Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “healing”

Book projects nearing completion

I’ve been trying to get a lot of stuff finished before Holy Week, and going on holiday in Bright (Easter) week.

One of the projects at last nearing completion is the book African initiatives in healing ministry, which I’ve been working on for more than 10 years, and my coauthors have been working on for considerably longer. I’ve just signed off the final page proofs, and the book should be available in the next couple of months.

The core of the book is a study of healing ministry in four churches in Zimbabwe, one Anglican, one Roman Catholic, and two African Independent Churches, each of which has developed a slightly different response to health and healing.

As if to emphasise the urgency of this, someone I knew died of Aids last week. But he would not face up to the fact of his illness, and insisted that someone had been trying to poison him. His mother persuaded him to visit a sangoma, and to stop taking antiretrovirals, and to take traditional medicine instead. A bad decision, but for which he might have been alive today. This is one of the important health and healing issues in Africa today, and to grapple with it we need to understand attitudes to health and healing in Africa, and also the different Christian responses, and the attitudes that lie behind those responses. Hence the need for the research that led to the publication of this book.

Another task was the final indexing and proof-reading of the doctoral thesis of my colleague in ministry, Fr Athanasius Akunda, with whom I’ll be serving at the Good Friday liturgies later today.

(This is a post I tried to post here yesterday, but kept getting “Illegal date/time format” messages, so posted it on my Khanyablog instead).

Muti murders and ritual killing

The Daily Dispatch has a good article on the growing number of muti and ritual murders.

Daily Dispatch Online:

THE use of human body parts for medicinal purposes – “muti”, derived from the word meaning tree – is based in the belief that it is possible to appropriate the life force of one person through its literal consumption of another. Medicine, or muti, murder appears in several countries across Africa, with ethnographic evidence going back to the early nineteenth century in South Africa. Research indicates that an estimated 80 percent of South Africans regularly use traditional herbs and medicines for muti.

Not all traditional healers make use of human body parts as an ingredient in their medicines, but those who do place an “order” with a person hired for this specialist purpose. The orders include private parts, tongues, hands, heads, eyes and lips which are used to ensure economic prosperity, sexual potency and to promote romantic matters amongst others.

These are the type of self-centred motives that leads to murder.

The use of human body matter does, however, not always involve killing. F or example, a living person’s nail clippings or hair cuttings may secretly be collected by a jealous neighbour or friend and used in potions targeted against that person. Body parts can also be harvested from corpses, with mortuary workers and hospital staff implicated in this aspect of the trade.

Lest this be thought to be a problem related only to African culture and African traditional medicine, the following report indicates that Western medicine also suffers from this kind of abuse:

News – Crime & Courts: Spotlight on organ transplant scandal:

A decision is to be made this week on who is to be prosecuted in the alleged international kidney transplant trafficking scandal which allegedly involved St Augustine s Hospital and eight KwaZulu-Natal doctors specialists and staff.

And a decision will also be made on what the proposed charges ‘the participants’ should respond to said Advocate Robin Palmer a law professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal who has been called in to prosecute the case.

Charges were provisionally withdrawn two years ago against the doctors and Netcare transplant unit staff to allow the State time for further investigations.

Harvesting organs in this manner, whether for African traditional medicine or Western scientific medicine, turns healing into a zero-sum game, in which the health of one person can only be improved at the cost of the health of another.

Circumcision and Aids

clipped from

Circumcision is a cultural practice and should not be used as a preventative measure in the fight against HIV-Aids, Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang said yesterday.

It had therefore sought to discuss the matter with traditional leaders to “inform and enlighten all concerned”.

Tshabalala-Msimang told traditional leaders and healers that cultural practices should not be used for “purposes other than those for which they were meant for at the beginning”, her department said in a statement.

“She also called on all role-players to guard against sending confusing messages that would encourage people to get circumcised with the hope of not getting HIV infected,” it said.

The minister again called on traditional leaders to “assert their role” in the fight against HIV-Aids.

blog it

The Minister’s ideas on what should and should not be used in the fight against HIV/Aids have been pretty weird in the past. Circumcision has been practiced for various reasons, and male circumcision has often been practised because it was believed to be “healthy”, though this is in itself a cultural belief.

