KZN holiday 2012
We were on holiday in KwaZulu-Natal from 8-23 July, travelling around and visiting friends and family. Some of the family visits are described in our family blog here. This post consists mainly of miscellaneous notes and observations about places and people we visited and how things have changed.
We lived in Durban until 1976, and in Melmoth in Zululand from 1977-1982, and though we have visited several times since we lived there, this time we noticed quite a lot of changes.
One change is that we got lost a lot.
There are lots of new roads, and some of the old roads have new names, and the signposting is bad.
Actually that started when we were still in the Free State, and leaving Vereeniging we were looking for the road to Heilbron, and were halfway to Parys when we realised we must have missed it. The signs were there when we retraced our steps, but they were not there in the other direction. In Ermelo we were looking for the road to Bethal. A sign said straight on, so we drove straight on, until we came to a T junction with no sign. The old North Coast Road (R 102) has been widened and straightened, so I could no longer recognise the turn-off to Mount Edgecombe. It was signposted on the way in to Durban, but not when one was leaving.
Forty years ago I drove between Tollgate and Queensburgh at least four times a week, going along Cato Manor Road. There used to be a little tin temple at the side of the road, and I wondered what had happened to it. It was only when Val was driving and I was in the passenger seat that I looked out of the window and saw that, since the road had been widened and straightened, it was now on the other side of the road, on a little looped off section of the old road. It was looking bright with a coat of new paint, and we went down to have a look. There were couple of women preparing something outside, and they struck a pose when they saw we were taking photos. The tin temple was a familiar landmark, but it had changed position.
It was also nearly forty years ago that I asked a guy at the bigger Umbilo Temple nearby about the little tin temple beside the road. He told us that it was built on an anthill, and under the anthill lived a five-headed cobra. A bowl of milk was put out for the cobra every night, and it always drank it.
Wherever we went the conversation seemed to turn to education, and I blogged about that in another post, The disaster that is education in South Africa, but the picture is not all gloomy. We visited my cousin Jenny Aitchison and her husband John (who was a close friend when I was a student in Pietermaritzburg). John is working for the Department of Education in the production of maths textbooks, and he showed us a textbook for Grade III, which was much better than anything I had had when I was at school, and more advanced too. The distribution system may be seriously flawed, but the books themselves are much better.
When we got to Melmoth we drove past All Saints Church, which looked older and more weathered, and the trees surrounding it were bigger. The flat crown tree in the rectory garden was enormous, with branches now spreading over the roof of the house, and our Christmas tree of 30 years ago, which we had planted outside the study window, was huge, and had split into two tops. With all the trees the lawn seemed to have struggled to survive, and the front garden looked a bit like a sandy yard.
I got out of the car to take pictures, and two black shoolgirls, aged about 10, politely said hello, as did a woman who was walking along the pavement, and there was a pavement, which had not been there in our day. Actually the road had recently been resurfaced, and there were now proper gutters too.
The people made the place seem friendly. I walked back to take photos of the church, and four more black schoolgirls came down the hill and walked along the pavement. One of them asked me if I was Father Christmas, and took a photo of me. I didn’t have the presence of mind to take a photo of them, and afterwards wished I had. I asked which school they went to and they said Melmoth Combined School, which was up the hill somewhere. I said that when we lived here the Melmoth Primary School had been at the end of the road. They were in Grades 6 and 7. I was struck by their manner and behaviour. They spoke good English. They were not too shy to speak to strangers, they were neither subservient, shy nor cheeky. They were friendly and confident. Though there are many thing wrong in South Africa, there most be something going right to produce kids like that. It seemed like a cultural fusion. In traditional Zulu culture children are taught to be polite and greet adults, but also to be self-effacing and shy. In Western culture children are sometimes rude and pushy, or ignore adults altogether. These kids seemed to manifest the best of both. A chance encounter in the street is perhaps not much to judge by, but it would have been quite unthinkable to encounter children like those in the streets of Melmoth 30 years ago.
Some people we met spoke of a generation gap.
