Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “culture”

Naked Racism

Someone posted this photo on Facebook with the caption: White South Africans leaving SARS offices after paying their taxes.

White South Africans leaving SARS offices after paying their taxes

White South Africans leaving SARS offices after paying their taxes

That’s a good example of the racism that still pervades our society, with whites demanding special privileges, and lower tax rates just because they are white. It reeks of the culture of entitlement.

This is far more evil and insidious than anything said by that Theunissen bloke or that estate agent auntie or that arrogant privileged student who bullied a waitress.

People like that make news headlines and spark waves of indignation, but stuff like this doesn’t because so many people think it is “normal”.

Ironically enough, the picture might have had a point under the old National Party government, where blacks and whites were taxed separately and at different rates. But since 1994 tax rates have been the same for people of all colours, both sexes, and any sexual or genderial orientation. So the picture is just a lament for lost white privilege, and demonstrates the truth of the saying that equality seems like oppression to those who previously benefited from oppression.

Just for the record: under the National Party government, blacks had a lower tax threshold than whites, and so poor blacks paid more tax than poor whites and so were forced to subsidise their own oppression. On the other hand, rich blacks paid less tax than rich whites — hence the appropriateness of the picture for that era.

Don’t be suckered into propagating this racist propaganda!

Google+ sowing confusion?

Someone posted this statement on Google+, which sounded to me rather like a justification for apartheid:

Children will be confused as long as they live in multiple cultures incoherent internally and disharmonious in such proximity with each other. Study after study says that the kind of diversity so many people believe strengthens group and makes them more tolerant has the opposite effect. More than that it dangerously undermines our sense of self.

I made a comment to that effect and referred to a post on my blog which gave a fuller explanation, Apartheid wasn’t so bad – historian | Khanya, in this passage in particular:

According to apartheid educationists (or pedagogicians, as they liked to call themselves) it was the “greatest possible injustice” for a child to be taught by someone of a different ethnic or cultural group. Think about that for a moment: “greatest possible”. You could starve a child, whip him, push burning cigarettes into her, lock him in a lightless cellar, make him slave in a mine or factory or farm at starvation wages, keep her as a sex slave, but none of those would be as great an injustice as being taught by a teacher of a different ethnic or cultural group.

But it seems that Google+ separated my comment from the text I was actually commenting on, and attached to to some other text I had not seen before, and which meant nothing to me, dropping the names of a lot of people I had never heard of.

I’m posting this on my blog, where I hope it won’t be messed up by Google*.

But now at the top of my blog I read this:

Tip: Connect to Google+: Increase your readers’ engagement with your content by connecting your Google+ profile and enable publicize for Google+ to share your posts to Google+.

So it looks like they want Google+ to mess up our blogs too, to cause even more miscommunication and misunderstanding!

Thanks but no thanks — when this is the kind of “engagement with my content” it produces:

Do you think it’s fair just to rattle off a brusque and exceptional comment like that, post a link to an article you wrote about an article someone else wrote about apartheid and … well, anyway, if you’d care to answer David or say something more, you’re welcome to. As it stands right now, and pardon my own boldness, your comment more resembles the tactic of some teenage boy trying to stir things up with a bit of pithy trolling.

— I’d rather keep Google+ as far away from my blog as possible!

Postscript – 23 Dec 2013

For more on the substantive issue, see my post on Apartheid and multicultural education.

This post is mainly about the role of Google+ in promoting misunderstanding.

I’ve now left Google+, and no one seems to have noticved except Google itself, which now nags me to join Google+ every time I log in to Gmail.


Brooklyn Mall — where shopping is a virtue

My wife spotted this advertisement for Brooklyn Mall in the local newspaper today, and we pondered on the slogan. Does it mean anything? Can it mean anything?

The only thing it conveys to me is that whoever wrote that slogan has a very twisted set of values.

I usually shop at Brooklyn Mall, which is 8km from where I live.

The reason I shop there is not that shopping is a virtue, but that it has most of the shops I am interested in, and it also has 2 hours free parking. Free parking is a virtue. Shopping is (sometimes) a necessity. One doesn’t make a virtue of necessity. The Brooklyn Mall web site, unlike their newspaper ads, at least displays their chief virtue.


