Saturday, September 29, 2007

Not a Sex Shop

Jenny and I visited Ronnie’s Sex Shop.
Situated between Ladysmith and Barrydale, it draws on average 200 customers a day. If you walk through the door you will see my business card pasted prominently at eye level in front of you. Ronnie was only too happy to welcome us and sell us his wares.

You see...this is not a sex shop.
Ronnie owned a derelict building in the middle of nowhere, which was humorously painted “Ronnie’s Shop”. One weekend while he was away someone inserted the word “sex” into the sign, and an instant landmark was provided. After enduring 18 months of people stopping to take pictures, Ronnie was persuaded by his friends to capitalise on the potential customers. So he opened a pub. And ever since then his customers have supported him: some buy drinks, some take photographs, and more than one has hung her bra from the rafters or written his greetings on the walls.

And Ronnie is Lord of his Manor. He presides over his pub: listening to sad tales, understanding life’s mistakes, and dispensing wisdom. He also offers advice on local accommodation and opinions on everything. Come to think of it, Ronnie's occupation is really no different to mine. Most people want someone to point out their significance and to give them courage to continue living. The one freedom that I envy Ronnie – is the freedom to speak his mind. I am often constrained by the limits imposed by Church bureaucrats. Perhaps it is time for me to open my own pub.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Not a Dried Fruit Shop

Drive through Calitzdorp towards Cape Town and you will see Elnatan Dried fruit stall at the side of the road. It is filled with every sort of dried fruit product - even some with a layer of yoghurt, or chocolate. The best part of this experience is the manager - Ursula - who encourages you to taste the products before buying. And we did: taste and buy.

But this is not just another Dried Fruit Shop.
We discovered that this was an outlet for a job-creation project being run by Ursula and Klaus Triebe. They are Swiss, and came to South Africa in response to a call from God on their lives. Arriving in Calitzdorp (which is just a rural main road and a collection of poverty stricken hovels allocated to so called "Coloured" people) they chose to live in the coloured section of dorp and work alongside the poorest of the poor. Ursula began a pre-school in a tent on a nearby farm. And speaks of her satisfaction at seeing her first preschoolers top of the Grade Five class in the local school. Her husband taught local people construction skills and together they built a factory to dry local fruit. Now they sell the fruit from the shop.

They have also initiated a bridge-building exercise between the white and "coloured" members of the dorp. And now the white Dutch-Reformed Church members physically work alongside the "coloured" DRC members in improving their homes from one-roomed hovels to decent houses. Here are a couple who have put their faith into action.

I am tired of missionaries who arrive in South Africa to plant yet another church - as if we need more churches! I am tired of how these foreign missionaries seem to need to plant their churches in areas that are accessable to wealth. And for this reason I salute Klaus and Ursula: they have chosen to live and work amongst the poorest of the poor.

So the next time you drive through Calitzdorp - stop at the dried fruit shop on the Cape Town side of the town. It is far more than a dried fruit shop.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Storm

It was way past black - it was now a gey green with menace.
This was the mother of all storms, complete with lightening, thunder and lots of rain.

Jenny and I had pottered around Graaff-Reinet in the morning, then visited the Valley of Desolation. And it got hotter and hotter. Until we spotted little fluffy clouds collecting on the horison. "This is a thunderstorm" I said to her, as we decided to leave town.

We headed south to Aberdeen, where we admired the leaning church spire. We were ahead of the rapidly gathering clouds, and I was confident that we would reach Willowmore ahead of the storm. The wind pushed us along merrily - but my merriness vanished when I glanced at the fuel guage. I had thought that there was enough to get us through, but the little bars on the guage were dropping faster that I wanted. Until I could not take the tension of calculating "Bars vs Km" any more, and decided to turn back to Aberdeen: 40 km back along the road, into the approaching storm.

We scooted into Aberdeen in time to put in petrol (I had 4 litres left in the tank) and settle at a table at the coffee shop. The heavens opened, and rain and little bits of hail fell. So Jenny and I unpacked our rain gear: We each wear yellow jackets scrounged from roadworkers attire, and black waterproof pants from the hiking shop. And we got back onto the road south to Willowmore.

Only this time the storm was between us and our destination. Amazing black and purple couds. And curtains of rain falling in pockets to the ground. And sheets of water lying on the parched earth. And lightening striking the ground in great zig-zags of brilliance.

