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Glimpses of English Christianity 50 years ago

22 July 2016

Fifty years ago today I had some interesting glimpses into the varieties of English Christianity. First I was invited to, and attended a garden party of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace. The Archbishop was the Most Revd Dr Michael Ramsey, and the garden party was for representatives of “the church overseas”, which consisted of Church of England missionaries serving overseas who happened to be home, and members of Anglican churches elsewhere who happened to be in England.

Lambeth Palace, official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, 22 July 1966

Lambeth Palace, official residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, 22 July 1966

I had been in England for six months, having arrived in January 1966, and was working as a bus driver for London Transport while waiting for the new academic year to begin, when I would attend St Chad’s College in Durham for postgraduate studies in theology. So I got an invitation and after work I went to Lambeth Palace to meet the Archbishop of
Canterbury – the Archbishop’s reception of missionaries and overseas visitors, so the card said. I turned up at the gate at
3:00 pm, and joined the queue in the courtyard, all waiting to shake hands with the Archbishop. It was bright and sunny after three days of rain. Everyone had little coloured cards to show what part of the world they came from. The Archplus, on shaking hands, said “How dyoo doo?”, and Mrs Plus, standing next to him, repeated the shibboleth.[1] It is apparently a rhetorical question, like the laity’s “Ow you orrite?” — no answer is expected. I wrote in my diary

It sent tingles down my spine to hear the way they said it; it sounded out of this world and untrue. Narnia and Hobbitland and Jorn of Jorna have far more credibility. On shaking hands with the archplus,  we passed into the library, which was filled with a milling throng all having tea.

Feeling isolated and overwhelmed, I crept into a narrow space between the bookshelves and a display cabinet, where I could observe from a relatively safe vantage point. I looked to see who was next to me — a short black man from Malawi. I tried an experimental smile, and he said “Hello”, and thus we got talking, and I found that he lives practically next door to Biddy Bailey, and was a lay reader in the church she goes to.[2]

A little later I was button-holed by a couple of nuns from Wantage, and so had to confess to them that I had at one time been a server at St Mary’s School in Waverley and that I knew Father Comber and all.[3] Then a little later saw Fr Neil Bliss, the man who was at Piet Retief when we were there in September. He does not appear to like Piet Retief, and is a very strange sort of bloke. Then I saw Desmond Tutu, and finally Father Sweet, and hung around with him and Mrs Sweet the rest of the time I was there.[4]

We wandered around the archbishop’s dwelling, with Mervyn Sweet making irreverent remarks about the palace and its furnishings. He wanted to remove a table which he thought would be suitable as a nave altar, and then one of the crosses (of which there were many), from archplus Michael’s private chapel, remarking “I suppose even archbishops pray.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury's Garden Party for the reception of missionaries and overseas visitors, 22 July 1966

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Garden Party for the reception of missionaries and overseas visitors, 22 July 1966

We then wandered round the garden taking photographs, and then there was Evensong and a commendation of  missionaries in the archbishop’s private chapel. We went in late, and sat in the front row, right underneath the pulpit, and the archbishop when he preached looked and sounded excruciatingly funny, being exactly after the image of a caricature
clergyman, looking as if he were about to burst into tears at any minute, and saying his piece in a lilting sing-song clerical voice. What he had to say wasn’t too bad, however, and nor were some of the prayers he said —  praying for peace  in Vietnam, for example.

Revd Mervyn Sweet, former Vicar of St Alphege's Church, Pietermaritzburg, 22 July 1966

Revd Mervyn Sweet, former Vicar of St Alphege’s Church, Pietermaritzburg, 22 July 1966

Afterwards we met briefly an English priest who was shortly going to Cape Town, and then had a look at the immersion font, which had a text about resurrection carved around it. Mervyn Sweet was ecstatic that there was someone in the church who had a theology of baptism, instead of putting in stupid texts about “suffer the little children to come unto me” or pictures of John the Baptist baptising Jesus.

