Posted in Africa on October 22, 2012 by Father Jeff Bower
After lunch with Peter Story on Saturday we traveled to the Cape of Good Hope also known as Cape Point. We were at a wildlife reserve but unfortunately, the only things that we saw were a few baboons huddled together trying to keep warm. The weather was dreadful that entire day. We were at the Southern-most point of South Africa. This is where the oceans literally come together and wave surges mount above 18 meters if you can imagine. That’s way too many feet over my head. Yikes. I marveled at strength and fierceness of the water yet its ability to be contained. I stood far out at Cape Point, in the rain and wind with waves towering behind me…It was exhilarating and also awaking to the amazing powers at work in our world of which we have no concept, really. God was truly present all around in the wildlife of that place, in the beautiful landscape, the towering mountains surrounding the sea, and high above at the top of Cape Point. There, a lighthouse, lighting the way for the travelers at sea, many of whom would have undoubtedly perished in the torrential waters without the guide of the light.
Our guiding light, our God, present all around, even in the midst of chaos down below…in the townships…in the people…in those who work for justice for all…in the programs…in the children singing songs of courage and hope…A present God…without question, present in time of need.
I was ready to get back to the hotel at Cape Point and take a hot shower…I was numb…The weather does change here, very dramatically from one day to the next…wait am I in Indiana?
I haven’t said much about the people here, but I have to tell you (aside from the one bus driver that we got stuck with for a day…a jerk…and I will tell you that and have no qualms about calling it like I see it) the people that we have encountered have been absolutely wonderful.
We have been greeted warmly in the townships (with the exception of one black colleague, we are all lily white). They have welcomed us in their homes and have captured my spirit with their stories and with their heart and their passion for change. There are many good things that are happening in Cape Town and just as the resistance to apartheid came about as an organic movement of people joining together to achieve something, I know that in the days ahead, this same people will work together to create change for generations to come. The conditions are terrible, presently, but with God’s help and the help of others who join in solidarity, South Africa can be a more equitable place for all of humanity.
We visited a prominent church in one of the townships. It was a Presbyterian church and the pastor spoke of the many programs that they run as a church for the people of Guguletu. They have identified their work as the AIDs pandemic. Approximately 40% of the people who live in Guguletu are infected with HIV-AIDs. They work not only in terms of prevention, but they encourage the witness of those infected, using their testimonies to empower the people (particularly youth). They dedicate 15 minutes one time each month to a personal testimony from one of the members of the congregation who has AIDS. Many families have no adults because both adult parents have died of the virus, sometimes leaving houses full of children, all with the virus. They have worked to get anti-virals in place for children and for adults alike. They assist by helping people die with dignity and they provide the basics for care when children are orphaned.
It is a very complex system that this one church has devised, but it did show me the work that can be done on the part of the marginalized. Their entire focus is bringing the kingdom in real and tangible ways to the people of Guguletu.
You can’t change everything…This is something that I learned this week…You can change something…This is something that I learned this week. Stay focused. Discerning our call is imperative and then focusing our energy collectively is where change begins to happen…little by little.
After returning to Cape Town we had lunch and packed and were then on our way to Johannesburg where we arrived at our hotel around 9:00 PM…Another long day…I had dinner with Michael and Eric, my two Roman Catholic priest friends at a lovely Italian restaurant in the financial district (we are staying at a hotel right across from the Stock Exchange in Johannesburg, the central hub for SA finance).
On Monday morning we rose early and after breakfast we had a tour of one of the most famous townships in all of South Africa. The children gathered in the streets to sing songs to us. We walked in the townships and were greeted warmly. The township consists of 38 different communities and the area stretches many miles. There are many homes that are very nice while others are shacks. This was an area that was established by the government during apartheid for the people (black people) to live. They were moved out of the “civilized” cities and forced to take up housing in these rural communities. The government provided housing, electricity and water, but certainly at lesser levels than in white communities. People were required to carry Passbooks to move around…Without a passbook people were arrested and convicted. It was illegal for people of color or black people to move about freely and they could only go where they had permission, and most generally blacks (except a few who were selected to serve the whites) were not permitted to go elsewhere.
One of the highlights of this trip was attending the services at Regina Mundi (which means King of the World). It is an enormous church in the heart of Soweto. We attended worship there on Sunday morning. Even before the service began the church was filled with music of God’s spirit and grace. The people gathered and assembled and it was transcendent. Practically the entire service was sung and people didn’t just sit rigid in their seats. They swayed. They raised their hands. They beat their hand drums and all to the Glory of God. There were points where I had to remember to breathe…There was a grace and dignity and honor that filled the place. I was moved.
We had lunch at a favorite place called Wandie’s in Soweto. We were greeted by the owner. The meal was authentic South African and feature ostrich, cow intestine, ox liver, a mealie dish that is their staple food and dumplings. It was heavy on the meat, but that’s ok…I like meat.
We arrived back at the hotel and soon after were greeted by a downpour….Dinner was here at the hotel with friends and it was wonderful (a huge ribeye) Did I say I like meat?
One of the ongoing disparities for me is enormously obvious in this place. The white are everywhere, privileged and expectant, while the black people with smiles on their faces continue to serve them.
