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.


  1. Hi David, Interested to read about your peregrinations, most recently in South Africa to talk about climate change. Why don’t all you primates issue a decree that all churches should have solar panels installed or be closed. Just think, all those south facing roofs! Powerful symbolic act in support of reducing carbon emissions while filling up the church coffers at the same time. Veritable win-win.
    Regards to Nick Holtam (my Lord of Salisbury)
    P.S. Don’t pass down to Diocesan Advisory boards for discussion. Just do on threat of excommunication!

    1. And ‘walk to church’ Sunday and clergy on bicycles – except in hilly parishes like Holy Trinity Joanmount. To be a bit more serious – it’s noticeable that in the SEC people coming to meetings in Edinburgh almost all come by public transport. And I think that rural broadband speed is actually a ‘green’ issue because of the potential for moving meetings on line

  2. N Ireland still hasn’t sorted out anything approaching “Truth and Reconciliation”. I look forward to reading about the rest of your trip!

    1. I think that part of the fascination of South Africa is that it manages to be both ‘good news and bad news’

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