I walked with them over to where they had parked their car, and they said they were going to Merstham in Surrey for their holidays, and said I should go and see them there. After they left I saw Desmond and Leah Tutu again, and we had more time to chat. Their daughter, aged about 2 or 3, was with them, and they said she was called Pussy, and only answered to that, and not to her real name. He said he was assistant priest in a rather posh parish in Bletchingly, and had landed with his bum in the butter. The people in the parish were very kind to him.

Joan Sweet, Lambeth Palace, 22 July 1966

Joan Sweet, Lambeth Palace, 22 July 1966

I went to Leicester Square and had supper at an Indian restaurant there. English cooking was horrible back then and so I often ate in Indian, Chinese or Italian restaurants. But English cooking has since improved, perhaps as a result of so many foodie TV shows with their celebrity chefs.

After supper I made my way to Chalk Farm to a gathering of the Christian Committee of 100. It sounds impressive, but in fact there were only three of us — Peggie Denny, Peggy Smith and me.[5] We were planning a march to the American Embassy to protest against the war in Vietnam, It was in marked contrast with the garden party at Lambeth Palace that afternoon, whose opulent surroundings spoke of wealth and power, and the three of us gathered in a humble flat. Christianity in Britain had many different faces. We decided not to call it a march, but rather a procession, and designed leaflets to hand out to people in the streets as we went, to explain about the Vietnam War, and why Christians should not support it.



[1] I am not sure if it is still the custom, but back then Anglican bishops used to sign letters and other documents with a + in front of their names, and I seem to recall that archbishops used two. So the Anglican Bishop of Natal (where I came from), Vernon Inman, would sign his name +Vernon Natal and was usually referred to as “Plus Vernon”. I think the Archbishop of Canterbury signed his name as ++Michael Cantuar, but I didn’t keep the invitation card, so can’t be sure of that.

[2] Bridget Bailey was a friend and fellow student from the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg. She had graduated in botany and zoology in 1965 and got a job in Malawi. Exactly 10 years after the garden party (ie 40 years ago today) we were on holiday, and stayed with Bridget Bailey’s mother in Bloemfontein.

[3]  The Community of St Mary the Virgin (CSMV) sisters had their mother house at Wantage in Oxfordshire, and also ran a girls school in the nearby town of Abingdon in Berkshire, where the school chaplain was the Revd Thomas Comber. The CSMV sisters also ran some schools and other institutions in South Africa, including St Mary’s School for Girls in Waverley, Johannesburg. Fr Tom Comber had been Anglican chaplain at Wits University and St Mary’s School, and recruited some of the male students as altar servers for the school chapel, where services were held on Sundays for the nuns and the boarders. Two of the girls, dressed in albs, acted as acolytes, carrying candles, but only boys were allowed to enter the sanctuary with the priest in Anglican churches those days.

[4] I was rather relieved to see some people that I knew. Desmond Tutu, who later became Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, I had known as a student at St Peter’s College in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, a few years earlier. The Revd Mervyn Sweet, like Tom Comber, had been a university chaplain in Pietermaritzburg until the end of 1964, and also parish priest at St Alphege’s Church in Scottsville, where the university campus was.

[5] The Committee of 100 was a more radical arm of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) which favoured non-violent direct action. Though it included Christian members, many of its leaders were prominent secularists, like Bertrand Russell, and there were frequent arguments about aims and methods, particularly over whether non-violence was a principle or merely a tactic. The Christian Committee of 100 was formed by Christian pacifists of various denominations with similar aims, though with a more Christian focus.


Is the whole world going mad?

17 July 2016

It seems that the world has gone manic-depressive, or, as they prefer to say nowadays, bipolar.

I’m reminded of an old Cold War song by Jeremy Taylor:

Well one fine day I’ll make my way
to 10 Downing Street
“Good day,” I’ll say, I’ve come a long way
Excuse my naked feet.
But I lack, you see, the energy
to buy a pair of shoes
I lose the zest to look my best
When I read the daily news
’cause it appears you’ve got an atom bomb
That’ll blow us all to hell and gone
if I’ve got to die then why should I
give a damn if my boots aren’t on?”

