Bongi, the subject of “The Beauty of the Rainbow Nation”, hated white people. Born in 1968, she grew up in apartheid South Africa—a country dominated by the white Afrikaans people. Bongi was part of the marginalized communities of that day from the proud Zulu tribe. Zulus have a well-deserved fierce repute. Bongi decided to join the fight against apartheid as a member of the UDF. This was the United Democratic Front, which was essentially the banned ANC (African National Congress) in disguise. She lived about a 25 minute drive from Durban in the province of Kwazulu-Natal in a Zulu village.
The IFP (Inkatha Freedom Party) was a political group who tried to kill her one day. As Bongi left school one day, she saw other children singing IFP songs in her neighborhood. She shouted at them to stop their singing, and they ran to other IFP members to organize as a group to find her and kill her. Bongi prepared herself for a confrontation and possibly death—she told her family members to immediately leave the house so that if they found her, only she would die. Fortunately, they did not know where her house was but she saw the IFP mob passing by her home as she hid inside.
When she would attend funerals to bury other “comrades”, police would also come and fire rubber bullets into the crowds. It was a dangerous time to live.
In 1990 she decided to make another radical decision for her life—to follow Jesus Christ. Yet a greater challenge followed five years later—she decided to do a Discipleship Training School (a DTS) with Youth With A Mission in 1995, the year after apartheid was officially dismantled and Nelson Mandela was elected.
But now for the first time in her life, she would be in a mixed group—with the hated whites, as well as those from other nations. To appreciate the breadth of this decision is to understand that it was illegal in the apartheid era to be in mixed racial groups, even in the same car, riding together!
In that year, I journeyed to South Africa to join that DTS as an artist staff member, invited by the Afrikaans school leader, Marieta Engels. My job was to help the students during their lecture and practicum (outreach phase) understand art and missions. It was to put into practice what they learned in the discipleship course to love others in Madagascar by creating art with and for them in places such as hospitals, a university and orphanages.
But before the outreach, the Holy Spirit convicted Bongi that she needed to change. She shared her personal story with the group of her life struggles and hatred. And a white Afrikaans staff member named Annemarie Froneman decided to wash her feet as an act of love. This action was a highly significant part of breaking that cycle of hatred. As for myself, I got to wash her feet a second time in Madagascar. This was as an action to affirm her and show that she was an important part of our team. I did not know about her hatred. I only knew she felt a sense of disconnection from the rest of the group, not uncommon in a country with a strong spirit of isolation.
In the years since, I have observed Bongi as we have served in Youth With A Mission together. She joined the YWAM Muizenberg base in the Capetown region and now serves full-time as a missionary, loving DTS students from townships and other countries, loving the unlovely in places like prisons, teaching from her life the rich things she has learned. She is one of the most beautiful women that I know and one of the dearest friends. When she shared her testimony with inmates from the infamous Pollsmoor Prison as we labored together, they were gripped by the Holy Spirit because of the power and authority with which she speaks in Jesus’ Name. She is now part of YWAM’s National Leadership Team and the YWAM Muizenberg eldership team.
I was asked to do a piece of artwork to be displayed at a YWAM conference in 2002 regarding issues of injustice regarding women. My desire was to show the beauty of the African woman and I could think of no better example than Bongi. Her regal face is painted all colors because of the diversity, the “rainbow” of lovely people groups in South Africa. What a joy to have her in my studio. She was so excited to be the subject of a painting!
As a single mother, with a lovely teenage son named Nkululeko who loves Jesus, she has recently adopted Nosipho, now age 5, a beautiful little girl whose mother died of AIDS. Workers with YWAM are unsalaried and raise their own support from friends, family, churches or others interested in being a part of the support team. I have watched Bongi and her family over the years continue to faithfully trust God for every provision and faithfully serve the Lord. If I can think of someone who has perseverance along with joy in the hard places, Bongi is a testimony to me.
My joy is to share the uniqueness of our Creator God’s image in people that I love, whether it is in fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, or prison inmates I have just met who need to know they are not forgotten and that they are God’s hidden treasures. So often, we fail to see the Creator’s beauty in others because of the ravages of life, of sin, of choices, of judgements—of the walls our culture and the enemy of our souls builds which isolates us from one another. Perhaps it is also distance as well, because there are many we will never meet who we will yet hear about because of the largeness of their lives in touching others. Bongi is one such person.
I am honoured to share her beauty.