There are other shopping centres that are about the same distance from us as Brooklyn Mall. I used to go to one of them regularly, but then they revamped their parking and started to charge for it, so you had to pay even if you visited one shop and found they didn’t have what you wanted. So I stopped going there, and began to go to Brooklyn Mall instead. And even when the original shopping centre reverted to free parking (perhaps others thought as I did, and they noticed the fall-off in custom), I kept going to Brooklyn Mall out of habit.

But that stupid slogan might make me change my habits.


Weird words: closure

I first learnt the meaning of the word “closure” as a student, in the context of student debates. When something was being discussed in a formal meeting, and a lot of people were repeating a lot of similar points, someone would say “I move closure”, and the chairman/speaker could put it to an immediate vote. If it was passed the chairman asked all those who wished to speak to raise their hands, and made a not of their names, and then no one else was allowed to speak. Closure meant that debate was closed.

More recently a new meaning has appeared.

When someone dies unexpectedly, and in an newsworthy manner, journalists ask how their family or friends how they feel, and they usually say, “We just want closure.”

This is duly reported by the media, and everyone seems to be satisfied.

If the bodies of those who were disappeared by the police during the apartheid era are recovered and reburied, journalists ask their family and friends how they feel, and they say “Now we have closure.”

This, too, is duly reported by the media, and everyone is satisfied.

I was never quite sure what this closure was, but clearly it was something people had or did not have when someone else had died.

Now here’s a new datum, which sets the cat among the pigeons: By Reader Request: Closure | Clarissa’s Blog: A reader asked the following question:

Is closure an American phenomenon? Do other cultures just say “piss off” and go on their merry ways?

And Blogger Clarissa replies that “closure” is indeed an American phenomenon, and is unknown in Russian or Ukrainian culture.

That leaves me wondering whether Ukrainian funerals are seen as an opportunity to tell the “dear departed” to “piss off”?

Whiteness revisited — Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl

I recently discovered a new academic discipline, or pseudo-discipline, called “Whiteness Studies”, through some friends who appear to take it seriously.

From what I’ve been able to see, it this discipline proposes to cure racism by encouraging racist thinking, which, it seems to me, is a bit like an alcoholic thinking that the cure for his craving is another drink.

If any of this interests you, I’ve written a series of four blog posts on it, here:

Comments welcome, there or here.

I thought I’d written enough on it, but someone posted something on Facebook that made me change my mind: Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa:

Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa

Male and female circumcision collide in Foreskin Man #3 when America’s most controversial superhero attempts a daring rescue in the jungles of Kenya.

That looks like a rather good candidate for #20 Being an expert on YOUR culture | Stuff White People Like, though with a somewhat different slant on it. That seems to be the essence of Whiteness, as defined by the American discipline of Whiteness Studies.

But I’m getting ahead of the story, which begins here, in a web article someone recommended to me, about Racism 2.0, which is the racism practised by white liberals in the USA Tim Wise | With Friends Like These, Who Needs Glenn Beck? Racism and White Privilege on the Liberal-Left. And, it seems to me, the comic book Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl Team Up to Battle Circumcision in Africa seems to be a good example of Racism 2.0 as practised by white liberals in America. The gallant white superhero, representing enlightened Western values, sets out to rescue the barbaric Africans from their darkness. The cover of the comic says it all.

One of the things that human beings seem to do a lot is modify their bodies. The way they do this varies with different cultures, and as time passes cultures change, and bodily modifications fall in and out of fashion. One such fashion in the USA has been male circumcision. Another, common in the Western world, has been female ear piercing, and in some sub-cultures in the West piercing other parts of the body and sticking safety pins and other objects in the holes. A southern African varient of earpearcing, about 70-80 years ago, involved putting wooden cotton reels in holes in one’s earlobes.

Other such practices are knocking out front teeth, tattooing, and lengthening necks and penises. In China there was the practice of foot-binding of girls, because small feet on women were fashionable.

Another thing about this is that bodily modifications that one culture regards as normal seem bizarre and barbaric to people from other cultures.

In the 19th and early 20th century Christian missionaries travelled from Western Europe and North America in large numbers to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people in other continents, and they came across many cultural practices that they found strange, and some that they found abhorrent. Among the ones they found abhorrent ones were foot-binding and female circumcision.