Three cheers for the army and all the boys in blue
Three cheers for the scientists and politicians too
Three cheers for the future years, when we shall surely reap
all the joys of living on a nuclear rubbish heap.

So what to I see when I read the daily news?

Does reading that kind of news bother you?

Don’t worry, you can always restore your equanimity with thoughts like these:

Do any of these lives matter?

Do any of these lives matter?

Thanks to the Internet, we have seen how polarised people in the USA have been on political issues, when presidents from the two main parties with equally rebarbative policies are vilified by people opposed to them in an over-the-top way. In the 1990s it was KKKlinton, followed by the Shrub, followed by Obomber — war criminals all, of course, but why should the people who elect them be so partisan about which war criminal they choose?

The UK never displayed quite such partisanship until the referendum on leaving the UK. That really seems to have divided the nation, to judge from the rants I see from both sides on the Internet. And it seems to have divided the political parties as well.

The media in both those countries have consistently beaten the war drums, and encouraged the election of warmongers, and vilified those who are less than enthusiastic about war, like Charles Kennedy, Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. And the media are still doing it, if this article is anything to go by:

The media seem hell-bent on starting the Third World War, and if it goes nuclear, then no lives will matter. As another 1960s song put it, We will all go together when we go.

So the US and the UK are bipolar, and becoming more polarised. In the US it seems to be becoming a shooting war, as more citizens are gunned down by police, or by others with a grudge against someone or something. And in the UK one MP was gunned down during the referendum — a sign of things to come?

Closer to home in South Africa, we have similar party in-fighting, with ANC members murdering each other about nominations for election. Political back-stabbing, both literal and figurative, seems to be on the increase all over.

copriotI lived through the Cold War. When I was in Standard 2 (Grade 4)  at a school in the Magaliesberg we would point at the ridge across the valley and say to each other “What would you do if a thousand North Koreans came over that hill?” We saw the illustrated articles in Popular Mechanics which explained how napalm bombs worked, and how they would be dropped at each end of a railway tunnel when a train was passing through, thus incinerating everyone on board. But those things were happening in one country 10000 miles away. Now people are being massacred every week, in different countries on different continents. What is it? Over-population, like rats in a cage? When rats are crowded together in confined quarters, it seems they go mad and kill each other, and now human beings seem to be behaving in the same way.

We read about how those whose motto is “To serve and protect” behave as if it were “To bully and beat up”, and whether it happens in Baton Rouge or Marikana, it still looks like the behaviour of the rats in Universe 25.

We look at the Disunited Kingdom, disintegrating after the Brexit referendum, or the Disunited States, offered a choice between a warmonger and a racist, both tearing themselves apart, and these are the self-proclaimed leaders of the “free” world. Perhaps there is a tiny glimmer of hope in Theresa May, the new British Prime Minister.

There is at least a recognition that two of the four countries that comprise the UK voted to leave the EU and two of them didn’t. The ones that didn’t vote to leave the EU now realise that they can no longer belong to both the EU and the UK, and Theresa May at least realises that a solution to that problem needs to be negotiated. It can only be hoped that she will approach other problems with a desire for negotiation rather than belligerent rhetoric spilling over into armed force.

Theresa May’s genius may be her dull Anglican ways | London Evening Standard:

Who’d have thought that she’d be the person to call for a Britain that works “for everyone, not just the privileged few” or that she’d be calling for German- style worker representation on company boards? (She did also mention the gender pay gap but only after talking about class and race as impediments to social mobility.) Her views on hostile takeovers of British companies are way more radical than David Cameron’s but because they’re delivered in an understated fashion, their radicalism doesn’t really register.

That may be the real genius of Mrs May — not as a feminist but as a vicar’s daughter whose social agenda is unnoticed because it’s delivered in that unthreatening, not to say, dull C of E fashion. But it does it for me.