I’m really ok with carrying my own bag, pouring my own coffee and getting my own door. I have more to say about that later, but for now, I must sign off. We are headed to a safari later this morning about 4 hours away and I am not sure that I will blog again until tomorrow.
Now to worship with all of God’s creatures! Much love and blessings….jlb+
Posted in Africa on October 21, 2012 by Father Jeff Bower
The last two days have been packed. We met with the Anglican Archbishop Tabo on Thursday and with the theology department of the Dutch Reformed Church in Stellenbosch. On Friday we traveled some distances to Simons Town where we met with the former Methodist Bishop of South Africa, Peter Story , visited the Penguin Sanctuary in Simons Town and then journeyed out to the Cape of Good Hope reserve and to Cape Point, the furthest point of South Africa.
It would be impossible for me to capture everything in just a few paragraphs. I am still sorting it all out and certainly the experiences of hearing two great men, one black, one white, one now the head of the Anglican church in South America and the other the former head of the Methodist Church in South Africa. Both lived through the era of apartheid and both have spent their lives working to restore justice, humanity, social consciousness, and hope for the millions of people who now continue to suffer because of the atrocities that were levied on the people of South Africa up until just 18 years ago.
Our visit with Archbishop Tabo took place at Bishopscourt where he both lives and works. It is high above the city of Cape Town, a gated compound of several buildings, grand but certainly not showy by any means. We met in a great hall inside the residence where all the pictures of all the previous Archbishops hang. He spoke of the many amazing works done by many of the men on the wall.
I was in awe of his humility and his grace and hospitality but more importantly, with the way in which he spoke of the role of the church and his willingness and call to always speak the truth. He talked about using his voice and his position as a way of naming injustices, holding people accountable who are in power. He is a man of unquestionable faith that is rooted in the Word of God and spoke about the importance of starting there, working from a place where you discern with others (many of his staff) asking the question, “what is this Word telling us in the context of where we are in our world and what actions are associated with that?”
Under his administration there are several programs that are now being implemented to address issues of HIV-AIDS and issues of violence in the homes. In addition, he is actively involved in working to bring clean water into the townships, services that were to have been provided by the regime now in power.
He is dedicated to walk alongside the people who suffer most and to continue to encourage them and to move them. He and the Roman Catholic Archbishop often go on walks in the areas, dressed in their purple cassocks to protest the living conditions in the townships and invite media and news reporters and others to join them so that the whole of South Africa are aware of the injustices of oppressive systems of government that still keep people from having a better life.
At lunch we met with two Anglican priests in the diocese who work in the areas of HIV-AIDS and abuse. The programs that they speak of are remarkable. Presently, about 40% of the population of the township where we visited ( one of many) is infected with HIV and about 1 in 3 women are victims of domestic violence.
In stark contrast to the morning we went to meet with leaders in the school of theology at the Dutch Reform University in Stellenbosch. The Dutch Reform Church was the church of apartheid and the evidences are all on the walls of a similar room to the one at Bishopscourt. The pictures of all the men of history (all white men of white over all races. It was a place of enormous influence, wealth, a systematic theolgy that was rooted in evil.
Post-apartheid the Dutch Reformed Church admitted their sin and asked for forgiveness. The Rustenberg Confession came out of this and it seems that this document may have had some influence in the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions work in forming the method through which pardons were granted to those who committed the atrocities during the apartheid regime, and vice-versa.
All of the theologians of the university admit the importance of theology and the importance of the relationship between theology and action. They place great value on the experiential learning as they develop new leaders of the future.
We were hosted at the school at the annual Potjiekos cook-off. Potjie is a South African specialty that literally is a pot full of everything that you can imagine, cooked slowly in a big iron pot over an open fire. Let’s just say, it was an experience. I have pictures.
The following day we traveled to Simon's Point and met with former Methodist Bishop of South Africa, Peter Story. He was on the frontlines with Archbishop Tutu and with Nelson Mandela. He and Archbishop Tabo share a common message about rootedness in the Word. His theology is very practical as he talks about speaking the truth, identifying with the people and binding them up with grace and love and a willingness to hear their stories and walk with them.
He spent a good deal of time talking about the sin of apartheid and called it just that. He spoke of his experience with the Dutch Reformed Church after apartheid fell and the Council of Churches invitation to the Dutch Reform Church to enter into the truth and reconciliation work.
All of the members were so suprised when the leader of the DRC admitted the sin of apartheid and the theology that the Dutch Reformed Church had adopted that levied all the injustices upon the people of color in South Africa. It was a monumental breakthrough in terms of reconciliation.
He recalls Desmond Tutu standing up in front of the assembly and looking at everyone and just saying that his theology informed him that there was no other possibility than forgiveness.
From there the Rustberg Confession was drawn up and soon after the leader of the Dutch Reformed Church was assassinated.
Both Peter Story and Archbishop Tabo talked about the injustices of the government presently in power and the high levels of corruption that still exist all over South Africa. The biggest problem is in the delivery of services to the people.
They both spoke of AIDs in the townships, the increase need for education about human sexuality, the need for clean water in the townships and the extreme needs for food for the poor.
In the face of all the despair, both men work for change, creating programs that directly meet the needs of the people, walking with and binding up the people all the while. They both also are about "reckless courage" and the importance of speaking the truth, whatever the cost.
