A Lesson Learned from South Africa
I believe it was George Santayana (Spanish Philosopher 1863-1952) who first said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. The quote has been applied in various versions many times since.
Even the purpose of the 911 Commission Report was “looking backward in order to look forward.”[i]
I had heard, and read overviews of the terrorist attack on a church in Cape Town, South Africa on July 25th, 1993. A good friend recently reminded me that I should research that story. Now I have done so, and have been communicating with Charl Van Wyk. I hope to have him join me in a conference some day. His story is remarkable.
Worshipers were gathered that Sunday night in their sanctuary of the St. James Church. As a couple young men were singing, a door opened beside the platform and armed men stepped into the congregation.
At first Van Wyk was irritated by their rudeness, but then thought it must be some sort of skit (common theme from almost every major church shooting). But as the sounds of fully automatic weapons, explosions and screams began to shatter the sanctuary, it became obvious this was no skit.
Shots were tearing through innocent victims, and grenades with nails attached to them ripped more bodies and pews apart. Splinters and shrapnel of all kinds was filling the air as Van Wyk pulled his revolver. Acting on disciplined training from years before in the South African Army, he did what he was trained to do. The SA Army instructions to “dash, down, crawl, roll, observe, sights, fire” came back in an instant.
When he fired from a kneeling position at the end of his pew, it was with a .38 snubnose revolver. He fired two shots, then realized he was too far away for good effect, so he dashed out the nearby back door as a means of going around the outside of the church and re-entering behind the killers through the same door they had come in.
However once outside he encountered the killers as they were getting into their car to get away. He fired 3 more shots at the car as it sped off, then went back into the church.
In the church, 11 people were dead and 53 wounded. Charl Van Wyk’s shooting had wounded one of the attackers, causing the killers to stop and flee.
Van Wyk is quick to point out others who also took protective action.
As the attack developed, a grenade landed by 21-year-old Gerard Harker who threw himself on top of it taking the blast into his body to save others. 17-year-old Richard O’Kill pulled 2 little girls close to him, shoved them to the floor and covered their little bodies with his own. Both of these young men died that others may live.
Letlappa Mpahele (aka “Happy”), Director of Operations of the APLA (Azanian People’s Liberation Army) had ordered the attack on the church. Happy Mpahele said later that, “I felt the white people had to take their own medicine. So I gave orders on attacks on different civilian targets … among them, St. James Church”.
Think About it:
Ø The emotional aftermath of such attacks is incredible. One woman tried to console Van Wyk later by saying, “Imagine how you would have felt if you had killed one of those terrorists”. Van Wyk even had to listen to Archbishop Desmond Tutu criticize his actions on national TV saying he, “…did not believe churchgoers should allow themselves to use the same methods (guns) as those evil people. One must remember that the bible says, ‘vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.’” NOTE: I am left to think the only thing dumber than a well-meaning sheep opening their mouth on subjects they know nothing about, is a national leader attempting to say something brilliant after such an incident.
Ø It is a weakness to get focused on any one source of attack. After the anti-government attack on Oklahoma City every street-side business was looking for yellow box trucks. After Columbine any kid in a trench-coat was suspect. After 911, many became fixated on radical Islam. On 9/15/1963 it was angry whites who attacked a black church in Birmingham, Alabama. On 7/25/1993 it was angry blacks who attacked a primarily white church (in reality St. James was well known for being quite integrated) in Cape Town, SA. Who would have thought that an attack would be ordered by a man known as “Happy” with the “Azanian People’s Liberation Army”?
Ø Though the terrorists on 7/25/93 were well armed, they fled when confronted. Active shooters flee (often by suicide) when confronted. The anti-gun crowd comes up with the dumbest little cute sayings for keeping guns out of public gathering places. They list a bunch of things; “imagine all the innocent bystanders who will be shot” or “what if a teacher leaves his gun where a student can get to it” – and don’t forget, “vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord”. They ignore the factual lessons of history. The fact is that a killer is a reprobate with no moral fortitude. When faced with confident and armed defenders they cannot and will not stand. That is what really happens.
Ø Looking back we should study that 7/25/93 attack to be prepared in American churches. It is doubtful our attacker will be “Happy and the APLA”. It is more likely to be, “Unhappy -- the former usher”. Don’t get fixated on the profile of the attacker -- become focused on your training and preparation for attacks in general.
[i] Page xvi Preface – 911 Commission Report