And us on a motorcycle.
It was awesome!

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

People of my Country

Today we got to meet three people.
We travelled 400km from Zastron to Graaff-Reinet. Blue sky from horison to horison. And grassed plains. And long open roads with very little traffic. Jenny saw an owl, a monkey, a springbok, and plenty of meercats. I saw the road. But the richness of the day lay with three people:

Aunty B runs the internet access in Zastron. She arrived in Zastron with her daughter, who works for emergency services - having previously accompanied her daughter to Hobhouse and Coloclan. Born in Austria, she is now 68 and planning her next big adventure: quadbiking. She and three school-friends are planning to ride around South Africa on quadbikes. They will do this when they turn 70, so are enthusiastically planning their trip.

We stopped at Middleburg for coffee on the Main Rd. out of town. A brand new coffee shop, with a cool stoep for shelter. And a friendly 17yr old Grade 11 student who served us. She was not only enthusiastic and keen to sell us more than we needed to eat, but is planning her adventure. She will join three of her friends in December in a cycle ride to Cape Town. A 970km ride to raise funds for a school vehicle. She is at the Afrikaans High School, which is 70% black. Her joy at planning this project was infectious.

Supper at the Spur in Graaff-Reinet. And assisted in our meal choices by Esmerelda who admitted to having had a hectic long weekend with the Harley-Davidson Ralley here in town. But she was cheerful, and readily assisted us with a lovely smile. She is also planning an adventure: in December she will give birth to a child. A new life, within a mother who radiates a zest for life.

And I am inspired by my fellow citizens. I am able to believe in the future, and find joy in living in the present. Pray for us all, that we might live life with joyful abandonment to the will of God.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007


24th September is a National Holiday known as Heritage Day. A day intended as a celebration of our diversity - and a healing of our past division. And Jenny and I rode through the middle of our country's history.

We rode from Clarens to Zastron - 350km. Which is a short distance to cover so much pain, warfare, and political conflict. This used to be a grassed savannah, populated by herds of wildebeest and other game. The ruling tribe was the BaTlokwe, under the leadership of MaNtatese, a wild woman who took no prisoners. She was feared by the KhoiSan (who retreated into the mountains)and the BaRolong and other more peaceful Tswana people. Moshoeshoe was secure in his BaSotho mountain kingdom of ThabaBoseu. But then she ran into migrating Boers from the Cape Colony, who gradually forced her into smaller areas. They staked ownership of Colcolan (a corruption of Hlohlowane "ridge of the battle"), Hobhouse (after civil rights campaigner Emily Hobhouse) Wepener (named after Commandant Louw Wepener), and Zastron (the wife of President Brand)

We stopped at each dorpie, found the town square, and the familiar roads: Voortrekker Rd, Piet Retief Rd, and a Church Street replete with a huge Dutch Reformed church. The towns are small, neglected, and dusty. The sadness of this blood-soaked land is giving way to tired villages that exist for reasons of history: each is the distance an oxwagon could travel in a day.

When we reached Zastron we had ridden enough so stopped at Die Oude Werf B&B. Supper in the Maluti Hotel in little red booths, and rode back to the B&B under a star bedecked sky.

Pray for our land - that our diversity enriches our present.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Travelling Helmet

I am riding with a new helmet.
(and with a new bike come to think of it)
This helmet belonged to my friend Peter Woods. Who has given up biking and taken to sitting on the side of a hill at Giants Castle Drakensberg. This helmet has travelled over some interesting roads with Peter - and now is on its way on a new adventure.

We left Johannesburg on the N3 to Durban, stopping at Villiers 100 km away. This was to check the bike and each other. All was well. After Wimpy coffee we waved the sea gulls away from the bike...seagulls? Yes, 500km from the nearest beaches there are seagulls scavanging from tourists.

Then we turned south through the Orange Free State - former Boer Republic that was annexed by the British Army in 1902. We stopped at Reitz, a town named after a former President of the Free State. There is a Main Road, and a Voortrekker Road, and a Sarel Cilliers Road. And then we left.

The Free State was wind driven dust. They are waiting for the rains, and it is very dry and thirsty. Our destination was Clarens - at the foot of the Drakensberg. This was named after Clarens in Switzerland, where President Kruger lived in exile after his defeat by the British. A very comfortable B&B (Patcham Place), and supper on the stoep of a local eatery. A beautiful still evening.

