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Inside the Mighty (mainly white) Men's Conference

200,000 turn out to hear farmer-turned-preacher Angus Buchan

South Africa's white males have had a tough transition since the end of apartheid. It has become increasingly difficult for them to find and hold the well-paying jobs they previously monopolized and which made them the unquestioned heads of their families, Dreyer said.

Under South Africa’s new employment equity laws, even white women benefit, but white men rank at the bottom of the barrel. That's why white South African men are particularly attracted to Buchan, who advocates that once men find their place as leaders of their families, the country will be better off, said Dreyer.

“Afrikaans culture still tends to be a little bit conservative as well as patriarchal so I can imagine that such a message would appeal to Afrikaner men,” she said. “It’s really kind of an identity crisis for Afrikaner males if the woman is the breadwinner.”

Born to Scottish parents in the Zimbabwean city of Bulawayo, Buchan packed up his belongings and family in 1976 and moved to South Africa. There, he built up a new farm from scratch but was prone to anger and fits of bad temper. Close to a breaking point, he accepted his friends’ invitation to a small Methodist church. “A miracle happened. Jesus came into our lives,” Buchan wrote in his best-selling autobiography, “Faith Like Potatoes,” which has been made into a movie.

Many more miracles followed, according to Buchan, from bumper crops in the middle of a drought to rain putting out runaway fires. Gradually, Buchan transformed himself from a farmer into a full-time preacher. He built a home for AIDS orphans on his farm and took his  gospel to stadiums across South Africa and as far away as Britain and Australia.

While Buchan’s following is mostly white, he has also made inroads into black communities. He is fluent in Zulu, allowing him to convey his message to the local black population, with whom his healing sessions are especially popular.

The future of the Buchan phenomenon is unclear. He fills stadiums wherever he goes, and the magnitude of the Mighty Men’s Conference is growing quickly. But Buchan, in his sixties, is looking ever more mortal. The reason for his recent collapse remains vague, but his doctors have ordered six weeks of rest.

“There is no structure to back it up. He’s not starting a church, so in 10 years’ time who is gonna do this?” Dreyer asked. “If Buchan gets too old to do this, and there is no such charismatic leader who can carry the torch forward, it will fizzle out I should think.”

Editor's note: This story was updated to add more information.

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