The year is 1978. It is 5:00am. The tiny church building is full at this early hour. The bush war in Rhodesia is raging across and on the border of my country, South Africa. Along with my friends, I sit in a church building on a cold winter’s morning and I pray. For months this is my daily routine before I walk on to school. I am a teenager, not fully understanding all the issues, but I do know what bloody death and massacre is. I read about it daily in our newspapers and I sit quietly, along with the rest of the country, as the names of the men who died that day roll on the TV screen at the end of the nightly news bulletin. My parents eventually put a stop to the 5am prayer vigil, knowing that my final exams are ahead and I need to focus on these.
My boyfriend – who unknown to my teenage heart, will be my husband in years to come – is fulfilling his military conscription. He, along with the many who die daily, are fighting a border war. A war that is unpopular and where the issues are hazy and uncertain.
Rhodesia is under the rule of former white British subjects and the bush war – the Zimbabwe War of Liberation – has been raging for well over a decade. South Africa is under white rule too and the Nationalist government sends thousands of boy-men to fight at the country’s borders to keep the ‘enemy’ at bay. Every white South African male at the age of sixteen receives military “call up” papers. By eighteen, tens of thousand of boys are fighting a man’s war and dying for a cause not fully understood.
It is the 1970’s and Communism is a fierce force and our world is in the grip of the Cold War. The Soviet Union and Cuba give military support to the Zimbabwe freedom fighters on the border and further north in Angola. Is this then a war against communism in Africa? The United States has placed economic sanctions against South Africa because of its’ Apartheid laws. Is this war then a racial war in which boys on both sides of the conflict are needlessly dying before they become men?
In 1978 I am a young teenage girl, only just becoming politically aware. I see the unjust treatment of non-white race groups in my daily life and I am not fully persuaded that the war is merely a fight against Communism. However, in history classes at school we study Marx, Lenin and Stalin. My forming opinions cannot reconcile these ideologies with the prosperity of democracy and capitalism I see in my country.
I also see thousands of white boys, once school peers, now dead. I think about the unknown black boys fighting for freedom, also now dead.
So, along with my neighbors and my friends, I go to pray each morning at 5am.
It is 1980 and Rhodesia becomes Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, a veteran of the Zimbabwe War of Liberation is inaugurated as President.
Thirty-seven years later Robert Mugabe, under military arrest, finally resigns as President. The country, once fertile and prosperous, is desecrated and deathly poor. Its’ citizens, both black and white, have left the country by the millions. Those who could not leave have suffered under the hands of a cruel and self-serving despot.
My teenage years are long gone. The unfurling of events in Zimbabwe over the past few weeks has made me recall that small church building on a cold winter’s morning in 1978. I can still feel the hard floor on my bended knees and the smell of the oil on the wooden pew as I leaned against it to pray. I can still clearly see the cold vapor around our words as we prayed for a beloved continent. I can still feel the hope for peace to come and the deep cry for the killing to stop.
It is now November 2017. In the United States where I am currently found, winter has come. The air is cold at 5am as I, once again, pray for Zimbabwe. I pray for her citizens. I pray for her once fertile land. I pray for her new President. I pray for peace to come to this broken country and I cry fervently for the killing to stop.
“Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior …” – 1 Timothy 2:1-3