Seeds of Change for Africa
by Peter Hannon with Suzan Burrell
Peter Hannon is an Irishman. At Oxford he met men from all over Africa who were to become leaders of their countries. He then spent thirty years in that continent. Author of Southern Africa - What Kind of Change? This chapter was much helped with the assistance of Suzan Burrell, whose father was one of those who pioneered Initiatives of Change in Southern Africa after meeting Buchman.
IN the great move towards the independence of the majority of African states which marked the 1950s and ‘60s, the impact of Buchman's work was considerable. Nigeria, Ghana, Congo, Kenya, Sudan, Morocco...the list could continue, each with a story to tell.
Some sample vignettes: the visit of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, President of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, to Caux in 1949. As the leading voice of Nigerian nationalism at that time, he went to London with fresh proposals for steps towards self-government within fifteen years, but was cold-shouldered by the Colonial Office and told to go home and co-operate. The press attacked him. One newspaper had his full page photo, headlined 'Black Mischief'. Frustrated and bitter, his organisation decided to send delegates to any body which would provide them with a platform, so he was on his way to address the 'Congress of Peoples against Imperialism' in Prague, and then go on to Moscow.
Whilst in London he was invited to spend an evening in a private home. There he learnt about Moral Re-Armament. “It was the first time I had ever been treated as an equal in somebody's home in this country,” he commented. He accepted an invitation to visit Caux on his way to Prague. At the conference, where I had the privilege of acting as his aide, he became aware of the abundant evidence that human nature can change. At the end of three days he was able to say, with deep conviction, “It's not a question of whether Nigeria is right, or Britain is right, but what is right for Nigeria. Our prayer for Nigeria is, ‘Through God's guidance the people of Nigeria shall be redeemed from the servitude of hate, fear and suspicion. The torch of absolute honesty, purity, love and unselfishness shall flame anew‘.”
He returned direct to Nigeria, being met at the airport by some of his political opponents. His chain of five newspapers spread his new challenge. The West African Pilot, under a headline “The Spirit of Caux” wrote, “The questions on every lip are therefore these: Is the African capable of realising his destiny? We believe he can. But in that belief we submit that both leadership and followership require the spirit of Caux…That is the only gateway to African freedom”.
Step by step, moves went forward towards independence with 'Zik', as he was universally known, eventually becoming the country's first President.
Ghana was also directly affected. Gerald Henderson, who came to know one of the country's key figures, writes: “The Tolon Na was a distinguished Muslim leader from the north of Ghana. Before independence in 1957, in what was then the Gold Coast, he was president of the Northern Territories Council and a member of the Legislative Assembly.
“Dr Kwame Nkrumah was President, while Tolan Na sat on the Opposition Front Bench, along with a number representing the Ashanti Region in the central part of the country. The Ashantis were threatening to secede in reaction to Nkrumah's government. They were seeking to get the North to join them
“At that time an international team of Moral Re-Armament was touring Africa, performing plays on the invitation of African leaders, many of whom had been to Caux, such as Dr Azikiwe. The team flew on from Nigeria to the Gold Coast. The Speaker of the Legislative Assembly, Sir Emmanuel Quist, agreed to have showings of the plays under his patronage, in the hall where the Legislature met. Many of the legislators, including Tolon Na, came to see the performances. He was so impressed that he agreed to lead a delegation from West Africa a few weeks later to the international conference at Caux.
“Four of the international team, including myself, were encouraged to stay on in Accra. I met the Tolon Na on his return from Caux and was fascinated to hear from him what a difference it had made in his life. He told how Frank Buchman and his colleagues had welcomed the delegation on arrival. Then, quite early on in the conference meetings, he was asked if he would introduce the West African delegation from the platform, which he did. Apparently one of the speakers had commented on the cost of dishonesty to the nation. He told me that, as he was coming down from the platform, Buchman, who was sitting nearby, asked him quietly, ‘Tolon Na, when did you steal last?’ He related to me that ‘It was as if the whole world was asking me that question. I blushed! But I went on as if nothing had happened. I then went to my room and lay on my bed. My whole life began to go in front of my eyes. I remembered how, as a child, I had taken money from my mother's purse. When I was at school I had taken paper and pencils from my teacher. When I became a teacher, I took books from the school library and I remembered that some of those books were still in my house. When I came to Caux, I felt I had a big part to play in this work, but I never realised that I would need to change’.
