2022 08 14 Alan Storey
Prayer for Peace, Hope and Justice by Gilbert Lawrence.
Sometimes a single news story (Times Live 2022 08 10) lays bare the profound contrasts of our society. The type of contrasts that cause us to swing between hope and despair on a daily (sometimes hourly) basis in this country. I came across such a story this past week. A news story that exposes both the brutality and the beauty, the fear and courage, the desperation and inspiration of people within our society.
I invite you to read the story as you would read scripture: After reading it once through I invite you to read it again – this time pausing prayerfully to lovingly hold in your heart each person mentioned in the “text” – starting with Khayelitsha Site B residents…Eskom employees …Babalwa Mabuya and her five friends…gangsters…Somalian shopkeepers…ward councillor…acting general manager…community leaders…business forums…government…unemployed youth.
I further invite you to carry this story into your week. Prayerfully return to it on a daily basis. Asking what this “text” is inviting me to be and do in the world?
Last week we witnessed how Paul subversively impregnated his Colossians narrative with echoes from the past liberation movements of God, by using well known words and phrases aimed at jolting his audience’s memory. Artists have done this through the ages. Here is the example from the band Bright Blue and their song: Weeping (1987). If you listen to the recording you will hear the then banned ANC national anthem being played – an echoing melody line around 1:32 seconds into the song, subversively stating that there will only be peace when everyone is free… until then the fear, the fire and guns remain. This song escaped that paranoid censorship laws of the Apartheid regime and actually became No. 1 on Radio 5, an SABC station.
I knew a man who lived in fear
It was huge, it was angry, it was drawing near
Behind his house, a secret place
Was the shadow of the demon he could never face
He built a wall of steel and flame
And men with guns, to keep it tame
Then standing back, he made it plain
That the nightmare would never ever rise again
But the fear and the fire and the guns remain
It doesn’t matter now
It’s over anyhow
He tells the world that it’s sleeping
But as the night came ’round
I heard its lonely sound
It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping
It wasn’t roaring, it was weeping
And then one day the neighbours came
They were curious to know about the smoke and flame
They stood around outside the wall
But of course there was nothing to be heard at all
“My friends, ” he said, “We’ve reached our goal”
“The threat is under firm control”
“As long as peace and order reign”
“I’ll be damned if I can see a reason to explain”
“Why the fear and the fire and the guns remain”
The 28th July was Earth Overshoot Day – which marks the date in a year when humanity has used all the ecological resources that the earth regenerates during that entire year. Rose-Anne will be sharing more about this during today’s service. In this light please check out the exhibition at our space on the corner of Church and Burg Streets, which will take place between 4 August and 30 September.
A public storytelling and radical ‘an-archive’ on intangible ocean heritage, exhibits at the Zero Gallery, Cape Town in collaboration with EITZ.
“Our ocean is sacred, you can’t mine heaven” was a recent slogan seen on placards held by protestors against seismic surveys and ocean oil and gas exploration along the South African west and east coast.
Recent High Court judgments weighing in favour of small-scale fishers and communities over massive Oil and Gas companies, have sparked greater traction and public interest (and advocacy) against the rush for minerals and oil and gas in the sea, and has, in its own way, created a new public conversation around ocean heritages, cultures, and livelihoods that are deeply entangled and related to the Ocean.
This collaboratively curated exhibition is funded by EITZ, the One Ocean Hub’s Deep Fund and the National Arts Festival 2022. One Ocean Hub’s South African Country Director Dr. Dylan McGarry and senior researcher at the Environmental Learning Research Centre (ELRC) at the University currently known at Rhodes, has lead a team of cultural practitioners alongside Dr. Boudina McConnachie at the International Library of African Music (ILAM) to develop a multi-genre audio-visual storytelling project, which shares some of the rich cultural artefacts resurfacing (and in some cases emerging) as reflections of South African ocean culture. McGarry explains: “Some of the artwork in the exhibition were used as evidence alongside the rich affidavits and testimonies of Small Scale Fishers and customary rights holders in the court interdicts, thereby expanding the arguments against oil and gas exploration to go beyond positivist scientific debate, into socio-cultural discourse – this lead to new legal precedents, where judges recognised the Ocean as sacred to South Africans, with specific reference to the Ocean as the sacred realm of the ancestors”.
