From time to time I come across an article, speech or writing which just has to be shared. Not necessarily reported on or disected, just shared. This is one such article which is filed under the Verbatim section.
This past weekend I once again visited my parents and as always, myself and my dad had a ‘braai-side’ conversation or two, as discussed in my previous post. One of these discussions took the obvious turn towards the state of the South African nation in the light of the recent farm strikes in which groups of labourers, not farm workers themselves, were brought in by trade unions (amongst possible others?) to organise chaos on farms in the Western Cape Province – people were threatened, vineyards and infrastructure were burnt down; all this to protest the minimum wage (set by the government) and create disorder in what is a relatively functional area in our country. We discussed my generation’s future, how we should and can go about building this nation, whether we should be looking across the waters for better opportunities, and so on. The discussion was a realistic but not a negative one which my dad basically concluded by saying, “the only people or institution able to help this country by bringing proper reconciliation is the church, but the church is largely absent”.
But how? What would that practically look like? One of these farmers who’s land and workers were under attack, humbled me and helped me to see and understand to some extent what this could look like, as he explains in his letter (written a few weeks ago) how he and others got practical about it:
Some time ago someone asked me what my dream is and I wrote: To day by day step into the bullring of everyday life where the adrenaline is pumping and blood flowing, to say and do and live to the utmost the full measure of each day. To be filled with enthusiasm, to live inspired, to keep dreaming and to let others dream. To live the freedom to which I am born again.
This week I can’t use the term ‘everyday life’. Life as we know it in our celestial valley came to a sudden halt. Towers of black smoke spiralled upwards and shots rang through the air – from a distance seeming completely unreal, like you’re watching a movie. The roads amongst vineyards and orchards were baricaded with burning tyres, rocks and chanting people. Windows of police vehicles were smashed, stoned with rocks. All permanent employees were kept hostage and there is an emotion charged climate of fear and hatred hanging over everything, the lines of worry written on the faces of people. Saddest of all is to see how the children are being wrapped up in lawlessness, partly due to the excitement but also deliberately to keep the police from using rubber bullets. Small children cry out, “Boer, we are going to burn down your farm!”, and another one next to him would cry out, “Do we have Kinderkerk (childrens’ church) on Sunday?”
Before the troubles started I called a meeting with our farm workers. I reminded them that we are there for them and that we’ll do all we can to keep them safe. I offered them my phone number to call me should anyone be intimidated or threatened. I invited them to come stay with me in my home if anyone feels unsafe. Little did I know that my phone number would be used so frequently during the next few days, not to ask for help, but to alert me about possible dangers, updating me on own initiative of what they see or overheard. I received between ten and twenty phone calls! I am touched by the deep loyalty and commitment of the Weltevrede workers. Despite huge pressure there was not one who stayed away. They all came to work. When I saw their dedication, but also the fear on their faces, I thanked them and gave them the past two days off for the safety of their homes. Sadly, the instigators portrays this as an uprising of farm workers.
On Thursday I received the first phone call that a group of hundreds is on its way to Weltevrede. I quickly went to our farm workers at their homes and warned them so they could lock and stay out of sight. We closed the winery and offices and the management were sent to my home. Everything was deserted except for me waiting. It was so quiet and all I could do was sit and quietly speak to God. I heard them coming long before I could see anything. Their thundering chants of “Viva!” and “Amandla!” echoed against the hills surrounding Weltevrede. It became louder and louder until eventually the mass of people arrived. I think it is normal to fear at that point when more than five hundred angry, armed and emotionally swept up people come toward you man alone. But I did not feel an inkling of fear because I wasn’t man alone. I discovered in me, by the grace of God alone, His spirit of love, power and a sound mind. I walked into the dancing and jumping crowd armed with pangas, machettes and clubs (knopkieries). I went up to the leader, looked him in the eye, smiled and shook his hand. Showing respect from a source of powerful humility within caught him by surprise. It was visible on his face, and parts of the crowd started to calm down. The leader asked me to sign a paper to acknowledge their request of R150/day. This was quite strange as I am not their employer, but as they were only asking for acknowledgement of their request I signed. The group were still chanting “Viva!” and “Amandla!” So I asked the leader if I could speak to the people which resulted in another look of surprise. He turned around and showed the masses to quiet down. They passed a megaphone to me. It became dead quiet. This isn’t the kind of unprepared oral they teach you at school. I can’t remember all I said, but I do remember that I spoke hope and encouragement. I looked at them and loved them. I encouraged them not to lose hope and to hang on to the dream. I told them our fight is not against flesh. I told them that we are brothers and sisters and that we should talk, not fight. They asked me what I think of the R150 request. “Personally I wish it could be 250, 350 or a thousand. But it isn’t realistic,” I said. I told them to look around them, to see the standard of the housing we provide, to consider the fact that Weltevrede pays on average 80% above the minimum wage set by government and has never failed upping that annually. But still I admitted there is still much to change, I admitted that there is always room for improvement, but we need to build together to sustain the economy of our valley and the realisation of that dream. “Let’s not break down,” I said, while in the corner of my eye I saw smoke coming from one of my Chardonnay vineyards. “We have to build,” I continued. We have a choice to be negative or positive, despite our circumstances. The words we speak can spark destruction or it can spark life. I told them I know their conditions and we all need to work hand in hand, step by step, to bring change. But we also need to be patient. Change doesn’t come overnight. And the “Viva!” and “Amandla!” was exchanged for shouts of “Amen!” People from the crowd came pressing up against me, all wanting to shake my hand. One man came up to me and said, “I shake your hand, Mr Jonker, not because of what you just said, but for what you do in the community.” I couldn’t think of what he refers to. Maybe it is Kinderkerk? Maybe it is simply the spirit in me they sense, as people do sense attitude. Maybe it is the fact that God prompted me several years ago to walk the dusty roads of the local squatter camp and engage with cast out people, to sit in the dust and to tell them the good news that Jesus came with good news to the poor, to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty for captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty the oppressed, to proclaim a new day. By the grace of God He has rebirthed and pressure-tested my racist and elitist heart over years of walk with Him and this week the fruit of his work over time surprised me too.
