The BBC’s ‘veteran’ international correspondent, John Simpson, turns seventy next year. He is one of only two people on earth who were on hand to witness each of the following events of 1989-90: the massacre in Tiananmen Square, the quiet revolutions in Poland and Hungary, the breaching of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, the violent overthrow of Ceaucescu in Romania and the release of Nelson Mandela. Between them, and the transition of power in the Soviet Union which took place in the following year, resulting in its final disintegration, these events have changed the individual lives of a majority of the human race. After Gorbachev came to power in the Kremlin, The African National Congress was warned by the senior Soviet diplomat in Lusaka in 1988 that it could no longer Moscow’s unconditional support. The Soviet agenda had switched from the expensive policies of confrontation to the cheaper ones of reconciliation. If it took the ANC leadership some time to come to terms with this change, it took the Pretoria government much longer. For years it had justified its internal policies on the basis of super-power rivalry, and used the language of a free market capitalist country surrounded by Communist enemies. For internal consumption, it emphasised the threat posed by the alliance between the ANC and the South African Communist Party. ‘Communism’ had been an illegal creed in South Africa since 1950 under an Act which defined it as any doctrine which aims at the bringing about of any political, industrial, social or economic change by the promotion of disturbance or disorder or by unlawful acts or omissions. The genuine fears of White South Africans about the threat of Communism were fed by extensive reporting of discoveries of arms originating from Eastern bloc countries. It was only when F.W. de Klerk took over the Presidency in 1989 that change became possible. The revolutions in Poland and Hungary seemed to the liberal-minded Foreign Secretary, Pik Botha, to be clear evidence that the USSR was no longer a global power and that the ideological ties between the ANC and the SACP would be severely weakened now that Soviet-style Communism had failed. He persuaded de Klerk that it was now safe to proceed with fundamental reform of South Africa’s state ideology of apartheid, or separate development. At the beginning of 1990, De Klerk legalised both the ANC and the SACP, and offered negotiations to do away with the last elements of the ideology. Thus, the changes brought about by the Hungarian and Polish revolutions and by Mikhail Gorbachev in the Soviet Union had led directly to a revolution in South Africa which was to prove just as profound, if not more so.
I have been trying to recall when I first learnt of the evil of apartheid, and I think it must have been at about the same time as I joined Peter Hain’s Young Liberals in 1974/5, during my final year in secondary school. We didn’t study the history of South Africa, or indeed that of the Twentieth Century World in school. I also did ‘A’ level General Studies, and I remember buying a briefing paper from the Council for Education in World Citizenship, whose New Year conference I attended. I also joined CND in 1975, and the Christian Pacifist organisation, The Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), with whom I’ve recently reconnected via the fortieth Greenbelt Festival held at Cheltenham Race Course last summer (I attended the first of these in 1974). I still have a transcript of a lecture given for them at Hinde Street Methodist Church in London in February of that year. It was given by the West Indian Methodist Minister, Philip Potter, then serving as the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches. He had been associated with the ecumenical movement for twenty-five years, working with the Student Christian Movement and the Methodist Missionary Society. At that time, the doctrine of the separate development of races was widely held among Protestant Christians in Britain, especially in the Powellite Black Country where I grew up, so for me the position of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa was nothing remarkable. After all, wasn’t that what the Old Testament was all about? Many people in the West Birmingham Baptist churches believed that God intended the races to live separate lives in different countries and continents. However, there was only one flaw in this pseudo-theological argument. In reality, colonialism and slavery had mixed everyone up, so a policy of repatriation seemed a non-starter, even if it were thought desirable and could be achieved voluntarily, with agreement about where people would be repatriated to. However, support for the policy was based on irrational prejudice, of course, since many working-class and middle-class whites felt threatened by the influx of large numbers of Caribbean people moving into the area, especially in Smethwick, where my father was a pastor, and where, to its infamy, openly racist councillors were elected. There was a good deal of unofficial segregation, even in the churches, with only a handful of black Christians attending our church, but dominating others. Even in the 1980′s, although black and white Baptists shared the same building, they held their services at different times, partly because the worship took differing forms. However, through gospel choirs, rock bands, sporting competitions and festivals of arts, integration slowly took hold and, though racist remarks were still regularly heard in both formal and informal gatherings, by the mid-eighties there were no longer signs in shop windows saying ‘no blacks’ or ‘blacks need not apply’. Younger people went to school with Greek Orthodox Cypriots, liberal and orthodox Jews, Polish Catholics, Punjabi Sikhs and Pakistani Muslims, as well as Caribbean Christians. We therefore couldn’t really understand what the fuss and fears were all about. For me, against this backdrop, Philip Potter defined Apartheid South Africa very clearly and theologically, but in the context of the institutionalized colonial and racial oppression which also continued to exist at that time in Mozambique, Angola, Rhodesia, and Namibia:
The whole legal, economic political and even religious structure is directed to one aim – the separation of whites from blacks, in a manner which deprives the blacks of any meaningful existence. And yet South Africa, to name one of these countries, is rich in gold, diamonds, the purest and most coveted uranium in the world, and in industries. I do not need to inform you that the system is maintained by foreign investment (58% of which comes from the United Kingdom), by the sale of arms from European countries under the guise of the defense of the Indian Ocean, and by white immigration. There is no shortage of evidence pointing, without a shadow of a doubt, to the ways in which we are all involved in maintaining the institutionalised violence of the system. In fact, this country carries a very heavy responsibility for creating the situation in South Africa as well as Rhodesia. We Christians have no difficulty in speaking out against racism, in making protests and in encouraging people, especially privileged whites, to work for change and for overcoming the separation, apartheid, which has become intolerable. But have we fully recognised our responsibility for what has happened and is happening, and imaginatively and wholeheartedly entered the struggle, alongside those who are oppressed, for their liberation and for the reunion of the separated? Here again, a fearful judgement awaits us all as the holocaust looms steadily larger.