“As a result of this experience at Caux he had also noted down the names of people to whom he owed apologies. On his return to Accra he attended a meeting of the Legislative Assembly. Tolon Na walked across the House and shook Nkrumah by the hand and spoke to him. The local press reported on this as an act which prevented the break up of the country, and possibly even the risk of civil war.
“The Tolon Na, though he did not agree with all that Nkrumah stood for, felt that it was in the interests of his people and the country that it should stay together as one.
“He was very keen that his colleagues from the North in the Legislature should understand what Buchman stood for. One afternoon, in the heat of the day, there was a knock on the door of the home where our small MRA international team lived. We were having a siesta! Who should be at the door but Tolon Na, followed by the majority of the Front Bench members of the Opposition in the Legislature. Without delay, he said to me, ‘Tell them the story about Frank Buchman and Bill Pickle’. Which we did, to the best of our ability. Bill Pickle had been a local hostler and janitor at Penn State University, who peddled liquor to the students. Buchman had been offered a job at the College not long after his profound personal experience of change. Excessive drinking was a huge problem on the campus. Buchman had developed the practice of giving an hour at the start of each day to seek God's leading for his life. In that time of quiet he got the names of particular people, students and others, whom he should help, first personally, and then to bring change to the whole College. Some students began to change and cut with their addiction to drink, much to the anger of Bill Pickle. But Bill was one of those Buchman felt led to care for. It was not easy. He found that Bill shared a love for horses! Buchman's care, and his ability to win his confidence, along with his vision for him, resulted in Bill agreeing to join him and students at a conference where many told stories of profound change in their lives. Bill decided to change and asked Buchman to help him write letters of apology to people he had wronged. This had a profound effect on the College when he returned. Tolon Na wanted his colleagues to understand the relationship between a change in individuals and the work of bringing change to a nation and the world. As he once commented, ‘I decided to live Frank's way of life’.
“Tolon Na went on to be Ambassador and High Commissioner for Ghana after its independence in 1957 in several countries, ending up in Nigeria at the time when the military took over from Nkrumah in Ghana. But as he was so trusted as a person, the new regime asked him to stay on in his post.”
“The people of Africa have a message to give to the world”
In 1955, a further group of African politicians, educationalists and student leaders attended the Caux conference. They absorbed much at the conference, but then felt that it was time for them to go home. Frank Buchman, however, was very aware of the pressures they would face in bringing new leadership to the continent. Were they adequately prepared? He invited them to meet him. Manasseh Moerane, vice-president of the African Teachers Association of South Africa, tells what happened: “Dr Buchman told us of a thought that had come to him during that night. ’The people of Africa have a message to give to the world. It will come to them, out of their hearts and experience, in the form of a play’.
“We accepted the challenge. We got together and listened, too, for God's direction. The plot of a play began to evolve and in three days it was written. On the seventh day it was on the stage. We called it Freedom, and, unknowingly, we were catapulted into history. Within a few months Freedom was seen by thirty thousand Europeans in London, Paris, Bonn, Berne, Geneva, Helsinki, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Oslo and Milan. In London's West End the audience gave a ten minute ovation. The demand for Freedom became so great that we decided to make a film. Over two thousand people contributed sums. It meant sacrifice for all the actors and technicians, none of whom received any pay. Some gave up their jobs. I had to risk losing mine, and forfeiting the right to a pension.”
