Another man who deserves to be listed among the greatest South Africans was Dr Chris Barnard, the first man in the world to ever perform a heart transplant. He was not a moral man, he was in fact a very promiscuous and immoral man, but he was great in that he did something great, something that altered history, something that saved lives, something that revolutionised the world of medicine. He was eminent in point of attainments and achievement, and exhibited signal excellence in an important medical work.
Rhodesia’s prime minister, Ian Smith, stands among the greatest Africans ever. A true gentleman, a man of deep convictions, a man of great courage, who led his tiny country through its most turbulent years as Marxist terrorists waged a horrifying guerilla war against it, and as the whole world turned its back on Rhodesia and isolated it completely. Today, despite constant vilification in the Zimbabwean media, and threats against him, Ian Smith, although a frail octogenarian, continues to live in Zimbabwe – the nightmare country that was once his beloved Rhodesia – doing whatever he can to help his suffering people.
Compared with these men (and others could be named), what have today’s African Marxist tyrants and dictators achieved that could truly be called “great”? What have the likes of Mandela, Mbeki, Mugabe, Machel, Nujoma, Kaunda, Amin, Kenyatta, Arap Moi, Nyerere, Nkrumah, and so many other African leaders actually done that would make them great? Nothing whatsoever.
Now let us consider just a few of those Africans who were great because they served the Lord, out of love for Him. So many could be named, but we must confine this list to just a very few. Many of them spent their lives in the Lord’s service as missionaries, seeking, amidst great hardships and sufferings, to bring the Gospel to African people, and who (even if they were not all born here) made the Dark Continent their home, loved it, lived in it, and often laid down their very lives for Africa. They were true Africans, and they were the greatest Africans of all.
The Ethiopian eunuch, a high-ranking official serving Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, should definitely be on the list (Acts 8:26-39). This man was converted when he heard Philip preach the Gospel to him, and then he was baptized; after which he continued on his journey home to Ethiopia, a new Christian, the very first to take the Gospel to his African homeland, the beginning of the fulfilment of that wonderful prophecy, that “Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God” (Psa.68:31), and thus the firstfruits of an African harvest of souls through the centuries that followed, down to this very day.
What about the Queen of Sheba? The Lord Jesus Christ said of her that “she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon” (Matt.12:42). A truly wise and noble woman, who travelled from her African home to learn from the man of God who was the wisest man who ever lived. Was she converted to the true God after she came and heard about Him from the lips of Solomon? Perhaps we cannot say for certain, although from her words to Solomon it appears that she may indeed have been (1 Kings 10:9). O if only modern-day African rulers would go to the One who is “greater than Solomon” (Matt.12:42), the Lord Jesus Christ, to hear His wisdom and learn from Him, and to be saved from their sins! How different Africa would be then! How great Africa’s rulers would be then!
Among the number of the heroes of the faith we would have to place, at the very top of the list, the great David Livingstone, the missionary-explorer from Scotland who sacrificed his energy, health, family and his very life to open up Africa for the Gospel, and to abolish the diabolical slave trade. He laboured unceasingly in this continent, finally dying on his knees in prayer; and his faithful African servants, who loved him so much, buried his heart under a tree in the heart of Africa itself, and then carried his body, at great risk to themselves, over 1500 miles to the east African coast, so that it could be shipped back to Britain for burial. His tombstone in Westminster Abbey says: “Brought by faithful hands over land and sea, here rests David Livingstone: missionary, traveller, philanthropist, born March 19, 1813, at Blantyre, Lanarkshire, died May 1, 1873, at Chitambo’s village, Ulala. For 30 years his life was spent in an unwearied effort to evangelize the native races, to explore the undiscovered secrets, to abolish the desolating slave trade, of central Africa, where with his last words he wrote, ‘All I can add in my solitude, is, may heaven’s rich blessing come down on every one, American, English, or Turk, who will help to heal this open sore of the world.'”