I’m still doing research into the charismatic renewal in South African Christianity, and spoke to Peter Houston, a young Anglican priest who recently became Rector of Umhlali (see his blog here). He had recently been to a conference of Anglicans Ablaze, which was a joint conference of several Anglican renewal organisations, including Iviyo loFakazi bakaKristu (the Legion of Christ’s Witnesses), New Wine and others, and noticed that the clergy whose ministry had been shaped by the charismatic renewal were now retired or approaching retirement age, and were concerned that the youth no longer seemed to be interested. Peter believed that the younger generation were looking for something different. Ben Aldous, a young Anglican priest in Durban North had a similar view, and is doing research into Fresh Expressions, an Anglican movement in the UK, to see if it would be relevant to southern African Christianity.
Hamilton Mbatha, with whom we had worked closely in Melmoth 30 years ago, said something similar. He is now rertired in Melmoth, but still active in speaking at Iviyo conferences, and he too spoke of a generation gap.
Another retired priest, Meshack Vilakazi, also living in Melmoth, spoke in similar terms, but he is active in doing something about it, visiting prisons and talking to young offenders, and trying to reconcile them to their families and encouraging the families to support them so that they would not return to crime on leaving prison.
The people who were most pleased to see us as we travelled around were our Zululand friends, and especially the black Anglican clergy of the Diocese of Zululand – Patrick Gumede, Theophilus Ngubane, Hamilton Mbatha and Meshack Vilakazi. They are all retired now (like me) but something of that spirit was seen in the schoolgirls we spoke to in the street. There was something special about Zululand. Hamilton was the Regional Dean of Mthonjaneni deanery, which included Melmoth and KwaMagwaza nearby, and we worked closely together there.
KwaMagwaza was also the home of KwaNzimela, the diocesan conference centre, where Theophilus Ngubane and I used to hold training meetings for self-supporting clergy, who gathered there once a month. It was also the venue for the diocesan Partners in Mission consultation in 1982, and I had worked with Meshack Vilakazi and Patrick Gumede to plan it. Visitors from other “partner” dioceses came and were taken on as tour of the diocese, and prepared a report on what they saw as mission strengths and weaknesses. They prepared a report which was discussed at the consultation, where there were clergy and lay representatives of all the parishes.
Ivor Shapiro, the editor of the (now defunct) Anglican newspaper Seek came to cover the conference for the paper, and after a couple of days he took me aside and said, “Am I missing something, or do these people really love one another?”
He had recently reported on a synod in another diocese, and there when people disagreed during the sessions, at tea time they would meet in caucusing groups and plot how to gain support for their position, and weaken the opposing viewpoints. And that, he said, was typical of most diocesan gatherings he had witnessed.
But in Zululand, he noticed something different. People who had disagreed vociferously in one of the sessions would get together at tea, and would be the best of friends. Yes, there was something special about Zululand, and people really did love one another. And seeing people, some of whom we hadn’t seen for 30 years, reminded us of that. They were genuinely very pleased to see us.
While some things at KwaNzimela looked the same, there were also changes. The trees surrounding the buildings were much taller, and so there was not as much of a view over the Nkwalini valley as there had been in the past.
There was also a an enormous hall being built. Apparently it was a project of the Mothers Union, who had raised the money to build it. It will probably be able to hold all those attending large gatherings like the diocesan youth conferences, Iviyo conferences, and Mothers’ Union conferences, but when we looked at it we were reminded of nothing so much as the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, which seems to favour that style of architecture.
There were some new smaller buildings under construction too, one of them a library, though the collection of books seemed rather sadly depleted from what it was 30 years ago. One that I used to read, and could not find this time, was The mind and face of Bolshevism by Rene Fulop Muller. It must have been a rare book, as I could not find any reference to it in web searches. Perhaps it was the only copy in the world, but now it seems to have gone.
Another change was the “animal tree”, which our children used to climb and play in when we went to KwaNzimela, and they used to imagine all kinds of animals in its branches. It had grown to about three times the sisze that it was 30 years ago.