They encouraged us to stay close to the problems and to be the voices of advocacy for those on the fringes.
I realize in hearing each of them that there is so much more that I can accomplish. There is so much more that needs to be said. There is so much more that needs to be exposed. Speaking the truth takes courage, but that really is what we are supposed to be about.
There is wonderful work that is being done in the townships despite the grave circumstances and situations. There are people who are making a difference and it is great to see so many of the Christian churches advocating for justice and establishing programs that meet the needs of the people where the government has failed.
The days have been fast and long with hardly a minute to catch a breath. I have to admit, I can't make sense of a lot of things...I am really tired. It all seems to be such a big blur, but I am faithful that in the days ahead I will make sense of all of this or at least some of what I have experienced and then allow all of this to move me and hopefully a few others to action.
I went 10,000 miles away to recognize that we have some of the very same issues. The question is, "What am I (are we) going to do about it?"
Posted in Africa on October 19, 2012 by Father Jeff Bower
The Breakwater Lodge in Cape Town has quite the history.
In the 1840’s it was suggested that the British convicts that had been sentenced to labor could be used in South Africa. This met with great resistance from the people of Cape Town and the first shipment of laborers was sent back. There was growing sentiment throughout South Africa that this was a cheap form of labor at a time when the colony needed and was expanding. It also gave offenders an opportunity to be “rehabilitated” by learning a task or skill.
The rehabilitation system was already operative in England and composed of three classifications consisting of the separate, silent and penal systems. In the separate system, prisoners worked alone in their cells but this was found to be less productive and not used to any degree. The silent system allowed the workers to work communally under supervision and this was preferred. The penal system had no real gain and was more than anything, destructive.
In 1844, the motion of “convict labor” passed.
In 1859, The Breakwater Lodge was established. The original building had large dormitories that housed 60 men. The prisoners were assigned to work on the breakwater in Table Bay. There, they implemented a system of separation believing those of color, and blacks were seen as less able to respond to restorative and rehabilitative processes.
The Treadmill was the penal system at Breakwater and it was established in 1880. On the treadmill, laborers would be assigned to walk on this staircase as it revolved…sometimes for multiple hours for a period of days…all designed to break the spirit of individuals. The men had to keep pace with the treadmill and if not the rotating planks would lacerate their shins. The prisoners were allowed only 5 minutes break each half hour.
By 1901 a full system of separation took place among those at Breakwater. There were three distinct classes, White, non-white, and black, the exact same classifications that became the standard for apartheid (which literally means apartness). Privileges were given within the system to the white prisoners.
In 1901 there was also an influx of white prisoners due to the growing diamond industry. Illegal buying and selling of diamonds resulted in an increased population of white men and the Breakwater was expanded to house these prisoners. In all, four buildings make up the compound with turrets towering high above. The remaining black prisoners were sent to other prisons or hired out at inferior wages.
It was at capacity in 1910 at 352 prisoners and set the standard of the separation by race in the prison systems throughout the country. In 1926 until 1989 it served as a hostel for black workers and then shortly after, it was purchased by the University of Cape Town and now houses the Graduate School of Business as well as a lovely hotel where I am staying.
Posted in Africa on October 18, 2012 by Father Jeff Bower
The wind came back over night, but not as bad as in previous evenings. The breeze was actually very pleasant today and the temperature here in Cape Town was in the 70s.
After breakfast, a group of us headed off to the marina. Our wifi is not working so well in the hotel and I needed to send yesterday’s blog out to you this morning. I am trying to keep pace with things and I know I am including a lot of details of the day in my blog, but it is important that I remember things as they occur. This way when I put my reflections together with the photos in the days ahead it will hopefully make more sense. McDonald’s in Cape Town has great reception, by the way!
It was a full day to say the least. We left early this morning and traveled to the oldest Mosque in Cape Town and one of the oldest in all of South Africa. There we met with members of the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum.
Dr. a Rashied Omar is the Chair of WDRLF and is the Imam at the mosque. In addition, he is professor of peace and reconciliation at Notre Dame University, teaching half year and supervising interns from Notre Dame in Cape Town the other half as they come from Notre Dame to do their experiential component of their learning.
We also met with Rev. John Oliver, an Anglican Priest in Cape Town, Mickey Glass, secretary of the organization, a Jewish lay person, and chair of the Tutu Foundation for Peace and Reconciliation.
I must admit, a highlight of the day for me was to meet Rev. Mpho Tutu (Daughter of Desmond and Leah Tutu and Executive Director of the Tutu Legacy Foundation). Desmond Tutu was the Archbishop of Cape Town during the fall of apartheid and received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work toward peace and reconciliation.
The morning was filled with presentations and information about inter-religious dialogue about the situation in South Africa. The leaders are actively engaged in the conversations with both government and with the people to address systemic issues that still are ongoing and unresolved since 1994, the end of apartheid.
The single largest area that they are working to rectify is “Right to Know” initiative. This initiative is focused in providing transparent and accurate information about any and all unlawful and abusive actions of those in positions of authority, government, police, corporations, and independent contractors who abuse their position for self-benefit.
