Last week I interviewed Jan Stander as part of a YouTube series I am involved in covering the war in Rhodesia that ended in 1980. Their sad story gripped me.
His father Jan and his brother Ben came to Rhodesia after WW II. Ben had fought with the South African 6th Army against Rommel’s Afrika Korps in the pivotal battle at Tobruk, where he was captured and spent the rest of the war as a POW in Italy.
Upon being demobbed, he and Ben made their way to the copper mines in Northern Rhodesia where they toiled in tough conditions, lived frugally and saved their pennies. Farming was in their blood, a ranch somewhere their dream, and mining was simply a step up the financial ladder they had to climb to secure some land.
With limited resources to hand they knew they needed to look to the wild places where few were fearless enough to farm and they focused on the Mateke Hills of then Southern Rhodesia’s Lowveld. Remote, virgin land where lions lorded over the landscape, and Malaria and Sleeping Sickness bedevilled the health of interlopers. Taking it in turns to work on the mines and send money south, the two brothers battled adversity to carve a viable property out of the wilderness. Their dream became a reality; Battlefield Ranch was born, and the brothers set about growing their Brahman herd.
Even in times of peace their lot was never an easy one; distances were daunting, droughts ravaged the veld periodically, logistics were challenging, predators took a constant toll, elephant trampled fences, and buffalo-borne diseases were a blight upon the cattle, but the brothers never entertained failure; devout Christians, they had faith, and soldiered on with a smile. All the while they did what they could for their labour, their families, and the local community.
For Jan (Jr) the first time he became aware of trouble coming was in 1975 when, as a 15-year-old schoolboy, used to roaming freely on the ranch, he was warned by his uncle Ben, to be watchful and stay closer to home; armed gangs had moved into the area, and they were dangerous.
Young Jan did not know the details, but across the nearby border, in newly independent Mozambique a hostile Sino/Soviet presence was building under the new Frelimo administration led by Samora Machel. Machel had thrown his support behind a guerrilla army led by Robert Mugabe that sought the violent overthrow of the Rhodesian government. War clouds loomed large, a terror campaign that would impact on more innocent blacks than whites, was about to be unleashed. The Standers did not have to wait long to suffer their first blow.
April 1976, motoring on a remote ranch road with his wife Gerda, Ben was ambushed by a group of guerrillas just before sunset. Heavy automatic fire wounded Gerda and disabled the vehicle. Ben dragged his wife out the car and into the bush where he hid her from view. Then he walked through the night to get help. Alone in a wilderness, Gerda listened in dread to hyenas howling as they closed in on the smell of blood. She prayed, and in the early hours Ben returned with help.
No sooner had Gerda recovered from her injuries than the attacks intensified, and the homestead was attacked twice at night. On both occasions, the couple and their children fought off the gangs that were heavily armed with machine-guns, mortars and rockets.
April 1977, Jan (Jr’s) brother Archie, reacting to information of an enemy presence in a neighbouring tribal area, went to investigate. Along with a small group of Reservists they found the group, but they were outnumbered and outgunned. An incoming mortar exploded at Archies feet blowing both his legs off below the knee. Within months he was back in the fray on his stumps.
Early the following year, Jan’s brother Hennie, was ambushed and killed. By this time the roads were riddled with landmines and every trip was fraught with danger. The Standers took to driving off the roads wherever possible.
Months later, Ben, in a two-vehicle convoy with his son Adrian, was ambushed by a group of 20. Adrian was killed outright, but Ben, although hit in the chest, fought on alone. Out of ammunition, he crawled to his son’s side, removed the magazines from his chest-webbing and held the position until help arrived. Against her will, Gerda left the ranch for relative safety in Salisbury, while Ben went back to work.
But his time was up; in June 1979, while travelling with an elderly Police Reservist for an escort, he was ambushed for the last time. Ben died quickly; the Reservist suffered a slow death.
The Stander story, tragic though it is, is just one of thousands more like it, in the sad saga of the purging of Europeans that has been ongoing now for over 50 years. The process has been successful in that the white population of the country has been reduced from a peak of near 300,000 in the early 70’s to approximately 15,000 today. On a global scale these numbers may appear minor, but statistics miss the point.
What is noteworthy, and with relevance to events unfolding today, is this onslaught was directed against white Christians and yet the victims garnered no support from any international quarter whatsoever. The Pope was silent, Archbishops of Canterbury were not; they came out in full support of the persecution as did their political leaders of the time.
When Prime Minister Ian Smith appealed to the world to understand he led a country that stood firm with Christian tenets and that if the country succumbed to communist inspired overthrow, it would be a watershed event of global significance with a domino effect that would impact the Western world. His appeals were heard with contempt, derided and dismissed.
Looking back and at subsequent events it seems he was right as this purge of Christians worldwide has since gathered pace and become a global phenomenon. Where once we looked to America to defend Christians this is no longer the case. Throughout the Islamic world, pressure is mounting on them, and numbers are dwindling. Hafez Assad of Syria, one of the few Arab leaders remaining, who protects Christians, is under an American-led siege. Pakistan, another American ally, is one of the most difficult countries in the world in which to practice Christianity. The number of blasphemy cases, which is punishable by death, continues to rise.
Astonishingly Christianity is also under homegrown attack in its Western heartland where it is becoming increasingly marginalised as other groups; notably LGBT, Islamic and secularists claim their rights while forcing religion out of the public domain. Those brave enough to stand up for their beliefs are incurring the wrath of the media with labels such as ‘Christian Right’ and ‘fundamentalist’ being attached in a move to have these people declared a threat to social stability.
Recently, US Attorney General Merrick Garland faced hostile questioning from Republican Senators over the arrest of Mark Houck, a Catholic pro-life activist. His wife told the press a heavily armed ‘SWAT Team of about 25 came to my house with about 15 vehicles and started pounding on our door.’ A spokesperson for the family declared the arrest to be, ‘clearly an attack on pro-life Christians’. Soros-funded District Attorneys and other public officials throughout the country are hounding ‘patriotic Christians’ out of government service.
In the UK, the Church of England, under the feckless leadership of successive Archbishops, lacking the gumption to defend Christian dogma or traditional British values, has brought the church to the point of irrelevance in the country’s social fabric. Meanwhile, the Muslim population of the country is cohesive, aggressive and expansionist. Parishes are being made redundant and replaced by Mosques and Muslims are taking increasing control in the political arena. The reassuring sound of church bells ringing may soon be replaced by the high-pitched exhortations of the Mullahs.
While most of Europe follows a similar path, Poland and Hungary have incurred the wrath of Brussels for proclaiming their desire to maintain their Christian identity and values. They have been condemned as ‘illiberal democracies.’
In the developing political powerplay the only two highly influential politicians who have adopted a consistently pro-Christian approach are the two most vilified, Vladimir Putin, and Donald Trump. There is plenty of evidence suggesting had Trump won the last election, a rapprochement with Russia would have become a reality. He lost and the winners wanted war. The tragedy in Ukraine could have been avoided.
If poor old Ben Stander had made it through that last hail of bullets, I suspect he would have been a Trump supporter.