06 Sep “Amos and Azania, a future perspective”. This is a paper delivered by Keith Matthee at a conference of SUCA (Students Union For Christian Action) in 1982. In addition to reminding us of what the situation was in South Africa in 1982, the question in 2022 is whether or not 40 years later anything has actually changed, other than the complexion of some of those who have the economic power in South Africa, and whether or not South Africa is still under God’s judgment
Reconciliation in Action
Students Union for Christian Action (December 1982)
PURPOSE OF CONGRESS
Reconciliation in Action – the purpose of Congress 2
RECONCILIATION AND HISTORY
Perspective on South African History 5
Forces that have shaped South African History –
A Black Perspective 12
RECONCILIATION AND THE LAW
Laws that prevent reconciliation –
A Christian Response 14
RECONCILIATION AND APARTHEID
Apartheid a Heresy – Implications for Christians 19
The Implications of Apartheid being declared a heresy 25
RECONCILIATION AND WAR
Military Participation from a Just War Perspective 30
Reasons for Participation in War 33
Military Chaplaincy. 37 .
RECONCILIATION AND ECONOMICS
Towards Utopia 43
RECONCILIATION AND WOMEN
The Position of Women 48
RECONCILIATION AND THE PRESENT
Reconciliation against the background of current
Political events 51
RECONCILIATION AND THE FUTURE
Different Future Perspectives of South Africa 56
A Future Perspective of South Africa 59
Congress Declaration 66
A FUTURE PERSPECTIVE OF SOUTH AFRICA – Keith Matthee, SUCA Conference, December 1982
I cannot over – emphasise the fact that I have approached this talk with a great amount of trepidation. I am painfully aware of my inadequacy to do justice to the topic – particularly of my openess to and knowledge of God’s Word in this area. I also am well aware of the fact that my thinking has been and is still influenced by worldly insights rather than being totally dependent on the Holy Spirit. Thus as I attempt to do justice to the topic, please always prayerfully bear the above in mind and remember that I speak as one sinner to another.
The future of South Africa? In order to answer this question one needs first to look at the present in South Africa. And to help us gain God’s view of South Africa’s present let us first have a brief look at the present in Amos’ Israel.
Affluence, exploitation and the profit motive were the most notable features of the society which Amos observed and in which he worked. The rich were affluent enough to have several houses apiece (3:15), to go in for ostentatiously expensive furniture (6:4) and not to deny themselves any bodily satisfaction (2:7; 3:12; 4:1; 6:6). On the other hand the poor were really poor and were shamelessly exploited. They suffered from property rackets (2:6&7), legal rackets (5:10&12) and business rackets (8:5) and the defenceless man with no influence came off worst every time (6:1-6; 2:6-8; 4:1).
It also was a country which outwardly was very religious (4:4; 5:5, 1-23; 8:3,10). But under the gaze of Amos all this religiosity was exposed as exercises in self-pleasing (4:5) abhorrent to God (5:21-23). As Motyer states in ‘The Day of the Lion’, the priest, Amaziah, offers us a case history of the best sort of worshipper, but when all came to all what was he? Establishment-minded (7:18), careful for the ecclesiastical properties (7:13) but supremely disinterested in any word from God (7:12, 16). In fact in Chap 3:13-15 we see that God’s word had been perverted in order to serve ‘sound national policy’ (Motyer). As Motyer terms it – Amos was branding the perversions a theological heresy.
It was a country where prophets/critics were silenced. Where their words were distorted. Where they were falsely accused of things they did not do or say (2:2; 7:10-15)). Where the rule of law was despised (5:10,12). It was a country which had constant warnings that they needed to repent – to change their ways (4:6-11). The people regarded it as a time of political strength, prosperity, national stability and greatness. It was a country which was arrogantly complacent in the belief that it was great when compared with other surrounding countries (6:1-7). It was a country that was arrogantly proud of and rejoiced in its military strength and conquests. (6:13). And finally it was a country which ‘drank wine by the bowlful and used the finest lotions, but who did not grieve over the ruin of Joseph”. To quote Motyer once more – ‘The word literally is the breaking of Joseph and its meaning is so comprehensive as that: circumstances, sorrow, finance, family, the past, the future, housing, schooling – whatever breaks the spirit and breaks the heart’.
Let us now have a brief look at the present situation in South Africa. It is a country where the rich are very rich and the poor very poor.
- In 1976 twenty percent of the people received seventy-one percent of the country’s income.
- In 1980 only 1.2% of Blacks in South Africa received old age pensions (R33 per month) as opposed to 3.14% of whites (R109 per month)
- In 1981 in the Pietermaritzburg area, on average, domestic workers who lived in received R43.00 per month and those who lived out received R60.00 per month, (transport included).
- Prof. Moosa, head of the Department of Pediatrics at King Edward hospital, in Durban, states that between three and four children die every hour in South Africa from malnutrition. This does not take the malnourished survivors into account and the effect malnourishment has on their development.
