Martin Luther King Day

Martin Luther King Day

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot
drive out hate; only love can do that.”

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word
in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil
Dr. Martin Luther King

As we think of Martin Luther King and his legacy, allow me to share a few thoughts of my own that have to do with my particular journey in life. I am a white South African by birth who was born into this world in 1952 when the minority Afrikaner Nationalist Party was in power and was boldly implementing its policy of Grand Apartheid. At that time there were approximately three million whites in South Africa and nineteen million black people. We lived in the northern part of the country in a region called the Vaal Triangle. This was a predominantly an Afrikaner speaking area and, though we were white but English speaking, we were overwhelmed in numbers by the white Afrikaners and therefore were literally hated by them because being the 1950s this was just fifty odd years after the Anglo Boer War in which the Boers ( Afrikaner Farmers) were overrun and defeated by the British and disinvested thereby of their two republics. Indeed the British starved their women and children to death in concentration camps and so we were the objects of their resentment.

Traveling to school every day on the bus to a town called Nigel was consequently an obstacle course in that, being a minority, we were routinely harassed, verbally abused and even beaten up by the Afrikaner students. I well remember how all the Afrikaner students were barefoot and all the English students on the bus wore shoes and because of this we were called “sissys” (weaklings) and traitors and told to go home to England. South Africa, we were told, was not our country; we were “uitlanders” (outsiders).

Years later, when having graduated from high school, I was drafted into the First South African Infantry Battalion located in the Cape Province at a town called Oudtshoorn. Once again, being English speaking, I was part of a minority group in that, the military being an all white enterprise, was dominated by Afrikaans speaking recruits and commanders. I well remember the first day that we were mustered on the parade ground to be welcomed by the Regimental Sergeant Major. He brazenly told us that if we were English we would be regarded as “Kaffirs” in this army and if we were Jews we would be regarded as worse then “Kaffirs.” ( A derogatory term borrowed from the religion of Islam meaning an infidel and in apartheid South Africa applied to the majority black population. Today, and rightly, so it is banned). I was of course shocked by this and have never forgotten it.

There were two official languages in South Africa at that time, English and Afrikaans. In the military we were told that this meant that we would be instructed on one day in Afrikaans and on the next day in English. Naturally, given the climate of the day, this was never implemented and so it ended up being one day Afrikaans and the next day Afrikaans and so on! While in the military we were also subjected to propaganda lectures and I well remember that somewhere in these lectures the phrase ” Onse saak is reg” (Our cause is right) would always come up. It was baffling from the place that I stood in life.

At the political level the English speaking South Africans, led by the United Party and Liberal Party (Later the Progressive Federal Party) were always hopelessly outnumbered by the ruling Afrikaner Nationalist Party and consequently, though technically we had the privilege of voting, we were in fact disenfranchised. We would never have a real voice in government and of course the black majority were totally excluded from the power structures of the country. It was a mess!

So, I never felt a part of the country and could never understand or appreciate the feelings of nationalism that others had. I was told from my youthful years that I didn’t belong and should go home to England. I was a traitor and a foreigner and was only tolerated and not accepted. The fact that my father fought on the side of the British in the Second World War only exacerbated things. We were the enemy even though white!

My point is that I had every reason to feel hard done by and in need of reparations, entitlements and special privileges. After all, I was a victim of harassment, discrimination and prejudice and if so had to be compensated. Thankfully, I had a father who knew better and who was determined that I would not grow up with a “victim and poor me mentality.” He therefore gave me and my brother a word of advice that has stood us in good stead all through the years and which enabled us to see that others do not define who we are and we should never let them. These are the words that my father spoke into our lives:

“My sons the world, the government, society and your family owe you nothing.
So, expect nothing from them and get up, stand on your own two feet and
make something of your lives.”
Guy Usher Hedding

My father only had a Grade Ten or Standard Eight education and yet he spoke a number of African languages, fought in the Second World War, worked hard, became a Manager on a Gold Mine and honored God. He was loved and respected by all who knew him and he made it in life because he knew that he had it in him to succeed with the help of God. He was never going to become anyone’s victim and he would not stoop so low as to ask anything from them. The world owed him nothing! My brother and I have lived by this creed and it has freed us to realize our potential under the God of the Bible. It could have been so easy to see myself as a victim of discrimination and prejudice and consequently wallow in the mud of that swamp always blaming others for my plight but I had a father who would not tolerate that nonsense and neither should you. We were never victims and we don’t intend to be until the day we die no matter what the majority or minority may do to us. With God we can do all things and nothing can separate us from His love in Christ. We can therefore stand strong amongst men and forgive all who have wronged us and even love them. We are not victims!

Today I am a proud naturalized American citizen and I know that Dr. Martin Luther King stood strong and confident and never embraced the curse of victim-hood. He was free from this debilitating sickness of the soul and therefore able to articulate a dream that was powerful and transforming because he drew upon the gifts that God had given him. He was a Christian preacher, having all things in Christ, and therefore free to forgive and love and change our nation for the better. Our great nation desperately needs to not only hear his message, but more important still, his heart because, if we do not, we will stand on the precipice of being engulfed by bitterness, hatred and prejudice. Some decades later another remarkable man, having been imprisoned for twenty-seven years, walked out of prison strong, confident and free from bitterness because he never saw himself as a victim but as one who had it in him to reach out to all men and make the world a better place. His inner man was free from victim-hood and liberated to touch all men with a dream of goodness. His name was Nelson Mandela.

Martin Luther King had a dream that all men could be free, treated as equals and enjoy the dignity that God himself had given them. He could thus speak out against injustice and did, not as a victim, but rather as an oracle of what was right. That dream had better take hold of our own hearts lest we fall into the trap that others, because of what they have done to us, must give us things and make us happy. I still hear the words of my father, “My son stand up and be strong and make something of your self because the world owes you nothing.” Martin Luther King, in his own way knew this to be true, and we thank God for the gift of his life to our nation.

Malcolm Hedding

This article in no way wishes to places the Afrikaner people in a bad light. It is merely my historical reality and I recognize that all peoples, including the English, have “skeletons in their closets.” The Afrikaner people are resilient and have demonstrated their inner strength by overcoming their history of prejudice and have embraced their new future in South Africa with remarkable optimism and faith. It was in fact Afrikaner leaders who boldly led the country out of the apartheid nightmare. They are today a hard working and godly people who are making a huge difference to their world. God has not forgotten them and neither should we.