They all noted that there are many good things that happen in the midst of inter-faith dialogue, however, there are many things that are difficult because of the continued believe that politics and religion don’t mix.
This is a primary question for their group as they consider the relationship between the church and the state. They have identified a third theology of Prophetic Theology where it is neither theology of the state or theology of the church but both working in conversation with one another…conversation partners if you will.
One of the key concepts that I thought compelling was the notion that the church needs to retain its independence in order to be authoritative. Once it loses its ability to remain independent, it like all other unjust systems, can be purchase for a price.
All agree that there must be accountability between faith, government and society.
Presently one of the primary issues that are practical in the townships is the issue of clean water. It does not exist.
The leaders say that conditions have improved in some instances since the fall of apartheid and in other instances not so much.
The main failure over the last 24 years has been the failure to educate the children.
The reason for the failure is mainly attributed to corruption.
There are too many issues to fight them all.
In the days since apartheid, the church has had to pick and choose it battles recognizing that to do nothing is not being faithful to try to do everything is unrealistic.
Rev. Tutu admitted that a lot of the problems are education based and said that is not about a lack of will…rather….is about lack of skill and that programs need to be developed to create greater wellbeing among the townships.
After our lunch at the mosque we headed to one of the townships , about thirty minutes outside of the city, in Khayelitsha. This was a striking contrast to the very privileged life that our group has been living since arriving.
The central issue being addressed in the townships presently is sanitation. One doesn’t even have to get out of the coach to begin to be affected by the smells of garbage and raw sewage that come from this area just a few minutes outside of Cape Town. Thousands and thousands of shacks the size of a lawnmower shed, no running water or electricity are just a few of the many maladies that plague these townships.
The sanitation is huge as there are no venues for clean water. Most of the homes do not have toilets and the port- o-potties line the streets but are not maintained. At night, because of the danger of gangs and other activities, people do not leave their homes to walk to the outdoor restrooms, sometimes 20 minutes away and consequently the bacteria builds up in catch pans and buckets until the waste is emptied. The same outdoor faucets where people draw water are the faucets where they wash their hands and clean out their buckets. Diarrhea, dysentery and a host of other e-coli supported diseases run rampant in these densely populated areas.
It was heartbreaking to see the living conditions and reminded me of my time working in the border areas in Mexico. I saw little difference…except it appeared much worse because of the closeness of the shacks and the sheer number of people living in the township.
It was very humbling to see the reality, to smell the reality…and in a way, even taste the reality that was all around us. We were guided on a walking tour by a number of students and activists working to promote clean water in the townships.
We left there and drove to a shelter that houses young girls who have been abandoned or have run away to the streets to get away from the life in the townships. The program is called Ons Plek and literally means, Our Place. It is the first female shelter of its kind in Cape Town and has been in existence since 1984.
Most of the girls have been abandoned, run away from home, are found wandering the streets, prostituting and engaged in other illicit activities. They are permitted to live at the shelter for many years if necessary. The hope is to provide them a safe place where they can have what they need to become a productive member of society.
Pam Anderson, the director, admits that there has been little change since the fall of apartheid in South Africa. She said “sure the people have rights but there has been no change otherwise.” She goes on to say, “In many cases it has gotten worse.”
Corruption is terrible among the police and there is an overwhelming sense of fear. Even her organization has fallen under scrutiny and pressure because they have exercised their voices in advocating for the girls.
The government has passed a law recently which was designed to give the girls rights and to provide for a system of protection from abuse, but the law is so biased toward the girls, that organizations have a difficult time providing services. If a girl doesn’t like something that she is being required to do, she now can file charges against the shelter.
Funding is diminishing for this work as the economy tanks.
Pam Anderson agreed that there have been many things that have remained unchanged after apartheid…education being one. She said, children are not being educated and there is absolutely no sense of responsibility or accountability on the part of the teachers.
When she was asked “Where is the hope?” she was only able to articulate that it is in the success stories of some of the girls that she has worked with over the last 25 years, helping them to make informed decisions and helping them to be able to survive and take responsibility for their own lives.
It has been a day of mixed emotions for me. I was hopeful as I visited with religious leaders who are working to bring about change by working as the liaison between the townships and the government. They all spoke of the good that was being done but the reality that there is so much to do.
But I have to be honest with you, I had a difficult time staring the reality in the face in the townships and feeling hopeful. I can’t imagine where to begin, where to help, how to even begin to approach one problem because there are so many.
All I know is fundamentally, ethically, morally there is nothing right about the situation that I saw today and no one…absolutely no one…should ever be forced to live in such conditions.
I pray for the leaders who are at work for the interest of the people. I pray for Pam as she, just one person, seeks to make a difference in a place where there has been historically a huge gap (that is, in the care for young women). I pray for the people who themselves are products of the townships who are now working for a greater good for their community. I pray for all the people of the townships that one day they too would be able to escape the captivity of they world in which the live and that they might be free of the oppressive systems that still continue to keep them marginalized.
So much more to say, but for now I will say good night.
Posted in Africa on October 17, 2012 by Father Jeff Bower
The winds have finally calmed down in Cape Town. Sometime during the night the winds stopped whistling and I woke to sunny skies and a gentle, almost unremarkable breeze.