The holocaust which many expected, both inside South Africa and in the international community, did not happen, at least not on the scale anticipated by Oliver Tambo and other ANC leaders, exiled in Zambia. Nevertheless, there were trickles of blood, if not rivers, and these flowed regularly over the next fifteen years until Nelson Mandela’s release. As student leaders, we were horrified by the events which hit Soweto in 1976, not least because in Wales we were fighting our own non-violent campaign over the medium of education in our schools and colleges. We were horrified and further radicalized by the thought that students could be shot simply for demanding the right to be educated in the language of their choice rather than being forced to learn the language of their oppressors. This stirred up bitter collective memories of the legendary ‘Welsh Not’. Ours was a civil rights campaign, but we understood the concept of linguistic apartheid only too well and the need to have the Welsh language recognised and promoted throughout the country, not just confined to certain ‘homelands’.
We based our struggle on the non-violence practised by the Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in the USA. It’s perhaps worth remembering that these civil rights for blacks in the US, including voting rights and an end to segregation in schooling and other walks of life, were only achieved after a decade-long struggle, from 1954 to 1964. When Mandela went to prison in 1963, King had not yet marched on Washington and proclaimed his ‘dream’ and only 6% of blacks in the Southern states were registered to vote. By the late sixties, blacks in the North could go to the same schools as whites, but many of them did not finish their education. Those who did could not find a job. They were segregated from whites by poverty, living in housing which was old and dirty, often with only one parent. King took his crusade against poverty to the great Northern city of Chicago, but was met by the violence of the police and from the poor whites he was trying to recruit through the slogan, Black and White Unite and Fight! Some black leaders did not agree with this, suggesting that he should only speak for black people, but he went on with his plan to lead a Poor People’s March on Washington. Segregation may have been ended, but integration of whites and blacks in a common cause was a long way from being achieved. When King made his speech in Memphis on 3rd April 1968, the Promised Land he was referring to was not simply a land for blacks, but for all the poor people of America, all the workers of the city who had gone on strike because they were badly paid. Most of these street-cleaners were black, but not all of them. On the evening following his speech, King was shot outside his hotel. Jesse Jackson, one of his young supporters, was the first to reach him and held him in his arms. He died in hospital an hour later, aged 39, eleven years younger than Nelson Mandela. Twenty-two years later, Jackson was, fittingly, one of the first to greet Mandela in Cape Town on his release from prison.
The British Secretary of State for Wales and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Peter Hain. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I was privileged to have been active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement for fifteen years, from 1974 to 1989, and to meet Donald Woods and Peter Hain, as well hearing to hear Bishop Trevor Huddleston and Bishop Desmond Tutu speak in 1989. I also toured schools teaching about the history of South Africa, in conjunction with a Theatre-in-Education Project by the Big Brum Theatre Company in the late 1980s. Nelson Mandela was released three days before I flew to Hungary, to begin a new chapter in my peace and reconciliation work here, which is still unfinished. When I wasn’t packing, I was watching and recording the dramatic scenes from the TV, thinking that I might need them to teach with one day. This prophetic thought came true yesterday, with teenage students here who mostly had no idea who he was. In 1990, his release was, for me, another exciting chapter in the seismic events which had suddenly, finally swept Soviet-style Communism out of Central-Eastern Europe, no doubt enabling the scene of change to shift to Apartheid South Africa itself, as hardline in its anti-communist stance since 1947/8 as many of the Stalinist states had been in defending the line from Moscow.
