A minister who confronted the racist system in South Africa takes on those who label Israel 'apartheid.'
By LELA GILBERT
As a young ordained minister with the Assemblies of God, South African native Malcolm Hedding confronted the apartheid system from the pulpit and was forced to flee his homeland. Today, he is a prominent Christian Zionist leader based in Jerusalem who is challenging the incessant branding of Israel with the "apartheid" label.
Hedding was born in 1952 into a family of British descent that had settled in the Eastern Cape region. His father, Guy Usher Hedding, managed a gold mine and learned to speak the "click" language of the local Xhosa peoples, eventually mastering many other African dialects.
"My father was greatly loved by all the black African mine workers under his supervision, because he always treated them with respect," says Hedding. "They even twice crowned him as an African king."
"In the 1960s, there was a major land dispute between the government and the African people in one of the provinces," he recalls. "The government wanted to take away some land with huge platinum deposits, and the Africans asked my father to come represent their cause. Thousands of Africans had come to protest, and I will never forget when we arrived there was a shout of joy that 'the king' had come. He confronted the government and was very successful.
"My father instilled within us values that let us know we should not just accept the system; that we should never rob the black people of their dignity or dehumanize them."
The system was apartheid, which had taken root when the Nationalist Party swept into power in 1948 and consolidated its political grip on the country.
According to Hedding, in many respects apartheid was a theological system. The architect of its Calvinist form was a Dutch Reformed minister, Daniel Detoitas, while the first apartheid prime minister was also a Dutch Reformed minister, Daniel Francois Malan.
"The Dutch Calvinists' platform was a false notion, another deviant form of replacement theology based on the biblical injunction that believers ought to keep themselves 'separate' from the heathens. You can see who the heathens were - they were the blacks. And of course the righteous people of God were the whites. So they built this system, vindicating it on false theological grounds," explains Hedding.
At one time, he notes, the prime minister of the country was Balthazar Johannes Vorster and the moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church was his brother, Koot Vorster. So the Vorster brothers tied up the country politically and ideologically.
"In a sense, it was a limited democracy for the whites only. An estimated 170,000 Afrikaners effectively held power over 40 million blacks because of the undemocratic nature of the system," he says.
Hedding entered the ministry in the early 1970s as a member of the Assemblies of God of Southern Africa. This was primarily a black movement founded in part by a black preacher, Nicholas Bhengu. For this reason, the racial tensions within the Assemblies of God were never the same as in the rest of the country.
"As the years passed, my emotional and cultural resistance to the apartheid system was fortified by my theological education," Hedding notes. "I didn't need to be convinced because of my father's example. But the word of God brought further understanding - passages like Ephesians, which speaks of 'one new man' in Christ who is neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female. This means that in the Christian life, there are to be no prejudices or hatred, nor any sense of discrimination between people groups or gender groups. We are all equal in the sight of God."
Once he had his own pulpit, Hedding began to attack apartheid in public. "I always tried to show my congregation why it was wrong and unacceptable, and that if they couldn't change the political system, they should at least treat people of color with absolute dignity and respect and love and courtesy."
Hedding was also interested in Israel and his understanding of the dangers of theologies that "replace" Israel was accentuated by apartheid. "I came to realize just how deviant the various replacement theologies can be, and the evil they birth. I was living in an environment that said: 'We are the people of God, the new Israel. We, the Christians, are living among pagans, these dirty people, and we have to keep ourselves separate.' Many scriptures were taken out of context and applied in this way."
PASTORING CHURCHES in the Transvaal, where he had grown up, and later in Durban, Hedding continued preaching against apartheid and by the early 1980s had developed a nationwide ministry, traveling widely in response to frequent speaking invitations. He insists he never politicized his message, but attacked the issue from a biblical perspective.
"If my message contradicted some political party's platform, then so be it," he says. "I was living out my conscience. And more and more, for various reasons, I was invited to preach all over the country."
Before long he was holding seminars on this issue, even for business groups. Strangely enough, even some Dutch Reformed churches invited him to preach on the subject. "That's when things got hot," Hedding notes with a smile.
Over time his activities caught the attention of the Bureau of State Security, which began following and harassing him. In 1986, the BSS even planted a top security agent in his congregation to monitor his sermons and compile a dossier against him.
"Trevor" infiltrated the church posing as a longhaired hippie, wearing sandals, dirty jeans and T-shirts. One sympathetic church leader even opened his home to this apparently poor man. "Then one night Trevor got wonderfully saved," recalls Hedding. "He got converted under my preaching and came forward calling on God for forgiveness. Afterwards, he said he wanted to come and see me."
