28 Jan 2008
The rolling grasslands, fertile soil, ample rainfall and the Drakensburg Mountains once appeared as an invitation to freedom and opportunity. People from all over the world came here to be a part of what is now known as the Eastern Free State of South Africa.
In the early 1800’s, the Dutch arrived. These new settlers planted wheat and other grain crops and soon made the land their home. In 1861, driven by a sense of spiritual destiny, these immigrants … now known as Afrikaaners … founded the city of Bethlehem. This Biblical name, meaning “House of Bread”, symbolized their religious heritage and the productivity of the land.
Today, the Eastern Free State feeds most of South Africa. This productivity is made possible by the development of effective farming practices and the use of modern equipment. Large tractors till the soil and harvest the crops. Airplanes are used to spray the plants for insect pests. The grain produced on the farms is stored in huge silos awaiting distribution. The Afrikaaners have enjoyed the freedom and opportunity offered by this land.
This land has attracted others as well. Immigrants from China, India, the Mideast and all of South Africa are now here. Groups like those from the Mideast have erected large edifices as centers for propagating their religious beliefs.
The largest group of people immigrated from the nearby Kingdom of Lesotho. Millions of the Basotho sought freedom from the harsh terrain of the mountains. Unlike their homeland, jobs were plentiful. They found work on large farms, in the apple orchards, or as street vendors in the cities.
The Basotho brought with them their rich culture and traditions. They continue to speak the language of their homeland. The Sotho language is one of the eleven official languages of South Africa.
Today, many of the Basotho live in and around the city of Bethlehem; a prosperous community of 400,000 people, well endowed with clean streets, a shopping center, petrol stations, and restaurants. But Bethlehem, … like most South African towns, … is really two communities in one … the Afrikaaners and the Basotho. These two cultures, … each benefiting from their co-existence, … remain unique and distinct from each other.
The Basotho maintain a deep animistic tradition, which ties them to the land and to the past. Their traditional healers, known as a sangomas, serve as a medium between the people, the spirit world, and the ancestors. The sangomas can be identified by their wrist or ankle bracelets, necklaces, and often, … as part of their uniform, … a cross. Fear is the common denominator and force behind their belief system. Secret plants and roots, which have medicinal qualities, have been passed down through the generations. The cumulative knowledge of the environment and the spirits make the sangoma a formidable force.
For the Basotho, every waking hour of the day is spent with an eye towards keeping these spirits at bay and pacified. They are careful … not wanting to do, to think, to say, or to cause anything to happen that would disturb the delicate balance between themselves and the things no one else seems able to see. They continue their day believing that between them and God is a myriad of heroes, ancestors, and spirits who control much of everyday life. There are the spirits of the ancestors who have gone before and the spirits of those who are waiting to be born. For the Basotho, God is unknowable and somewhat petty.
It is in this environment of the unknown and the unknowable that HIV/AIDS is able to spread unchecked. Repeated denials on the part of the government that HIV/AIDS even exists is easily explained by the sangoma, as a working of the spirits among those who have not done their part to please the spirit world. Many sangomas will prescribe a blood sacrifice, or intercourse with a child as the cure for AIDS.
Premature deaths due to AIDS are filling the graveyards … and emptying homes of fathers and mothers. A visit to the home of a young mother with AIDS is a heartbreaking experience. Soon she will no longer be able to care for her little daughter. In a few months, this mother will be gone from their home forever. HIV/AIDS is no respecter of persons … young and old, the haves and the have-nots. The innocent often are the ones who fall prey.
Despite the cultural traditions, false religions, and other roadblocks, God is moving mightily among the Basotho. Church planting efforts have met with some success. Leaders are being developed. Young people are being trained to be presenters of True Love Waits -- a Biblically based program teaching moral values and sexual purity. Pastors are immerging and more are being added to their number every year. Women’s Bible study groups teach about God’s love for the Basotho in the home and in the market place.
Starting new evangelical churches that teach the Word of God, … in an uncompromising way, … is difficult. This church in Paul Roux is proud of their progress and is hoping to build a permanent building. Other small churches are beginning but it is a God-sized task to set all free but there is hope. The Spirit of God, … who is moving among them, … is replacing the spirit of fear that darkened so much of their lives. The Basotho are strong and they remain a passionate people. So much of their music reflects their strength and their hope for the future. Pray that one day they will accept the truth of the Gospel and indeed be free.
NOTE: We will use one verse/chorus of the on-camera video of “I Am Free” (one to two minutes).
Afrikaaners afri KAHN ers
Basotho bah SOO too
Drakensburg DRAH kens burg
Lesotho leh SOO too
Paul Roux Paul roo
Sangomas san GO mas
Sotho SOO too
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