After breakfast our group met and traveled to the Catholic Archdiocese of Cape Town. We met with the Viicar General of the Archdiocese and he is the chief liaison in South Africa between the Catholic Church and Parliament. He came with his staff to meet us and a number of graduate students who work daily with the task of helping to form policies and laws in South Africa. It is the voice of the church at its best and they are experts in their fields as they represent the voice of the people and work tireless to shape laws that are more just and equitable for all peoples of South Africa.
We were surprised when the Archbishop of Cape Town came in to meet us. We originally expected his visit with us to be cursory, but he entertained questions for nearly an hour. He shared with us about the important work that is being done by the Church and by ecumenical groups. Churches are very active in the work in South Africa. The problems are complex. There is overwhelming poverty in SA with nearly 75% of the people receiving some form of assistance.
He was candid in his remarks noting that there is much work to be done. An increasing tension is getting people to work together across race lines and while there have been some successes, there is much to do. The more rural areas continue to be very racially separated even yet. He noted the importance of ongoing communication and the importance of bringing people around a table to talk about the important issues that are before the country.
A lot of the work that is being done in the Archdiocese is specifically in research, finding the pulse of the people and responding in ways that bring about healing and reconciliation. He noted that many of the priests who are coming now to Cape Town must embrace an international understanding and be open and inclusive in their approach toward leadership.
He added, a lot is being done at the upper levels of the church but he admits there is still work to be done at the parish level and that it has been slow and difficult to bring about significant change. He did note that the church is working on issues around disclosure of police and military activity as there is tremendous secrecy and corruption among those who still hold positions of power and authority and the Roman Church in Cape Town has taken a stand against any withholding of information. He advocates for full disclosure and transparency to ensure that people are being treated fairly and that racial profiling does not continue.
Fr. Peter John Pearson works in the Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office and is the Vicar General. He and is staff are working on issues around poverty, education, immigration and a host of other things. They meet regularly with Parliament, recognizing that the government of the people by the people can only be maintained if the voices of the people are heard.
One of the big challenges is to identify the most pressing needs and then naming them.
One of the big problems that face SA is the problem of the increasing very wealthy and the increasing number of the very, very poor. There is little in between. Since apartheid, he admits the sense of classism has heightened as people’s socio-economic class continues to perpetuate the disparity among peoples…and while apartheid has officially been over for some 18 years, it still rears its face, paralleled with a growing consciousness of social class.
We continued on with our days activities, having lunch at the Eastern Food Bazaar and then shopped at some of the open outdoor markets.
Our afternoon was spent with Dr. Fanie DuToit, the leader of the Institute for Peace and Reconciliation. He, too, had two members of his staff, one who works primarily with the immigrant population of Zimbabwe and another who provides important data research and analysis of post-apartheid community wellness at the center.
Dr. DuToit spoke candidly about the work that is still left to do. He talked about the research that had been done that indicates that people are more conscious about class than race at this point. He talked about the Peace and Reconciliation Commission and its work and the IPR arose out of the PRC. He said that while there was a lot of good that came out of the commission, there was no way to affect a program in a two year period of time. Consequently, a lot of the things that were supposed to have happened never happened and there has been a growing skepticism among the people about this being a better way for them. In addition, the country has gotten more poor with every passing day.
The money to fund the work of the institute has historically come from other countries and from other non-profits, but unfortunately, the decline of the Euro and investments, etc. have led to a decline in what work can be done.
Studies show that there is a rise in classism here in Cape Town and people don’t readily identify with disparity in races but rather in class and blame the government for that.
One of the interesting comments that I took with me and that continues to resonate with me is the notion that we are called to be pilgrims, not settlers.
Pilgrims are on a journey, but when one becomes a settler one takes on an ethos of what is mine.
Pilgrims are in process moving toward something more than what can be seen before us. Pilgrims are looking for a greater possibility, a greater good, a more equitable existence for all.
It seems to me that a lot of what is working post-apartheid is led by this ethos. And for me this is a concept that is not just practical but deeply Christological, at the heart of who we are called to be as a Christian people.
The journey doesn’t stop for us at baptism, confirmation, or when we go through significant milestones in our life. Through Christ we are promised that there is so much more than this life yet in this life we are called to never give up, to continue to flourish, to always move to a greater possibility for ourselves and others. “I have done my work. It’s time for others to take up the slack. I am comfortable and content with my life and don’t desire to change,” are all thoughts that while they may be real and authentic are not particularly helpful when we talk about our lives in relation to God, in relation to our call and mission to serve. This is not a call that ever ends.
It was Ghandi who said that we must be the change that we hope for the world. That doesn’t happen if we are settlers but is lived out most clearly and most faithfully when we are pilgrims.
The journey is not over. Today offers a new day for us to be pilgrims in this vast world that is yet undiscovered. The potential for each of us to effect change is only limited by us.
We leave in just a few moments for an ecumenical gathering of leaders here in Cape Town at one of the oldest Mosques in all of South Africa. We have a full day so I will talk to you all tomorrow.
All is well and giving thanks for the blessings of this experience and for all of you.
Posted in Africa on October 16, 2012 by Father Jeff Bower
We gathered early on Monday morning and headed off to the waterfront in Cape Town. There was a lot of anticipation as one of the highlights of our journey to South Africa was to meet with Ahmed Kathrada.
