Thursday 14 April 2016

"Crossing to the other side" - A Lusaka Sabbath

I write these reflections conscious that tomorrow, Friday, is the 20th anniversary of the first hearing of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission—a pilgrimage that sought to take our country from despair to hope.

My Sabbath.
This political, social, spiritual and physical “pilgrimage” by South Africans has not been without success but has also had its thorns. I sometimes read extracts from the five volumes of the TRC report in my boardroom at Bishopscourt and shiver at what it revealed. I still pray and yearn for a tsunami of truth-telling in South Africa and globally, especially in the light of the socio-economic challenges we face and the revelations of the Panama Papers.

We have blue skies in Lusaka today. The Eucharist was optional this morning and a few of us whose spirituality is nurtured by daily Mass braved it to the early service. After breakfast I bid farewell to Louisa Mojela, one of our Southern African reps and a great supporter of our Province and Communion. She has a bereavement and then her 60th birthday. Members of the ACC are on sabbath, taking varied “pilgrimages” to game parks and the city. Some remained at the hotel to rest or take a different kind of sabbath.

For mine, I take a lone pilgrimage to Roma village and primary school near Lusaka to see the house used by a liberation movement that was bombed. James, my taxi driver, says that when he was in his teens, Roma used to have lots of Catholic priests. If you have ever been to Roma, you will easily identify the green trees and some hills. We then proceed to Mtendere compound, a township, to see house C271 on a street where respected liberation leaders lived—including, I was told, Thabo Mbeki.
A different Lusaka.

Here I saw and smelled a different Lusaka from the one I am staying in, one no different to the squalor of Alexandra township, Johannesburg, where I grew up. The structural inequality contradicts the meaning of “Mtendere”, which is translated as “peace”. Mtendere is anything but peace. James ducked and dived to avoid reckless drivers on non-existent roads, and at Kalingalinga on Thabo Mbeki Road, an assertive driver almost forced him into bags of charcoal for sale on the pavements. There are neither proper roads nor drainage and as we drove in, stagnant dirty water characterises the muddy roads. It gives me a sense of what Mark's Gospel describes as “crossing to the other side”.

Crossing back into the leafy parts of Lusaka after my short visit to Mtendere, I return to leafy Kabulonga. At C271, now a crowded preschool. I pose for pictures and then head back. Kabulonga has new houses, James comments: there were bushes there, he says, not long ago, but the face of Lusaka is rapidly changing. I pass Hero's Square, State House, seat of the president, and return to my room.

Over lunch I spend an hour with Archbishop Deng of Sudan and South Sudan. He stayed behind because he departs tonight. We journey into his soul—it feels as if he is passing on the baton to a new representative of our continent on the Standing Committee, which is an enormous ask. We get deep into Communion dynamics, growing pains, east, west, north, south and the internal pushes and pulls. He is a wise man. He is however worried about the thin line onto which we hang as Communion. He pleads for courage, honesty and transparency by all entrusted with leadership. He calls for each one in the north, the south and particularity the west to have a big heart. I feel his anxiety and concerns.

This evokes feelings in my heart of our struggle and how God finally liberated us from the bondage of apartheid and colonialism, and how God continues to call each of us here to do more not only for South Africans but with others. So the oneness of Communion is a gift for all Christians and all beyond the Christian world. We need more than “Anglicanism” and “Instruments of Communion”, we need faith in the God who liberates and who sends us back to Mtendere to help it “cross over” from squalor to the abundant life promised to us all.

For me, today can be described as a day of tensions, contrasts, continuity and discontinuities, past and future, leafy and muddy, crossing over, big and small, a lone pilgrimage and group pilgrimages as well as work and sabbath. I end the day hearing how others found their journeys, even if they were in a group, and then with a meeting of the resolutions committee again. May the 20th anniversary of the TRC remind us all that the truth will set us free.

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