Undoubtedly, it should be now freely admitted, many of Mandela’s former colleagues in the African National Congress, though never he himself (according to his statement in court), had also followed the line from Moscow until, after the events in Poland of the mid-eighties, not to mention elsewhere in Africa, it had become impossible to do so any longer. It is a mark of the power of Marxist ideology in southern Africa that many in the ruling Afrikaner National Party clung onto a creed of racial hatred and segregation long after it had been abandoned in the US and elsewhere, because they feared South Africa going falling prey to that ideology as Zimbabwe had done. But for Mandela, and controversially at that, it might well have done so. Certainly, in the seventies and eighties there were many ANC supporters in the UK, as well as in South Africa itself, who looked forward to a violent revolution leading to black majority rule and a Marxist state in which land and industry controlled by whites would be taken over and redistributed. The very fact that the ANC was engaged, however legitimately, in an armed struggle, meant that such views remained dominant until Mandela’s release in 1990, a major factor in his refusal to abandon the armed struggle immediately. To do so would have led to a dramatic split in the ANC, and the destruction of any prospect of a negotiated settlement with the régime. In the three decades of Mandela’s imprisonment, the ANC, banned in South Africa, also had to meet clandestinely in Britain, in trade union offices, under constant surveillance from BOSS, the South African Secret Service and Scotland Yard’s Special Branch. In the euphoria of Mandela’s release it was easy to forget, and in the current atmosphere of adulation even more so, that he was almost certainly arrested and put on trial on information supplied by the CIA, and that Mrs Thatcher regarded him and the ANC as terrorists akin to those she banned and gagged in Northern Ireland for twenty years. History may remind us all of these uncomfortable facts in due course.
It may also remind us of the fact that many others in the political and cultural establishments actually fought against the Anti-Apartheid Movement, to their shame. These included politicians of all parties in south Wales and the Welsh Rugby Union, who broke the sanctions called for by both the ANC, the South African Non-Racial Olympic Committee and the Commonwealth Secretariat. I can well remember standing on picket lines watching in horror as comrade socialists I had known for years crossed picket lines I was on to attend official receptions for the unofficial South African Barbarians Team, touring south Wales in 1979/80. Their excuse, presumably to this day, was that sport should not be made to pay for political systems, and that, in any case, there were a couple of black players in the touring team. Some of those who crossed the line were fellow historians, and to me their actions were worse than the England Football team who saluted Nazism in Germany in 1938. Hitler had not been there at the time, and they were acting under orders from a British government bent on appeasement. Kristallnacht had not yet happened. Just forty years later, Mrs Thatcher’s government was also bent on appeasing a government which had already committed atrocities against its own people, the defenceless school students of Soweto in 1976. However, the decision to become pawns in this new policy of appeasement was made by the Welsh Rugby Union and those for whom Rugby was more important than opposing Racism. Nevertheless, as the Press Secretary of the South Wales Campaign Against Racism in Sport, a broad organisation which included both communists and conservatives, ANC exiles and Welsh students and sportsmen, I condemned the spilling of carpet tacks on the Newport pitch where the tourists were due to play their first game. In the face of opposition from the WRU, we couldn’t afford to alienate both the Wales TUC and its Rugby-loving officials and members, and we had no idea who had been responsible for this action. When I picked up Peter Hain from Cardiff Central Station for what I think was his first visit to south Wales (I had previously known him as leader of the Young Liberals in England), he was quickly aware that any tampering with the Fields of Praise would go down even less well in the valleys than digging up the hallowed Cricket pitches of Yorkshire, even if we felt that this were justified in stopping such tours. To paraphrase Bill Shankly, Rugby wasn’t a matter of life and death in Wales at that time: It was far more important! Peter understood that. No doubt this sensitivity to local ‘territory’ later helped him to impress the Wales TUC and become Labour MP for Neath and Secretary of State for Wales. Looking back on these events with such wry smiles, I feel proud that my actions in support of the Anti-Apartheid Movement while a student President earned NUS Wales (UCMC) the unofficial title ‘NUS South Africa’ among the Young Tories of Aberystwyth and Bangor, as well as among some more parochially-minded Welsh Nationalists. Of course, like the Welsh Labour Establishment and the London Tory Hierarchy of that time, they are all now busily re-writing their roles in freeing Mandela and ending Apartheid. All but a handful of Tory MPs and ministers were happy for Mandela to rot in gaol for twenty-seven years; now they’re all trying to jump on the freedom train as it leaves the station, push their way to the engine and sit in the driving seat, pretending have always been in control and to know exactly where it was heading. Real History, written in thirty years time, will not absolve them I’m afraid.