In China it was Christian missionaries who founded the Natural Foot Society, to discourage the practice of foot-binding. And in parts of Africa missionaries, who were associated with colonial governments, discouraged female circumcision. In Kenya, where, in the 1920s, all schools were controlled by various religious bodies, some missionaries, led by the Church of Scotland, insisted that all teachers in the schools should take an oath against female circumcision, which was practised by the Kikuyu (Agikuyu) people. This led to the formation of independent African-led educational associations, and eventually contributed to the establishment of the Orthodox Church in Kenya (see Orthodox mission in tropical Africa).

The policy of demanding oaths came back to bite the colonialist missionaries, however, when, about 20 years later, the Mau Mau movement began getting their members to take oaths to fight against the British colonial regime. Suddenly “oath-taking ceremonies” were made illegal, and suspicion that someone had participated in one became sufficient cause for detention without trial. All Kenyan Orthodox clergy were detained.

White Western secular liberals have often been quite vociferous in condemning the way in which Christian missionaries “destroy indigenous culture”, but are not averse to doing exactly the same thing when other people’s cultural values conflict with their own, and using neocolonial powers to put the squeeze on people who resist.

In a way, I can empathise with those who object to female circumcision. I can still recall the shock and revulsion I felt when I read about it as a teenage schoolboy in a book called Blanket boy’s moon by Peter Lanham and A.S. Mopeli-Paulus, which described the practice in Lesotho:

The first night of the (circumcision) school is known as the Marallo, the secret night. This night is spent outside the village in the dongas, where ritual dances are taught and new code names are given to the girls — so that they can afterwards challenge the claim of any woman who states that she is circumcised.

At Marallo, too, the Khokhobisa-tsoene, or “Hiding-of-the-monkey” is encompassed. The girls are cut with a blade in their outer sexual organs, and a flap of flesh is drawn down to cover that mischievous “monkey” which can be the source of much pleasure to uncircumcised girls. The performance of this rite tends to encourage chastity among the women, for a circumcised girl can know little of the joys and passions of physical love. During this ceremony when the blood flows from the wounded flesh, black magic medicine is rubbed in as a protection against bewitchment.

It can perhaps be said that the circumcision of women not only denies the girl great pleasure and joy in the sexual act, but must in consequence lessen the happiness and exaltation of the man, and thus shut out any upliftment of the spirit — lying with a woman, then, becomes a selfish rather than a mutual pleasure. Here in the very homeland, in this circumcision of women, lie the seeds of the physical love of man for man, which is brought to flower in the living conditions imposed on African mine workers by the white man.

As a schoolboy I found that more scary even than a description of a ritual murder elsewhere in the book.

But an interesting thing is that though the protest against the Protestant missionaries’ attempt to suppress female circumcision was one of the factors that helped the Orthodox Church to grow in Kenya, very few, if any, Orthodox Christians practise female circumcision today, not because of high-handed colonial or neocolonial suppression, but rather as a result of people seeing no need for it within a Christian worldview.

Western cultural imperialism hasn’t changed very much. Whether practised by Protestant missionaries or liberal secularists, it looks much the same. And I won’t say it doesn’t exist in South Africa. There are signs of it, for example when you get white suburbanites objecting to their black neighbours next door ritually sacrificing a goat, but generally I think white racism in South Africa takes different forms from that in North America. The North American version, with Foreskin Man going out to deal with the black savages in far-away places, is perhaps typical of the American version. And Foreskin Man doesn’t seem to be interested in rescuing the people his fellow-countrymen drop bombs on, in places like Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, where they lose a great deal more than their foreskins.

Apart from anything else, to me Foreskin Man and Vulva Girl sound utterly kitsch. But that’s probably just my cultural prejudice speaking.

A quick introduction to Russian culture

This week I scanned some photos of my first trip to Russia in 1995 into my computer, and posted some on Facebook, and thought I’d post some here too.

IL-62I flew from Johannesburg to Moscow on an Aeroflot Ilyushin IL62, an interesting experience. When I’d spend two years studying in the UK I returned in 1968 on a Vickers VC 10, and the two aircraft looked very similar. Both had four engines in the tail, and I was delighted to be able to fly in both.[1]

The flight, via Togo and Malta, lasted 17 hours, and my friend Andrei Kashinski met me at the airport with his friend Maxim Zapalski, who had a car, and, since it was my first visit to Moscow, they took me straight to Red Square. Andrei had arranged accommodation for me in the guest house of the Danilov Monastery, where he was supervisor of the rebuilding programme. He insisted on feeding me, though I had just had a substantial breakfast on the plane. He phoned another contact, an online friend Sergei Chapnin, who arranged for me at attend a youth conference at a parish in Klin, about 80 km north-west of Moscow along the St Petersburg road. The priest, would be coming to Moscow, and could give me a lift to Klin.