One of the stand-out pieces was the “The crocheted coral reef” installation created by the Woodstock Art Reef Project. This crochet coral reef took 12 years to create, and is an ongoing and expanding installation that is lovingly made by hundreds of citizens across South Africa. It is one of many satellite crochet coral reefs that adorn and warm up spaces around the world. The cosy reef coral holds powerful symbolism and figuration of solidarity in times of climate change. While coral bleaching due to ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures threatens the future of many ocean ecosystems, there are ecological citizens gathering around the world in solidarity.
Press Release: Our Ocean Is Sacred, You Can’t Mine Heaven
We are in the middle of a three week reflection on Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Last week we noted that every word of Paul subversively called the authority of the Roman Empire into question. At every corner Paul contested the empire’s narrative of reality. For Paul, the empire was a great pretender that needed to be exposed: The empire promised life but it delivered nothing but death. The Roman Empire, like all empires before and after, relied on military violence, heavy taxation (to pay for the military and create a landless underclass), the myth of divine favour (religion as good news for the rich), and a strict segregation of society into an oppressive hierarchy (a strategy of divide and conquer that was on endless repeat).
Paul penned his letter from a Roman jail. Yes, he was in detention without trial. This fact alone should prevent anybody ever reading this letter with a-political eyes. Paul was sitting in the belly of the beast when he wrote this letter. To ignore this context is to render his letter meaningless.
There are many well-known letters, books and diaries that have been written from within a prison cell or soon thereafter. To name three SA political prison memoirs: Hell-Hole Robben Island: Reminiscences of a Political Prisoner by Moses Dlamini; One Hundred and Seventeen Days: An Account of Confinement and Interrogation by Ruth First; There and Back: Robben Island 1964 – 1979 by Eddie Daniels.
Paul Gready, helps us tremendously in understanding the context of Prison-writer-Paul in his studies over many years regarding Writing as Resistance (Political Prison Writing in the Apartheid Era).
“The word is a weapon that both inflicts pain and secures power. Prisoners are relentlessly rewritten within the official ‘power of writing’, from interrogation and the making of a statement, through legislation and the political trial, to the regulations governing imprisonment. Within this process the prisoner’s sense of self and world is undermined, pain is made visible and objectified in writing and converted into state power. Language becomes subject to the dominant characteristics of the state: the lawlessness of absolute power renders the word a lie. However, the ‘power of writing’ is a contested arena. Prisoners write to restore a sense of self and world, to reclaim the ‘truth’ from the apartheid lie, to seek empowerment in an oppositional ‘power of writing’ by writing against the official text of imprisonment.” (P Gready: Journal for Southern African Studies, 1993, Vol 19(3) p 489-523)
Another SA political prison memoir is, The Jail Diary of Albie Sachs. Sachs was arrested on 1 October 1963, under Apartheid South Africa’s notorious Ninety Days Law. He was held without trial for 168 days and kept in solitary confinement. He recalls in the preface of his book, that as soon as he was released:
“…I wrote it all by hand, rapidly, in secret, and relied on friends to have it typed. The police were everywhere; we had to be careful, the typists as well as myself. This was the time when Nelson Mandela and others, including two friends of mine, were on trial for their lives. Our movement was being crushed. It was a bitter period, and writing was more than a release for me. It was the only joyous activity I could manage, an intimate form of clandestine resistance.”
I remember when I read Sachs’ book I could not stop thinking of him in solitary confinement and this context impregnated every word with arresting meaning. This is how we are called to read Colossians.