‘Reel’ History was made out of another event of that year of 1979/80, when Donald Woods came to Swansea, at the invitation of the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Woods was the white editor of an important liberal newspaper who had been banned by the government in Pretoria. At that stage, he was a journalist, little-known in Britain, who had managed to get out of South African house arrest to publish a book, a year earlier, on the life, and death in custody of the black political leader, Steve Biko. Of course, everyone now knows their story through the film, Cry Freedom, starring Kevin Kline and Denzil Washington. The second time I met him, in Birmingham, ten years later, the film had been widely screened, and he quipped that his wife had asked if she could swap the real Donald Woods for the Hollywood actor! Apart from the difference in appearances, Woods said that the film gave a truthful account of what really happened. It was based on his biography of Biko (1978) and Asking for Trouble: The Autobiography of a Banned Journalist (1980), which he was working on when he visited Swansea. After living in London for many years, Woods was able to return to South Africa in the nineties, training black journalists as part of a project called the Steve Biko Memorial Bursary. In the late seventies and early eighties, it was Biko who, partly through Woods’ book, was the best-known figure in the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Britain, and the film Cry Freedom helped to raise the demands for the release of Mandela and the other ANC prisoners. In 1988 there were Free Nelson Mandela concerts and meetings at which Donald Woods, Trevor Huddleston and Desmond Tutu spoke.
In 1997, Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa questioned five security policemen who were involved in Biko’s death. They admitted hitting him and chaining him to the security bars of his cell for twenty-four hours. Peter Jones, who was arrested with Biko in 1977 and who survived eighteen months in prison, spoke on behalf of Biko’s family. On the 12th September 1997, there was a national commemoration of Biko’s death on its twentieth anniversary. Thousands attended the unveiling of a statue at the East London City Hall by President Nelson Mandela. The main bridge over the Buffalo river nearby was renamed the Steve Biko bridge, so Biko will probably remain the best-remembered victim of the apartheid régime. The Soweto Uprising and Biko’s murder marked a clear turning point for apartheid South Africa. Before 1976/77, the leaders of Afrikanerdom had never doubted that the country could continue along the same lines as the founders of the Republic had laid down, given a degree of flexibility. After this period, only the most extreme conservatives would stand by the system of apartheid. Everyone else would look for ways of ditching it. The fall of Communism in central-Eastern Europe in 1989 provided that opportunity.
Nevertheless, like Biko, Nelson Mandela would never allow his name to be separated from the movement for black liberation, which he believed could only be achieved through the armed struggle of the ANC. That was why he had been imprisoned in 1963, and even on his release he was unequivocal about this, to the consternation of many white politicians, who put pressure on President De Klerk for his re-internment. He had given his comrades a promise in a message to the United Democratic Front five years previously:
Only free men can negotiate. Prisoners cannot enter into contracts… I cannot and will not give any undertaking at a time when I and you, the people, are not free. Your freedom and mine cannot be separated. I will return.
Nelson Mandela had spent eighteen of his twenty-seven years as a prisoner on Robben Island, a few miles from the shoreline of Cape Town, in Table Bay. His prison number was 0221141011, and he was held in Cell 7 in Section B of the high security block, where the leaders of the various black political organisations were held. The cell was nine feet square. The warders were often harsh and brutal, though they never used physical violence against Mandela himself. Conditions were hard, but Mandela had been a boxer in his youth, and knew how to keep fit. He would rise at 4 a.m. and meditate deeply. Then he would do a series of exercises and, when the doors were opened at 7 a.m, he would sprint around the courtyard, skip and shadow-box for an hour. For many prisoners who did time on the island it was an essential part of their political education and development, a kind of university. Mandela was known to his fellow prisoners by his tribal name, Madhiba, and was the central figure in Section B. As a lawyer, he would be visited by many prisoners with various personal and familial problems, but the most important work he did was political. He worked to defuse the conflicts which frequently exploded into violence between the leaders of the various black nationalist groupings housed in his section. One of the leaders of the Pan Africanist Congress, Japhta Masemola, was a strong antagonist of the ANC, but he established a strong friendship with Mandela, of whom he said:
Mandela is a gentleman in the true sense of the word. It doesn’t matter if you differ, he is always polite. He never gets angry. All he will do is try to have the discussion as amicable as possible.
Mandela studied hard, reading newspapers carefully, including those in Afrikaans, a language he learnt well in order to understand his captors, then his enemies, by asking them about their families and conversing with them on everyday subjects. He had access to the prison library and read every book he could find on political economy. At the same time he studied for a law degree. He also cultivated a garden around the edges of the prison courtyard, growing melons, tomatoes and cucumbers, making fertiliser from bones given to him by the prison kitchen.
By the time he was sent to Pollsmoor prison on the mainland in 1982 he had won the respect of the various factions of African Nationalism which he might not have reached if he had merely been in exile, like his comrade Oliver Tambo, isolated from other opinions other than those in the mainstream ANC. For the world outside South African politics he had become a symbol of the refusal of Pretoria’s refusal to treat with the majority community. Even Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, although viewing the ANC as essentially a terrorist organisation, committed to armed struggle, had to admit that Pretoria could not be a normal partner in the political process until Mandela was freed. His imprisonment became a powerful symbol for the imprisonment of non-whites generally in South Africa. While he remained locked away, it would be impossible to achieve the normalisation of any form of relations with what clearly remained an abnormal society. Nevertheless, for many years he himself did not expect to be released, and he had long come to terms with the apparent reality that he would die in gaol.
