by Charl van Wyk
"There we were minding our own business, Thuto and I, driving to our Bible study group for young men in the Stone Hill informal settlement. As we neared the settlement, I became acutely aware of a police vehicle, with siren blaring, suddenly emerging behind me."
Before we begin: For my American friends who’ve seen their nation divided by political debates about defunding the police, the story below might bristle a bit. But let me assure you—for all the criticisms leveled at your law enforcement, both the genuine and the inauthentic—the police practices in your country bear nothing in common with those in most of Africa. I sincerely urge you to give thanks regularly for your Bill of Rights and your representative government—and to do your part to preserve it.
Dr. Bradley and Charl baptize Thuto of Stone Hill, January 2022
ITMI's Charl van Wyk and Mark Parris at the Soldiers for Christ Bible Study for young men in Stone Hill.
As we neared the settlement, I became acutely aware of a police vehicle, with siren blaring, suddenly emerging behind me. I turned off onto the arterial road leading to the squatter community.
The informal settlement of Stone Hill, South Africa.
The police vehicle was still behind me, trying to pass, so I put on my hazards and pulled to the side of the road so they could easily pass by and continue their chase.
The subject of the chase, I soon discovered, was us. The police vehicle stopped next to me and then another behind me. Within seconds there were six police vehicles, two unmarked pickups, and a privately owned armed response vehicle.
In a flash a police officer was standing close-by pointing a firearm at me. In my peripheral vision I spotted another officer at my front passenger door. They were barking commands, which sounded muffled with the car windows closed, and Christian music playing.
Thuto worriedly asked me what we should do. I told him not to move, and I sat completely still with my hands up. Thuto’s door was suddenly ripped open by a burly police officer who pulled him out of my car and shoved the small-statured 17-year-old against my back passenger door.
Then my car door was opened, and I was ordered by the armed officer to get out and place my hands on the car roof. I complied.
Immediately multiple officers started searching my vehicle.
“Whose specs are these?” one demanded.
“Mine,” I answered.
“Whose cell phone is this?”
“Whose bag of pies is this?”
“Who are they for?”
“The poor hungry boys in my Bible study group,” I answered again.
The questions kept flowing: Who are you? What are you doing here? Did you pick up this boy at the Fisantekraal intersection?
As I was answering the barrage of questions, another officer barked at me, “Keep quiet! Stop talking so much!”
No one police officer seemed in control. Questions were flying. The car search continued. One officer told another not to take photos. Chaos reigned!
This was the most frightening part – the possible incompetence of the officers. In September 2021, Parliament heard that more than 10,000 South African Police Services officers faced disciplinary action after being charged with murder, rape and assault since 2012—a 9-year period! If accurate, that’s over a thousand crimes, so serious in nature, committed by police each year.
Thuto suddenly appeared, in handcuffs, as he was shoved against the car trunk. He looked at me with terror in his eyes.
“I haven’t done anything wrong!” he said.
I couldn’t see him before that moment, as he had been on the ground.
“Can someone please explain to me what is going on?” I asked.
An officer came over. “Come away from your car and follow me,” he said.
We walked a short distance. He turned and explained that there had been a farm attack close to where I had picked Thuto up. And Thuto’s clothing matched those of one of the attackers, as described by the victim.
Thuto was then escorted into the back of a police vehicle—a cage-like canopy over the flatbed of a pickup.
My personal details were taken by an officer. He explained that Thuto would be dropped off at the local police precinct for questioning. He said that I could come over later and find out more.
I walked to Thuto and, peering into his cage, explained that I would see him at the police station.
As quickly as everything started, it was all over. The police officers all jumped into their vehicles and sped off in the direction of the alleged crime.
By God’s grace, I was perfectly in control of my senses during the pandemonium. We were trained to manage high-intensity settings in the military. I answered questions … or at least tried to. I counted vehicles and took care to be able to recognize faces afterwards.
“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1
I later left Stone Hill and headed to the local police precinct to see if Thuto was okay and to find out more about the allegations or criminal charges.
On the way, Dr. Bradley, our ministry chair, phoned and informed me that Thuto was not at the intended police office but rather at another settlement.
I headed over and found him in a prefabricated, satellite police office, sitting on a chair, uncuffed, listening to a police officer complaining that he had been dropped off there.
The arresting officers were apparently combing this settlement for possible clues to the crime. And would later return and drive Thuto, for questioning, to the originally designated police station.
I laid hands on Thuto, prayed for him, and explained that I would see him later, and bring food.
Bradley phoned thereafter to explain that he’d also driven to the satellite police office and found it locked, no police officers in sight, and Thuto standing outside all alone. He was free!
But, as they say, “It ain't over until the fat lady sings."
Bystanders, who witnessed Thuto’s arrest, told his mother that they saw him being punched and kicked by the arresting officers. The next morning, the family headed to the police station to lay charges of assault against the officers.
At the police station Thuto was re-arrested on charges of damage to property and intimidation. He was incarcerated overnight and appeared in court this morning. After his court appearance he was released again with a new date for another appearance.
The saga continues. Yes, I’m as confused as you are!
“When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous but terror to evildoers.” Proverbs 21:15
Yes, we are traumatized! Please pray for us all! That God’s justice and common sense will prevail! And give thanks for the liberties you enjoy. And pray for God’s grace that they continue and for your own courage to secure them.
About the Author
Charl van Wyk is a Christian missionary, author and activist in Africa. His belief in his Christian duty to protect the innocent, vulnerable and oppressed led him to single-handedly return fire in the midst of a terrorist attack, saving many lives! The story of how God led Charl to forgive and pursue reconciliation with his attackers is captured in his best-selling book, Shooting Back – The Right and Duty of Self-defense. Now he is engaged in a new war - a battle to establish kingdom-focused covenant communities in Southern Africa. His proactive stance on educating the Church and renewing minds with a Biblical worldview drives him to see communities changed through the Gospel, discipleship and community development.
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