One of the problems with using it in the fight against HIV/Aids is that it is believed to reduce the incidence of male infection, though does nothing to reduce the spread of infection from infected males. Thus circumcision could in fact encourage male promiscuity (because males think they are “safe”) and do nothing to stop the general spread.

Entities in the land of echoes

I recently finished reading an interesting novel, Land of echoes by Daniel Hecht. It is a kind of ghost story, based on beliefs of the Navajo people in the south-western USA.

One thing I found strange and rather off-putting, however, was that the author kept referring to the ghost as an “entity”. It seemed an odd sort of word to use in the context of the story. Apart from its use by database fundis, I’ve only seen “entity” used with such frequency in American atheist polemics. I wonder if “entity” has a meaning in American English that it doesn’t have elsewhere.

One of the things I found interesting about the book, however, was that the plot revolves around possession by an ancestral spirit, the Navajo term for which is chindi.

At the moment I’m busy editing a book that deals with similar phenomena in Zimbabwe, where Shona-speaking people are often troubled by ngozi spirits. These are angry or vengeful spirits with a grudge, and could include the spirit of a murdered person, the spirit of a servant who was not paid, or the spirit of a relative who had been wronged, such as a mother who had been wronged by her children or a husband or wife who died unhappy.

This is not confined to Zimbabwe, however. A few months ago a woman I know told me of her half-sister and her daughter who were murdered by burglars who broke into their house. A few weeks later one of the murderers confessed to her, saying he could not sleep because the spirit of the murdered woman was haunting him, and she went to the police and the four murderers were arrested.

The parallels go even further, however. The book is a study of Christian healing ministries in Zimbabwe. One Christian healer in particular uses methods very similar to those of traditional (pagan) healers, and also very similar to those described in Land of echoes. This is the method of reverse possession, where the healer allows herself to become possessed by the spirit that is afflicting the victim, and the victim’s family then engage in dialogue with the spirit (now inhabiting the healer). When the healer “returns” from this state, she offers prayers, but has to be told what happened while she was under the influence of the ngozi spirit.

While many Christian healers, especially those in African independent churches, have ways of dealing with the various kinds of evil spirits that people in local cultures believe in, very few seem to adopt this method of dealing with them.

I won’t say too much about Hecht’s novel, as I don’t want to include spoilers for those who haven’t read it. I found it improved towards the end. At the beginning, apart from the strange and frequent use of “entity”, I was also put off by something that had annoyed me about The da Vinci code — supposed experts who seemed remarkably ignorant of their own supposed field of expertise. In this case it was a parapsychologist who seemed to be ignorant of the phenomenon of “possession”. But once those hurdles were over, it was quite an interesting story.

I’d be interested in knowing of any other instances of Christian healing ministries dealing with the same phenomenon, and how they deal with it.


The legislature of Mpumalanga Province in South Africa has recently published a draft bill for the suppression of witchcraft (and witch hunts).

Witch hunting has been a serious problem in South Africa in recent years, though Limpopo province has probably been more affected than Mpumalanga. Phillip Pare posted the text of the draft bill in the Christianity and Society discussion forum, and I thought it might be worth posting it here too. While witch hunting has been a serious problem, I’m not sure that this is the right way of dealing with it. It is already an offence, under national legislation, to accuse someone of being a witch, and to assault anyone or damage their property, whether one has accused them of being a witch or not. The main difference this will make, if passed in the present form, would be to try to regulate traditional healers in the same way as practitioners of Western medicine are regulated. Traditional premodern society meets bureaucracy.

I have a theory that the prevalence of witchhunting is partly the encounter between premodernity and modernity in any case. The proposed bill seems to be “hair of the dog that bit you.”

Sorry if the formatting looks weird. I tried to get it right, but I’m not sure if I succeeded.


To provide for the suppression of witchcraft in the province, to set the code of Conduct for Traditional Healers, to provide for the responsibilities of Traditional leaders and to provide for matters incidental thereto.


WHEREAS Chapter 2 of the Constitution recognizes Human rights for all.,

WHEREAS the Traditional Customs must be transformed to be in line with Constitution.