BBC correspondent, John Simpson, was in South Africa at the time of Mandela’s release from Victor Verster prison, near Paarl, and reported on how his tall figure and impassive face rode serenely on the surface of all the excitement and noise and turbulence around him. By now he was thin and fragile, mostly white-haired, looking nothing like the photos of twenty-five years earlier which the world’s press had continued to use in the absence of more recent ones. Despite this, his face was relatively unlined, as if the years in prison had sheltered him from the worries of the world outside. Nevertheless, it was hard not to think that he had been released ten years too late to become an effective, energetic leader. Like Dubcek in Czechoslovakia, at seventy-one he could only hope to play a transitional, symbolic role, working to heal the anger and violence created by the lingering apartheid years.
Meanwhile, these years of acting as a political figure in her own right had damaged Winnie Mandela’s reputation. When she had returned from her period of banning to Soweto in the mid-eighties, she had gathered around her a group of young thugs, who played together as ‘Mandela United’ and acted as her personal bodyguard. They became involved in the vicious factionalism of the time, kidnapping a group of activists, including a fourteen-year-old boy, Stompie, holding them prisoner and torturing them at her Soweto home. Stompie was murdered after the police were informed of the beatings in which it was claimed she herself had participated. The team coach was tried for Stompie’s murder, and eight members of the team were charged with kidnapping and assault. In 1986 she had alienated many of her supporters by giving public approval to the ‘necklace’ killing of those suspected of collaborating with the police. Tyres filled with petrol were hung around the victims’ necks and set alight. She also tried to sell a ‘franchise’ on the Mandela name to an American publicist, a move which was blocked by the ANC and Nelson Mandela himself. She seemed to have become a liability to their cause and, now her husband was now back home, she had lost her role as his mouthpiece to the world. She told a journalist soon after his release, that she would have to get used to cooking again!
John Simpson wrote that what he saw in the Soccer City stadium in Soweto in the hot February sun of 1990 was the third of three changes of fortune that he had never expected to be able to see: people dancing on the Berlin Wall, Alexander Dubcek speaking again in Wenceslas Square, and now Nelson Mandela singing Nkosi sikilelel’ iAfrika as a free man. In his speech, Mandela called for the children to go back to school, for an end to crime and an end to violence in Natal and Cape Town:
The hijacking and setting alight of vehicles are criminal acts that have no part in our struggle. Our victories must be celebrated in peace and joy… The fears of whites about their place in a South Africa they do not control must be addressed. As I said in 1964 I say again now: We are opposed to black domination. We must show our goodwill, show that a South Africa without apartheid will be a better home for all… We appeal to all those who out of ignorance joined in the call for apartheid. No one who abandons apartheid will be excluded from our movement… Let not a single hair be hurt, not a single window be broken when you leave this place…
Nevertheless, these appeals for moderation went largely unnoticed by the white press, even that of liberal persuasion. It had been too shocked by the call he made in Cape Town for the ‘armed struggle’ and international sanctions to continue. In London, Mrs Thatcher had cancelled a press conference in a fit of pique at this. It had been assumed that Mandela had already conceded these policies in exchange for his release. The liberal whites felt a sense of betrayal and a sudden diminution in their earlier somewhat euphoric sense that here was the man who could lead them into a new, non-racial country. On the right, there were exaggerated fears of impending violence and a renewed belief that, in the ANC, they were still dealing with a Revolutionary Marxist organisation intent on seizing power and establishing a one-party dictatorship. Four days later, at a huge Conservative Party rally, the swastika flags and SS symbols of the AWB appeared in the crowd, though those carrying them were politely asked to leave by the organisers. However, they did not do so, but politely listened to the leader of the Conservatives, Dr Andries Treurnicht, before beginning the chant ‘kill de Klerk!’ and ‘kill Mandela!’
The Conservative Party had become the authentic voice of white fears of a black take-over of power. Although a minority party in Parliament, they were starting to win the hearts and minds of the majority of the Afrikaner population in the wake of Mandela’s release. Out of five million white voters, three million were Afrikaners: the traditionally more liberal English-speakers were about two million. The National Party had maintained its power since 1948 because of this imbalance, but now it was moving towards racial equality itself, it would have to depend on the votes of liberal Afrikaners and English-speaking whites in order to survive. President de Klerk was also in danger of losing the support of the police forces, 80% of whom were reported to be switching their allegiance to the Conservatives. Seven blacks had died in custody in the month leading up to and following Mandela’s release, revealing that the SAP had lost none of its instinct for brutality since the death of Steve Biko. They continued to use beatings, water torture and electric shock ‘treatment’ against dissident blacks.
