Chosen to hate
‘Die wiel sal draai [The tide will turn].” The ominous words of Israelite Johan van Heerden echo through his simple house as he lights yet another Camel.
It is early December and Van Heerden, an elder in the Israel Vision sect, believes that the New Year holds great promise for the chosen people of the Afrikaner volk.
“We will not endure the hardships anymore,” he says.
“If you read the Bible, listen to the prophecies of Siener [van Rensburg] — it says we will rise against our oppressors. The signs of the times are there for all to see. The Israelitesâ€™ time has come.”
His words may seem the mad ramblings of an old man, but in the past the Israelitesâ€™ rhetoric has had some deadly results.
Not far from Van Heerdenâ€™s home at the Pretoria local prison the Boeremag are spending their New Year preparing to defend themselves against allegations of treason and sabotage. Members of the Boeremag have been linked to Israel Vision though a letter distributed to the media at the end of 2002.
Other infamous rightwingers have proudly announced that they are Israelites. In 1990 Eugene Marais shot seven black people on a bus in Durban. He later said his sect — Israel Vision — played a role in his decision.
Barend Strydom, perhaps the most notorious of all right-wing murderers, testified at his trial in the Eighties that he was a member of Israel Vision.
Another killer, De Wet Kritzinger, recently sang the same tune in court, saying that he had not committed murder, because according to his belief system blacks were animals.
Israelites believe Adam is the father of the white race only and that the 10 lost tribes of Israel, who are all white, are the true inheritors of Godâ€™s kingdom. All other races are considered to be the seed of Satan, including the Jews. The sect is not restricted to South Africa, but has a worldwide following.
About 20km from Pretoria on the road to Hartbeespoort dam, a community of Israelites have settled on the agricultural holdings of Wesmoot. These believers have cut themselves off from the outside world and lead simple lives.
Van Heerden is a legend in the community. His modest house on the slopes of the Magaliesberg has no electricity or modern amenities. Blacks and Jews are not welcome at his home. Like his dog, Van Heerden is a racist of calibre and “damn proud of it”.
“If I eat a zebraâ€™s biltong, I will only eat the white stripesâ€™ meat,” he says with a big smile. “I am not ashamed of who I am or what I believe in.”
He explored the old Great Trek route on horseback, together with Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging friends of his in the late Eighties. It was during this time that he came to realise his role in life, that he is “part of the Boere volk, the apartheids volk and ultimately the Israel volk”.
“The Israelites are not bad people,” says Bianca Holtzhausen, a resident of Wesmoot who has lived among the Israelites all her life. “Even if you do not agree with their philosophy, you have to admire their persistence, even in the face of ridicule and hardship.”
One of the Israelitesâ€™ customs is to celebrate the Sabbath from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset. Holtzhausen, who once dated an Israelite, says it is impossible to get the Israelites to do anything on their Sabbath because they absolutely refuse to move from their home.
Her relationship folded because she would not convert to the sect — Israelites marry only Israelites.
The Israelites also do not celebrate Christmas, but have their own holidays based on the Old Testament. They believe Christmas is a heathen day, designed by the devil to hijack the birth of Christ.
Israel Vision had grown so strong in Wesmoot that, four years ago, about 250 men were mass-circumcised by a medical doctor in a school hall. During the ceremony Van Heerden tried to circumcise himself with a pocket knife and ended up in intensive care.
But Ben Maree, a former chaplain of the Dutch Reformed Church and former preacher of Israel Vision in Wesmoot, says people like Van Heerden have turned Israel Vision into a joke.
He distanced himself from the Wesmoot community two years ago, because he believed the Israelites there were losing the plot. “Circumcision is wrong,” he says. “If you are circumcised, you will lose your faith.
“What the bunch are doing down there is what an ex-colleague of mine calls ‘religious pornographyâ€™. The truth of Israel is being manipulated to suit their own needs. They need an excuse for their right-wing activities.”
The former dominee now lives on a smallholding near Warmbad with his son. He has broken all ties with the Israelites from Wesmoot, but still writes books about what he calls “the big truth in life”.
He claims that the sect is growing stronger every day. “In the past we had to be careful, but these days you can find an Israelite behind every bush.”
“I do not treat blacks badly, just ask the locals. But I do believe that only whites are Godâ€™s chosen people and therefore the gospel is wasted on them. To include blacks is a sin.”
Unlike Van Heerden, Maree does not believe in overthrowing the government. Though he is against South Africaâ€™s government, he denounces the attempts of rightwingers to dislodge the African National Congress.
“God is punishing us for our sins. Being ruled by blacks is part of this punishment. To go against the current government is to go against the will of God.”
But he says a time will come when the Israelites will rise. “The rivers will be red with all the blood spilled. But that time is not now. Now we still wait.”