Truth, reconciliation and healing
I finally got the book, Namibia by Bishop Colin Winter, via Amazon. It seemed new, seemed new though I had paid $1.14 for it (postage and packing was about 10 times that).
I had not really known that the book existed at all until I saw it mentioned in the bibliography of Buys and Kritzinger’s book on the history of the church in South West Africa – the Kritzinger in question being Dons. But the fact that they knew of Winter’s book and cited it makes their playing down of the persecution of the church by the South African government between 1960 and 1990 inexcusable. Colin Winter did not mince words, he told exactly what went on, and Buys and Kritzinger diluted it and covered up the persecution.
The book is not in the Unisa library, perhaps because it was banned at the time it was published, but it is one that should be there now. Maybe someone had told me about the book, but it had not registered with me, perhaps because it was banned, and so I am reading it as something new and fresh 29 years after it was published — and when I went to Namibia and met Bishop Colin Winter for the first time I was 28 years old, so that makes it feel rather strange to read it.
Of course Colin Winter’s style makes it a frustrating book to use as a historical source. He is great at conveying atmosphere, and has many vivid descriptions, but the chronology is all over the place, and some incidents are conflated. It’s written more like a gospel than anything else, with pericopes where you have to try and work out the sitz im leben.
That’s one of the things that make it interesting.
I’m reading it a bit like the people who read the first written gospels, 30 years after the fact. I read about events that I witnessed at first hand, while Colin Winter writes about them by hearsay, what he heard from others. Many, of course, are things that he witnessed at first hand, and I heard about from him or others. And if I write my Namibian memoirs, perhaps they will differ from his book as much as, or more than, the gospels differ from each other.
The vivid descriptions, of course, are part of the fund-raising style. The Anglican Diocese of Namibia was always poor, always asking for help from overseas donors, and so much of the description is aimed at getting people in other places praying and paying. But it’s not just that. Colin Winter had a genuine love of people, and that comes across in the book. He has harsh criticism for the political system of apartheid and its cruelty, but when it comes to individuals, one can see the Christian love of enemies. He rarely has anything bad to say about anyone.
Yesterday I went to a symposium at the University of South Africa on religion and reconciliation, to celebrate the 75th birthday of retired Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu. Much of it dealt with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which Bishop Tutu chaired.
Piet Meiring and Tinyiko Maluleke spoke about the role of faith communities in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The idea to have groups in the TRC hearings was a late innovation. It was originally intended only for individual perpetrators and victims. But it was the faityh communities that acknowledged their failures to oppose the partheid system. Other groups of civil society, such as business and the media, were only concerned to exonerate themselves.
The TRC did not really concern itself much with human rights abuses in Namibia. But given South Africa’s involvement in Namibia up to 1990, they are closely linked.
And eventually, perhaps, the cover-ups and papering over the cracks in these two books will need to be confessed. Buys and Kritzinger play down the persecution, and try to pretend that it did not happen, and so events are disjointed and inexplicable. Winter makes no secret of the persecution, but fails to set it in its context, and at times it seems that it just happened, and no one was responsible.
Many people mentioned that the youth of today are not interested in that sort of thing. That is for the old people to sort out. But Bishop Desmond Tutu, addressed some of his remarks to the students watching from the galleries, and said we need to know where we have come from when we try to see where we should be going.
And having seen Namibia, I think the full story has yet to be told.