South African Press Association (SAPA), June 17, 2003
Marleen Smith | Bloemfontein
Yet Jaco van der Merwe, spiritual leader of the Lewende Hoop (Living Hope) congregation in Kroonstad, denies their message is political.
“There are no political elements in our preaching. We are simply relaying what God says in his word,” Van der Merwe says, sitting in his home office on a smallholding outside Kroonstad.
His church building is a converted workshop on the same property. Police and intelligence officers do not seem to agree that the Lewende Hoop teachings are a-political.
A senior investigator in the latest series of rightwing prosecutions believes the most recent renaissance of rightwing religion in South Africa “mushroomed” from Kroonstad.
This observation corresponds with the development of the Lewende Hoop movement, which was founded five years ago on the smallholding next to the Free State town.
It has since established around 30 congregations across the country and are working hard to found more, Van der Merwe says.
“You would not believe how our people (white Afrikaners) are awakening to the truth.
“We have been bursting at the seams in the past six months. Extra chairs have to be carried into the church on Sundays,” he says.
“No government, police or defence force can stop what is happening, because it is part of God’s plan for his covenant people.”
The “truth” he is referring to is the belief that the world’s white Protestants, including the Afrikaners, are God’s chosen people, born to rule.
They are seen as the only true descendants of Biblical Israel’s 12 lost tribes, and thus the only people with whom God has concluded his holy covenant. Only they will be saved by God at the end, Van der Merwe and his followers believe.
They dismiss the evolution theory, believing God created all nations in a predetermined order, which is not to be changed. And face it, “we were created the head nation, not the one at the tail end,” Van der Merwe says.
He is aware of police and intelligence officers keeping an eye on them.
“When I preach on Sundays I notice across the congregation’s heads how men are writing down the registration plate numbers of the cars parked outside,” he says.
“Our phones are being tapped as well, we can hear it.”
However, in his mind this surveillance is pointless. “We denounce violence and resistance against government. Anyone who resists government will merely receive trouble from two sides,” he says.
His argument goes that God put the current government in power to “punish” Afrikaners for being disobedient.
“There was a time, long ago, when we should have taken the country by force, as God ordered us to. However, we have waived that right through disobedience,” Van der Merwe says.
“God’s punishment measure for disobedience by his chosen people has always been oppression.”
Therefore, resistance against government would come down to resisting God’s will, Van der Merwe preaches.
“All we must do now is to convert ourselves to the truth, be still and wait for deliverance,” he says.
He claims people from all walks of life are “converting” across the country to these beliefs. One of them is Ryna Kritzinger, mother of convicted bus killer De Wet Kritzinger.
Kritzinger grew up on a farm in neighbouring Edenville district and went to school in Kroonstad. He was recently jailed for life after the racial killing of three black people on a bus.
Kritzinger maintained in court that he did not commit murder because blacks “are not human beings”.
Van der Merwe does not want his church to be associated with Kritzinger. He says it is “mere coincidence” that Ms Kritzinger joined the congregation after the killings.
Lewende Hoop distances itself “totally” from the young killer’s statements in court.
“We do not agree with the view that black people are animals (as preached by some groupings of the so-called Israel Vision sect),” Van der Merwe says.
Kritzinger is reported to be a follower of Israel Vision. Lewende Hoop merely maintains the “unpopular” view that any peoples other than “the Israelites” will eventually have to stand “under the rule of Israel”, Van der Merwe says.
Furthermore, all the signs are there that the final day of doom, to introduce this new world order, is nearing.
“We are already experiencing the end of times,” Van der Merwe says while quoting from his open Bible, “proving the purity of his arguments, insisting they have nothing to do with politics.