The agony and ecstasy of Saint Theresa, the vicar’s daughter | Giles Fraser | The Guardian:

This was the formative world of the new prime minister – unflashy service, community, warts and all, and personal sacrifice. The Christian faith “is part of me. It is part of who I am and therefore how I approach things”, she said. And, unlike the patchy public school religion of her predecessor, her faith feels entirely convincing to me.

If the world is in a mess, can the church help? If the world is divided, can the Christian communities show a more excellent way?

Unfortunately, it seem that the Church is as divided as the world.

The recent Pan-Orthodox Council held in Crete was meant to at least get Orthodox Christians talking to each other, and if they couldn’t agree, at least identify areas of disagreement and begin to deal with them. Instead, it produced this:

If the governing body of the Holy Mountain accedes to that, the world would be quite justified in saying to the Church, “Physician, heal thyself.” The Church, far from being a hospital for sinners, would be a bunch of lunatics with no asylum.

So is there any hope?

I was feeling pretty pessimistic when I started writing this post. I thought the world was going to hell, not in a handbasket but in a Formula I racing car.

And then I saw this. It’s not from an Orthodox source. Perhaps it’s not even from a Christian source, but I found it encouraging and you might too.

We were made for these times:

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement.

If that speaks to you, go ahead and follow the link and read it all.

And in the mean time I shall continue to pray the Morning Prayer of the Last Elders of Optina.

Pilgrimage for Peace in Ukraine

16 July 2016

Seen on Facebook: A procession called “Prayers for peace and love in Ukraine” is taking place from July 3 to 27. Thousands of clergy, monks and prilgrims are walking with little breaks constantly praying, with microphones singing hymns, Akathists and saying prayers. Priests sprinkling holy water, many people getting out of their cars and getting baptized. Children throwing flowers on the road in front of the Mother of God icon. At a monastery a layer of flowers is already prepared.

Pilgrimage for Peace in Ukraine

Thousands of believers join the all-Ukrainian cross procession at Pochaev Lavra / OrthoChristian.Com:

In the morning of July 9 right after a prayer service at the Dormition Cathedral the all-Ukrainian procession of the cross started from the Holy Dormition Pochaev Lavra, reports the information and education department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC MP).

The procession of peace, love and prayer for the Ukraine is headed by Metropolitan Sergy of Ternopil and Kremenets, Metropolitan Vladimir of Pochaev, the Lavra’s abbot, Bishop Seraphim of Shuya, Rector of the Pochaev Theological Seminary. and All the Ukraine July 3 to 27.

The all-Ukrainian cross procession of peace, love and prayer for the Ukraine is being held with the blessing of His Beatitude Metropolitan Onufry of Kiev and All the Ukraine July 3 to 27.


On July 3 the faithful setting off from the Holy Dormition Svyatogorsk Lavra walked through the Donetsk region, reached the Kharkiv region and are currently moving towards the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. On July 28, the Day of Baptism of Russia, the two cross processions will meet at the Holy Dormition Kiev Caves Lavra. At the end of the all-Ukrainian cross procession of peace and love a prayer service will be celebrated at Vladimirskaya Gorka (the St. Vladimir’s Hill).

But not everyone is happy about this.

Ukrainian nationalists make a provocation during the all-Ukrainian cross procession / OrthoChristian.Com:

On the evening of July 12 young people in camouflage from “the Right Sector” extremist group along with paid activists arranged a provocation during the all-Ukrainian cross procession on the way from Svyatogorsk to Kiev, reports the Information and Education Department of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC MP).

On that day the cross procession participants were to walk from Valki to Chudovo and finally reach Poltava.

At the border of the Kharkiv and Poltava regions the faithful were met aggressively by extremists in automobiles along with several members of the Azov battalion. A column of the provocateurs walked parallel to the pilgrims, crying out rude insulting slogans and all sorts of slander, intimidating the faithful, and defiantly filming their own provocation.