Kurenkov HomecomingSo back in the car with Andrei and Maxim, and they took me to a flat in a block in north-west Moscow. Guests were expected, but I was the unexpected guest, and the first to arrive. The flat was tiny, but crammed with books on every wall It turned out to be a welcoming party for Alexei Kurenkov, who had just returned on the plane from New York, where he was studying at St Vladimir’s seminary. And there was a fantastic feast — my third of the day, and though I had lost track of the time it felt like mid-morning. It was July, and I’d flown from winter to summer, from short days and long nights to long days and short nights.

So my first practical lesson in Russian culture was within an a couple of hours of arriving. Russians eat a lot, and you can’t visit a friend without being fed. My fellow blogger Clarissa describes this and other aspects of Russian culture in her blog Clarissa’s Blog: What You Need to Know About Your Russian-Speaking Friend:

A Russian-speaking party is very different from the Anglo-Saxon party, for example. For one, nobody stands while trying to balance the plate and the glass. Everybody sits around a big table. Regardless of the economic situation of your Russian-speaking hosts, food will be abundant and will consist of several courses with many food choices. Nobody will ever ask you eat off a paper plate and drink out of plastic cups. The table will be beautifully and properly laid, there will be beautiful table linens and dinnerware.

And that’s the truth. The more people you visit, the more you eat. If you visit a lot, you can end up having six or seven meals a day.

In South African culture, or should I say South African white urban culture, if you are going to drop in to see someone unexpectedly, you try to avoid doing so at meal times, so that your hosts don’t feel obliged to feed you. In Russia, there is no avoiding meal times, because meal times are whenever guests arrive.

It took me a little while to get used to this. I once made the mistake of thinking I could pop in to say hello to someone before jumping on the Metro to go to a service at a Cathedral. No chance of that. Fortunately the Cathedral was full and anyway in Orthodox services people arrive late all the time.

Rural black culture in South Africa is still a bit like that. You can drop in to say hello to someone and then when you want to go they say you must wait, because someone has gone out to catch a chicken to slaughter for a meal. The amazing thing (to me) about Russia is that that kind of attitude has persisted in urban culture, even in big cities like Moscow.


[1] The VC 10 and IL 62 were my favourite passenger aircraft, and here is a comparison:

The Il-62M had a dispatch rate with Aeroflot of 97% with some examples logging as many as 17 flight hrs/day, and it was described as the most reliable type in the fleet at that time (Gordon et al., 2004). It set several international records in its class, mostly exemplifying a range capability far in excess of the conservative Aeroflot calculations applied in Soviet times. Some of these records were set by an all-woman crew of five captained by Iraida (“Inna”) Vertiprahova. With 10 tonnes of freight, the Il-62M had a maximum range of 10,300 km compared to 9,412 km for the VC10 carrying the same weight. With a 23 tonne payload, the Il-62M range was 8000 km, compared to 6,920 km for a Boeing 707 with maximum payload.

Stereotypes of evil and menace

What do you consider the most powerful and scary stereotypes of evil in your society? In the West, perhaps “terrorist” and “serial killer” might spring to mind. In Africa, “witch” or “zombie”.

But if you want to find something pretty horrific, try Googling mom’s boyfriend or mum’s boyfriend. It seems to to be right up there with the others.

Hat-tip to The Western Confucian: Mom’s Boyfriend.

Have you seen my wife, Mr Jones?

I just watched on TV the last rescue worker who went to help the trapped Chilean miners being brought to the surface, and no doubt millions of other people were watching the same thing.

It reminded me of the Coalbrook mine disaster 50 years ago, when the attention of the nation, if not the world, was focused on the drama of attempts to rescue the more than 400 miners trapped by a rockfall in the Clydesdale colliery. It was pushed off the front-page news by the attempted assassination of Dr Verwoerd and the Sharpeville massacre a couple of months later.

And of course it also reminded me of one of the BeeGees’ best songs:

I keep straining my ears to hear a sound.
Maybe someone is digging underground,
or have they given up and all gone home to bed,
thinking those who once existed must be dead.