- In the same part of our country we have a place like Sun City with their million rand golf tournaments and a place like Winterveldt squatter camp where the struggle for survival is a daily experience.
The list is endless. And it is important to note that responsibility for this state of affairs cannot only be laid at the feet of the government – English business/finance has and continues to play a major part in this unjust situation.
It is also a country where property rackets abound.
- Seventy-two percent of the people own only 13% of the land,
- Up to 1979, 2 005 000 people have been moved in terms of resettlement schemes
- 1 727 000 people face resettlement. This often involves a loss of a settled community which is often replaced by no more than a tent in a barren area far removed from work, proper education facilities and the ability to work the small plot which has replaced their previous fertile piece of land. This is often done forcibly without proper consultation with the people who are to be resettled.
It is a country where the poor are deprived of justice in the courts.
- The overwhelming majority of accused who are arrested are never represented in court. This leads to much injustice ranging from denial of legitimate bail applications through to faulty court procedures and judgments. Having been a public prosecutor I speak from personal experience.
- Advocates and private firms of attorneys deny justice to the poor by the exorbitant fees they charge. The overwhelming majority of folk who have civil claims are not even able to reach the courts because they do not have sufficient money.
It is a country where people in general are denied justice in the courts – where the rule of law is despised.
- Many people have and continue to be detained without access to the courts.
- Forty-two political prisoners have died in detention since 1963 – many of those in very suspicious circumstances.
It is a country where bodily pleasure/satisfaction is made a prime objective in people’s lives.
- Whether it be the acquisition of wealth or the enormous popularity of a magazine such as Scope or the sickness of a Sun City or the vulgarity of a Mainstay advert or promiscuous sexual relationships, South Africa is a country dominated by the desire to satisfy bodily desires.
It is a country where business rackets abound especially at the expense of the poor.
- As a top businessman revealed recently in a Sunday Daily – bribery and corruption are part and parcel of the business world in South Africa today.
- Everyday many people are ripped off in Hire Purchase transactions
- The Business Sector in the country is controlled by a small elite at the expense of the majority – this is borne out by the fact that the rich are growing richer and the poor poorer.
It is a country which is outwardly very religious.
- I doubt whether anyone will dispute this point.
- Looking at many church-goers can we disagree that they are ‘establishment-minded, careful for ecclesiastical properties, but supremely disinterested in any Word from God’?
It is a country where Biblical Justification has been given for ‘sound national policy’ – a national policy which has been declared by many in our country and abroad as a heresy – the similarity to Amos’ Israel is uncanny.
It is a country where critics/prophets have been and continue to be silenced. Beyers Naude being the most spoken about case in recent times.
It is a country where words and actions of critics/prophets are distorted by those in authority or by those with vested interest in the status quo. The most tragic example being that of the late Steve Biko – the allegations against him after his death were sickening.
It is a country which has had constant warnings to repent:
- Prophets like Beyers Naude. Albert Luthuli, and Trevor Huddleston,
- Sharpeville and Soweto 1976
It is a country which arrogantly makes much out of the fact that it is the greatest and most prosperous country in the sub-continent. Once again the similarity to Amos’ Israel is striking.
It is a country which makes much out of the fact that militarily, we are the most powerful country in Africa and who daily boasts about military victories in neighbouring countries.
From all the above I believe there can be no doubt that the political, economic and social structures of South Africa are under judgment. That given their very foundations and their fruits God already judges them. And what about the option of repentance? As a nation, given my observations of attitudes, trends etc. in South Africa, given the development in white politics, given the fact that historically there is no precedent for such an entrenched group as we have in South Africa, voluntarily relinquishing their privileges, given the hardness of heart that is so all-pervasive amongst the privileged elite of the country and is so well illustrated by the recent elections and actions by those in authority, given the total failure of the D.R.C. to give any lead whatsoever at their recent synod – given this and much more I believe that in effect we as a nation are no longer capable of repentance and as such we alongside with our structures are already under God’s judgement. That like in Amos, the hearts of the people in South Africa as a nation, have become so hardened that repentance is no longer possible even though God is still open. We see it in Amos – as a nation although the option of repentance is still there, in fact their hearts have become too hardened and judgement and exile are inevitable. We see it when Jesus looks down at Jerusalem. Repentance is still an option., but in effect it is no longer possible, hence the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
I believe this understanding is crucial to where we proceed from here. Because if one comes to this understanding that the very structures themselves are under judgement and that as a nation because of our refusal to repent we are also under judgement – if one comes to this understanding then certain options are no longer open to us viz. to merely reform the present political/social/economic structures. As such eg. the President’s Council and the creation of a Black middle class are not options open to us. Whether we like it or not, because these various structures in our society are under God’s judgement they are going to be destroyed. And important here is that it is not a case of violent revolutionaries being in control of our destiny – it is because of God’s judgement that the present political/social/economic structures are going to be destroyed. Like in the time of the prophets and indeed in our own day, God might use pagans – but it is He who will be in control.