It was costly, but it forged leaders who spoke to their continent. When Dr Kwame Nkrumah, as President of Ghana, paid his first official visit to Nigeria, Dr Azikiwe showed Freedom as part of the programme at the State banquet. In Kenya, former Mau Mau fighters arranged with President Jomo Kenyatta that Freedom, dubbed into Swahili, be shown to a million people throughout the country in preparation for the first national election.
Freedom epitomised that element Buchman brought to his challenge to change: to expand the vision which people have for themselves and for what they can do. As the Psalmist puts it: “Lift the veil from my eyes that I may see the marvels which spring from You”.
“People around you seem to change”
To illustrate Buchman's fundamental conviction that every forward step depended on conviction and commitment in an individual, one can move to the south of the continent, to Cape Town.
In his book, Frank Buchman’s Secret, Peter Howard describes what began there. “In Italy, Queen Sophie of Greece heard that Buchman planned to visit South Africa in 1928. She gave him letters to the Governor-General, the Earl of Athlone, great-uncle to the present Queen.
“In Cape Town, Buchman presented his letters. He talked with the Governor-General for an hour. Then Athlone took him out to the motor-car that was waiting. But as the door of the car was opened, Athlone said, 'We haven’t talked about the thing that interests me most. What I really want to know is how you get hold of a man like George Daneel and change him. You've not told me. Come inside again’. So the two men turned and went back indoors, to talk further for several hours,
“George Daneel was a Springbok, the name given to men who play rugby football for South Africa. They are national heroes. Daneel comes from the heart of Afrikanerdom. His background and straightforwardness were such that cabinet ministers of the day heeded him. He was studying for ministry in the Dutch Reformed Church. He came to take morning tea with Frank Buchman. He said to him 'People around you seem to change'.
“Buchman replied, ‘Of course. Don't they change when they are around you?’
“Daneel had to say that they did not. Buchman said, “Why is that?”
“Daneel decided that he would stay to lunch and talk more. Then he stayed to tea. Then to dinner. Then he stayed for life. He found an answer that day to selfish habits that had robbed him of the power to change people. He began to work together with men like Bremer Hofmeyr, another brilliant young Afrikaner who, as a Rhodes Scholar, met Buchman at Oxford and, as a result, told his friends that he planned to give the rest of his life to bring an ideology to Africa and the world.
“Fast forward twenty five years. Daneel, now a minister in the Church, with a devoted congregation, had married and had a family. But the challenge of what one might call Buchman's 'divine restlessness' remained with him. Buchman was never satisfied with the status quo, however good. He was always searching for God's further steps for himself, and for all those he met. It made him at times an uncomfortable, if stimulating, companion.
“Daneel had maintained his links with Buchman's worldwide work throughout the war, as an army chaplain in North Africa and Italy, and in other parts of Africa. He was now asking himself if God had wider responsibilities for him. He joined Hofmeyr and others at an inter-racial residential conference held in Northern Rhodesia. Such events were not possible at that time in South Africa. One of those present was Dr William Nkomo, founder and first President of the African National Congress Youth League who believed that “the hope for the African lay only in a bloodbath where every white man would be slain or driven into the sea”. Whites called Nkomo a Communist; he called them Fascists.
“Then he heard Daneel speak, saying publicly that it was the feelings of racial superiority in white men like himself that were creating the conditions for producing bloody revolution. He said that he had been wrong and that he was giving his life to work for a South Africa where all had a full and equal part. Nkomo said, “I have always been a revolutionary, and have spent much of my life in the struggle for the liberation of my people. Here I see white men change, and black men change, and I myself have decided to change. I realise that I cannot love my people unless I am prepared to fight for them in a new dimension, free of bitterness and hate”. Some months later Daneel and Nkomo spoke together to a packed audience in Cape Town City Hall. The Cape Times headlined, 'Black, White, on MRA Platform’. It was a new voice for South Africa.