WHEREAS the Traditional Leaders must promote goodwell, Democratic Governance within their Communities.

AND WHEREAS traditional leaders must strive to enhance tradition and culture in a way that is consistent with applicable laws of the Republic of South Africa.

BE IT THEREFORE ENACTED by the Provincial Legislature of the Province of Mpumalanga, as follows:



“Constitution” means the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.

“Igedla” means a person who knows and uses muti either to cure, protect from evil spirits, etc or to cause damage, suffering, harm etc. without ukuthwasa and does not foretell the future as an inyanga

“Inkosi” means a traditional leader-

(a) underwhose authority , or within whose area of jurisdiction Traditional leaders exercise authority in accordance with Customary law, and

(b) recognized as such in terms of the Traditional leadership and Governance Framework Act 2003 (Act.No. 41 of 2003).

“Inyanga” means a person who uses muti to cause harm, damage, suffering, bad luck, cure diseases, protect from evil spirits and uses mixtures shells, coins, bones,etc. to foretell the future of people, identify witches, perform spells for good and or evil purposes.

Kuthwasa” means a special training undergone by Inyanga which teaches the inyanga about muti, ukuphengula (foretelling) and sometimes to train other new inyanga. This training can be done through disappearance under water (river/sea) for a long time or by attending the residence of the Inyanga that trains other inyangas.

“Muti” means any mixture of herbs, water, wollen cufs etc, used by wizards, igedla, inyanga, African Churches, Foreign traditional Healers, etc for the purposes of curing deseases, helping others who come to consult to them for whatever purposes and including causing harm to others or their properties.

“Province” means the Province of Mpumalanga.

“Spells” means a form of words used as magical charm or incantation used by Wizards.

“Traditional leader” means any person who, in terms of customary law of the traditional community concerned, holds a traditional leadership position, and is recognized in terms of the Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Act, 2003.

“Umhlahlo” means a gathering of families or persons with the approval of the Traditional Leader or King at the place of an Inyanga with the purpose of identifying another as witch by the Inyanga, irrespective of whether the gathering is voluntary or involuntary “Umkhaya” has a corresponding meaning.

“Witchcraft” means the secret use of muti, , spells, spirits, magic powders, water, mixtures, etc, by any person with the purpose of causing harm, damage, sickness to others or their property.

“Wizard”means any person who secretly solicit or uses muti, , spells, spirits, magic powders, water, mixtures, baboons, etc. for the purposes of causing harm, damage or suffering to another.



2(1) No person shall point, imply or direct that any body practices witchcraft or has been bewitched by anybody.

(2) The King or Traditional Leader shall promote good neighbourhood amongst his or her subjects,

(3) The King or Traditional Leader shall in promoting good neighborhood amongst subjects, advice:

(a) any person who is of the opinion that his or rights are being violated to:

(i) report the matter to the King or Traditional leader of the offence by the other person,

(ii) Call upon all parties involved to give evidence of the nature of the allegations by the other party and the plaintiff to defend her/himself in a form of a trial,

(iii) be available on the request by the King or Traditional Leader when trying the case.

(b) If for any other reason the aggrieved party is not satisfied by the ruling of the king or Traditional Leader, he or she may:

(i) open a case with the SAPS on the alleged violation of his or her rights, or

(ii seek recourse from a Court of law of the Republic of south Africa under whose jurisdiction he or she falls.



3 It shall be the responsibility of any traditional leader to:

(1) Issue permits of practice to traditional healers who are registered with the Traditional Healers Association.

(2) keep a register of all practicing traditional Healers under his jurisdiction.

(3) Prohibit, in consultation with the Association,’ any person from practicing, who is found to be breaking the code of conduct of traditional healers or any laws applicable to the Republic of South Africa.

(4) Discourage any members of the community from obtaining permission to conduct umhlahlo.

(5) Prohibit the holding of Umhlahlo within his area of jurisdiction.

(6) Prohibit and not entertain any group of people alleging witchcraft and who request the chasing away of any person or family from the community who is alleged to be practicing witchcraft.

(7) Report to authorities, any person known to be breaking the provisions of this Bill.



