Originally posted on Durban Action Against Xenophobia:
Police assaulted us, refugees claim
By Mpume Madlala
“Where is our protection? Police have resorted to beating us for nothing.”
This was the lament of some refugees at Albert Park after several of them were allegedly assaulted by police officers at the weekend.
Frederic Eca Bakeni, one of those assaulted, said: “I was at my street hair salon in Warwick Triangle. A group of us were busy with customers when we suddenly saw a woman running past the salon and a casually dressed man chasing after her.
|‘He continued to chase the woman and when he caught up with her, he beat her’|
“The man had a black bag with him, which he dumped inside my salon. He continued to chase the woman and when he caught up with her, he beat her.”
Eca Bakeni decided to place the bag outside the salon.
“We did not know what was in…
View original 333 more words
I picked this book off the library shelf and read the blurb, and decided to read it because there seemed to be parallels with my own youth.
What did I hope for? To make sense of my own youth? To make sense of things that happened to me?
The protagonist in the book is a mathematics student at the University of Cape Town who wants to go to London to become a, writer, a poet. In the 1960s he goes, but having arrived in London he needs to get a job in order to live, and with his mathematical qualifications he manages to get one as a computer programmer with IBM. In his spare time he sits in the British Museum doing research for his writing, and later for a thesis for which he is offered a bursary.
But gradually loneliness and mediocrity and boredom squeeze all the creativity out of him and he has less and less to say.
And I could see parallels with my own life. Why should I write about my own life? It’s not about me, it’s about the book. But I picked up the book thinking it was about me, or that it might tell me something about me, so in a sense it is about me, and I compare myself with the protagonist in the book.
I was a student at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg, and studied there from 1963 to 1965, majoring in Theology and Biblical Studies, with a minor in History. The Anglican bishop of Natal had found me a place for further study at St Chad’s College, Durham, for the post-graduate Diploma in Theology.
So, like the protagonist in Youth, I went to the UK in January 1966. The UK academic year only begins in September so I got a job driving buses in London to fill in the time, and I stayed in a lonely bed-sit, and for six months spent much of my spare time in my room in Streatham feeling alienated. Like the protagonist I felt a bit concerned about the Vietnam War. He wrote to the Chinese embassy and offered to go and teach English. I went to a couple of demos, one of them by accident.
So much for the similarities, But there were also differences.
The book tells nothing of the protagonist’s journey, how he left, his first impressions on arriving, or anything like that. Just that he was glad to be in London, and glad to be out of the stifling restrictions of South Africa, and planned never to return. He went by sea, because he landed at Southampton. Though he seems to have been uninvolved in political activities in South Africa, he did not approve of the Nationalist government, I wondered how, having majored in Mathematics, he was allowed to enrol for postgraduate studies in English literature, with a thesis on Ford Madox Ford. In my experience South African universities don’t work like that, but J.M. Coetzee was a professor of English literature at the University of Cape Town for several years, so perhaps he knows something that I don’t.
I was a bit more involved in political activities in my final year at university than the guy in the book, and in the middle of my final exams got an official warning under the Suppression of Communism Act that if I did not desist from activities that “further or are calculated to further any of the objects of communism” action would be taken against me. Most of my friends who had had such warnings got banning orders a few months later, so, in view of my plans to go and study in the UK I dropped my idea of a political holiday, and after my last exam went to Johannesburg and worked as a bus driver, saving money to pay for the boat fare overseas. Like the protagonist in the book, I wanted to go by sea.
I drove buses and did as much overtime as I could to save money for the boat fare. Nevertheless, one afternoon as I was about to go to work I got a phone call from a Detective Sergeant van den Heever, of, as he said, the CID. He wanted to come and see me. I told him I was going to work, and would arrange to see him in the morning, after my overtime. I thought he could only want me for one (or both) of two things: to confiscate my passport or give me a banning order, either of which would scupper my plans for overseas study.
After consultation with friends, I decided it would be best to be out of the country when Detective Sergent van den Heever wanted to see me the next morning, so I drove through the night to Bulawayo in UDI Rhodesia in my mother’s car, with a friend who would bring the car back. We crossed the border at Beit Bridge when it opened at dawn, and by the time we got to Bulawayo there was a message from my mother to say she had booked me on a flight to London. So I boarded the plane late in the afternoon, and arrived in London the following day, feeling homesick, like an exile.
Unlike the bloke in the book, my alienation set in right away. I hadn’t expected culture shock, because after all they spoke English, there, didn’t they? But it was all so sudden and so strange. I suspect many South Africans who left South Africa in a hurry in the 1960s had similar experiences to mine, but the book mentions nothing of that.
One of the first things I had to do after arriving was to apply for an Aliens Registration Certificate. And when I got it, it said that I was not permitted to take employment, paid or unpaid, without the permission of the Minister of Labour. So how was I to survive for eight months until the university term began? The protagonist in the book faced nothing like that.
