Once, English and Afrikaans murdered each other in the thousands. The stubborn Afrikaner met the relentless Englishman in a bloody clash that would last for years and destroy countless families; the marching hordes of the British facing the savage guerrillas of the Boer. Farms burned, men and boys died, and women and children starved in concentration camps in what has been called “the most terrible and destructive modern armed conflict in South Africa’s history”.
The Anglo-Boer War took place just more than a century ago, 1899-1902, and claimed the lives of thousands of people. Since this is an equestrian blog, perhaps the number most likely to bring home the sheer magnitude of the bloodbath is the number of horses that were killed: 300 000. That’s almost ten times the population of my hometown.
Today has been dubbed “Black Monday”. Not terribly original, perhaps, but it’s a name on the lips of almost every South African on this day. Highways are slowed to a crawl and smaller roads closed by hundreds of farmers and tractors and bakkies and their supporters, all wearing black. Whether I agree with the protest – peaceful though it is – itself or not is immaterial; at least voices are being heard. Today I have a strip of black cloth tied around my wrist. In mourning for the thousands of Afrikaners that are dying in this time.
Our farmers are being killed, raped, robbed and tortured in the farm attack trend that’s spreading all over the country. It’s not declared war, but it is ugly, and it is bloody. It’s also threatening to tear apart the ideal of the Rainbow Nation that our hero Madiba lived and died and won the Nobel Prize for. The actions of a hateful group has caused the festering old wound of racism to erupt and bleed on both sides. It is blatant, open, unquestioned.
In the minds of many, it has become us versus them. Black versus white. We don’t say it too loudly on social media, but the anger is there, the hatred is there. It is undoubtedly there for the killers, who have almost without exception targeted white Afrikaans farmers. Their excuse for their grudge is apartheid, which ended twenty-three years ago. I will be unpopular but truthful for saying that apartheid still lives on in the hearts of thousands – both black and white. For those killers, at least, it is still very much alive, and their hatred is based on the most pointless of factors: skin colour and the less-than-recent past.
The bitter enemies of Afrikaans and English reached a moody treaty in 1902, although many of the Boere, as stubborn and unbreakable as the rough country where they originate, chose exile over surrender. We call them the Bittereinders; Wikipedia translates the word to “irreconcilables”, but directly, it means, “Bitter Enders.” Bitter is a good name for it. Bitter is what we are today.
But we don’t have to be. Not forever.
On Sundays, I tuck my Bible under my arm and go to church. I mount the steps of a building older than the war, the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk. We call it the Klipkerk. I speak fluent Afrikaans with no accent to the ouderlinge and I slide into my pew and sing the Oorwinningslied.
Then the dominee takes his place and we sit, and he begins to preach in Afrikaans. And I open my King James Bible and read along in English.
A hundred years ago, it would not have been possible, but here it is. My dad is so English he could barely understand anyone when we moved to our very Afrikaans community seventeen years ago. My mom is as Afrikaans as they come. As for me, I was ‘the Anglo-Boer Bulge’ before I was born. I have met with nothing but acceptance, and a little friendly ribbing, from “pure” English or Afrikaans people and communities.
I am the offspring of those who once were sworn enemies. And I am hope.
We have already come so far. And when I say “we”, I don’t mean “white Afrikaans/English people like me”, I mean “South African people like me”. We have already won so many small battles. This last uprising, this desperate resistance of evil and disunity can be conquered – must be conquered. We cannot give up now, we cannot give in to the darkness now, we cannot continue in our old and hateful ways anymore because it will shred us all. The farm attacks are born of racism; our response doesn’t have to be. We will stop those criminals not because they are people who are black but because they are people who are doing bad things. Surely that’s what’s more important? And we will stop the bad things we’re doing, in our actions, our hearts, and our words.
And yet I know we have a long way to go before apartheid ends, even though it was officially abolished before I was even born. It’s alive and kicking in the words and hearts of millions.
But it is not alive in mine. I have killed it. It fought back, of course, as hatred does; growing up in a world that sees in black and white makes the temptation difficult. It’s so easy to blame a skin colour rather than a flaw of society or, worse, a flaw of your own.
Our struggles are not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world (Ephesians 6:12). Our enemies are not only human. Our fight is not only physical. I will not allow the darkness to overwhelm my heart. I will not allow racism to colour my vision. I will feel. I will believe. I will mourn for my brothers and sisters who have fallen, regardless of their skin colour.
Thousands of us have taken an entire day to stage this protest. Will we all take ten minutes every morning to take the fight to our knees? Will we all pray for our people with the same vehemence with which we curse our enemies?
The real bad guys only win when they make us hateful. In many of us, they’re winning.
I stand with every farmer who has died, every nourisher of our people who has had to be afraid, and I stand with every person who has ever been a victim of racism. I stand against hatred. I stand against violence. I stand against all that is dark and evil. I stand against unrighteous judgment and the division between the races. I stand for love, I stand for faith, and I stand for hope.
It might take a century, but I pray and I wait and I watch for the day when a brown-skinned young person mounts the steps of the Klipkerk and listens to an Afrikaans sermon, reading along in a Zulu Bible. It has been done before. It can be done again.
And I pray God that it is, for all of our sakes.