Even so, as John Simpson reported, blacks were slowly winning back cities like Johannesburg. He concluded his visit by returning to Rosebank, the white shopping area of twelve years earlier. Advertisements aimed at the new black middle classes, particularly women, were everywhere. When the whites started heading home at five o’ clock, black people started converging on the centre. They were now looking at the Yves Saint Laurent clothes and sitting down at the tables outside the Oxford Milk Bar. By five-thirty, there wasn’t a white face to be seen. Black Africa, at last, had come to Rosebank shopping centre.
Philip Potter’s conclusion to his 1974 lecture points out that we cannot become instruments of reconciliation without first experiencing the full force of separation, just as Jesus experienced it in crucifixion, and as Mandela did among the separated of Robben Island. It is only in the weakness of self-giving that the power of love can release the healing, reconciling love of God. Forgiving is the most searching test of the power of love. Power as the capacity to release something new, unexpected, creative, as part of our inescapable relations with others, and love as self-giving for others, are manifested in forgiving. In old English, the prefix ‘for’ implied intensive force, pressure applied in excess, all over, extremely, overwhelmingly. To forgive therefore means to give overpoweringly, through and through. To fallen human nature, vengeance is the natural course of action to take in matching injury to injury, of violence by violence, of oppression by oppression, of hatred by hatred. However, it is not an action, it is a reaction. It is not creative, life-affirming or life-promoting, but destructive, life-denying and life-discouraging. Forgiveness is therefore the clearest evidence of the power of love. It gives us the possibility of starting afresh and beginning something new. The apostle Paul puts it like this:
When anyone is united in Christ, there is a new world, a new act of creation; the old order is gone, the old life is over; and a new order, a new life has already begun. (2 Cor. 5:17).
Paul’s reference to the oikoumene, the Greek word meaning ‘the whole inhabited earth’, has the sense not just of human beings of every ethnic group, nation, tribe, religion and culture, but also of ‘the whole created order’ of plants and animals. So we are called to overcome separation and segregation, or the apartheid of the old world with the overwhelming power of love which can reconcile all things in a new natural order. In this new order there are no longer any dividing walls, and only the cowardly, the faithless, the murderers, the abusers and the liars will be excluded from the new polis, or city (Rev. 21-22). Therefore, those who do nothing in the ongoing struggle against apartheid in the world, and those who willingly and ruthlessly distort, exploit, torture and destroy human beings will be excluded from the new political order.
So, we must continue to make a choice between the love of power which produces, reproduces and maintains separation, leading ultimately to death; or the power of love, which endeavours and endures for the breaking down of walls, whether in Berlin or Belfast, Judea or Johannesburg. The power of love is hope in action, for the reunion of the oikoumene, for the shared life of the open city. Love and politics are two words which do not fit easily together in this world, except perhaps in the lives of exceptional leaders like Nelson Mandela. They will in the next. Is it time we raised them on our banners, the standards of an endless movement against all forms of apartheid and for global reconciliation? Perhaps because we use an Afrikaans word, it is too easy for us to associate it with the past of one country, or one corner of one continent on earth, rather than with the almost permanent segregation which some still find themselves, like the Roma peoples of a another country and another corner of another continent. Owning this once-hated word might be a means by which we own up as people and peoples to the ways we separate and segregate ourselves from our fellow humans and, in sinful disobedience, from God’s oikoumene.
Sources and Resources (for teachers):
John Briley (1989, 2008), Cry Freedom. Oxford: OUP, Oxford Bookworms (simplified edition).
Rowena Akinyemi (2008), Nelson Mandela. Oxford: OUP, Oxford Bookworms (Factfiles).
Philip Potter (1974), The Love of Power or The Power of Love. New Malden: Fellowship of Reconciliation.
John Simpson (1990), Dispatches from the Barricades: An Eye-Witness Account of the Revolutions that Shook the World, 1989-90. London: Hutchinson.
Margaret Holmes & Nigel West (1986), A History of South Africa. Leeds: Development Education Centre (extract below).
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the twelve disciples, possibly the first and previously one of John the Baptist’s disciples (Mt. 10 v 1, Jn. 1 v 40). He and his brother were originally from Bethsaida in Galilee (Jn. 1 v 44), moving to live and work at the fishing port of Capernaum on the northern shore of Lake Galilee (Mk. 1 v 29). Pointed towards ‘the Lamb of God‘ by the Baptist (Jn. 1 vv 35-40), he, in turn, introduced his brother to Jesus, telling him that he had found the Messiah (Jn. 1 v 42). There are several references to his role in the ministry of Jesus, especially in terms of mediating within the group of apostles and facilitating Jesus’ contact with would-be disciples and enquirers (Jn. 6 v 8, 12 v 22, Mk. 13 v 3). He also witnessed the Ascension of Jesus (Acts 1 v 13).
