Our Christian who has made a difference this week is Michael Cassidy. Michael Cassidy has been involved in peace, reconciliation, preaching and social work in Africa for more than 40 years, and particularly in South Africa during the Apartheid era. His behind the scenes peacemaking endeavours, eventually led to the successful elections in South Africa in 1994. His endeavours were crucial in avoiding a bloodbath throughout South Africa.
Michael Cassidy was born in 1936 to British parents, but he grew up in Lesotho, a tiny mountain kingdom surrounded by South Africa. He was educated at Cambridge University in England and then at Fuller Theological Seminary in California. While in America he was inspired by the stance of Martin Luther King seeking justice for African Americans. His heros were Billy Graham and John Stott, English theologian and writer.
In 1961 he started a ministry in Africa. His wanted to spread the good news of Christianity, and to do social welfare work. Initially he began work in South Africa, then ten years later in Uganda with a second team. Other teams soon followed. He started an organisation known as African Endeavour. Africa Endeavour’s holistic approach to missions involves four key ministry areas; Evangelism, Aid and Development, Peacebuilding and Leadership Development. Today African Endeavour is a partnership of approximately 600 staff, countless volunteers, and friends representing ten national teams. There is a pan African mission team, a reconciliation department, a training department and support teams in seven countries across the globe.
In 1979, at the height of apartheid, scores of people were being killed in civil strife every day. Cassidy organised a conference of 6,000 black and white church leaders in Pretoria, South Africa. This conference was important in influencing the Dutch Reformed church to stop supporting apartheid. In 1986 the Dutch Reformed Church officially changed its position and proclaimed apartheid a sin.
As another reconciliation initiative, he invited almost a hundred South African politicians to Kolobe Lodge, several hours north of Pretoria, for a total of six weekends of dialogue, fun and relationship-building.
Despite these endeavours, South Africa entered 1994 with a major rift between the ANC (African National Congress) headed by Nelson Mandela, and the Zulu backed IFP (Independence Freedom Party) headed by Zulu Chief Buthelezi. ANC and IFP supporters were killing each other by the score every day. The country was heading for catastrophe and no one seemed to have any idea how to break the impasse. The parties agreed to have international mediators Henry Kissinger of USA and Lord Carrington of Britain assist them. Michael Cassidy realised that the negotiating team needed an impartial African mediator as well as international mediators, so sought the involvement of devout Christian Washington Okumu, a Kenyan professor and a “gentle giant”. Washington Okumu joined the negotiations.
However on 14th April, thirteen days before the crucial vote of the people on 27th April, negotiations broke down. Kissinger and Carrington went home. Kissinger predicted that at least one million people would die in a civil war in the coming months. Christians right across South African were praying to God for a solution, and Michael Cassidy rented a stadium and planned a mass rally for peace on 17th April in Durban.
Washington Okumu, working behind the scenes and despite the official negotiation breakdown, thrashed out a plan with IFP negotiators all through the night of 14th April. The next morning he raced to Johannesburg airport to try to catch the departing Chief Buthelezi and sell the plan to him. But Okumu was too late, Buthelezi’s plane took off. However, fortunately it was forced to return to Johannesburg due to minor equipment failure, and Okumu got to meet with Buthelezi.
At the peace rally on the 17th April, 25,000 Christians came to pray for peace. Un-beknown to the throng, as they were singing and praying, Buthelezi was in the stadium’s VIP lounge with Okumu’s plan, discussing it with ANC leaders and the government’s representative. The plan was accepted. The election was held on the 27th and not one person was killed by violence.
This is a wonderful story of the power of prayer and persistence by people seeking peace, particularly Michael Cassidy. We salute Michael Cassidy, a Christian who made a difference.