In South Africa, as I remember it, the news was full of the fate of the trapped miners, and the desperate attempts being made to rescue them, but unlike what happened in Chile, all rescue attempts failed. A contemporary issue of Time magazine came up with some aspects of the story that didn’t make the front pages in South Africa, where, at that stage in our history at least, mining and media interests were closely allied. SOUTH AFRICA: Delayed Reaction – TIME:

Like some modern Moloch, South Africa’s mining industry has long come to expect its regular sacrifice of human lives. And even though in good years South Africa has 15 times as many fatalities per ton of coal mined as the U.S., the fact that most miners are black men has kept the subject from becoming too important in South Africa. But three weeks after the Coalbrook rockfall entombed 411 blacks and six whites in the worst mining disaster in the nation’s history (TIME, Feb. 1), the Union finally was working up a real case of public indignation.

And the Time article goes on to say

For South Africans one awkward test of compassion still remained. A relief fund for the survivors had climbed past the $300,000 mark. In South Africa there is no racial equality even in death; compensation laws grant a white miner’s wife a pension for life of up to $93 a month. But a Bantu widow gets only a lump sum payment, which, if prudently invested, would give a return calculated at $9 a month. At week’s end keepers of the fund were trying to decide whether or not to apply a similar ratio (Time, Monday, Feb. 22, 1960).

Society has changed for the better since then — or has it?

The media tell us of the huge international effort that went into saving the trapped miners in Chile. But there has been very little publicity given to the question of who pays for it. The answer is, no doubt, that the bulk of it will be paid by the taxpayers of Chile and the other countries that helped.

And that leads to two further thoughts.

First, I wonder about the people who begrudge the spending of any taxpayers’ money on things like health care. Are they fuming? Are they throwing things at their TV screens in indignation of this massive instance of “armed robbery”? Yes, that’s what some American ideologists call it — the money used to rescue the miners, they firmly believe, was taken from them at gunpoint.

And secondly, when all these huge international resources are concentrated on rescuing 35 miners in Chile, even more resources are being expended on sending drones to kill 35 villagers in Pakistan.

In the words of another song, almost contemporary with the BeeGees’ one, “It’s a strange strange world we live in, Master Jack.”[1]


[1] Dave Marks, who wrote Master Jack, was a real-life miner, and the song is said to have come from his experiences when working on the mines.

On not knowing the plot

About thirty years ago, on a 400km drive home to Melmoth in Zululand from Pretoria, I listened to tapes of lectures by Bishop Michael Marshall, then Bishop of Woolwich in England, who had visited Pretoria a couple of years earlier and spoken at a conference there. He described taking his nephew and niece to see Jesus Christ, Superstar, and was surprised to discover that they did not know the plot.

By now his nephew and niece have grown up, and probably have children of their own, and they too have probably lost the plot, or probably grew up with even less chance of knowing it.

And now another Anglican bishop, Bishop Alan of Buckingham, describes the same phenomenon in his blog Bishop Alan’s Blog: Bible and Culture 101:

Back in the 1960’s school RE was boring and worthy but predictable, and largely based on the Bible. You might decide it was a load of old tosh, but at least you ended up able to understand Shakespeare’s Hamlet or Milton’s Paradise Lost. The past becomes a completely foreign country, however, when a society obsessed with the latest of everything loses touch with its own roots, and compromises its own corporate memory.

At the age of 11 I went to high school, having grown up in an agnostic/atheist home, but I think I at least would have known the plot of Jesus Christ, Superstar, since when I was about 5 or 6 my mother had given me a book of Bible stories (by Enid Blyton, of all people), Before I go to sleep. I had never been to church, and probably knew more about Islam than I did about Christianity (from another book, King of the wind). I knew something about Ramadan, I’d never heard of Lent.

So I landed up in this church school where the maths teacher was given the task of teaching “Scripture”. He handled that by getting the class to read aloud in turn from the Bible, starting with Genesis 1, while he got on with marking homework, or setting exam papers and things like that. It was a special school edition of the Bible that we had been issued with, which omitted things like the genealogies, and probably had been bowdlerised in other ways too. I found the stories interesting, and began reading ahead, and surprised my parents by asking for a Bible for my birthday, and had read it twice by the time I was 15, the second time with the “Apocrypha”.