When? I do not know – but if our society is already under God’s judgement can it be all that far off?
How? Once again I do not know. I have very little doubt that He will use institutions and organisations which most white folk would find totally unacceptable. But here it is important to remember that we must never fall into the trap of seeing a pagan organisation as a sanctified tool of God and thereby legitimising things which the organisation does which are not consistent with the gospel of Jesus.
Where can we in SUCA fit in? Amos speaks about the restoration of Israel after the judgement (9:11-15). I certainly don’t see the oppressed in South Africa as the new Israel being led out of captivity. Such comparison by the Trekkers has caused too much evil and we must not repeat this mistake. However, I do believe we can at the very least extract a principle from this passage – a principle which is applicable to South Africa viz. that as a result of judgement the thing under judgement is inevitably destroyed. But that inherent in God’s judgement, indeed inherent in the gospel is the hope of a new beginning. I believe that we in SUCA must by our very lifestyles work for the destruction of the political/social/economic structures in our society. That the fact that they stand condemned by God must lead to our endeavouring to completely dissociate ourselves from these structures. This all starts with a deep sense of sorrow and repentance about these structures and the part we have in them. A repentance which must not however, stop at sorrow but as we see in Amos, needs to go on to working for justice, for righteousness, for complete dependence on God in all areas of our lives. And then linked to this is our preparing ourselves and others for the new hope in the future.
What does this mean in practical terms to SUCA as an organisation? I believe that amongst other things it means that as an organisation and as individuals within the organisation working to merely reform or modify the status quo is not an option. That we need to accept and start preparing ourselves for the suffering that is inevitably involved in judgement. That we need to start looking towards those structures/organisations which we feel God is (might) going to use to destroy the present structures in South African – a Christian presence in such bodies is vital. That we need to start preparing not only ourselves but brothers and sisters for the judgement and indeed for the hope of restoration. That we need to be working on alternatives to the present structures which might form a basis for, or influence the restoration of our country – and indeed we need to start experimenting with these alternatives in our own lives. For much of the above it is vital that we follow Beyers Naude’s advice regarding a prerequisite for genuine reconciliation: ‘In order to determine the causes of the injustice a person must not only have the outward individual facts of the matter, but as a Christian you are called to identify yourselves in heart and soul, to live in, to think in and to feel in the heart, in the consciousness, the feelings of the person or the persons who feel aggrieved’.
I conclude by once again reading Amos 9:11-15 and repeat the last words of verse 15 ‘The Lord your God has spoken.’ If SUCA and indeed we as individuals in SUCA are to be used by God in both judgement and the hope of restoration we must never forget who ‘the Lord our God’ is and that no other person, ideology, idol or whatever must ever replace the number one position that the Lord our God has in our lives. We must never forget Prof. Nico Smit’s words viz. that we will always be unreliable comrades to those who do not know Christ as their personal Saviour and Lord.
Indeed if our desire to participate in the destruction of the evil structures in South Africa and to replace them with more just structures – if such a desire is not firmly based in the fact that we continue to acknowledge our sin before God, that we continue to thank Jesus for dying for our sins and that we continue to work exclusively in the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit – if we forget any of the above then our work and efforts both as the body SUCA and as individuals will also fall under the judgement of God.
Keith Matthee (December 1982, Katberg)
The Book of Amos
The Day of the Lion – J.A. Motyer PACSA Factsheets
SUCA was founded to bring Christians from different backgrounds in Southern Africa together to work out the consequences of faith in Christ in the Southern African situation in the ecclesiastical, political and socio-economic spheres individually and corporately.
We Christians gathered at Katberg, Eastern Cape for SUCA National Congress have out of our shared experience and deep reflection on the Word of God which we regard as our supreme authority come to a deeper understanding of reconciliation in action in South Africa which we share as follows:
Reconciliation in action implies:
- Refusing to accept criteria of race, colour, sex, class and cultural difference to determine our acceptance of and respect for other people’s human dignity, and therefore refusing to allow these criteria to have a determining effect on the expression of our Christian unity.
- Searching our consciences in the light of Scripture with regard to participating in unjust political, social and economic structures in South Africa, and questioning whether the military defence of unjust structures is morally justifiable.
- That where laws of the state clash with the Holy Law of God, we as Christians should obey the law of God, particularly with regard to laws which separate us, preventing us from expressing our unity in Christ.
- Being moved by the suffering of others, praying humbly, compassionately and unceasingly, corporately repenting of the sins of our people, and witnessing to God’s glory by a simple lifestyle free of exploitation and materialism.
- That the theological justification of apartheid is heresy.
We find our unity in Christ the Lord. To this one and only God, Father Son and Holy Spirit belongs honour and glory for ever. We shall humbly endeavour in the Power of the Spirit to live out the implications of this document in our everyday life.