A nationalist counter-demonstration

A nationalist counter-demonstration

How anti-racism became racist: All lives matter

12 July 2016

I keep seeing more and more articles and links to articles like the following:

These headlines are factoids.

A factoid is a lie that is repeated so often in the media that people eventually come to believe it is true.

In reading those articles, I can only think that the people who write them have lost their moral compass, or their sense of logic or both.

If one takes a charitable view of it, one could say that the logical and moral flaw is assuming that if people say the right thing for the wrong reasons, then the right thing becomes wrong.

A less charitable view is that those who maintain that “all lives matter” is wrong really believe that some lives matter more than others.

In either case, the denigration of “all lives matter” is American exceptionalism at its worst.

The logical flaw in this is illustrated in a cartoon that was attached to the first article listed above:


This cartoon is altogether disingenuous, and thoroughly misrepresents the meaning of “all lives matter”.

It would be more accurate if it showed several burning houses, and the “all houses matter” people would be trying to put out the fires in all of them, while that ones who don’t believe “all houses matter” would be spraying water on some houses, and petrol on the others to make them burn faster.

A few months ago there was a terrorist attack in France, and Facebook offered its users a French flag to cover their profile picture to indicate solidarity with the victims. Last week there was a terrorist attack in Iraq, and there were many more victims than in the French attack, but Facebook did not offer its users an Iraqi flag. The people at Facebook clearly believe that French lives matter, but Iraqi lives don’t matter as much. But they are not racist, oh no! It’s believing that all lives matter that is racist. Believing that some lives, like French lives, matter more than other lives, like Iraqi lives, is not racist, according to the arbiters of political correctness who wrote the articles cited above.

But we live in an Orwellian world where nonracism is racism and antiracism is racism.

If believing that all lives matter is racist, then the term “racism” has lost its meaning.

I’ve written about this before: on the American exceptionalism aspect of it here, and in relation to Black Lives Matter here. But it seems to me that it is getting worse, that logic and moral sense have flown out of the window. The meme that believing that all lives matter is racist has become a factoid, and it really needs to be stopped.

So I repeat:

If people say the right thing for the wrong reasons, that does not make the right thing wrong.

Unless, of course, you really do believe that not all lives matter.



G.K. Chesterton, distributism, communitarianism and more

8 July 2016

We had another of our book chats over coffee yesterday, and Duncan Reyburn, free for the university vacation, joined us, and told us something about his soon-to-be published book on G.K. Chesterton. And it seems that once that is published, he’ll be starting another.

In the ensuing conversation quite a lot of books were mentioned, and I’ll give links to some of them, in case anyone (including me) wants to look them up.

Duncan remarked that G.K. Chesterton had a very good memory, and could remember the plots of 10000 novels. I try to make notes of books that I read, but find that I sometimes can’t remember the plots of novels even when I read the notes I made at the time, so I think Chesterton’s feat was pretty impressive.

One of the central points of Duncan’s book is discovering the extraordinary in the ordinary, and one’s sense of astonishment in the commonplace. Chesterton thought that we should never lose our sense of astonishment at the things that are closest to us. I recalled reading Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre, in which the protagonist looks at something ordinary  — he is sitting on a park bench and looking at a tree root, and finds it utterly alien, and is indeed nauseated by it. Chesterton, on the other had, sees such things as commonplace, and finds their strangeness delightful.

David Levey mentioned Ndebele’s influential book Rediscovery of the Ordinary: Essays on South African Literature and Culture, which seems to have a similar theme, and I’ve put it on my “want to read” list. David also mentioned Chesterton’s poem The Battle of Lepanto. The poem was written in 1920, the battle took place in 1571, and remarks that “the site Catholic Culture calls the said naval battle, between Catholics and Turkish Muslims, ‘the battle that saved Europe’, which implies rather a lot.” My memory of that period of history is somewhat rusty, but I thought Venetian trading monopolies had quite a bit to do with it too.