4 Any person who is currently practicing or wishes to practice as a traditional healer shall:-

(1) Register with the Traditional Healers Association within his area of operation;

(2) Ensure that his or her name is kept in the register of the Traditional leader for people practicing as Traditional healers in his area of jurisdiction; and

(3) On the registration form must indicate at least tree areas of specialty of his or her practice.



5 Traditional Healers shall in abiding by the Code of Conduct:

(1) Promote the harmonious living environment for their clients.

(2) Co-operate in the open and in a manner that indicates professionalism through:-

(a) abiding by the rules and regulations of the Association;

(b) keeping a register or inventory of all medicines or muti he/she uses;

(c) clearly marking the muti and it’s purpose;(d) permitting unscheduled and scheduled searches by authorities through the Association to inspect and verify the muti so kept and any other related matters’;

(e) signing a code of conduct with the Association not to use any prohibited substances and or any human tissue as defined in the Human Tissues Act;

(f) prescribing muti for curing purposes and not for killing purposes, causing damage or harm to another nor help any person with regard to the killing, causing damage or harm others;

(g) reporting anyone soliciting human tissues or selling them; and

(h) co-operate with Police on any investigation.

(3) If the traditional healer is also an Inyanga, he or she shall not:-

(a) Point any person as a witch;

(b) Involve himself or herself in or prophesy any need for ritual killing;

(c) Provide help to anyone bringing or soliciting the use of human tissue for muti purposes; and

(d) Perform umhlahlo with the purpose of identifying any person as a witch or wizard



6 Any person who conducts himself in the manner below shall be guilty of an offence:-

1 (a) Imputes to any other person the causing, by supernatural means, of any disease in or injury or damage to any person or thing, or who names or indicates any other person as a wizard;

(b) In circumstances indicating that he professes or pretends to use any supernatural power, witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or disappointment of any person or thing to any other person;

(c) Employs or solicits any witchdoctor, witch-finder or any other person to name or indicate any person as a wizard;

(d) Professes a knowledge of witchcraft, or the use of charms, advises any person how to bewitch, injure or damage any person or thing, or supplies any person with any pretended means of witchcraft;

(e) On the advice of any inyanga, witch-finder or other person or on the ground of any pretended knowledge of witchcraft, uses or causes to be put into operational any means or process which, in accordance with such advice or his own belief, is calculated to injure or damage any person or thing; and

(f) For gain pretends to exercise or use any supernatural powers, witchcraft, sorcery or enchantment.


9 (1) This Act is called The Mpumalanga Witchcraft suppression Act and comes into operation on a date fixed by the Premier by proclamation in the Provincial Gazette

Harry Potter fans might be riled by the definition of “wizard”. I think Kim Paffenroth and others might be interested in the reference to zombies (though zombies are not defined).

The Bill also refers to African Churches, and since the Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and All Africa is the original African Church, having been established by St Mark the Evangelist in AD 42, I wonder if the oil used in Holy Unction counts as “muti”, and would have to be registered in terms of the Act if it becomes law in its present form?

Traditional healers, Western medicine and HIV/Aids

About 8 months ago I attended a conference on HIV/Aids (see Notes from underground: HIV, Aids etc). It was organised by the South African HIV Clinicians Society for religious leaders, and there were people from various religious backgrounds there — Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, neopagan, paleopagan (the last also represented by a bloke who was trained in both traditional and Western medicine).

One of the problems mentioned by the speakers at the conference was that people with HIV/Aids sometimes consult religious healers who tell them that they have been cured. They do feel better, so they stop taking antiretroviral drugs, and then they begin to feel worse again. The speakers emphasised the point that doing this diminishes the effectiveness of antiretroviral drugs, not only for that patient, but for others as well, as the HI virus builds up resistance to the drugs.

But now other things amanzi: madness has posted on another aspect of the relationship between HIV and religious healers that was not mentioned at the conference — the belief, propagated by some sangomas (witchdoctors) that sexual intercourse with a virgin will cure Aids, and notes that there seems to be a conspiracy of silence about this belief.

