This article is from
Creation 44(4):18–22, October 2022

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From radical racist to passionate preacher

Maarten Labuschagne

Michael Cook chats with former racist militia member Maarten Labuschagne.

After the uplifting worship led by Joe, an inspiring Maori, I stood to address the multi-cultural congregation in the small New Zealand town. The words their pastor, Maarten Labuschagne, had shared earlier seemed unbelievable.

For many years, I lived in complete rebellion against God. I despised Christians and hated people who were anything but ‘white’. I was known for being fearless and having a very short temper. I didn’t speak that much, and my fists were my words. I was always ready for a fight and was never without my ‘faithful friends’—a knuckleduster, and a .45 revolver at my side.

The transformation of a former violent racist and thug to this gentle and loving pastor was indeed miraculous.


Maarten was raised in the apartheid era, in a South African family with a strong Afrikaner1 identity. His father, a locomotive driver, was loving, and at the same time very strict. He was Maarten’s hero, someone strong who taught him always to be independent and tough.

His family very occasionally attended a local church, mainly because of Maarten’s mother. His father was very dismissive of the church but was interested in ‘spirituality’, including occult practices. As a result, young Maarten knew the spiritual world was real. However, his father promoted the view that Christians were weak and hypocritical, thus not what Maarten aspired to be—strong, unbending, and unafraid.

After high school, Maarten worked briefly for the railway before entering the South African army for compulsory military training. While there, his distrust and hatred of other races, particularly tribal Africans, grew considerably. Army training sessions often featured footage of widespread unrest in black townships during the 1970s and 80s. The films often portrayed graphic violence, including the infamous public ‘necklacing’ of suspected collaborators. This involved placing a tyre doused in gasoline around the victim’s neck and lighting it. His reaction, he said, was always, “These perpetrators are sub-human! Just animals! Otherwise, how could they act like this?”

Nicky and Maarten

Like many, Maarten was proud of his Afrikaner heritage, marked by struggle and an independent spirit. After army training, he spent time as a bouncer and security guard for bars and nightclubs. His fast temper and even faster fists often came close to getting him into serious trouble.

Joining an extremist militia

Afrikaner-Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) | UCT Libraries Digital Collections | Guy TillimAWB-rally
An AWB rally

As his racial hatred grew, Maarten was attracted to the AWB or Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement). This is an Afrikaner nationalist, neo-Nazi, and white supremacist organization, founded in 1973. Eight years after leaving the army, Maarten became an active, uniformed member. And he knew the founder, the notorious Eugène Terre’Blanche (1941–2010).

Formed in reaction to the looming collapse of the apartheid system, the AWB was prepared to use violence to further its ends. The camaraderie of like-minded people and their shared goals were powerful influences.

However, despite his staunch-seeming, tough-guy exterior, he was desperately insecure and suffered from severe anger and other issues. Maarten shares:

Heavy metal music, particularly Van Halen’s song Runnin’ with the Devil, was my anthem. As time went by, I tried to change, as I saw and realized I was hurting others. Strangely, perhaps, I didn’t always like acting the way I did. I saw a hypnotist (about 15 times), and a psychiatrist, out of desperation. Nothing worked—my life felt as if it was doomed.

A radical is radically converted

In September 1998, in utter desperation, Maarten cried out to God: “God, you have to change me!”, even challenging God’s right to send him to Hell if He failed to do this.

My cry was mingled with doubt over whether God was real or would respond. But it was utterly genuine, a recognition that I could not save myself. I didn’t then understand the assurances His Word gives for the repentant heart, but I certainly knew that Hell was real, and I didn’t want to go there.

Almost instantly, he says, he was profoundly converted, and felt a dramatic release from the stress, anger and hatred that had bound up his life.

The Bible assured me I was a new creation; I got rid of my personal weapons and other AWB paraphernalia from the old life and cut off all ties with the group.

However, coming to genuinely love and appreciate people of other cultures and ethnicities would take time. One significant milestone in that process was at a service in a large, multicultural church in the South African city of Durban. Maarten was asked to give a brief testimony from the pulpit. For someone who was usually fearless, public speaking terrified him. Nervously, he addressed the crowd, many of whom were indigenous Africans or of Indian extraction.