Mr. Kathrada had been imprisoned with Nelson Mandela for 18 years at Robben Island and was one of eight prisoners segregated in insolation with Mandela. He is mentioned often in both autobiographies of Nelson Mandela, and much of Mandela’s “Reflections from Prison” captures the dialogue between these two great men.
I didn’t realize the impact of seeing him and hearing his story of what he endured during his 26 total years in prison. Today was the anniversary of his release from Robben Island. I asked him how it was for him coming back to Robben Island. He replied, “Today, it is my work. I come here often and will be back another two times this month.” (After the fall of apartheid it was he who established the museum at Robben Island and served as the chairman of the board of Robben Island for 8 years after his release).
He did add, however, upon his first return, he walked into his cell in disbelief and wept. He could not imagine that he had survived 18 years in a small cell, probably 8x8. “I never lost hope. I knew I could never lose hope. We were right and we knew, one day, we would prevail.”
He was an Indian and during the reign of apartheid he was one of the most significant voices for people of color. He was neither black nor white.
You see, apartheid was a government based politically and militarily enforced system of racial segregation of all races, categorizing all people into three categories, white, colored (including all people of ethnic origin other than black) and blacks.
Apartheid was truly a racial system that was rooted in an ethos of white supremacy. In Cape Town, immediately following WWII, the government was elected and systematically the people were assigned to townships. Children were separated from parents based on appearance and based on specifics of color. There were doors for whites and doors for non-whites. There were seats for white and non-white. There were areas where white lived and where non-whites lived. There were streets where white and non-white was specifically permitted. It was just as much a problem for whites as for non-whites. The races were absolutely forbidden to intermingle, all in a way to oppress and keep non-white people under the authority of the government.
Amazingly, approximately 4.5 million people (the white folk) controlled the lives and destinies of the other 19 million people.
Our trip to the Robben Island was a rocky one. The trip out was much better than the trip back to Cape Town. We ferried out at 9:00 after meeting up with Mr, Kathrada.
To stand in the presence of this man was truly a humbling and spiritual experience. He was filled with grace and gratitude to all of us for coming. We were told that he does not generally give tours of this nature, only to state officials. I felt honored.
When we got to the island we boarded a coach and were taken into the grounds of the compound to the maximum security prison. It is not a prison at this time and all of the prisoners who were there as political prisoners were released and those who were there for more serious crimes have been rehoused in other prisons after the fall of apartheid.
We first entered into the walled-in area of the courtyard where they would be permitted to be outside for a few minutes each day. We then were taken to the actual cell where Nelson Mandela lived for his entire time in captivity. (This area is not open to the general public). We were able to walk in and see the modest furnishings and the simple blanket and pillow that were given to him. There was no bed, no mattress, no running water or toilet. We filed in one at a time. Imagine an elevator with a maximum capacity of 6 people standing side by side and that was the space of this tiny cell.
From there we saw Mr. Kathrada’s cell and then on to the common area where he and the other seven politically ranked prisoners were isolated. They had a rec area, a small dining room, bathroom and shower facility at one end.
Each day they were given rations of food and received the same ration each day. He received more because he was a person of color and not black.
He explained that he was never physically beaten or tortured but the emotional and mental torture was ongoing and repetitious during his time there.
The purpose was to break their spirit. Only two of the eight of them were physically abused in any way, and one died as a result of his torture. Other prisoners he went on to say, were tortured and physically abused. Many died. It was very common to use electric shock during interrogations though he never experienced this.
As a political prisoner he was denied access to mail and to visits, regularly, however, it was possible for him to both send and receive mail and to have visits. When asked what he missed most when he was in prison, he simply said, “children.” I intuited that he saw in them a future and they kept his hope alive for change.
He had never married and was imprisoned from the age of 34. He was released 26 years later.
Much of his time in prison was spent on education and learning. He remembered part of his ability to stay sane was his ability to remember his childhood and to recite poems and sing songs of his childhood. He was thankful for that, but said, since his release, he is unable to recall any of them, noting, how amazing it is what one’s spirit is able to recall when suffering such isolation from the world around.
He was very close with the other seven with whom he was imprisoned. In fact, my Mandela writes that is difficult to consider his story apart from Mr. Kathrada’s. They are forever intwined.
They had a garden and he joked that they were able to smuggle hot chili pepper seeds in and he planted them. He said, “Chilis are important to we Indians, you know?” The Guard Tower looms above the area where they made their garden.
We then took a tour of the area around the prison where the Warders lived (the white wardens who worked at Robben Island). Non-whites were never permitted in this area. There other small prison units on the island as well as the facility where Kathrada had been imprisoned. In sum, approximately 1000+ people were held in prison on Robben Island. They intermingled the maximum security prisoners with political prisoners thinking that that would destroy the spirit of those who were politically motivated. Instead, it strengthened their cause and those who were housed on Robben Island for political reasons were able to recruit others to the cause.
Prisoners were also segregated on the island by color.
Robben Island also served as a colony for lepers and the Anglican Church was established there to care for them.
We visited a stone quarry where prisoners were given a small pick and made to bust up rocks into small pieces of gravel. There work was mindless and they were required to do this day in and out.