Health and healing – private profit from public misery

Pickled Bushman reviews Michael Moore’s latest documentary: Sicko (or American refugees in Cuba) showing the ravages wrought by the privatisation mania on the American health-care system, which has slipped from being among the best in the world to 32nd place, just above Slovenia.

The same thing has struck South Africa, since neoliberalism took off in the Reagan/Thatcher years.

Actually the problem is not so much privatisation as commercialisation. One of the things that caused a huge slide in South African health-care services was the nationalisation of all church hospitals in the “homelands” in 1973. This has been documented by Dr Darryl Hackland, who had been Medical Superintendent of Bethesda Hospital (Methodist) in Zululand, and after it was nationalised became a senior official in the KwaZulu Department of Health. The church hospitals were run by “private enterprise”, but the difference was that they were not run for profit.

In the 1980s there was a reprivatisation of health services, but this did not take place in the poorer areas of the country, but in the rich ones. The government at the time (under PW Botha) followed the Reagan/Thatcher ideology, and encouraged the formation of commercial clinics, in which doctors owned shares. It was privatisation for profit.

Medical Aid schemes have been infected as well. They were formerly socialist bodies, owned and run by their members, as a form of mutual aid. Now many of them are owned by outside shareholders. They no longer speak of members, but “customers”. They no longer provide health care, but “products”. They advertise, and refer to themselves as “financial services providers”. Beware of any “financial services provider” that tries to sell you a “product”. Whenever anyone uses the term “product” for a service, financial or otherwise, it is a pretty sure indication that they are simply out to rip you off. They offer “rewards”, like club memberships, and cards that give you discounts in stores — but be sure of one thing, you are paying for these things, even if you don’t use them, and what these frivolities mean is that you get less health care for your money, because your money is being wasted on advertising and promotion and putting money into the pockets of shareholders.

The ANC when it came to power in 1994 has basically continued the policies of the National Party under PW Botha. There have been ritual pronouncements to placate their alliance partners, like Cosatu, but basically nothing has changed.

One thing they could do, for a start, would be to set up a tax structure so that not-for-profit mutual Medical Aid schemes are not taxed, and that commercial ones, making profits for outside shareholders, and ones that run superfluous “incentive” schemes not related to their core business are also taxed. (The same should be done for mutual building societies and life assurance providers.)

Also, “faith-based” and other non-profit private health service providers should be encouraged in a similar way.

I can’t speak for other faiths, but from a Christian point of view, Jesus sent out his disciples to preach and to heal, and said “Freely ye have received, freely give.” Before 1973, when the provincial governments subsidised church hopspitals, they got a better service for their money than they did when the central government nationalised the services, and then later devolved them to the “homeland” governments. Why? Because Christian doctors and nurses went to work in those hospitals, not for the sake of financial gain, but because of a desire to obey the command of Jesus to “heal the sick”. When the government took them over, they found it difficult to get staff willing to work in the mainly rural areas where the church hospitals were to be found, and resorted to using army conscript medical students. Secular doctors were out for money, and only wanted to work in the big cities, where they could specialise in the diseases of the rich.

Doctors in private practice did, of course, have to charge fees in order to make a living. Even healers have to eat. But when they worked on their own, or in small partnerships, they could treat the poor and needy for reduced fees, or even, in hard cases, waive the fees altogether. Where, however, they work for clinics run as for-profit companies, this is much more difficult when the fees are paid to the company, and every reduction of fees for poor patient means a reduced profit for the shareholders.

The Orthodox Church has several saints who were medical doctors, and known as “anargyri” (silverless ones), usually translated into English as “unmercentary doctors”. Among them are three pairs of brothers called Cosmas and Damian, perhaps because the later ones consciously followed the example of the earlier ones.

Until now the ANC government has done little more than try to force mercenary doctors, clinics and medical aid scemes to serve the poor. But it might do better to encourage the unmercenary ones, for example by differential taxes, as suggested above.

HIV, Aids etc

Yesterday I went to a day-long seminar on HIV and Aids.

It was organised by the HIV Clinicians Society, and it was intended for HIV clinicans and religious leaders, and there were a couple of hundred people there. I won’t try to summarise the proceedings, but a few points might be worth mentioning.

