Revisiting South Africa

I first came here in 2003 – on sabbatical from ministry in Northern Ireland. Many of us who were struggling to make an impact on the relentless sectarianism of Northern Ireland came to South Africa to get a flavour of what seemed to us like a miracle of reconciliation. And it was – I remember particularly driving around and listening to the talk radio. There was a sort of grace about it – something almost entirely absent in Northern Ireland. I remember deciding that I wouldn’t accept any more invitations to go on BBC’s Talkback. It didn’t seem to me to serve any purpose to provide a pretext for bitter phone-in comments and the unending cycles of what we came to call ‘Whataboutery’

This is my third visit – 21 years after the end of white minority rule. It takes a long time. As the plane dipped towards the runway in Capetown, it skimmed a small township/shanty town. Across the motorway outside the airport is the vast sprawl of Khayletsha township. I spent part of Holy Week there with Revd Rachel Mash whom I look forward to meeting next week at the Anglican Eco-Bishops Meeting in Hermanus – of which more later. I remember being moved by the experience of washing calloused black feet in pink plastic basins on Maundy Thursday. I drove back through miles of darkened township – following Rachel’s cheerful direction, ‘Just head towards the lights of the planes coming into the airport’

And I did until, with some relief I found the slip road back onto the motorway – leading back to relative security of the world I knew and away from human indignity the like of which I hadn’t seen before.

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