The SABC news showed a cut and edited version of the gathering at the gates of Weltevrede. The fact that it was cut left some need for interpretation. I received many sms’s and phone calls congratulating me, but there were many farmers thinking that I signed for R150 and took the side of the lawless marchers. But whether being hailed or stoned I need to remember that the fearless interaction, words and subsequent bridge of relationship between the two sides of the fire is not my own doing, but the spirit of Christ. People react in different ways to the situation. Minds are distorted by fear. Emotions run high and I hear of suggestions to take up arms, to take out key figures. This is not only wreckless talk but simply unwise. You can’t fight fire with fire. It is time for those who are real in their walk with God to step into the bull ring and show the healing power of God. We need to be different. In the midst of paralysing fear and insanity we need to be calm and brave like David, to say, “You come to me with panga, fork and knopkierie, but I come to you in the Name of the Lord.” If we do this we’ll be surprised to discover how many brothers and sisters we actually have on the other side of the fire. In retrospect I should have asked the crowd to pray together. But the opportunity will come. Our battle is not against flesh. Our enemy isn’t COSATO, the Afrikaners, the ANC, the DA, the farmers, or anything we can see. The enemy wants us to believe that.
Yesterday morning we tried to work again and our workers in Mountain View and Happy Valley were once again kept hostage as no one was allowed to go to work. I went up to a group of men standing by a baricade and big fire, aerosol cans detonating like heavy calibre gun shots every now and then. I spoke to one of the leaders again, this time more direct and challenging them to come to an agreement, challenging them to think what they are doing. What message do you project when you walk with weapons? What modelling is it when you encourage children to throw stones and make fires? We all work towards a free South Africa, but you are not giving the people a choice to work. You force them all to join you. I told them that peace will return, and months and years from now we all want to live and work together in beautiful peace again, but the damage in relationships may be hard to mend, so take care. I realize you can only challenge someone if there is relationship. So let’s work on relationship as first priority.
Yesterday afternoon they were on their way to Oubaas van Zyl’s farm. Oubaas sent them a message to say that they can burn down the farm if they want, but it is God’s farm. He and his workers were off to a prayer meeting during that time. On their way back from church they stopped at the marching masses. He invited them so we can worship together on Sunday morning and seek God’s will in this. Last night I called the key figure behind the uprising in Bonnievale and told him that we shall reach solutions if we seek it in the spirit, not the flesh. If God is our starting point there is much hope. If we try any alternative way it will run into a dead end. Their leaders are meeting today and considering our request to worship together tomorrow. If we have this as foundation we can sit together to find solutions next week. My question is what kingdom are we serving? The one of money? Of colour? Is it a political kingdom? Is it a kingdom of self? I think there are many piercing questions to be asked and we all need to do serious introspection and call to God for wisdom. I am reminded of 2Chron.7:14. “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.“ That is a promise. And this morning Lindelize reminds me of Proverbs 29: 7,8: “The righteous considers the cause of the poor, but the wicked does not understands such knowledge. Scoffers set a city aflame, but wise men turn away wrath.” This is not a time to show force, but powerful humility.
In less than two hours Oubaas van Zyl and I will meet with their leaders in Happy Valley. Please pray that the spirit of God will be the pivot of our relationship.
Serv. via Philip the Farmer
PS – In the comments section below Philip shares further on events leading up to 4 December 2012.