“Daneel pursued his vision. He resigned: from the security of his position in the ministry, and, with a wife and children to support, he stepped out in faith. Others, black and white, joined him. Nkomo played a leading part in the writing and filming of Freedom. Together with Daneel, they gave their challenge to other parts of Africa. And wider afield. They took a group of white and black South Africans to Northern Ireland. And everywhere their message was the same: what was needed was more than racial harmony; it was for every man and woman to commit themselves for life to finding God's will for their country and its leadership.
“It was not easy for Daneel. Many of his own people resisted the challenge. But as a new realisation of the stature of Nkomo grew in him, he felt it was important that white leaders of his country should meet him and grasp what he saw for the future of South Africa. But the way did not open easily, so he desisted. Then Nkomo died.
“This hit Daneel hard. He said, “I had not done what God had told me because I was still bound by fear of what my own people would think. I decided that, from then on, I was going to be completely at God's disposal no matter what my friends or my people would think”.
“One morning, in 1974, Daneel felt God prompt him clearly: “An international conference for the Moral Re-Armament of Southern Africa, for all races, for all parts of Africa, to be held in Pretoria”. It seemed impossible, but he had learnt to be obedient and not just to rely on his own comprehension. Doors opened in a remarkable way. The Government, unexpectedly, agreed that it could happen. Delegates crossed borders normally tightly closed, coming from Nigeria, Kenya, Mozambique and further afield. Leading blacks and Afrikaners were among 400 of all races who stayed for a week together in a hotel in the heart of the capital, Pretoria. Many new insights were gained and decisions reached, for the emphasis was not on theory or the passing of resolutions, but on the experience that attitudes could change and new aims be found.
“Daneel was musing about this later. One black nationalist leader had asked to talk with him, not a usual role for a Dutch Reformed Church minister. Daneel said, “Why he should have asked for me I honestly don't know. But I do know that, for me, there is now only one thing that matters. That is what God wants, that He actually is in charge, for my future, my time, my country, as priority before any other loyalty. And that goes for everybody”. And his wife, Joey, added, “I knew that it would mean. No fixed income, no security of home or comfort, and the responsibility of three small children. At first, fear took me over. But then God spoke in no uncertain terms; 'You cannot accept Christ only as your Saviour; He must be your Master, too'. Then a miracle: I became a free human being”.
“This freedom of total commitment gave Daneel authority when he spoke to the General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church. The editor of a British publication which reported his talk wrote in introduction: 'This is not a political statement. It is moral and spiritual truth. Acceptance by us in Britain of its challenges would alter social, economic and political attitudes in this country. We, too, could then surprise the world’.
“Daneel said, in part, to the Synod, “The future of our country is in the balance. Changes are inevitable. The question is what kind of change is it to be? Voluntary, as a result of repentance, or violent change, by force. Fear should never be the main motive to put right what is wrong. We must do it because God asks it. Many of us feel we are free from race prejudice. But what about our fellow citizens who ill-treat blacks? They are our flesh and blood. As Christians we are called to identify ourselves with them as if equally guilty ourselves and in need of God's forgiveness. Of course Africans need to change, as we do. But we cannot allow our Afrikaner pride to prevent us searching our own hearts and asking God to bring about that transformation in human relationships which our country needs”.
“Daneel wrote with these convictions to Prime Minister Vorster and later had a meeting with him. “But,” he said afterwards, “he didn’t give me much chance to explain my stand, and I felt nothing had been achieved. But that was not the end of the matter. Shortly before his death he visited a great friend of his and during their conversation he mentioned my letter, adding, 'Daneel was right, after all”'.
“And increasingly other voices in Afrikanerdom spoke out in similar, courageous terms. They prepared the conscience of many among their people, so that when Nelson Mandela was released, Prime Minister De Klerk was able to take steps which took the world completely by surprise in handing over power, and carrying the majority of his own people with him.