So I began to ask how I could get that condition waived, so I could get a job. Well, they said, if you come to us showing you have a written job offer, you can apply for that to be altered. But no one was prepared to offer a job and then wait for the bureaucracy to grant permission. It was the classic Catch 22, just like black people in South Africa had to face under the pass laws, but there it was in their own country. I knew about the effexta of the pass laws from being told about it and from reading, but now I was experiencing it first hand. Useful experience if one wants to be a writer and write a book. That’s what the protagonist in the book says too.
After a number of unsuccessful attempts, I worked out how to play the system. I went to London Transport, applied for a job as a bus driver, noting that there was a labour exchange just across the road. Once I and the other applicants had been definitely offered the job, I asked the bloke at London Transport to sign the paper from the Ministry of Labour saying that employing me would not deprive a British citizen of a job. That was unlikely — London Transport had more vacancies (about 7000) than the entire running staff employed by the Johannesburg Transport Department (about 1700).
While the others all went off to tea I scuttled across the road to the labour exchange, showed them the paper with the job offer, and the application form from the Home Office for permission to take employment, and said “please sign there and put your stamp on it”. The bloke behind the counter looked at me as if I was mad, but did what I asked, and I went back across the road and joined the others for tea.
Having passed out as a driver (and yes, driving double-decker buses on the skid pan was great fun), I had to choose a garage. I said Peckham or Lewisham, which were the closest to some South African friends I might want to visit in my time off. But they said, no, it has to be where you live. I said I don’t live anywhere. I’m staying with a bloke who put me up out of the kindness of his heart, but now wants me out of his guest room. But that didn’t wash. Brixton was closest to his place so I must go there
I looked at the notices offering rooms to let. There was one with an Indian landlord. I went and knocked on the door. While I was waiting for someone to answer the door of the next door house opened (the houses were all built up close together — I hadn’t yet learned that they were called terraces), and an English woman asked what I wanted. I said they had advertised a room to let. She said, “They’re Indians, you know. I wouldn’t like you to stay there.” I was gobsmacked (well, not really, “gobsmacked” only came into the language about 20 years later, but you know what I mean). I thought I’d left such racism behind in South Africa, and one of the cool things about being in Britain was that I could have an Indian landlord and the government wouldn’t do a thing to stop me. I hadn’t taken nosy neighbours into account.
That one fell through, but the next one I tried advertised an African landlady. That felt like closer to home. She turned out to be from Sierra Leone, which is a long way from South Africa, but at least halfway home. She was Mrs Emily Williams, and her daughter Joyce was in her last year at high school and hoping to start at an English university at the same time as I was. The next door neighbours there were English too, but a lot more friendly.
So the book was my story, but not my story. Perhaps another book needs to be written. Perhaps several other books need to be written.
Palm Sunday Vespers last night at St Nicholas of Japan Orthodox Church in Brixton, Johannesburg, was also the parish’s farewell to Fr Athanasius Akunda, who is leaving after being the parish priest for 7 years. He will be leaving after Pascha to teach at the seminary in Nairobi. There will be another diocesan farewell gathering for him on 18 April 2015 (Easter Saturday) at the Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit, where people from the other parishes and communities that he has served will be able to say goodbye to him.
We had a couple of visiting priests: Fr Gerasimos from St John the Baptist Church, Primrose, Germiston, and Fr George (Coconos) from the Cathedral of SS Constantine & Helen, Joubert Park.
At the end of the Vespers service was the Litiya (Artoklasia) and the blessing of palm crosses (and a few palm donkeys).
Usually at Vespers there are only one or two altar boys, but this time a lot of them turned out
After the service Fr Athanasius spoke of his time in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg and Pretoria over the last 13 years, and several people presented gifts to him.
And here are pictures of some of the parish people.
And one of the younger members of the parish is Angela Krunic
And after Vespers we had a feast in the hall. Since Palm Sunday fits in the gap between the end of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week, we had fish.
In less than a month we will be saying goodbye to Father Athanasius Akunda, who will be returning to Kenya after Pascha to teach in the theological seminary in Nairobi. He has been in South Africa for 13 years, and will be sorely missed, and very difficult to replace.
We have been having a series of meetings with him so that others will know what he has been doing, in order to be able to continue his work, and one of the things we are planning is a farewell service and party and mission rally on Easter Saturday, 18 April, at the monastery at Gerardville, which we hope will be attended by people from all the parishes and congregations where Fr Athanasius has served.
Today four of us went to Soahanguve, where Fr Athanasius started his ministry in South Africa in 2002, to look at some land which Simon Shabangu has been trying to arrange for us to get to build a church, after years of worshipping in school classrooms and houses.
We looked at several pieces of land, but the most interesting was on a hilltop in Soshanguve south.
It has magnificent views on three sides, and room for a church and a community centre and other buildings.
We took Simon home to his family, and Johanna Ramohlale was one of the youth members of our Mamelodi congregatio0n back in 2002, when Fr Athanasius first came, and was still at school. She recently qualified as a doctor.
