Forgiveness and the Tragedy of the St James Massacre

It was on this day twenty years ago (25 July, 1993) that armed gunmen broke into the evening church service at St James, Kenilworth, in Cape Town, and opened fire on the congregation of 1300 people. Eleven were killed, and 58 were injured. Hundreds more who survived still carry invisible wounds today. The death toll would have been significantly higher, as the attackers had intended to torch the building with petrol bombs to kill all who were inside. They were only repelled when one of the congregation members, Charl Van Wyk, who was carrying a revolver, fired back and scared off the attackers.

St James, Kenilworth, today

There are many stories of tremendous strength and compassion from that day. There was the selfless gesture of two young men who shielded the young women beside them from the grenades the attackers had thrown. One of these men did not survive the attack. After the deadly melee, Rev. Ross Anderson walked onto the church stage and urged people to stay put and remain calm, as many in the congregation believed more attackers were waiting outside. There was the man who looked down the barrel of the television cameras moments after his beloved wife succumbed to her wounds and told the attackers that, while they should turn themselves in, he forgave them as Christ forgave. And there was Rev. Dr. David Seccombe, who had just arrived in South Africa from Australia to take up the post of principal of George Whitefield College. He was due to take the pulpit that evening, but ended up sitting with the body of a Russian sailor who had perished.

The St James Massacre was an event of great significance in South Africa as it was coming out of the darkness of Apartheid. But the stories of forgiveness and reconciliation that came from this tragic event were not merely of political consequence. They were born of a deep Christian commitment to forgive in the face of horrendous sin and suffering.

We remember the fallen, salute the brave, and give thanks for those who survived.

St James, Kenilworth, is a thriving church today that continues to expound the gospel of Jesus Christ, calling men, women, and children of every background to put their trust in the one who laid down his own life to bring forgiveness.

Related Links

Where Splintered Pews Had Lain

St James Church Massacre

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9 thoughts on “Forgiveness and the Tragedy of the St James Massacre

  1. Thanks George for highlighting the tragedy of sin, but also that which has overcome sin, The Lord Jesus Christ, and how when we place our trust in Him we too can overcome and live as He lived not perfect but being able to love and forgive. The St James massacre stands as a testimony to the world.

      • @ George, not the heir to the earthly kingdom of the British Empire, but heir to a far greater Kingdom, yes George Athas. No, fortunately I was not there. And in reflection when I had started attending St James the following year, I would have been sitting in the direct line of fire going on my preferred seating when attending Church. I do remember very vividly the events via television and radio on the night and indeed the entire country was on a knife edge amidst the political upheaval. It was a time when reconciliation was taking place, but there remained a few left wing extremists like PAC who did not accept the outcomes. It was as you know approx 9months later that we had our first democratic elections. Praise the Lord!

  2. Thank you, George, for this piece. Tonight we are having a special memorial service tonight to commemorate those who died 20 years ago, but also to give thanks to God for his sovereignty and goodness in the face of evil. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus enables us to forgive, and although many of still carry emotional scars, we continue to be able to stand, as individuals and as a church family, to keep proclaiming Christ and hold to the forgiveness and love so graciously demonstrated by the cross. The good that came out of this event far outweighed the evil that happened that night. The massacre flung us onto the world stage, and we have had amazing opportunities, which we would not have had before, to share the Gospel far and wide. Many people have become believers as a result. Through God’s goodness, this tragic event has played a part in the extension of his kingdom.

    • Thanks for your comment, Sigrid. I imagine the memorial service will be quite emotional — a significant time of reflection, and chiefly to give thanks to God for what he’s done through St James both before and after the tragedy. Thank God that you and so many others were able to walk away that night and continue in the grace of God.

  3. Living in Durban now has made it impossible for me to attend the memorial service tonite. My memories of this church goes right back to 1968 when my two brothers and I were the first three children to start the sunday school. It was under the teaching of Beulah and Frank that I came to know the Lord as a sunday school child. I remember the news that night broadcast on the radio, soon after returning from my church ,Christ Church Pinetown. I also remember the tons of stories told of those who succumbed and those who were saved. Whilst many asked where was God….we know now that He was in the middle making Good of the bad that happened. Thank God for the Pastors of the church who were faithful in preaching the gospel so that all might hear and have an opportunity to respond. Many responded that night in the devastation that rained! Thank you Lord.

  4. Thank you for writing this, George. I can hardly believe it was 20 years ago today. I arrived in Cape Town (and joined CESA) 6 months after the massacre, and the air was still thick with grief and questions. God has most certainly shown His goodness and extended His kingdom through it, but it was a dark, dark time for sure.

    (And now I know you have a blog! I knew you were sigrid’s friend through fb, but didnt know how you were connected. It all makes sense now, and I look forward to reading more.)

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