And we are grateful for this opportunity to take time out an be with each other.
And the helmet waits for this new day's adventure.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

I am an African

Jenny and I went to see The Lion King in Johannesburg.
And I am proud of what has been done to what was a Hollywood movie.
Not only was the theatre purpose built for the show, and the props truly magnificent, but the dance and music has been appropriated by Africa. This is no longer the Western Hollywood kitch: it is African….African rhythm, Arican dance, African language. (Even to one Hyena calling another a “moegoe”).

It is not a show to watch. It is a show that invites participation. Clap with the songs, laugh with the actors, and whistle in appreciation. This is infectious.

And I know that at a very deep place I am an African.

Friday, September 21, 2007

मोटरसाईकिल Diaries

Jenny and I were married in 1982.
We were both 25 years old. We thought that we were in love – so much so that we got engaged three months after beginning our relationship. We were so innocent.

Yet we have survived : 25 years... that have seen three daughters; five different homes; post natal depression; a husband who got so involved in work that he became distracted and grumpy; the deaths of three dogs and two cats; the death of a father; a mother coming to live with us; wrinkles and sore joints; and a rediscovery of the joy of being together .

Tomorrow Jenny and I fly to Johannesburg.
We will see the Lion King. Then we will collect a motorcycle (BMW GS 1150) and ride back to Cape Town. This will take us five days. Five days of ‘going nowhere slowly’. Five days in which we will reclaim our marriage. Five Days of celebrating our life together.

And I am content.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I Know My Status

Today I was tested at an HIV centre.

I took a group of student ministers to visit Yabonga, a centre that supports people living with Aids. Here we were privileged to meet three HIV positive women. All are of Xhosa background. They had absolutely no way of telling their parents that they had tested positive, because this admitted to sexual activity in a culture that traditionally does not speak of human sexuality at all.

But more sobering was the knowledge that the majority of young women in their circle had very little choice in becoming sexually active. Many were raped, or sexually molested. Many of the young men in their world take sexual gratification from girls as a right. And so young women discover themselves to be infected with this sexually transmitted illness – and bound to a code of silence and ignorance.

The worst of it is that they cannot even go to their religious leaders for help. Churches have traditionally preached sexual abstinence for people before marriage, so a young person who is infected with a sexually transmitted virus is unable to go to their church for help. This is made even more difficult by the fact that most churches are run by men, and Xhosa women cannot speak of their sexuality to men. They agreed that churches are generally perceived as unwelcoming and disapproving.

Then they asked us if we knew our status.
And I admitted that I do not.
I have never bothered because I have no reason to think that I am infected.
But I as the teacher could not expect my students to be tested if I was not willing to do so myself.
So I lined up to be tested.......

I was interviewed in preparation for the test. And asked if I have unprotected sex. Which I do. But I believe that my partner and I are sexually safe with each other. Which the counsellor said was an enormous leap of faith. I was asked what I would do if I discovered I was HIV positive. I replied that I would be shocked because I am confident that there is no reason for this.
I then had the test.
And I discovered that I was not as relaxed as my nonchalance implied.
Even thought I believed that I had nothing to worry about, I sat on the edge of my chair while waiting for the result. I felt the tension of all those who had sat in this chair before me. And felt their fear of the forgotten sexual encounters that so easily return to haunt the present. And counted the six minutes it took for the test to show.

And so I am asking those of you who read this: have you been tested?
I do not want to know your status – but you owe it to your sexual partners to know your own status.

I now know my status.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Getting over it....

I have been pissed off for the past few weeks.

I have wished for more from my students: having taught York students who are enthusiastic, keen to learn, and willing to sacrifice in order to gain knowledge and experience, I then I returned home to my Cape Town students…who I experience as expecting entitlement because of a disadvantaged history, and needing to be coaxed into learning. But I am slowly recovering my vision to help build a new South Africa through my work with these students. I know this is what I am called to do. And I know that their brokenness is rooted in our Apartheid history.

I have wished for more from my church denomination: I have given large portions of my life/time/passion to this institution…and am discovering that this counts for nothing when it comes to getting support for the things I really believe I am called to do. But I have found this to be a good lesson in humility. Because all I can really claim of my life is that I follow one who modelled the way of a servant. And I smile wryly at the way I want to be more than a servant.