Andrew means ‘manly’ in Greek and, as he was not just Simon Peter’s brother, but also his partner in the fishing business, it was a name that he no doubt lived up to. However, after meeting Jesus, he gave up the trade, at least as a full-time occupation, and, together with Simon, he joined Jesus’ itinerary ministry as a ‘fisher of men’. Before the cross became the symbol of Christianity in Roman times, the fish was the sign which Jesus’ disciples recognised on each other’s houses and later in the catacombs in Rome. After Jesus’ ascension he travelled in Asia Minor and along the Black Sea as far as the River Volga. He therefore became the patron saint of the Volga boatmen and then of Russia. He was taken prisoner as a Christian and condemned to death by crucifixion. Legend has it that he considered himself unworthy to be put to death in the same manner as Jesus, and so elected to be crucified in the form of a ‘crux decussata’, or diagonal, hence his white diagonal cross on a blue background making up the flag of Scotland and, of course, the background of the Union Flag. The white stands for the purity of the saint and the blue for the sea which he loved.His remains were taken from Patros where he was buried (hence his association with Greece) to Constantinople. He was canonised by the Church long before being adopted by the Scots as their patron. His remains are now said to be on the spot over which St Andrew’s Cathedral was built and around which the university town grew up.
There are also many legends about the manner in which the relics of the saint came to rest in Scotland. One of the most attractive recounts how a group of monks set out from Constantinople to reach Scotland to spread the gospel and convert the Scots to Christianity, probably in the sixth century. They asked for the relics of a holy man to take with them as a protection from all the dangers of the voyage. Given the length of the journey and the number and nature of the hazards, known and unknown, that they were likely to encounter, they needed a pretty hefty insurance policy, and so were given the bones of St Andrew. After months of travel, they arrived on the east coast of Scotland, buried the relics near where they landed and set up an altar within a small church which they built on the spot. On being converted to Christianity, the people then declared St Andrew as their patron and St Andrew’s became a place of pilgrimage.
Since then, Scottish people all over the world celebrate St Andrew’s Day, though Hogmanay, a two-day public holiday in Scotland, and Burns’ Night are more important events in Scotland itself and among expatriates. Stories are told in schools which illustrate the bravery and independence of the Scots. Many of these tales date back to the period when the Scots contested the claims of Edward I and Edward II to be the Kings of Scotland, following great historical characters such as William Wallace, Robert Bruce and the Black Douglas. Perhaps the best-known legend is that of Bruce in despair following the capture of his wife and execution of his brother. He was considering giving up his claims to the Scottish throne and going into exile, lying back on his straw bed looking up at the roof of his miserable hut. Then he saw a spider hanging by a long thread, trying to swing itself from one beam to another. He counted the creature’s six attempts to link up with the other beam before finally succeeding. Bruce remembered that he had fought and lost six battles, and vowed to fight on.
A distinguished follower of Bruce was the Good Lord James of Douglas who fought fiercely to recover the castles of Scotland that had fallen into the hands of the Norman English. The castle at Linlithgow was one of these, having the usual defences of huge gates to the only entrance and a portcullis behind them, a huge iron grate which could be let down rapidly, crushing all below it with its spikes. Not far from the castle lived a farmer called Binnock who supplied the castle garrison with hay. One night, he loaded a great wagon with hay, hiding eight fully armed soldiers beneath it, lying flat at the bottom of the cart. In the morning, he and his driver approached the castle and the portcullis was raised to allow the two men to enter. When the cart was directly under the portcullis, the driver took his hatchet and severed the horses’ harness. The horses, freed from their load, started forward, leaving the cart of hay under the portcullis. Binnock shouted ‘Call all, call all!’ as he pulled his sword from under his farm coat and slew the gatekeeper. The English soldiers were unable to lower the portcullis with the hay cart in the way. The soldiers hiding in the cart were joined by reinforcements lying in wait outside and the castle was taken.
The dreaded Black Douglas was so-called for his deftness at using the cover of darkness to retake the castles. He used the night of Shrove Tuesday, when most of the English troops were tucking into their pancakes, to take back Roxburgh. The wife of one of the English officers was sitting on the battlements singing a lullaby to the child on her lap. She saw black objects moving about in the darkness below and thought they were cattle. However, they were Douglas’ soldiers, able to scale the walls without detection. When she realised what was happening, the mother changed her song:
Hush ye, hush ye, little pet ye,
Hush ye, hush ye, do not fret ye,
The Black Douglas shall not get ye.
From the darkness at her shoulder a voice said, Ye canna be sure o’ that! and was followed by a heavy hand on her shoulder. She turned to see the Black Douglas himself. Although many English died that night, Black Douglas saw to it that no harm came to the woman or child. Sir Walter Scott tells this tale in Tales of a Grandfather, commenting ‘I dare say she sang no more songs about the Black Douglas’. A third legend tells a tale of a group of English soldiers approaching a castle held by the Scots. It was a black, moonless night, and this time the English were wearing black cloaks over their uniforms. However, one of them put his hand on a thistle and gave a cry of pain. This alerted the garrison and the castle was saved. After that, the thistle, an unlikely flower to choose as a national emblem, became just that. The other, sometimes preferred, emblematic purple flower is, of course, the heather.
