaughtering one another.
Blacks and Asians
What about the blacks, who form the majority in South Africa? Are they united? In the early 19th century, a powerful Zulu warrior, Shaka, conquered a number of neighbouring tribes. His conquests brought about a chain reaction of intertribal war resulting in millions of deaths.
Over the past century, with the discovery of rich goldfields and the advance of industry, tribal blacks have gradually moved to white cities for employment. One third of the black population, representing many different languages, now live together in townships near white communities. One example is Soweto, with about one million blacks, situated on the outskirts of South Africa’s largest city, Johannesburg. Blacks living in these townships have adopted many European ways, but old tribal beliefs remain.
Adding to the rich variety of races are over a hundred thousand black mine workers on contract from neighbouring Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, and Mozambique. These men come to earn money for their families back home. They live in mine compounds, where fighting often erupts between the different nationalities.
Finally, there are the over half million Asians in South Africa. How did they get here? In the 19th century, Britain ruled the South African coastal region of Natal. The power of the Zulus was not yet broken, and they were unwilling to work in white-owned sugar plantations. So labourers were hired from India from 1860 onward, and most of these preferred to stay after their contracts ended. Immigration from India continued until 1911, by which time over 150,000 men, women, and children had made South Africa their home, adding to its rich variety of races. Sadly, even these are not at unity. Among them are Hindus, Muslims, and a number who belong to Christendom’s different churches, and animosity between some blacks and Indians continues till the present day.
Perhaps readers can now understand why the South African author quoted earlier said that this country “has a greater variety of human tensions than any other country in the world.” Recently the exclusively white government made new plans with the hope of satisfying the Indians and the Coloureds. But many whites strongly objected, leading to the formation of a new political party.
The book South Africa 1982 estimates that over 83 percent of South Africans, white and black, claim to be Christian. But the disunity among them has turned many people against Christianity. Does this mean that something is wrong with the Bible? No, for the Bible clearly condemns “enmities, strife, jealousy, . . . divisions,” stating that “those who practice such things will not inherit God’s kingdom.” (Galatians 5:20, 21) In fact, the Bible has proved to be a strong force for unity in strife-torn South Africa.
Uniting All Races in Peace
Even as far back as 1915, this report was made: “Racial antipathies are dissolved in Christian love, and Briton and Boer become one in Christ Jesus. . . . What a wonderful bond of unity is this, that gathers . . . white men, black men and yellow men.” Reference was here being made to a convention of Bible Students (Jehovah’s Witnesses) held in South Africa at that time.
Is there such genuine unity of Christians today? Has it lasted and grown? Yes, indeed, as shown by the 7,792,109 people of all races who met peacefully worldwide on April 4, 1985, to memorialize the death of Jesus Christ.—Luke 22:19.
This true Christian unity of Jehovah’s Witnesses can readily be seen in the some 200 volunteers of all races who work harmoniously at their headquarters for South Africa, translating and publishing Bible literature in many languages. This literature does not contain political propaganda but focuses on the “good news of the kingdom”—God’s instrument for bringing peace to the whole earth.—Matthew 6:10; 24:14; Daniel 2:44.
Can this Kingdom message preached by Jehovah’s Witnesses really remove deep-seated racial prejudice?
Consider the example of Samuel Mase, of the Xhosa nation. Three times he had been assaulted by whites. He was bitter and disillusioned, but something helped him change: “As I associated with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I found it quite different from other religions. In the Church of England, there used to be frequent quarrels between Sotho and Xhosa. But what unity, harmony, and love I found among the Witnesses. As I continued studying, I realized that even those whites that once assaulted me did it because of their imperfection, just as blacks assault other blacks of the same tribe.” For the past 40 years, Samuel has in turn helped a wide variety of people to put faith in God’s Kingdom.
Isaac Langa, a South African, was raised in the black township of Alexandra, Johannesburg. Having a strong racialistic spirit, he hated whites and viewed the Zulu nation as superior to other blacks. Attending meetings arranged by a banned antigovernment organization, Isaac became involved in the South African riots of 1976. He recalls: “Many were shot dead by police; some became cripples for life. As I saw all of this, I developed a spirit of revenge. I wanted to get an automatic gun and shoot as many as I could before being killed myself. Unable to find one, I decided to follow the example of others who left for neighbouring countries in order to get military training.”
At this crucial time, Isaac was contacted by Jehovah’s Witnesses in their house-to-house preaching. Books explaining the Bible’s message were left with him, and one in particular, True Peace and Security—From What Source?, made a lasting impression. He explains: “Now I had the true peace I was looking for. I learned that the Bible says: ‘That which is made crooked cannot be made straight,’ and: ‘It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.’ So it became clear to me that our struggle was in vain because it was not going to bring peace on earth. Only God’s Kingdom will do so.”—Ecclesiastes 1:15; Jeremiah 10:23.
Another example is that of an Afrikaner who was brought up to hate blacks. At night he and two of his companions would often beat up any Africans they met on the road. Then he began studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He attended an assembly where African Witnesses were also present and was struck by the love manifest between races. Later he started working for a Witness and was sent on a job to a remote area. “It was winter and very cold, and I slept in a tin hut,” he relates. “The truckdriver, who was an African Witness, arrived there, and I took some of my blankets, sheets, and a pillow to make a bed for him.” This amazed another black, who had known this man’s former ways. After many years, this Afrikaner who previously hated blacks and is now a Witness, says: “Today violence has no place in my life. It has been difficult to change after so many years, but I make no distinction between races, although people in the world abusively call me a ‘kafferboetie’ [Negrophile].”
One congregation composed of Coloureds, whites, and Indians included some mine compounds in its territory. They decided to widen out and began spreading the Bible message among these black migrant workers. Soon a number, including foreign Witnesses, began attending meetings and making good progress. The congregation reports:
“There were friends from Malawi, Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Mozambique, Transkei, Zululand, and even Angola. They spoke about seven different languages, so Zulu was used as a common medium, but comments at meetings were entertained in all the languages. Public talks were translated from English or Afrikaans into Zulu.
“The strife outside the congregation served to highlight the love that existed among members within the congregation. Some young gangsters periodically harassed the African mine workers from the compound, in some cases even stabbing them to death. Tremendous animosity developed, making it unsafe for all. And yet, at the Kingdom Hall love was evident by the smiles, handshakes, laughter, and warm interest in one another.”
After describing a gathering where such unbiased love was manifest, the report concluded: “It made us all realize how wonderful it will be when the inhabitants of the entire earth are all united in the worship of Jehovah, and all dwell together in perfect harmony.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses in South Africa truly believe that this will happen because God has promised it. Not only do they deeply appreciate the rich variety found among themselves now but they also look forward to living together forever with righteous people of all races on a cleansed earth.—Psalm 37:29; Revelation 7:9, 14; 21:3-5.
European descendants, mainly Dutch, who developed the language Afrikaans. In the past, most were farmers, hence called Boers.
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