Then this morning (hat-tip to the Not-so-young Fogey) I read this — Orwell’s Picnic ~: Saving the World With Classical Grammar:

The Restoration is not only a matter of politics, or even education qua education. It is an essential re-construction of ruined thought. Imagine Western Civilization not as a set of buildings, or precious cultural artifacts like the Mass (if we may be somewhat impersonal and irreligious for a moment), or the Divine Office, or legally indissoluble natural marriage, or even any philosophical school. Imagine it is a larger thing than that; it is a framework for our thought, our creative efforts. Imagine it is the structure that makes something like Chartres or Salisbury Cathedral possible. The container for the idea of Chartres, without which no Chartres could be conceived.

And I realised that I have very ambivalent feelings about this. I was brought up to regard “Western Civilization” with something like contempt. That was because in South Africa the self-appointed guardians of “Western Civilization” were trying to implement the evil and anti-Christian policy of apartheid and being exposed to their prolonged and insidious propaganda meant that I came to think of “Western Civilization” itself as something evil and anti-Christian.

I’ve also been reading quite a lot about the Restoration over the last couple of years (Pepys’s diaries, etc). As a child I was a natural monarchist, and so I thought the Restoration was a good thing. But its main benefits seem to have been bawdy theatre and the king’s numerous mistresses. The present-day Anglican squabbles about bishops who leave their wives and live with their homosexual lovers seem quite mild by comparison.

In the same vein, I’ve always thought that democracy was a good thing. One of the results of democracy in South Africa is that we have freedom of the press, and so corruption in government isn’t covered up as it used to be in the apartheid days. And so freedom of the press means that the newspapers are filled with political sleaze, and who is promiscuously jumping into bed with whom, sexually, politically and above all, financially. But as bad and boring as it is, I think the Restoration could have shown our politicians a thing or two.

But to get back to the Bible and culture, and especially the literature part of it, someone asked me to be a friend on Good Reads this morning, and I went to the page where one compares one’s taste in reading with someone else’s and I saw that I had given Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey four stars. It’s another book that I’ve recently re-read after a long interval. I first read it as an undergraduate as an English I set book, and I thought it was merely OK. The trouble is that it is a satire on Gothic novels, and I hadn’t read any Gothic novels, so I couldn’t really appreciate the satire.

I’ve now read a few Gothic novels, starting with Maturin’s Melmoth the wanderer, mainly because I once lived in Melmoth (see above) and was curious about the origin of the name. Yes, I knew the town was named after Sir Melmoth Osborne (the the car registration letters are NO, the O standing for Osborne) but I wondered why his parents had called him that. But my education was incomplete until I had read The castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole, which is generally agreed to be the first Gothic novel, and the start of the genre that Jane Austen was satirising. The result is that I now have a new appreciation for Northanger Abbey, far more than I ever did as an undergraduate.

And as The castle of Ortranto and The mysteries of Udolpho are to Northanger Abbey so the Bible is to a great deal of Western literature, even modern literature, and even literature written by people who weren’t especially Christian. James Joyce’s Ulysses is full of biblical allusions, and consider this little poem from Samuel Beckett’s Watt (which, interestingly enough, has been censored from the current in-print editions, and therefore worth reproducing here for that reason alone)

But what is this, so high, so white
And what is this, so black, so low
Burning, burning, burning bright
Quenched long ago, cold long ago?
It is a duck, a duck, a duck;
An old East India runner duck,
On a mat, a mat, a mat,
A hairy mat, a hairy mat,
Oh ancient mat! O hairy mat,
Oh high white brightly burning duck,
Cush’s stones are crying yet
Forth from the wall to Habakkuk,
And from the wood the answering beam
Cries yet of the appointed time
Still tarrying and of old resolves
Of wind, and sand, and evening wolves.

Secularists, and some others, fear the influence of the Bible, and say it has no place in schools or in general culture, because it belongs to “religion”, and religion must be set apart and cordoned off and confined to the “private” sphere. “Religion” and “privacy” are distincly “modern” conceptions, and I have reservations about the value of modernity, similar to those I have about “Western civilization”. Actually they are linked, because Western civilization gave birth to modernity.