We also discussed the phenomenon of the American religious right apparently trying to claim Chesterton as one of their own, which seems rather odd, since Chesterton was, by his own admission, that bête noire of the American Right, a liberal.

We touched briefly on Chesteron’s notion of political economy, Distributism, which I thought had quite a lot in common with Dorthy Day’s Communitarianism. I recommended that Duncan read Jim Forrest’s biography of Dorothy Day, All is Grace. We discussed briefly the differences between individualism, collectivism and communitarianism, and what I had to say on it is mostly set out in a couple of blog bosts — Individualism, Collectivism and Communitarianism, and you can find some more links here: Socialism, Communitarianism, Distributism.

I thought I’d better check some of this with Jim Forrest, the biographer of Dorothy Day, since he actually knew and worked with her, and he said, “Dorothy and the Catholic Worker embraced distributism wholeheartedly. As my friend Tom Cornell wrote not long ago:

In economics, anarchists call for more capital to more people. The distributists G.K. Chesterton, Hilaire Belloc, Eric Gill and Fr. Vincent McNabb  strongly influenced the Catholic Worker in its formative years. They held that law and government should promote crafts, small worker-owned and managed industry and farms. Individuals and small groups should take the initiative and not wait for government action.

Back in the 1990s I thought that the ANC’s original Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) looked quite a bit like that, and would at least encourage it. But within a year it was exchanged for the Neoliberal GEAR programme instead.

Another book that Duncan Reyburn mentioned in the course of conversation was Unapologetic: Why, despite everything, Christianity can still make surprising emotional sense, by Francis Spufford. He recommended it especially for those who are bothered by the new militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris. He also recommended a film, The Tree of Life, which is a retelling of the story of Job in a modern setting.

Well those are the things I remember (and some I wanted reminders of) from our NeoInklings Literary Coffee Klatsch this month. If you live in or near Tshwane and would like to join us for free-ranging discussions on Christianity and literature, and sometimes presenting your own work (as Duncan Reyburn did this time), we meet at 10:30 am on the first Thursday of the month at Cafe 41, at the corner of Eastwood Road and Pretorius Street, Arcadia.

Cafe 41, venue for our month;y book discussions

Cafe 41, venue for our month;y book discussions

Is Nick Clegg clairvoyant? So am I

28 June 2016

Someone shared this article on Facebook this morning, Nick Clegg predicted the future with stunning accuracy. I thought it was a pity that his clairvoyance developed only after his disastrous coalition with the Tories.

But when I read my diary of 50 years ago, perhaps I had a bit of clairvoyance of my own. I was far from home, in London, sitting in Brixton bus garage in a break between driving buses between Croydon and the Embankment, under western eyes, and I was reading Joseph Conrad’s Under Western Eyes. And when I finished my shift at 8 pm I stopped at the “Horse and Groom” in Streatham High Street for a sandwich on my way back to my gloomy bed-sit and read this:

In real revolution, not a simple dynastic change or reform of institutions — in a real revolution the best characters do not come to the front. A violent revolution falls into the hands of narrow-minded fanatics and tyrannical hypocrites at first. Afterwards comes the turn of all the pretentious intellectual failures of the time. Such are the chiefs and the leaders. You will notice that I have left out the mere rogues. The scrupulous and the just, the noble, humane and devoted natures; the unselfish and intelligent may begin a movement, but it passes away from them. They are not the leaders of the revolution. They are its victims. The victims of disgust, of disenchantment, often of remorse. Hopes grotesquely betrayed, ideals caricatured, that is the definition of revolutionary success. There have been in every revolution hearts broken by such

And when I got home I wrote in my diary:

And I think that will be the same in the South African revolution. The great men: Albert Luthuli, Bram Fischer, J.H. Hofmeyer, Alan Paton, Nelson Mandela, Robert Sobukwe, Peter Brown and many others the champions of freedom and justice, they, like Moses, will not live to enter the promised land. And when the promised land is entered at last, the promises will be betrayed, hopes destroyed, ideals caricatured. This is almost inevitable, but we carry on just the same. The Lord will provide.