“Daneel died in 2004, at the age of 100. He lived to see the birth of the new South Africa, with all the challenges that it now faces.
Buchman was once asked, “What do you regard as the greatest sin?” He replied, “The sin of limited expectations”. To the end, Daneel exemplified what Buchman fought for; a willingness constantly to be stretched in obedience and in vision.
* * *
The story of Arthur Norval
Ray Foote Purdy, an American who met Frank Buchman in 1919 and became one of his closest associates, spent a year in South Africa, 1932-33, at the invitation of people who had been influenced by the visit of Buchman’s young ‘Oxford Group’ in 1929 (pages 12-13). The following extract from Purdy’s memoirs illustrates how links between ‘the intimate and global’ resulted from the intensive type of personal evangelism that Buchman encouraged.
The University of Pretoria had been created by the Act of Union in 1910 to be a national university as the symbol of unity between the Dutch and English people. Here, using both languages, were supposed to live in peace and amity those who eventually would become leaders of the nation.
The university was part of the vision the first prime minister, Louis Botha, and of his aide, General Smuts, at the turn to of the century, to create the new South Africa following the Boer War and to accept the consequences of their defeat at the hands of Britain. During the thirty years since the Boer War there had been a growing feeling on the part of the nationalist group among the Afrikaans-speaking people that this would never continue and that as soon as it was possible in this two-stream theory of co-existence between Dutch and English, there might come a time when the Dutch would achieve the superiority and take whatever steps were necessary to expel the British from the Union and create a new state along the lines of the Irish Free State, separated from the British Commonwealth.
This leadership had finally in 1931 come to power at the election of the nationalist leader General Hertzog as prime minister. General Smuts' South African Party went into opposition. At this point the Nationalists thought that the best symbol of permanent superiority would be to expel the British from the University of Pretoria as the first step to their expulsion from any kind of power in the Union. And so there was a strategy at work led by Arthur Norval, at that time professor of economics on the staff. He burned with bitterness and even the casual reader of the newspapers saw the tremendous power which he exerted at that time.
Don't take sides, take responsibility
We were naturally asked what our attitude was as far as the work of Frank Buchman was concerned to these two sides and our only guidance was, “Don't take sides. Take responsibility.” Little by little we began to learn the issues. At the evening services at the St Andrews Presbyterian Church, many of the Dutch came to talk with us. One of those was William Hofmeyr, the head of the leading boys' school in Pretoria and one of the famous educators of his day. He had the conviction that it would be right to get together for an evening in his home some of those who were in educational and political prominence. Some fifty of his friends came, and among those was Arthur Norval and his wife. His wife had become much interested in the work we were doing and was convinced that her husband would find an answer to the problems which were gnawing in his heart if he were to come. With great patience and persistence she succeeded in bringing him to the back of the meeting in the Hofmeyr home. He was an unwilling listener to what was said by George Daneel and myself at the meeting, though gripped in spite of himself, and then left without being introduced.
Some two weeks later, however, he came to an evening meeting in a different part of the city and afterwards came to me and asked for a talk. Knowing who he was, I thought that one of two things would happen. Either he would threaten me with the need of immediate departure from the nation, or else he would tell me things that he had never told anybody before about himself. Hoping that the second alternative was the one moving his spirit, I suggested a drive in the country. So we got into my car and drove to the mountains surrounding Pretoria and talked for two hours. He told me how he had gone to Leiden in Holland to the university and lost his faith in God, of how the one thing which moved him was the death of his father in the Boer War, so that he burned with hatred against the British and would do anything to avenge his father's death. He used to get out his father's bloodstained coat to feed the fire of his bitterness. He said, “I have the feeling that I am being prayed for and that I would like to expose myself to a knowledge of God if He existed. If He did exist, I would have to fight as hard in South Africa for unity as I am now fighting for division. What would you do if you were in my position?”
