Man’s evil trumped by God’s good - always!
Today (July 25) marks the 20th anniversary of the 1993 massacre at St James Kenilworth in suburban Cape Town. A commemorative service will be held at St James today to mark the occasion.
Over a thousand people had gathered for church. Outside, the wintry Cape winds whistled through the streets and tore through the trees that lined them. Inside, the voices of God’s people rose as one in praise to their King and Saviour.
Suddenly, three young men burst into the meeting firing semi-automatic weapons and lobbing hand grenades with long nails glued on to inflict maximum damage.
11 people were murdered and 50 people were severely maimed, losing limbs and many other vital functions. Hundreds sustained varying degrees of shrapnel wounds. Visiting Russian seamen who had been transported into church from the port of Cape Town, one of the many outreach ministries of this large multi-racial church, were among the dead and wounded.
Rev. Ross Anderson, the Associate Rector of St James’ at the time, was leading the service as the attack occurred. He witnessed this indescribable carnage unfolding before him as he stood at the podium. He orchestrated the events that followed the attack to help the panicked congregation exit the building, help the elderly and small children avoid being crushed or trampled, triage immediate support for the casualties and keep exits clear for the arrival of the first response medical teams. Ross testifies to the Lord’s gracious help in enabling him to do this while he was dealing with his own emotions in the crisis.
Rightly may we ask a raft of questions,
• Why did God allow this to happen?
• Had God forsaken his people?
• How can there be any good come from such an evil act?
Ross Anderson was in Sydney earlier this year as a guest of the Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion (EFAC) NSW and the Archbishop of Sydney’s Anglican Aid. While I had been acquainted with many of the details of the massacre, having visited and preached at St James’ on many occasions over the last 15 years, Ross shared a number of insights at various meetings he spoke at that shed light on the way our Sovereign God triumphed over the hideous evil that night with his good and loving purposes.
In the middle of 1993 South Africa was on a knife’s edge. It was nine months before the first democratic elections in the country’s history. The escalation of violence since Mandela’s release in 1990 had brought tensions to a new level as the election day neared. Mandela’s ANC party was inclusivist, multi-racial and committed to nation-building. the ANC were running neck and neck with the PAC, a radical, exclusivist (Africa just for black Africans) militant party.
Then came the attack on St James, ordered by the military wing of the PAC.
Ross says that people of all political persuasions in South Africa were so outraged and disgusted that such an attack would be carried out on a soft target like a church that PAC supporters deserted their party in mass numbers. The ANC who went on to win the election in a landslide.
Had the PAC won the election a civil war that many feared may have been a reality. Had the PAC won the election Whites, Coloureds, Indians and every minority race may have been forced to leave the country. Had the PAC won the elections South Africa may have become another Uganda, Idi Amin seventies style.
The St James’ Massacre is considered by many to be a significant turning point in the country’s history, potentially preventing the loss of thousands of lives and destroying the hopes of millions.
Make no mistake. The attack on an unsuspecting congregation that night was a frightening unmasking of the raw face of evil. Nothing can excuse it. No wider analysis can lessen its accountability or ease the burden of injustice experienced by its victims.
But, as Ross Anderson shared at many meetings, “What man works for evil, God works for good.” This has been the pattern, both of biblical history and the history of the world since. God uses the sinful exploits of man to bring about his greater purposes of saving his people (Genesis 50:20). And, of course, this is never better seen than in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus himself.
A second insight that Ross shared was how God’s people were able to testify to the grace of Jesus in this midst of this most extreme display of evil. Dawie (pronounced Darvey) and Marika Ackerman were core members of St James, both involved in vital ministries over many years. Marika was fatally wounded in the attack.
Ross watched from the podium as Dawie cradled his dying wife’s head in his lap waiting for paramedics to attend to the injuries she would shortly die from. Ross was incensed that a TV crew brazenly stuck a microphone under Dawie’s chin, and with camera rolling, a news reporter asked Dawie how he felt towards the perpetrators of such evil.
Without any chance to be coached in what to say or rehearse his answer, Dawie looked at the camera, paused and simply, but profoundly said, “I will love my enemies. I will pray for my enemies. And I will never, ever, give in to revenge.”
Pray for the living victims of the St James’ Massacre. Many still live with the physical and psychological trauma of twenty years ago.
Pray for the ongoing testimony of Jesus’ people who, because of the transforming power of the gospel, respond to injustice and evil with grace and a willingness to forgive.
Praise God that in the midst of suffering and evil, exploitation and abuse, selfishness and indifference, our Sovereign God is rescuing his people through the death and resurrection of his Son and that nothing in all creation will separate his people from his love (Romans 8:31-39).
Feature photo: Rob Wallace