In 1971, I was born into an Afrikaner family. Afrikaners are descendants of Dutch settlers, who governed South Africa from 1948 to 1994, enforcing a policy of segregation known as Apartheid.
In 1985, South Africa declared a state of emergency. The images of burning people in the street, violent riots, and vandalism circulated the world. And yet, this was not my reality. I was 14 years old and just starting high school. My suburb was removed from the violence and oppression. Our black domestic worker, Sophie, had been with our family for as long as I could remember, and I loved her. I did not understand the evil of Apartheid, and, as a typical teenager, I was absorbed in my own world and didn’t question my reality.
In 1990, at age 19, I voted YES in the referendum that ultimately led to Nelson Mandela’s release and South Africa’s first democratic vote. Three years later, at 22, I moved to Russia a week before Mandela’s inauguration. Then, in 1998, I returned home with an American husband and a 6-month-old baby.
Upon my return, I realized that everything had changed, and nothing had changed. We had a majority-black government, and people had the freedom to marry, live, and work as they please. Growing up looked a lot different for Kyle and Zoe than for me. They had black classmates, teammates, and friends, and often interacted with our black friends and colleagues at home. Yet, violence and prejudice in South Africa continued. Apartheid had been abolished, but new laws couldn’t kill the massive roots of racism. Apartheid was a symptom of a far greater cancer that cannot be governed. I came to realize that although you could make laws to separate people based on their ethnic background, you couldn’t make laws to change their hearts and minds to love one another.
As an adult, I could no longer ignore the devastation of racial conflict in South Africa. I had to come to terms with what my privilege cost others. I won’t lie and say that this was an easy journey. I became defensive and protective. I even went so far as to justify Apartheid to myself, so that I wouldn’t have to bear the guilt, or take responsibility for the future. I wanted to ignore the ugly truth and just get on with life.
I also felt overwhelmed and helpless. How can one person make a difference when there is so much animosity and resentment? Slowly, I realized that I could only make a change in my own heart, acknowledge the truth of my own prejudice and privilege, and then live a different kind of life. Even if I never affected change at a governmental level, I had a sphere of influence and that is where I could fight racism.
Last year at the Novo (CRM) World Conference, God prompted me to go as an Afrikaner and seek the forgiveness for Apartheid from one of our black South African staff members, Petunia. I cried so hard that I could hardly speak, but she held me tightly and told me that because of me she could forgive Afrikaners and the collective sin that was committed toward herself and other black South Africans. On behalf of black South Africans, she asked my forgiveness for the continued hatred toward whites even today. She asked forgiveness because even when a hand of love and reconciliation is extended, many refuse to see it or take it. And then she prayed a blessing over me and told me that I was the first Afrikaner that truly loved her.
Petunia went on to say that I had helped her understand what reconciliation could look like and that a person could have a heart where racism doesn’t exist. She prayed that God would remove the spiritual blindness of our nation that continues to live in disunity. Finally, Petunia said she would fight for me and my community in her home as hard as I had fought for her in mine.
We decided that healing can start with only two people and that we will continue to contend for our nation.
This was a profound moment of healing for me. I have struggled for the past 26 years with what it means to be an Afrikaner, with the assumed guilt and responsibility for Apartheid that comes with that title. At times, I have neglected my true self, disengaging from my heritage because it comes with so much ugliness.
But God is calling me back into my own skin. He made me an Afrikaner; there was intent there. I was born into a climate of deep oppression and prejudice. But I am not Apartheid, oppression, or hatred. I am not a foreigner on the African continent.
I am, in fact, a light African! And I have a role to play in the healing of God’s Kingdom.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Daleen Ward met her husband Bryan in Russia in 1994. They worked there with Novo until 1998, after which they served together in her home country of South Africa for several years. Daleen and Bryan now live in St. Paul, Minnesota, where they walk alongside leaders who are serving in ministry beyond the bounds of traditional church.