During our time in Pietermaritzburg we are staying at a Christian conference center by the name of African Enterprise, or AE. AE is an organization that was created in order to spread the story of Christ throughout the entire continent of Africa (http://aeinternational.org/southafrica/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1). As a result of staying at a conference center, many different groups come in and out to hold seminars and this week the International “Peace in Africa” conference took place. There were visitors from places like Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo all coming together to talk about how to be a Christian politician or how to effect change using Christian ethics.
The headliner of the conference was a man by the name of Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi who I knew very little about before coming to South Africa. What I did know about him was that he was one of the major opponents of Nelson Mandela and F.W. DeKlerk in the first democratic election in South Africa in 1994 and that I should consider myself extremely lucky to hear him speak and to shake his hand.
He came to the conference to speak about what kind or challenges he faced as a Christian and a politician during the many years he had been fighting for peace in South Africa and it was incredible to hear his stories. He spoke about how he opposed figureheads such as Bishop Desmond Tutu because of his differing beliefs.
For example, Buthelezi opposed having sanctions placed against South Africa because he knew that only the poor would suffer. He mentioned passages in the bible such as Deuteronomy 20 verse 19 and said, “I believed that damaging the economy of our country was simply damaging our inheritance we would all receive when political liberation was achieved.”
Because of the differences in belief on this issue and other issues like the strategy of armed struggle, Buthelezi split away from the African National Congress (Mandela’s political party) and created his own political party known as the Inkatha Freedom Party. “My stand against international sanctions and the armed struggle met with intense frustration in the ANC…From the very inception of Inkatha, I determined to gauge the actual needs of my people, rather than arrogantly dictating to them what it was they wanted. Listening to the heart of the people, I believe they never wanted an armed struggle.”
By splitting away from the popular party of the liberation movement, Buthelezi became a target for the media in South Africa and around the world. He was labeled a coward and accused of many atrocities that took place in the bloody years before the end of apartheid because of his decision to take a different path than the ANC. The way he spoke about the loneliness and isolation he faced during this time and how he depended on Christ the whole way through was truly an uplifting moment for me. He said, “Yes, it has been an incredible challenge being a Christian and a politician as I have sought to promote peace in the last 62 years. But I also know that I could never have promoted peace or fulfilled my calling in politics had I not been grounded in Christ.”
It is not everyday that you hear a world leader speak about Christ like this and although he did not do it perfectly, his attempt at living like Christ is phenomenally admirable. It was truly a blessing as part of the upcoming generation to hear from someone like Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi who faced so much adversity speak about overcoming many difficult obstacles with the love and strength of Christ.
He ended by saying, “As we as Christians seek peace in Africa, I pray that we will have the courage to diverge from following the world, and would rather follow the heart of Christ.” May that be the prayer of our generation as well as the prayer of the generations to come for not only Africa but also for all the continents and countries of the world.