He confessed he had been in the AWB and had passionately hated them. Expecting a disastrous, vengeful response, he was instead brought to tears by many tribal African believers who came up and expressed forgiveness and love. It was then that he fully understood that they were his brothers and sisters in Christ, not any sort of enemy.

As his Christian faith grew, he was baptized and went to Bible College. He was also a pastoral counsellor at one of the biggest drug rehabilitation centres in South Africa.

Maarten then spent two years travelling widely in a part-time security role for a well-known international evangelist before returning to other security work.

Afrikaner-Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) | UCT Libraries Digital Collections | Guy TillimAWB-militia
AWB militia members, training for hand-to-hand combat (L) and engaged in small-arms practice (R)

Move to New Zealand

Increasingly disillusioned by the growing violence and difficulties in South Africa, in 2004, Maarten emigrated to New Zealand. For a few years, he was a manager for a large international security company.

His passion for helping the broken and marginalized grew. In 2010, he married Nicky, a New Zealand lady, and they committed to a life of compassionate service together. It was very apparent to me that they make a great team.

Both worked for a season at the Freedom Life, Te Nikau Addiction Centre in a lower North Island town. Occasionally Maarten would encounter a patient who expressed either great hostility towards, or disbelief in, God. Hoping for a Gospel opportunity, Maarten’s gentle yet challenging response to such broken addicts would be: “So, how has life worked out for you then?”


Maarten and Nicky each have three adult children from their previous marriages. Together, they have one daughter, Charlize. They are profoundly thankful for God’s healing intervention following her complicated birth.

Motivated by James 1:27, they also foster children short- or long-term. Often from dysfunctional situations, some arrive with significant mental or behavioural issues. However, this authentic Christian family’s stability and unconditional love have often brought rapid, heart-warming and sometimes profound improvements. The results have surprised and touched even secular government social workers, who sadly do not often see such positive outcomes.

Maarten shared an intimate insight into how markedly his view of others has changed:

In the past, there was no way I would ever change the nappy [diaper] of any child other than my own. Now it’s just another way I can express to someone else what God did for me, a formerly messed-up child of His!

A family moment with Charlize (second from left) and a young friend

A ministry develops

To help others struggling with broken lives and a lack of hope, a few years ago Maarten set up a simple website under the banner of Jesus Rules Ministries (JRM). On it, he shares his testimony and invites a response to the Gospel. JRM has since expanded to include a small church fellowship in a rural community, pastored by Maarten. It was there that I spoke for CMI.

With no fear of man (Proverbs 29:25) due to his upbringing, Maarten passionately uses street evangelism to reach out to people who are broken or without hope. His trademark tools are a large cross and thought-provoking sign, complete with photos including from his AWB past, and boldly stating e.g.:

If you tried the thug life or the drug life and it hasn’t worked, try Jesus!

Maarten is often ignored or ridiculed and occasionally threatened by passers-by. He recently had his main sign hijacked and dragged down the road behind a car!

Despite the difficulties, the work has resulted in many powerful testimonies. Desperate people, involved in crime and violence or on the verge of suicide, have been transformed by encountering Jesus.

Maarten’s unique evangelism outreach in small town Paeroa

The Bible is crucial

Maarten’s inspiring testimony shows how God can change even the hardest heart. He well understands that such spiritual transformation is always a profound work of God, and that the fruit of such a genuine conversion is always a changed life that blesses others. He is adamant that such transformative faith is not based on feelings. He unashamedly declares the Word of God in season and out of season, in church and on the street (2 Timothy 4:2).

Maarten implores listeners to know and trust God’s Word and apply it to every aspect of life. He is convinced that the history contained in the Bible, particularly in Genesis, is true and is foundational to the Christian faith. The bad things humans do (sin) are not the result of being ‘animals’; people are not the result of millions of years of evolution but were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). Therefore, we all have intrinsic value, but are also accountable to Him.

As our chat ended, I was very encouraged when Maarten shared that his parents eventually became passionate followers of Jesus, bringing him great joy. He enthusiastically looks forward to when he will one day stand with countless others from every tribe, tongue, and nation, worshipping their Creator and Saviour face to face. (Revelation 7:9–10).

Posted on homepage: 11 December 2023

References and notes

  1. The modern Afrikaner is descended mainly from Western Europeans, predominantly Dutch, who settled on the southern tip of Africa during the middle of the 17th century, sahistory.org.za/article/Afrikaner. Return to text.

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