Multitudes gather to hear Angus Buchan against backdrop of racial tension in South Africa

More than 350,000 men gathered on a farm in South Africa from 16 to 18 April for the seventh Mighty Men’s Conference (MMC) led by farmer turned evangelist, Angus Buchan.

It was the biggest Christian event ever to take place in South Africa.

Looking at the crowd which had gathered to hear him for the last time on his 1600 acre farm, Shalom, Angus Buchan said, "I have farmed maize. I’ve seen a lot of mielies (corn), but I’ve never seen a crop of people as big as this!"

Buchan, 62, is a household name in South Africa, famous for his down to earth preaching which has packed stadiums across the nation. On 22 March, he helped to fill Cape Town’s new stadium at the ‘Cape Town for Jesus’ event. Built for the forthcoming World Cup, it was the third time it had been used but the first time it had been filled to capacity.

The MMC event has grown exponentially since it began in 2004 with 200 men. In 2007, it had grown to 7,400 men. By 2008, Buchan expected 30,000 men but 60,000 turned up. The national Sunday Tribune noted that to draw more than 60,000 men to a non-sporting, Christian event "is not just an achievement, it could be deemed a miracle".

Part of that miracle could be attributed to the success of the movie Faith Like Potatoes, released in 2006 by filmmaker Frans Cronje and one of South Africa’s leading directors, Regardt van den Bergh.

The film is an adaption of Buchan’s life story, depicting how God helped him cope with the death of his four-year-old nephew, Alistair, who died in his arms after he fell from the tractor Buchan was driving and was crushed.

This year, Buchan named the gathering ‘The Completion’. Speaking to Joy magazine before the event, Buchan said, "The Lord revealed to me that seven is the number of completion; the Lord made Heaven and earth in six days and on the seventh day He rested and said, ‘It’s complete and it’s good."

The event is unique. Doors open the Monday night before the first official meeting starts on the Friday night to alleviate congestion. It costs only £8 (R100) per person with each man required to bring his camping equipment and food for the stay.

Located in the small town of Greytown in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province, 100 miles from Durban, 52 planes registered to land nearby. Helicopters carry men and supplies into the various ‘camps’ on site. Camp commandants are responsible for groups of 30,000 men. The preacher gets around on a quad bike.

Farmer, Thys du Plessis from the Free State said, "It is incredible to be camping with more than 300,000 men who are there to worship God. Where else can you experience that?"

Explaining the practicalities of such an experience, he says, "You get two minutes to shower. At one time there are 10,000 men, standing in a field under irrigation pipes!"

The event in Greytown comes at a pivotal time for South Africa as racial tensions have flared in recent months.

Julius Malema, the extrovert leader of the youth wing of the governing African National Congress, has recently been barred by the high court in Pretoria from singing the apartheid resistance song, ‘Kill the Boer, Kill the Farmer’. By implication, a reference to whites, his comments have been viewed by many as intended to stir up racial hatred.

The murder of Eugene Terreblanche, leader of the white supremacist group, the AWB (Afrikaner Resistance Movement), on 3 April added to the standoff. He was killed by two of his workers for allegedly failing to pay their wages.

The combination of these events made headlines around the world at a time when all eyes are focussed on the rainbow nation as they prepare to host the football World Cup, which starts on 11 June in Johannesburg.

There is a widespread fear, particularly among farmers, that groups on the fringes of society will upset the path to racial harmony. It is estimated that more than 3,000 white farmers have been murdered since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The international press corp have failed, however, to pick up on the grassroots Christian movement which is underway in South Africa.

Many of the men who gathered to listen to ‘Uncle Angus’, as he is fondly known, are themselves farmers. They come to be inspired and encouraged.

"You cannot love God with hatred inside you. This is church, boy. This is why we are here, to get answers from God. I have never had such big vrede (freedom) and ukuthula (peace)," Angus told them.

"There is a gentle spirit blowing through this place. I want you to open your heart this weekend. When we go home, we’ve got to sort some business out ... We need to stand up and call sin by its name," he said, referring to adultery, sex outside marriage and hatred.

"Jesus took twelve men and changed the world. I see hundreds of thousands of men in this place. We need to seize the moment. The future of South Africa, indeed the world, lies in the believer, in your hands and my hands. God is asking you ‘what are you going to do about it?’"

Writing to more than 75,000 of his followers on Facebook on Wednesday, Buchan said, ‘AMENN!! Praise God for this past weekend. I was humbled to see the thousands of men there.’ Some 1,478 people liked that.