A few days ago, my brother texted me: “Stop inviting people to the Lord! Let him also find a few … ” after I sent him screenshots of my convo with one of his high school friends. My brother is convinced that he will burst into flames if he steps into a church. The rest of the family secretly believes he’s going to become a priest.
Anyway, his homie is cool and clever, and he had very smoothly slid into my DMs, making contact on some, why don’t we have a drink together? He was in no way disrespectful, and there was no obvious chise at play, but this was all happening illicitly and there is some distant family connection, like our grandfathers are second cousins or something. The cherry on top is that this bra’s high school nickname was “The Devil”.
It just felt like modern-day glasie-glasie, like I would be inviting dark things into my life if I entertained this tomfoolery. Innocent or otherwise, the odds just weren’t in favour of his machinations, because I neatly nipped that shit in the bud with a bubbly invitation to come hang with me at St George’s Cathedral because #issatraphouse. He did not come.
I am Christian in the same way as I am coloured: historically. Both sets of my grandparents fit this mould. Given the evil machinations of our previous political administrations (colonial, settler and racial capitalism are regimes, not governments) and the terrible mental slavery that came with this, I recognise that many are politically and socially anxious about Christianity, just as they are uncomfortable with “coloured” etymology and ethnicity. I do not share this discomfort.
On Good Friday, I will be in Johannesburg, duk gevriet on hot cross buns and fish of all kinds (except pickled fish, gross) because this is a family (read: cultural) tradition, accompanying a religious event. Miss me with this whole “Christianity is not African” and “coloureds have no culture” talk because it has no basis in my life. Also, my mother will moer you.
My parents have worked hard to cultivate a pride of person and place in us, and with that comes being at peace with what history has thrust upon us, without our say in the matter. When I think of how they have protected my brother and me against unseen threats to our subconscious, in a global economic order that is decimating the power of people, across religions and races, I imagine Richard Williams, with his 78-page plan, taking Venus and Serena to the public tennis courts when they were four and five-and-a-half.
I am, however, African and Anglican by choice. The idea that Christianity has colonised African spirituality has very little traction with me, personally, in the here and now. I think “decolonise” has become such a buzzword that it is being meaninglessly lobbied around. I also think that African spirituality has many shapes and forms, and Credo Mutwa’s literature has been romanticised by his groupies as a bible for blacks. I can’t be nostalgic for spiritual deities or rites and rituals that are as foreign to me as Buddha.
What I am precious about, though, are baptisms, weddings and funerals. My granny used to look after me when I was a baby, when my grandpa was a priest in Alexandra township. That was in 1988, during the worst of the violence before the negotiated settlement. They took me everywhere with them so I directly attribute my strong political feelings to that period; I absorbed equal parts pain and joy in one of the most ravaged parts of the country at a critical moment in history.
I am also precious about my struggle credentials, and I will flex them in the face of any old-timer who tries to wys me. As a baby, I lived with my parents in a flat across from Khotso House in Johannesburg, the headquarters of the South African Council of Churches, which was bombed by Eugene de Kok for harbouring anti-apartheid groups. All the windows in our flat imploded but I slept through the bomb. War is a snooze fest as far as I’m concerned.
Now please riddle me this: many of our struggle heroes were manoeuvred into positions of power by machinations that we are not privy to, and the same can be said for those that history has not been as kind to.
Another distant family member, Robert McBride, whom I have never met, was an MK special operative, supposedly a sabotage specialist. Long story short, under murky orders, in a militant organisation that demanded absolute obedience and secrecy, he was ordered to plant a bomb at the Parade Hotel on Marine Parade. On June 14 1986, when the explosion ripped through the hotel’s two bars, one of which was a popular haunt for Durban’s police force, three people were killed and 89 others wounded. God bless their souls.
In retaliation, McBride was then tortured to within an inch of his life by the security forces. I’d say he got played. Wait. South Africa got played. I’d also say it’s some kind of serendipity that my first job was at the South African Human Rights Commission, giving research support to the portfolio of law enforcement and the prevention of torture.
McBride’s car bomb took lives, and nearly took his too. During his section 29 inquiry in 1997, he succinctly summed up South Africa in the 1980s: “It wasn’t exactly how we are sitting here, where there is no war going on outside.”
I lived through a bomb, I am never going to forget that I am a child of a dirty and degrading war, led by black people against white people, and history keeps reminding me that coloured people are the main losers of that war. I wish there was a way to remind white people of this when they try to destabilise our hard-earned peace.
I also wish I could remind all of these antagonisers, without making them scared, that they have no army. Anyways, political appointments in the chapter nine institutions get a lot of slack but in this case I am so proud of our political leaders for appointing McBride as head of the Independent Police Investigative Directorate. It felt like a big fat fuck you to the historical sabotage of African warriors by meddling boggarts.
I know what demons look like and I know how to deal with them. We may be better equipped to talk about mental illness and drug abuse and economic exploitation and and and, but sometimes shrouding things in magical realism makes it easier to deal with. Dumbledore said: “Always use the proper name for things. Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself.” But I have no qualms resorting to cognitive coping mechanisms as keep-calm tricks.
One of these tricks is going to church, one of the most powerful processing strategems in my power toolbox. This is where I do my best thinking, wearing my favourite clothes, surrounded by hopeful people. I usually go by myself, under no familial pressure, and I treat it like a date with destiny, to daydream in a safe space about the best possible outcomes imaginable.
After all this noise to get President Jacob Zuma to step down, I spent a lot of time thinking about why many privileged South Africans, of all races, would rather denounce and destabilise than develop. I suspect that either living a cosy life makes you lazy, or demons have infiltrated the public imagination. To protect the vibrancy of my own imagination, because that’s where all my power is, I made an executive decision to:
- Declare my privilege: I am incredibly blessed to have been raised in the church, by love. I know that many have not been as fortunate. I pray for your pain and joy.
- Avoid spirit thieves: jislaaik, people keep wanting to talk to me about how shit this country is. Please guys, there are direct flights to Australia. Unless your criticism is informed by either evidence or a desire to learn and fix, deliver me from evil kanallah.
- Interrogate the political foundations of my religious leaders and the religious foundations of my political leaders.
- Avoid evangelising at all costs, except by example. Joan Didion, one of my favourite journalists, has a collection of essays called We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live. I will never begrudge anyone their own story; strengthening plot points is my hobby, so holla if you need help. Also, can we get Drake to whisper sweet nothings into our media? I geddit I geddit, if it bleeds it leads but #MoreLife please.
- Work at sharing my spiritual and scientific training: deflect danger, call out kak and rally troops to protect and care. I have been in this game for years; it made me an animal.
- Stop rolling my eyes at interfaith initiatives: this is so hard; it’s honestly like the ubuntu of religion.
- Thank my professional mentors for their calm and composure: there’s something to be said for the fact that I started my career under the tutelage of a deeply spiritual human rights legal wizard and now find myself being counselled by a pro conflict mediator, trained in liberation theology.
- Only drink alcohol like a naughty Muslim: in a safe place, surrounded by people who love me — that is, won’t tell my parents. There is a direct connection between drug abuse, weak social bonds and mental illness.
- Popularise the progressive position of the denomination of Christianity that I belong to: it’s about damn time that the Church of England made up for the darkness it spread in the name of the Empire, and the Anglican Church of Southern Africa is a saving grace in a world where conservative African and American churches violently oppose same-sex marriage and gay clergy #loveyourworkbbz
- Shout from the rooftops of every Parliament, mosque and synagogue that I understand God to mean love, and that’s the beginning and end of all my machinations, Insha’Allah Ameen.