Two weeks before South Africa’s first democratic elections on 27 April 1994, the mediation process between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) crumbled. Former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, who was leading the talks, said he saw “Armageddon” in South Africa in the following couple of weeks. The US State Department anticipated a million people dead in KwaZulu-Natal alone, and the BBC deployed their political correspondent, who had been in Bosnia, to KwaZulu-Natal to cover the unfolding events.
But as the mediation process collapsed in under 24 hours and the international mediators left for home, African Enterprise pleaded with Professor Washington Okumu of Kenya, who had served as advisor to the mediators, to meet again with some of the major players. They agreed to meet at the Jesus Peace Rally on Sunday, April 17that Kings Park Stadium in Durban. There in the VIP lounge were Mr Danie Schutte, the Minister of Home Affairs, in charge of the whole electoral process and representing President de Klerk; Mr Jacob Zuma, representing Mr Nelson Mandela; and Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, representing the Inkatha Freedom Party.
During that extraordinary prayer meeting attended by some 25,000 people, the document Washington Okumu had prepared was scrutinized by these leaders, and, while people in the stadium were praying in unity, all agreed it represented a way forward.
Michael Cassidy said, “That night in my home I had the strangest sense, after a time of being very weighed down, that somehow suddenly a stronghold had been broken and come down.”
The Inkatha Freedom Party had previously said that they would not enter the elections unless they had three months at least to campaign. But on Monday 18 April, the day after the Jesus Peace Rally, the i’s were dotted and the t’s crossed by the leadership group as they met in Pretoria. And on Tuesday, 19 April, de Klerk, Mandela and Buthelezi announced to the world that an acceptable and peaceful way forward for the elections had been found. There was a profound sense around South Africa of the miraculous having happened. The news rooms of secular journalists were hushed and the journalists themselves reached for the language of faith to describe what had taken place. Editorial after editorial was captioned “Miracle.”
The Natal Daily News had the headline “The Day God Stepped in to Save South Africa.” The Wall Street Journal in New York carried a full page headlined “God and Politics.” In the British Parliament it was said: “If there are miracles in politics, this is one.” The BBC said, “The Jesus Peace Rally tipped the scales.” Time magazine said: “History has thrown up an authentic miracle.” And thus it was that all violence ceased around the country and as the elections happened on 26, 27 and 28 April, South Africa was gifted with the three most peaceful days probably in its history.
In fact, Mr Danie Schutte visited Michael Cassidy in his home on 27 April, the main Election Day, and said to him: “I just wanted to come and testify that everything money, politics and power could do was done in this election process, and failed. What has happened out of you introducing Washington Okumu to me and what flowed from it has produced a miracle of God in our elections.”
Michael Cassidy looks back, “As I reflect back to those times there was really a strong sense of a nation on its knees in a way which I personally had never seen before. Many in the Church had embarked upon a two year, 24/7, 31 days a month chain of prayer. Round the clock, week to week, and month to month, the prayer went on. We learnt the truth of what Alfred Lord Tennyson once said: ‘More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of.’ I was convinced then and I remain convinced now that South Africa would never have come through to those miracle elections but for the round the clock prayers of God’s people for two years. Let us resolve that we will never throw away the miracle God gave in 1994. Nor will we let up on prayer for the current needs of our country at this time.”