The first speaker was Clem Sunter, who is a motivational goal-setting bloke, and had just returned from helping the Chinese to beef up their economy. So he was dealing with the question of why it was necessary to have such a seminar. One of the questions he asks in these exercises is “What has changed in the last 5-10 years, and what hasn’t changed?” And in this case he noted the following:

  • People are dying. The death rate, especially among people aged 25-35, has risen dramatically.
  • More people are infected
  • There are more players in the game, including the government
  • There have been advances in drugs, including triple-drug therapy
  • There is little change in prevention

Professor Des Martin spoke on transmission and testing, from the clinical point of view — what is known about how HIV is transmitted, the progression of the disease, and advances in testing. Professor Rachel Jewkes spoke on transmission from an epidemiological point of view. Zackie Achmat, the flamboyant Aids activist, gave another motivational presentation from a somewhat different point of view. And so it went.

Speaking for myself, I found it useful to catch up. Some things had not changed — there seems to be little known about transmission that was not known 5-10 years ago. What has changed quite dramatically is methods of treatment. Dr Leon Levin, a paediatrician, spoke on treatment of children with HIV/Aids. Most of the children with HIV infection would die in 4-8 years if untreated. Many people asked if there was therefore any point in treating such children, if they were going to die anyway. He said that in his clinical practice he had seen dramatic improvement in the health and quality of life of children after treatment.

All the medical speakers emphasised this point. There is no cure for Aids, just as there is no cure for diabetes, or high blood pressure or heart disease. Those who have the disease will have to continue treatment for life. If they stop their medication, the disease will return, and they will die. But the record of treatment for HIV/Aids is much better than that for other chronic diseases. It is more effective than the drugs used for treating heart disease, blood pressure etc.

I found the most useful part of the seminar the factual and scientific information given. When it got on to the role of religious groups, it tended to get fuzzy. Trying to say things that are acceptable or applicable or all religious groups tends to make those things vague and ineffectual. It might be better to disseminate the facts, and then let each religious group to work out for itself how it will interpret and apply the facts.

But there are some questions that one can ask about Aids and its social impact.

One was highlighted the very next day, when there was a news report about a doctor who was facing disciplinary action from a medical body for listing Aids as a cause of death on a death certificate, on the grounds that this was an invasion of the privacy of the patients, and threatened the confidentiality of the doctor-patient relationship.

That seems a strange kind of reasoning, as surely the same would apply to any other cause of death. If it is such a threat to privacy and patient confidentiality, then surely no causes of death should be recorded on any death certificates at all.

There are several good reasons for recording the cause of death on death certificates: to see if death was caused by foul play, to see what is statistically responsible for most deaths, which can guide efforts aimed at prevention or cure — should we concentrate our efforts on reducing deaths from road accidents, or snake bites, for example. Which kills more people — shark bites or mosquito bites?

The other thing is that at this Aids seminar, and in many other similar seminars, people have urged that the stigma must be removed from Aids. But surely keeping it off death certificates is one thing that perpetuates the stigma. When medical people speak with two voices, one urging the removal of the stigma, and the other urging its retention, to the extent of prosecuting those who list it as a cause of death, there will never be concerted action against this epidemic.

American elections

In reply to a comment on the US Congressional elections by golodhwgwath over on LiveJournal someone (non-American) commented that they now hoped that the US Congress would now tell the President that they money he wanted to spwnd on wars and bombs they were going to spend on hospitals and education.

My reply was:

Seconded, from another non-American.

One of the things I find quite bewildering, reading stuff on the net, is the number of Americans who claim to be Christians, and yet are prepared to argue vehemently, and indeed self-righteously, about how positively immoral it is to spend money on healing the sick, and yet believe it is quite moral to spend that money on fragmentation bombs to shred little children to pieces.

And they urge their fellow Christians, as Christians to vote for politicians who promise to do those things.

It’s a strange, strange world we live in, Master Jack!

This is a reply to a post in LiveJournal.

I tried to reply in the LiveJournal comments, but kept getting this message:

Gateway Timeout
The following error occurred:

A gateway timeout occurred. The server is unreachable. Retry the request.
Please contact the administrator.

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.

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