And so it has turned out.

Under Western Eyes (Penguin Classics)Under Western Eyes by Joseph Conrad

I finished reading the book the following day and read the old man’s description of Natalia Haldin, “It is hard to think I shall never look any more into the trustful eyes of that girl, wedded to an invincible belief in the advent of loving concord, springing like a heavenly flower from the soil of men’s earth, soaked in blood, torn by struggles, watered with tears.”

And that put me in mind of the Ascension Day hymn:

He shall come down like showers upon the fruitful earth;
Love, joy, and hope, like flowers, spring in His path to birth.
Before Him, on the mountains, shall peace, the herald, go,
And righteousness, in fountains, from hill to valley flow.

And so every revolution betrays its children. While we live in this world, this secular age, we can never rest and think that because we have won our freedom we will remain free. The struggle continues. A luta continua. Die stryd duur voort.


The winter of our discontent

26 June 2016

This morning we went, as we usually do every second Sunday, to Atteridgeville, for the Hours and Readers’ Service. It’s All Saints Sunday, the Sunday after Pentecost. We come mainly to help the readers, Demetrius Mahwayi and Artemius Mangena to sing the service and learn the music. Artemius lives furthest from the church, so we go round to give him a lift.

Atteridgeville streets, quiet on a Sunday morning

Atteridgeville streets, quiet on a Sunday morning

On the way Artemius told us about the previous Tuesday, when these quiet streets were scenes of violence and looting, because of dissastisfaction among members of the ANC over a mayoral candidate for the municipal elections who had been parachuted in from outside. The incumbent mayor lives in Atteridgeville, and so dissatisfaction there was particularly strong, and several ANC supporters have said they will switch their votes to the DA, a rival party whose candidate happens to live locally in Atteridgeville.

JacuzziArtemius lives in Phomolong, an “informal settlement” in Atteridgeville West, where most of the houses are wood and corrugated iron shacks. He said that when the violence started, local residents there gathered round the shops to protect them from looters. They didn’t want any trouble where they were, and when the troublemakers arrived, they chased them away. That is possible in the narrow lanes of Phomolong, but not so much in the wider streets of Atteridgeville and Saulsville. From what Artemius said, the troublemakers came from outside, just as they had in 2008, during the xenophobic violence then. And now, as then, it had started in Mamelodi, and then spread to Atteridgeville, and then to other places. It made me wonder whether the same people were behind it. This time it started with shops owned by foreigners, and then seems to have turned into a general free-for-all crime spree.

As we drove through Saulsville we noticed that all the shops were closed, barred and shuttered. I suppose there was no point in their opening if all their stock had been looted, and most of them were small shops. Perhaps their owners couldn’t afford to restock, or perhaps the wholesalers weren’t making deliveries for fear of further violence and having their lorries burnt.

Closed shops in Atteridgeville

Closed shops in Atteridgeville

After the service, when we gave Artemius a lift back, there was the same thing. All shops closed. Usually there are people outside, chatting after doing their shopping, but today they were deserted.

Closed shops

Closed shops

We were told that many vehicles had been burnt, buses, cars, delivery lorries. But since Tuesday they had all been cleared away — by the owners, the municipality, the insurance companies?

But the signs of the violence were not all erased. As we turned into the main road into Pretoria, there was a stain in the road, like an ominous dark shadow being cast over the future.

A shadow over the future?

A shadow over the future?

When we reached Villeria, we drove through an avenue of jacarandas. Most people take photos of the jacarandas in spring, when they are all over blue flowers. The jacarandas are always the last to bloom in spring, and the last to lose their leaves in autumn, and they were just beginning to show tinges of yellow.

Jacarandas in Pierneef Street, Villeria

Jacarandas in Pierneef Street, Villeria

But it’s not autumn any more. It’s winter. The winter of discontent?




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