Rightwing religions: where do they come from?

Independent Online/June 17, 2003
By Marleen Smith

South Africa's rightwing religions originated historically from a British movement dating from the nineteenth century, says Free State University theologian Sybrand Strauss.

The British Israel movement expounded the theory that the British were the real descendants of Biblical Israel and thus God's only chosen people, says Strauss.

They argued that the 10 so-called lost tribes of Israel, who vanished from history after being conquered in 720 before Christ, eventually settled in Britain.

They then trekked for centuries through Europe Strauss, who earlier studied South Africa's rightwing sects for the Dutch Reformed Church, says it is not clear how Afrikaners became involved in this movement.

However, a variation of the classic British Israel theory states that not only the British are descendants of Israel's 10 lost tribes, but all the white peoples of the world.

In South Africa, pastor FWC Neser from Vereeniging with his Ekklesia evangelical group was one of the first followers of the British Israel movement.

At one stage Neser was its local chairperson.

In a book by Neser he wrote the 10 missing Israel tribes escaped after being exiled to Assiria in 720 BC. They then trekked for centuries through Europe, eventually developing into the world's "white, Western Protestant" nations.

Their beliefs in these prophesies were their downfall Strauss classifies the different South African followings of this under the term White Israelism.

"These are people who put excessive accent on Israel, with the aim of religiously justifying their white racial purity."

Neser's group, for instance, believe "the blood of Israel must be kept pure to protect her identity." They teach "(racial) segregation in all areas."

Characteristic of many of these groupings is their belief in prophesies, both Biblical and by modern "prophets."

Among these are nineteenth century Boer prophet Siener van Rensburg and Johanna Brandt.

Brandt was the wife of a high-ranking minister of the Nederduitsch Hervormde Kerk, one of three Afrikaans Reformed churches.

She believed that she had received divine visions at her mother's deathbed in 1916.

"Brandt claimed to have received a personal visit then from a messenger of God," says University of South Africa theologian Christina Landman.

"This messenger empowered Brandt to spread the message that the God of all Christians was returning to earth, and that he had chosen to come to South Africa."

Ironically, Brandt's later writings and reinterpretations of her 1916 visions led to her being described by Landman as one of South Africa's earliest feminists.

She is also believed to have been an early proponent of the New Age movement, Strauss says.

However, in rightwing circles the prophesies of both Van Rensburg and Brandt are interpreted as to have predicted a so-called Night of Terror.

Many believe this event is to precipitate a rightwing coup d'etat in South Africa.

These prophesies are being incorporated into religious beliefs.

Ilda Peacock, for instance, said at the trial of her husband, Leon, and two co-accused that no human can precipitate the Night of Terror or any similar event.

It was part of God's plan for the world and was to happen at its predetermined time, she said.

Peacock, Hercules Viljoen and Alan Rautenbach were recently sentenced in the Bloemfontein regional court for sabotage after plotting to blow up the Vaal Dam.

Their trial was heavily interlaced with references to their religious beliefs and the prophesies of Van Rensburg and Brandt. Especially Peacock often quoted from the Bible when testifying.

When sentencing them, magistrate WA de Klerk said they had been "good human material", but their beliefs in these prophesies were their downfall.

To Strauss South Africa's White Israelism groups should not be categorised as sects, but rather as cults in the American style.

"Their power and psychological grip over their followers are typical of a cult," Strauss says. - Sapa

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