At that point we were told that the last ferry of the day was leaving the island and we would need to board at noon. The waves had surged to about 12 feet and more on the Atlantic. It made for an interesting ferry ride back to Cape Town ( 30 minutes later).
The afternoon was spent at the District 6 Museum (more on that later) and after arriving back at our hotel we had a brief period of worship and processing before dinner.
I ate at a fabulous Belgium restaurant with 5 of my friends from the group and returned back to the hotel at a decent hour for a good night’s rest.
Where was God present in my day?
I suppose he was most present in the spirit of Mr Kathrada who reminds us to never give up, to live into our divine cause and purpose and to seek in everyday to do our very best.
“Our hope is in the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” We must never lose hope.
Our lives should be centered in freedom. Jesus came that we might be free. There is nothing in this life that should ever keep us from that freedom or from entering into that cause for the sake of others. It is our highest mission in life…that is, setting the captive free.
When we free the oppressed we also free the oppressors.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Posted in Africa on October 15, 2012 by Father Jeff Bower
Yesterday was a full day. We had originally planned a day in the Townships around Cape Town. Apparently there has been some civil problems in the area where we were planning on worshipping and spending time. There have been strikes and fighting among unions for living wage and for unfair treatment of the people. Several were killed just this last week. We are still hoping that things settle and that we will be permitted to travel in that area later this week
That was the whole day as it was planned.
Instead, we all rose early and I led worship for our group. I wasn't scheduled until Tuesday but because of the problems with not being able to go to the townships we did not have worship planned for the morning and since I was ready to lead, I offered. It went very well!
We then had some time to see the marina and just walk along the shore line early in the morning. I ventured out early by myself (against the rules...I am such a rebel).
It is really beautiful in Cape Town. The flowers and foliage are lovely as they line the major walks and there are gardens everywhere.
I spent the morning walking behind a mini-marathon. I figured they knew where they were going and since there were lots of people I knew I would be safe.
I met up with some of my group members after worship and we headed back to the waterfront. Cape Town is on the Atlantic Ocean. The waves are large beating against the shore. The marina area is very busy and full of shops, restaurants and high-end hotels, most averaging well over $500 per night. My sense is that Cape Town is a different view of how most people live in South Africa. We shall see in the near future.
The area where we are located is down in a valley below the Table Mountain and Lion Head for those of you who want to go online and google those two, you should be able to see just exactly where we are.
We visited the historic area, parliament building and president's residence in Cape Town. We walked around the beautiful gardens that were founded by the Dutch (Cape Town itself was established by the Dutch as a major port hub).
I stood on the footsteps of St. George's Cathedral where Archbishop Desmond Tutu launched the historic walk against apartheid. I have some wonderful pictures of the cathedral.
We journeyed up the mountains and had an opportunity to get several thousand feet above Cape Town and look out over the city. It was a bit chilly with wind gusts from the Atlantic of about 70 miles an hour. Nonetheless, the view was breathtaking.
One really gets an idea of the size of the World Cup Colliseum that was built in 2010 for the soccer championships. It is to be torn down in 2020 and developed into new housing on the Atlantic. I'm told the people have never liked it because it complete obstructs the view of the ocean.
Today we are leaving in just a few minutes for Robben Island so I must end here and tell you all that things are going well and will look forward to reporting to you about today, later on. Today we will be with Ahmed Kathrada who was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela.
talk to you later,
Posted in Africa on October 13, 2012 by Father Jeff Bower
It was a long flight to Cape Town...from Amsterdam, an additional 11 hours. I couldn't sleep and watched meaningless movies the whole way.
The food was pretty good and the wine, Chilean...Terra Andian. I will have to look it up when I get back in the states.
All is well here. The hotel is lovely and our group is in good spirits.
We have had to adjust our schedule tomorrow because of some unrest in the townships surrounding Cape Town. I'm really okay with having a rather calm day of sight-seeing tomorrow.
I am limited to my wifi use so I will sign off here and get some rest, but wanted all of you to know that we are here.
The temperature is very similar to Indy weather...It is cool tonight in the mid 50s and supposedly has been raining some this week. It is the spring time here and things are mild.
Just talked with David and finally figured out my International plan...Did I say I'm not really techy...goes without saying!!!
Looking forward to sharing with you tomorrow. Until then, God's peace. JLB+
Posted in Africa on October 13, 2012 by Father Jeff Bower
We just landed in Amsterdam about an hour ago. It is now 2:15 your time. We will be leaving in about an hour for Cape Town...a 6 hour time differential.
All is going well though I must say the flight here...4,000 miles was rather painful...And that was the short leg of the trip. We will be in the air an additional 11 hours to Cape Town.
Our group is all here and we are ready to go.
The flight here was uneventful. The food was good and the entertainment was marginal at best. I watched the blockbuster smash hit...."Rock of Ages" with Julianne Hough and Tom Cruise. Oh my...I can't believe I just confessed watching that...What a piece of work!!!
I am keeping my energy up by drinking coffee and eating chocolate. So far, I haven't slept any since 5 AM yesterday morning. We get in at 9:35 PM tonight in Cape Town and we have a full day on Sunday.