I have wished for more from my life: I am being asked to be a Superintendent Minister, which is about meeting budgets, paying salaries / water accounts / building maintenance, and solving squabbles between various local congregations…all of which I hate. But I am seeing how being Superintendent gives me space to welcome foreign student ministers into this circuit for pastoral exposures. So perhaps there is an up-side to this.

I have experienced deep disappointment in the closure of a programme I have nurtured into vibrant life over the past six years. But I have discovered that the closing of this door will make space for another to open. I plan to use this time to complete long-neglected academic studies.

I have got over it….and am willing to believe that there is life after 50.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


11 September
Today is a sad day.... Sad because it marks the death of so many people.
Some died in the terrible act of terror on the World Trade Centre in New York. And I will never forget the images of the twin towers on fire. And of people trapped helplessly inside the building. And I wept on September 11.
Many more people have died as a consequence of the revenge taken by the people of the United States of America. The angry frustration of the American people boiled over in Afghanistan, and in Iraq. And now there are noisy threats against Iran. And uncounted thousands have died at the hands of modern American warriors.
And I weep at the senselessness of it all.
I cannot see how killing more people is the way to making us all feel secure. I do understand that it might grant some sort of temporary relief for those who want to hit back. And I do see how it can be some sort of outlet for those who want to be seen to be doing something.
But I do not feel safer after the blood-letting. I choose instead to follow the teachings of one who said “ not take revenge on someone who wrongs you” (Matthew 5:39)...because “I will pay back says the Lord” (Deuteronomy 32:35). When I take revenge I presume to play God in other people’s lives. And there are way too many cruel people who claim to act on behalf of God already.
Cry with me today.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Affirmative Action

I live in a country that has recognised that black people were discriminated against because of the colour of their skin. Black people were given inferior education, inferior housing, and lower paid jobs. They are at a complete disadvantage in life when competing with white people…people like me. I have had all the advantages in education, social confidence (some would say arrogance), and capacity to live life.
I believe that this is unjust. And that Black people must be given space to catch up. Redressing the injustices of the past must make space to assist previously disempowered people to get onto the ladder of life.

But understanding this does not make my life as a white South African any easier. My recent stay in the United Kingdom has allowed me a glimpse of a society where race is not the primary factor in assessing the worth of a person. It was liberating to be amongst people who valued my contribution – without first asking why a white male was leading the workshop. It was rewarding to have people thank me for what I bring, without asking why the church was not promoting black leadership instead.

And I am forced to admit that I am tired of feeling apologetic for being a white male. I am tired of being constantly scrutinised by committees who ask what a white male is doing in leadership. And I am tired of defending black incompetence in the name of Affirmative Action. Make no mistake - I completely support the policy of affirmative action. But I am struggling to know how to offer leadership. Because life in my country, my community, and my church is no longer about gifts, abilities or vision. Neither is it about the call of God on the life of an individual. It is about the colour of skin. And this makes me an endangered species.

Pray that I may have the wisdom to differentiate between that which I can change, and that which I cannot.

(and feel free to offer comment and advice)

Sunday, September 02, 2007


Diana, Princess of Wales.

I loved her.
From the first photograph of her I was entranced.
I saw her as beautiful, graceful, and everything a princess should be.

I remember her wedding day.
I was working in Ermelo – a small, conservative, rural town.
And the whole town came to a standstill. I took the day off and sat in front of the television, eating chips and drinking coke…in those days I could do this without it making any difference to my weight.
And this fairy princess glided down the avenue in her gilded coach. And her prince charming was waiting at the cathedral. And the crowds cheered. And I was supremely satisfied.

But Diana was more: she really cared for marginalised people; she hugged HIV/Aids victims; she sat with landmine victims in Mozambique and Angola; she saw the poor on the streets in Calcutta. This was clearly more than photo opportunities. Diana had a way of connecting with people of no significance.

Diana was also very, very human. She danced, and laughed, and enjoyed beautiful things. She was troubled, and angry, and depressed. She loved her children, fought with her in-laws, cried from loneliness, and was unfaithful to her marriage...All the things you and I know only too well in our own lives.

Diana was not hypocritical. She owned her life, mistakes and triumphs together.

Ten years ago she died. And I was sad.
Today (ten years later) I am again sad.