Hedding thought Trevor wanted to talk about his new lease on life, but instead he walked in later that week with a thick file, laid it on the desk and confessed to spying. He warned Hedding that he would likely be detained without trial and urged him to take his family and flee the country.
Coincidentally, around this same time he had been contacted by Jim Cantelon, a pastor who was starting a church in Jerusalem and suggested that Hedding join the ministry team at what is today King of Kings Community, the largest evangelical fellowship in the city. With the agreement of his church elders, he left South Africa for Israel. While living in Israel, Hedding also was invited to serve as chaplain for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, a global Christian Zionist ministry that he now heads.
By 1989, apartheid was slowly crumbling and the Hedding family determined it was safe to return to South Africa. They arrived home in Durban the very week hard-liner president P. W. Botha was ousted by F.W. de Klerk, a reformist who released Nelson Mandela from prison shortly thereafter.
The security apparatus let Hedding know he was now "on the good side," and over the next 10 years he founded churches in South Africa and traveled for the ICEJ, preaching in support of Zionism. Then in 2000, he was invited back to Jerusalem by the Christian Embassy's board of trustees to take over leadership of the ministry.
His struggle against apartheid in South Africa and his close involvement with Israel have given Hedding unique credentials to address today's Israel-apartheid analogies. In fact, the UN Conference on Racism in 2001 that spawned the current campaign to brand Israel an apartheid state was held just two blocks away from Hedding's home church in Durban.
"Calling Israel an 'apartheid state' is absolute nonsense," he insists. "You might have structures that look like apartheid, but they're not. The barrier fence has nothing to do with apartheid and everything to do with Israel's self-defense. There was no such barrier until the second intifada, when people were being murdered on the highways. And the country does not dehumanize its minority in the sense of apartheid. The issues are totally different."
Hedding believes Israel has more than proven its desire to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians, while granting political rights to its own Arab citizens within a liberal democratic system. Nevertheless, the Palestinians remain committed to Israel's destruction.
By contrast, he says, it was a tiny minority in South Africa that held power and once democracy came, the Nationalist Party that had dominated the masses disappeared.
"Israel is not trying to dominate the Arab minority or dehumanize it; she's trying to facilitate sovereignty in one way or another while protecting her own citizens from a program of destruction. In no way is it an apartheid system."
He believes the security barrier gave fuel to that idea because it separates people, but it is incorrect fuel. Still, he says people like Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu seize upon it as a physical symbol to further their misguided political agenda.
"When I hear 'apartheid' used in regards to Israel, I think it trivializes the word. In fact, the harsh reality was that 40 million black people were dehumanized, robbed of their dignity and treated like absolute dirt. To trivialize apartheid in that way is an insult to the black peoples of South Africa.
"Of course, it's a very convenient and very emotive word. You have to give them credit - it is a brilliant PR stroke, but it's disingenuous. When people like Desmond Tutu continue to feed this, it is an insult to the very people they tried to liberate."
Hedding has concluded that if there is any analogy between the two situations, it is the link between Christian replacement theology that undergirded apartheid and an Islamic version of replacement theology that stands at the heart of the Middle East conflict today.
"Radical Islamic theology and its desire to return the region to Dar al-Islam [House of Islam] is the one core issue that very few people acknowledge. Even though you have groups like Hamas riding on very clear Islamic theological principles, the world makes the constant error of avoiding the theological nature of this conflict. Instead, they are trying to deal with it in a secular, humanistic, political context. They can never solve it because they won't own up to the truth that we are dealing with a conflict with Islam.
"If you don't start from the theological foundation, like we did in South Africa, then you can never address this thing honestly. You can't do it by pointing to symbols like the wall and equating them with apartheid. That is a very false and superficial analysis. The source of the conflict is a radical Islamic need to verify their revelation by the dismantling of the Jewish state."
If he could talk to Jimmy Carter and Desmond Tutu, he would tell them they are being fundamentally dishonest.
"I admire Desmond Tutu in many ways. I heard him preach in South Africa during the apartheid years, and I'll never forget how wonderfully he preached one night in a conference I attended. He preached on the lordship of Jesus and blessed my heart with his message. Today I would say to him: 'Desmond, of all people, you who unearthed the very foundations of the apartheid system, why are you ignoring totally the radical Islamic desire to dismantle the Jewish state? Why do you not have the honesty to get up and say it?'"
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