I do hope that you will all give Fr. Steven a warm welcome. We are very fortunate to have him celebrating the next two weeks.
Well, I need to get packed up and ready to fly again.
I will look forward to posting more in the days ahead.
Have a wondeful day!!!
Posted in Africa on October 11, 2012 by Father Jeff Bower
DRAFT schedule (9/30/12)
October 12-24, 2012
Wabash Pastoral Leadership Program
Oct 12, Fri
9:45 am Arrive Crawfordsville (coffee and Danish in Trippet Hall) to drive to airport
Lunch at O’Hare
4:10 pm CST Depart Chicago on KLM Airlines
Oct 13, Sat
Arrive Cape Town and settle into Breakwater Lodge
Oct 14, Sun
Breakfast at hotel Worship: Eric
8:00 am Meet guide from church at hotel and depart for Guguletu township
9:00 am Arrive at JL Zwane Memorial Church
Dr. Swipo Xapile is pastor and our host. We will meet with leaders before worship
10:00 am Worship with the JL Zwane Memorial Church
Lunch Mzoli’s Restaurant in the township
Visit development center, JL Zwane Centre and tour the Guguletu township
Dinner Ocean Basket Restaurant at Victoria & Alfred Waterfront
Oct 15, Mon
Breakfast at hotel Worship: Tom B. & Melissa
Depart hotel to walk to ferry
9:00 Robben Island tour led by Ahmed Kathrada
Lunch Ahmed Kathrada will join us. We will walk to restaurant
- Dr. Mpho Tutu at Tutu Institute for Prayer and Pilgrimage
- Nomfundu Walaza at Tutu Peace Center
Dinner on our own in Waterfront restaurants, save receipts for reimbursement
Oct 16, Tues
Breakfast at hotel Worship: Ryan & Jeff
10:00 Fr. Peter John Pearson and Catholic Parliamentary Liaison Office
Noon Lunch at Eastern Food Bazaar, near museum
2:00 pm Dr. Fanie DuToit - Institute for Justice and Reconciliation
Dinner Waterfront area, on our own or together
Oct 17, Wed
Breakfast at hotel Worship: Kevin & David B.
9:00 am Depart hotel
9:30 am Interfaith meeting at Rashied Omar’s mosque with Western Cape Religious Leaders
Lunch At the mosque with our hosts
1:00 pm Depart mosque
1:30 pm Meet Axolile Notywala at Social Justice Coalition, who will lead us on a tour of
4:00/4:30 Ons Plek Projects, girls shelter partners of Global Ministries
Dinner in the waterfront area, on our own or together
Zionist groups worship. We may do this if we can find out any information about how and where from friends in South Africa.
Oct 18, Thurs
Breakfast at hotel Worship: Rebecca & Carey
10:00 to 10:45am Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgobo, Bishopscourt
12:00 Lunch at our hotel with Rachel Mash, Fikelela AIDS Project and Cheryl Bird, women’s desk, both part of the Anglican Diocese of Cape Town.
2:30 Depart for Stellenbosch
3:30 Faculty from Theology Department at University of Stellenbosch, possibilities:
Dr. Coenie Burger, former moderator of Dutch Reformed Church and faculty at Univ
Dinner in Stellenbosch then drive home.
Oct 19, Fri
Breakfast at hotel Worship: Wes & Tim
9:00 am Depart hotel
10:00 am Dr. Peter Storey meeting in Simon Town United Methodist Church
Noon Walk to lunch at Seaforth Restaurant with Dr. Storey and his spouse
1:00 pm Walk to Boulders Beach Penguin Sanctuary
2:30 pm Drive to Cape Point
3 to 4 pm Enjoy Cape Point.
4:00 pm Drive back to hotel
Oct 20, Sat
Breakfast at hotel Worship: Libby & Michael
Morning: Free time
Lunch on your own
Depart for airport for flight to Johannesburg
Arrive in Johannesburg
Lodging at Protea Hotel Balalaika Sandton
Dinner Hotel is in Sandton Square with many restaurants
Oct 21, Sun
Breakfast at hotel Worship: David N.
8:00 am Leave hotel for Johannesburg and Soweto tour
12:00 pm Worship at Regina Mundi
1:00 pm Lunch in Soweto
3:00 pm Mrs. Megan Baxter, director, Theological Education by Extension College
a partner of the UCCSA. Meeting at the hotel.
Dinner in Sandton Square, together or on our own
Oct 22, Mon
Breakfast at hotel Worship: Jason & Tom R.
Morning Meet with Bishop Kevin Dowling, Roman Catholic Diocese of Rustenberg
Arrive at Lakeside Lodge in Entabeni Safari Conservancy in the Waterberg region in time for a late lunch and afternoon tour.
Dinner Lakeside Lodge
Oct 23, Tues
Morning: Worship: Brent
One more morning tour in the park before breakfast
Breakfast Lakeside Lodge
Drive back to Johannesburg.
Arrive back at Sandton hotel between 1:00 and 2:00 pm where we can hang out (perhaps shower if needed) until we leave for the airport around 6:00 pm
Dinner at the airport
Depart for USA at 11:20 pm
Oct 24, Wed
2:10 CST Arrive in Chicago to be picked up by Wabash vans
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