On the night of 6-7 March 2014 armed robbers broke into the premises of the Monastery of the Descent of the Holy Spirit in Gerardville, south-west of Pretoria, and shot Artemius Mangena, the caretaker. They robbed him of his clothes and cell phone, broke several windows, and took a few other things, and left.
After they shot him, Artemius stopped fighting the robbers, and lay on the floor bleeding, pretending to be dead. He was found the following morning by Victor, who was also staying there, and Victor ran to the neighbours for help, and they phoned the Neighbourhood Watch and the police. They learned that there had been several other robberies in the area that night, possibly by the same gang, and that in one of them someone had been shot and killed.
Artemius was taken to the Kalafong Hospital in Atteridgeville, and Fr Elias Palmos and I visited him this morning after the Divine Liturgy at the monastery church.
Artemius told us that there were about six robbers altogether, though he fought with only two of them who came into the room where he was sleeping and shot him, The others went around breaking windows. He said they were speaking Shona, which suggests that they were probably Zimbabweans. The broke one window in the church, but do not seem to have taken anything from it. The took food from the kitchen, however.
Artemius is being treated for bleeding in his lung, and is in considerable pain. He lost quite a lot of blood, and we are grateful that he is still alive and with us. He serves as a reader at the Atteridgeville mission congregation, when he is not looking after the monastery.
There is a lot of crime, and and so incidents like this are not all that unusual, and as I said, there were other robberies and a murder, probably by members of the same gang, on the same night. About a week earlier there was a hijacking of a bus at a spa not far away, and the passengers were robbed. This was not necessarily by the same gang, but it shows that there is a lot of crime in the area. There have been break-ins at the monastery before, but this is the first time anyone has been seriously hurt.
We have asked people to pray for Artemius, and for his recovery, and for safety of people staying at the monastery. There are no monks staying there now, though there have been in the past, and we hope there will be more in future.
Apart from its immediate effect, this incident also highlights some of the problems related to crime in South Africa, apart from the crime itself, which is a serious problem that needs to be tackled.
One problem is that the robbers were apparently Zimbabweans, which reinforces the perceptions of many South Africans that immigrants are responsible for the increase in crime. This is not peculiar to South Africa. Some years ago we stayed at a guest house in Mitikas, on the west coast of Greece, and the owner, locking the door for the night, brought his motorbike inside, “or else the Albanians will steal it”. We deplore the level of xenophobia in South Africa, and the violence that it sometimes leads to, but violent crime committed by foreigners also leads to an increase in xenophobia.
There is also something even more disturbing.
If Artemius had been white, he might have been added to the statistics collected by bodies like Genocide Watch, who publicise such incidents, but only when whites are the victims, to bolster their claims that there is genocide of white people in South Africa. Web pages like that one at Genocide Watch are clearly calculated to fan the flames of racism and racial hatred, and are used for that purpose.
So there is not only the harm caused by the crime itself, but also the racism and xenophobia that such crimes tend to stir up.
Militant evangelising atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have been in the news a lot recently. They obviously care, and care very deeply, about the gods that they think people should not believe in. It is therefore good to be reminded that the vast majority of atheists couldn’t give a toss.
Roughly speaking, an atheist is anyone who has no use for the concept of God – the idea of a divine mind, which has created humankind and embodies in a perfect form the values that human beings cherish and strive to realise. Many who are atheists in this sense (including myself) regard the evangelical atheism that has emerged over the past few decades with bemusement. Why make a fuss over an idea that has no sense for you? There are untold multitudes who have no interest in waging war on beliefs that mean nothing to them. Throughout history, many have been happy to live their lives without bothering about ultimate questions. This sort of atheism is one of the perennial responses to the experience of being human.
There have been militant atheists around for quite a long time, of course, and militant atheism has been quite popular, especially when that position has been regarded as politically correct, as it was in the USSR, where the League of Militant Atheists saw its membership grow into millions.
But it would be a mistake to see all atheists as a kind of organised irreligion.
Militant atheists, who are very vocal, might give the impression that there is such a thing a organised irreligion, but as the author of the (very good) Guardian article points out, atheism is characterised by an absence of something. As someone pointed out, if atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair colour.
If you want a comparison, atheists are a bit like people who don’t like ballet, and can’t see the point of it. So most people who don’t like ballet won’t buy tickets to see the shows, they won’t talk about ballet, and will tend to regard ballet fans as eccentric at best and as rather tiresome bores at worst. The last thing that most of them would do would be to campaign for bans on advertising ballet shows and ballet classes, or write books and give lectures on the evils of ballet. In the same way, common or garden atheists, the non-militant ones, are quite happy to live and let live. The word atheist means someone who is without God or gods. It is an absence rather than an antipathy.
There is a tendency for extremists to get more publicity in the world today. Militant Islam gets a lot of publicity in the Western media, so people in the West tend to think that all Muslims are militant. They’ve even coined a new word for militant Muslims — Islamists. Perhaps the militant atheists should rather be called “antitheists” to avoid giving the common or garden atheists a bad name.