It is a sober time in South Africa. Violence has swept through the nation like a wild fire.
I have to tell you about the terrible events unfolding in South Africa, and what God is doing in the midst of tragedy. But it is a long letter. I understand if you are in a rush....
You've seen the news: Unbelievable racial violence has broken out all over the country. There are xenophobic riots taking place in every major city of the nation. Much of the violence has actually been under-stated for a change. It is worse than any one TV network can cover.
It is a case of the poor attacking the poor in the townships and shantytowns and squatter camps. No one knows how it actually started, but it has spread from one part of the country to the other, until tens of thousands of people are homeless and hundreds of people have been killed.
It is mainly jobless, homeless poor people turning against political and economic refugees from Zimbabwe, Malawia, Mozambique, Angola, Somalia and the Congo. There are 3,000,000 refugees from Zimbabwe alone in South Africa! South Africa is looked upon as the breadbasket of Africa, a safe haven for the destitute and oppressed. There are ruthless dictators in Zimbabwe and the Congo and other countries close to us that squash any sign of criticism or freedom of speech. So people come from those countries to South Africa looking for jobs so they can survive and send money back home.
Massiphumelele, or "Masi" as we call it, was spared from the violence. Many people worked tirelessly to stop the violence from breaking out. We held prayer meetings, worked with the local pastors and community leaders and police, and did what we could to help.
Community meetings were held in Masi, foreigners from neighboring countries were invited back to the community (many had fled in fear for their lives), and people went door-to-door recovering the stolen property of the refugees who had left in haste, fearful for their lives.
I spoke with some of our Malawian friends in Masi, and they were frightened for their lives. About 25 Malawians, Somalians, and Zimbabweans fled Mai and spent the weekend sheltered in our team house. Vuyo, who is part of one of the little churches we have started in Masi, got assaulted - he is a local but was in the wrong place at the wrong time - he got hit twice on the jaw and head.
Last Saturday night there was a joint community and police effort to recover all stolen property by going door to door, and Sunday morning people were still spontaneously bringing stolen stuff back. A national Television news station reported on how local Masi community pastors and leaders acted to stop the violence. In effect they were saying the violence was not acceptable in their community. They condemned the violence, acted proactively to stop it, and set an example for the rest of the country!!
Sun afternoon the premier of Western Cape Province arrived in Masi to congratulate the pastors and community leaders. A deputation took a memo to the refugees to invite them back to Masi. More than 70 foreigners were welcomed back to Masi with a KFC supper late last Sunday evening!
But things were much different in the refugee camp just a few minutes walk from where Sally and I live. This is the camp for the foreign refugees driven from other communities by the violence.
I would like to quote from a report I read about what the conditions were like in the camp:
"There was Alvin from Angola, whose brother was killed on Friday, and who was so traumatized by the guilt of leaving the body to save himself, he could barely speak. There was Maria (not her real name) from the Congo, who was raped on Thursday, didn't know where her teenaged son was and just wanted to be given a pair of panties and a place to sleep. There was Noor-Ali from Somalia, a very smart young man in a stylish leather jacket, who had spent years working his way up from cleaning cars for change to owning his own business, only to have absolutely everything he owned snatched away from him in minutes. They, and most of the estimated 1500 people there, were in an extreme state of shock