The name Johan Heyns might have been forgotten by many South Africans but to the people of Vanderbijlpark and surrounding townships such as Bophelong, Boipatong and Tshirela, it is a name they mention every day. This is because the only clinic in town is named after him.
To those people the Johan Heyns Clinic has come to symbolise access to quality medical care to everybody irrespective of race, class, gender or religion.
This is a fitting tribute to an accomplished Afrikaans academic and theologian who was a dominant figure in persuading the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk (NGK) to stop supporting apartheid, an ideology so entrenched that the church was often referred to as “the National Party at prayer”.
During those difficult times of violent repression of anti-apartheid protests, Heyns took a stance and, through his leadership, moved the NGK from embracing apartheid to supporting the establishment of a democratic and nonracial South Africa.
Like many other freedom fighters, Heyns paid the ultimate price for justice, freedom and democracy — he was assassinated by the forces of darkness who were bent on eliminating powerful anti-apartheid activists.
Heyns could not remain silent in the face of the wrongs committed by his church. He stood up to his fellow Christians, who found nothing wrong with their church supporting apartheid. He was not the only Christian leader in the NGK who fought against apartheid — there were many others.
I am reminded of a Student Christian Association gathering at the University of the Witwatersrand, which was addressed by Dr David Bosch, also an NGK academic and theologian who, in response to a question from one of the students about being in the NGK and yet fighting apartheid, quipped: “I am fighting in the NGK against the NGK but for the NGK.”
In the mid-1980s , many student activists at the university could not sleep when we got the news that black residents were being evicted from a block of flats in Hillbrow, Johannesburg. It was in the middle of a cold winter night when I saw women and children with their scanty possessions sitting and sleeping outside a block of flats. I approached a white man who was walking among these people. The man informed me that he was waiting for a response from the then supreme court after he made an application that would force the landlord to let the residents go back to their flats.
I said to him: “This is late at night: How do you expect a court to make a ruling in the middle of the night?” In spite of being visibly irritated, he politely gave me a brief lesson on urgent court interdicts in which a judge can be called on during unholy hours to make a court ruling.
The man was none other than Bishop Peter Storey, a fierce fighter for freedom and social justice.
In 1979, when Alexandra township was supposed to be demolished by the apartheid government, a Christian leader, the Reverend Sam Buti, took up the fight to save the community from being annihilated by the forces of apartheid.
I will never forget the sight of Bishop Desmond Tutu in the mid-1980s when he left the Wits campus after addressing students during chaotic anti-apartheid student protests. What surprised me was that, despite the heavy presence of the apartheid police, Tutu confidently walked out without bodyguards.
In 1985, when the apartheid government used all its might to crush resistance against apartheid rule by, inter alia, deploying soldiers in the townships and murdering political opponents, Christian leaders convened a conference titled “South Africa in a Crisis: Our Response as Children of God”. The main outcome of the conference was the Kairos Document.
This document defined itself as a Christian, biblical and theological comment on the political crisis in South Africa in the mid-1980s. It positioned itself as an endeavour by concerned Christians to reflect on the political situation in our society.
It served as a critique of the then theological models that determined the types of activity the church engaged so as to try to resolve the problems of the country. It was an effort aimed at developing, out of a complicated political situation, an alternative biblical and theological model that would lead to forms of Christian action that would make a real difference to the future of our country.
The Christian church has, at different times in our contemporary history, responded to crises in a manner that was principled and spoke truth to power. I am of the view that one of the very serious crises that the church is faced with is the distortion of biblical teachings, which have resulted in Christian congregants being abused by pastors, prophets, evangelist and other authority figures in churches.
The past few years have brought to public attention shocking practices such as:
• Christian congregants being sprayed in the face with an insecticide or forced to drink petrol and other substances;
• Stage-managed miraculous healing in which healthy individuals sham illness and are then healed after being touched by pastors who claim to have healing powers; and
• Church members being forced to give to unscrupulous pastors the little cash they could use for mere subsistence with the promise that, as a demonstration of their faith, lots of cash would be coming their way and in some cases being promised that they would win the lottery.
As a Christian community confronted with our own “Kairos moment”, decisive action is called for from responsible, principled and authentic Christian leadership.
Our Christian community needs women and men of courage such as Heyns, Bosch, Buti, Tutu and Storey to take up the fight against heretical Christian teachings and practice and to stand up and face the forces of darkness to save our people from total annihilation by spiritual forces of darkness.
Dr Tutu Faleni is a Christian
and a Democratic Alliance member of the North West provincial legislature. These
are his own views