It was interesting, therefore, to see how this worked out in Orthodox civilization (which Samuel Huntington saw as quite distinct from Western civilization). While doing research in Russia for my doctoral thesis on Orthodox mission methods I asked people about the revival of Orthodoxy and the fall of Bolshevism, and many people told me a similar story. The Bolsheviks were secularists, and they wanted to abolish religion altogether, or at the very least confine it and quarantine it in the “private” sphere. But they were sufficiently Russian to allow people to read the great works of Russian literature, many of which, however, were imbued with an Orthodox “fronima”, a mindset, a set of presuppositions. So “Holy Russia” survived in literature, and as an ideal, and people read this literature and became curious about the thinking and the ethos behind it, and wanted to learn more. And in Brezhnev’s time, when Bolshevism was dull and boring and conservative and stick in the mud, the thirst for something more interesting and more exciting grew and so Bolshevism was overthrown. One of my interlocutors said that he thought that this showed that the best method of re-evangelising Russia was to promote “Orthodox Christian culture”. I’m not so sure about that. In the late-Bolshevik period it was the only accessible alternative to Bolshevism, but since the fall of the Communist Party from power Russia had been flooded with all kinds of literature and culture from all over the world, and so the choice is not so simple any more.

Now this, of course, is the secularist’s nightmare, and shows the danger of letting religion get a toehold in the culture after all their strenuous efforts to sideline it. And I find myself out of sympathy with them, but equally out of sympathy with those who want to identify the Christian faith with the culture so completely, and use arguments like those about Chartres Cathedral that I quoted above. I quite like Harvey Cox’s distinction between secularisation and secularism. I tend to favour secularisation, because, like it or not, there is a distinction between the church and the world, and I’m aware of those who see religion as so entangled with secular culture that they see other religions as an insult to their culture (some have called this “Christendom”). Secularism, however, is an ideology, and a rather narrow-minded and bigoted one at that, which sees anyreligion as an insult to its culture.

The Coded Message of the Vuvuzela

Some love them, some hate them, but the 2010 soccer World Cup will probably be remembered as the World Cup that introduced the vuvuzela to the world. Our daughter, who used to be a crazy soccer fan before she went to study in Greece, watched the opening match, when South Africa drew against Mexico, and phoned afterwards to say she wanted a vuvuzela. We sent her one. She also thought it would be a useful thing for when her neighbours hold rowdy parties that go on till 4:00 am — if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

But my blogging friend and former colleague at the University of South Africa Missiology Department has looked below the surface, to discover the unsuspected depths — Tinyiko Sam Maluleke’s Blog: The Coded Message of the Vuvuzela:

The sooner we will wake up to the fact that the Vuvuzela sound depicts a refusal by the working classes to entertain the middle and upper classes, the better. Vuvuzela blowing denotes a refusal not an inability to sing. It is an option for harmonic noise of a special kind rather than harmonic music of the familiar kind. It is assertiveness designed to impact and to solicit reaction – even if that reaction is the insertion of ear plugs, the switching of TV channels, or the technological and artificial screening out of the Vuvuzela sound during match broadcasts.

And now we are on the brink of the do-or-die match against France. If Bafana Bafana don’t win convincingly, it’s our last match of this World Cup. And it’s rather sad to see how negative the media have been about it — reporting that World Cup merchandise hasn’t been selling so well since South Africa lost to Uruguay (who were aided by the ref and the linesman). The reason for the drop-off in the sale of merchandise is more easily explained by the fact that the competition is nearly halfway through, and those who were going to buy green-haired leopard dolls and the like have probably bought them all already. But if Serbia could beat Germany after losing to Ghana, surely South Africa can beat France.

And then there is the makarapa, the decorated miners’ helmets popularised by Kaizer Chiefs and Orlando Pirates fans. If anything, they are even more a working-class symbol than the vuvuzela. I wonder if Tinyiko will decode the message of that?

Eighteen years ago we went to the unrevamped Socceer City stadium (without the fancy roof it has now) to watch Kaizer Chiefs play Crystal Palace, and Orlando Pirates played Mbabane Highlanders. It was the first international club match since South Africa had been readmitted to international football, so we were sporting Chiefs fan kit, yellow flags and caps (not the hard hats, though). And we found ourselves sitting among the Pirates supporters on the opposite side of the stadium. It would be unwise to sit there wearing Chiefs colours the following week, when there was a derby between the two. In the Crystal Palace beat Kaizer Chiefs 3-2, and the Bucs beat the Highlanders.

There were no vuvuzelas then, and the makarapas were just plain old miners’ helmets and as it got dark, we could see the Chiefs supporters, on the other side of the stadium, turning on the headlamps, quite an impressive sight. We also did quite a lot of passive smoking, as the ganja fumes wafted among the spectators. I wonder if that happened at the World Cup, and if the suppliers paid advertising fees to FIFA?

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