At Eden Park near Johannesburg, the moon rises over government-built houses that reflect South Africa's drive to become the just society Nelson Mandela envisioned when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993: "It will…be measured by the happiness and welfare of the children."
It turns out there is no shortcut, bolt-of-inspiration way to transform a person from layman to minister in the Dutch Reformed Church of South Africa. It takes seven years of rigorous training—seven years of Deon Snyman's youth—which made it all the more distressing when, toward the end of his studies at the University of Pretoria in 1990, Snyman realized he had all the theology a person could possibly need to function in the old South Africa but almost no skills to guide him in the country that had just released Nelson Mandela.
Snyman, who was born and raised in "a traditional Afrikaans family, in a typical Afrikaans town north of Johannesburg," says that back then he knew no black people, had no black friends, had never even had a meaningful conversation with a black person. "The church was divided into white congregations, Coloured congregations, Indian congregations, and black congregations," he says. He decided that the best way he could avoid waking up one morning a foreigner in his own country was to become the minister of a rural, black congregation.
On the day in February 1992 that Deon Snyman was installed as a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa—the church's black branch—in Nongoma, in the heart of the KwaZulu homeland, his 54-year-old father stood up in front of the congregation, all of whom were Zulus, and said this: "Well, it is clear that South Africa is going to change. But I am an Afrikaner. I do not know if I have the capacity to change. Also, I am an old man. I do not know if I have the skills to change." Then the father indicated his 26-year-old son. "So today, I give you my son. If you can teach him the rules of the new South Africa, he can teach us those rules. If you can give him the skills to live in this new country, he can show us those skills."