A sound proposition
I said, “I would be a quack if I tried to tell you what to do, but I do believe from my own experience that God can make it very clear to you.” I felt that this was the decisive moment in the interview, with the survival of peace in the nation probably at stake. After a few moments of silence I said to him, “If you want to come to our home quietly for an hour every morning for a month, to take unhurried time to listen and write down the thoughts that are deepest in your heart during that time, whatever you feel is the right step to take for that day, I will help you take it.” He said, “That's a sound proposition. I'd like to accept.” And so every day for the next month he came to our home and we had a time of unhurried listening together, writing down the thoughts that came to us about ourselves, about the nation and about the future.
Clearly day by day he began to see what it meant to change his own life in accordance with the absolute moral standards and what God's plan might be for him and for South Africa. His heart and mind began naturally to go toward solving the problem of bitterness, separation and hate in his own life, first with an honest apology to his wife, a full discussion on a totally new basis, then with the two men - one of whom was president of the university of Pretoria - who were at the centre of this strategy of national division. He decided to be honest with himself and his colleagues about his motives and objectives and then to go before the council of the university staff and tell them that he would like, whatever he did in the future, to do it on a sound Christian basis.
The newspapers immediately attacked him and called him an arch-hypocrite, saying that they knew of his activity for division and now he was trying to cover it with a cloak of piety. It was a bitter blow, and his first experience of what it meant to stand under the glare of merciless publicity imputing motives to him which were certainly not there. He came to me the next day and said, “I would like to know everything that you know, by book or experience, about the Cross of Christ; because I am going away for a week alone to think over what I am meant to do with my future, and I would like to take with me the best material you have on the subject.”
He returned at the end of the week with the clear conviction of what he was meant to do. He drew together in our home leaders of both the Afrikaans and English groups and suggested that they should form a joint committee to invite the leaders in the city and nation to explore and apply the new spirit he had discovered to the critical problem facing the nation. Those who were united in this conviction printed an invitation in English and Afrikaans, sending it to all of the national leadership, the Members of Parliament, the Cabinet, leaders of the Church and Dutch- and English-speaking communities. 1,100 people went to the meeting in the City Hall. Norval himself courageously spoke for 25 minutes, giving the experiences he had had to date with an answer to bitterness and hatred and fear. He spoke in English, which he had vowed he never would use in public. I remember sitting in the meeting with the chief of staff of the army, General Brink, who said, “What this does is to transform the entire picture of the situation in South Africa. And if these principles were to be applied it would change both Afrikaans and English alike.”
Forces were set in motion that made many of the national leaders reconsider their whole position. Tielman Roos of the Supreme Court had the conviction that with this spirit it might be possible for him to control 25 of the nationalist votes and with General Smuts as Deputy Prime Minister form a coalition Cabinet to lead the nation. Smuts did not accept this proposition but in return had the courage to go to General Hertzog and suggest the same thing to him, offering to serve as his Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition government. He said, however, that there was no use in making this a political marriage of convenience. “It must be a politically united move in spirit and in strategy, and it will mean that you and I will have to go to every leading centre in South Africa and make that clear.” This they did. The result was that from the brink of civil war there came to birth within six months a coalition government, including 114 out of 132 in Parliament. And this government lasted for six years until the outbreak of the Second World War.
On the day we left South Africa, after a wonderful year there, we were having tea in the lounge of the parliament building in Capetown with Denys Reitz, the right-hand man of General Smuts and Minister of Lands in the Cabinet. As we sat there, many other Members of Parliament came to tea. In the centre was a table of four. They were General Hertzog and General Smuts with Havenga and Duncan. The latter two were the brilliant and able assistants to Hertzog and Smuts at the last conference they were to have before Smuts went -with the economic destiny under the new government of South Africa in his hands - to the Commonwealth Economic Conference in London in 1933. The four men were talking and laughing together as firm friends. Reitz said to us, “There’s nothing in the world that can explain what we see at that table but a Damascus Road experience.”