There are historic ties between Hungary and Scotland predating Edward I, the hammer of the Scots, and even the Norman conquest of England. These relate to Margaret of Wessex, who was born in exile Mecseknádás in southern Hungary. Margaret was the daughter of the English prince, Edward the Exile and granddaughter of Edmund Ironside, king of England. After the Danish conquest of England in 1016, Canute had the infant Edward exiled to the continent. He was taken first to the court of the Swedish king, Olof Skötkonung, and then to Kiev. As an adult, he travelled to Hungary, where in 1046 he supported Andrew I‘s successful bid for the throne. Margaret’s mother, Agatha, was related either by blood or marriage to István (Stephen I), the founding king of Hungary. and Margaret was born in Hungary around 1045. Her brother and sister were also born in Hungary around this time. Margaret grew up in a very religious environment in the Hungarian court. Andrew I of Hungary was known as “Andrew the Catholic” for his extreme aversion to pagans, and great loyalty to Rome, which was probably what induced Margaret to follow a pious life.
Still a child, she came to England with the rest of her family when her father, Edward, was recalled in 1057 as a possible successor to her great-uncle, the childless Edward the Confessor. Whether from natural or sinister causes, her father died immediately on landing, but Margaret continued to reside at the English court where her brother, Edgar Ætheling, was considered a possible successor to the English throne. When the Confessor died in January 1066, Harold Godwinson was selected as king, Edgar perhaps being considered still too young. After Harold’s defeat at the battle of Hastings later that year, Edgar was proclaimed King of England, but when the Normans advanced on London, the Witenagemot presented Edgar to William the Conqueror who took him to Normandy before returning him to England in 1068, when Edgar, Margaret, Cristina and their mother Agatha fled north to Northumbria.
According to tradition, the widowed Agatha decided to leave Northumbria with her children and return to the continent. However, a storm drove their ship north to Scotland, where they sought the protection of King Malcolm III. The spot where they are said to have landed is known today as St. Margaret’s Hope, near the village of North Queensferry. Margaret’s arrival in Scotland in 1068, after the failed revolt of the Northumbrian earls, has been heavily romanticized, though Symeon of Durham implied that her first meeting with Malcolm III may not have been until 1070, after William the Conqueror’s harrying of the north.
Malcolm was a widower with two sons, Donald and Duncan. According to the sources on which Shakespeare based his ‘Scottish Play’, Macbeth, the ‘evil tyrant’ had his wife killed after Malcolm had escaped into exile in England, returning to overthrow Macbeth and claim the Scottish throne. He would have been attracted by the prospect of marrying one of the few remaining members of the Anglo-Saxon royal family. The marriage of Malcolm and Margaret took place some time before the end of 1070. Malcolm followed it with several invasions of Northumbria, in support of the claims of his brother-in-law Edgar, as well as to increase his own power. These, however, had little result beyond the devastation of the province.
Margaret’s biographer Turgot, Bishop of St. Andrews, credits her with having a civilizing influence on her husband Malcolm by reading him stories from the Bible. She instigated religious reform, striving to make the worship and practices of the Church in Scotland conform to those of Rome. This she did with the inspiration and guidance of Lanfranc, the future Archbishop of Canterbury. She also worked to bring the Scottish Church practice in line with that of the continental church of her childhood. Due to these achievements, she was considered an exemplar of the “just ruler”, and influenced her husband and children – especially her youngest son, later David I- also to be just and holy rulers.
She attended to charitable works, serving orphans and the poor every day before she ate, and washing the feet of the poor in imitation of Christ. She rose at midnight every night to attend church services. She invited the Benedictine order to establish a monastery at Dunfermline in Fife in 1072, and established ferries at Queensferry and North Berwick to assist pilgrims journeying from south of the Forth Estuary to St. Andrews in Fife. A cave on the banks of the Tower Burn in Dunfermline was used by her as a place of devotion and prayer. St Margaret’s Cave, now covered beneath a municipal car park, is open to the public. Amongst her other deeds, Margaret also instigated the restoration of the monastery at Iona. She is also known to have been an intercessor for the release of fellow English exiles, forced into serfdom by the conquest.
In her private life, Margaret was as devout as she was in her public duties. She spent much of her time in prayer, devotional reading, and ecclesiastical embroidery. This appears to have had a considerable effect on the more uncouth Malcolm who could not read; he so admired her devotion that he had her books decorated in gold and silver. One of these, a pocket Gospel with lavish images of the Evangelists, is kept at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
Malcolm seems to have been largely ignorant of the long-term effects of Margaret’s endeavours, not being especially religious himself. He was content for her to pursue her reforms as she wished, a testament to the strength and affection inherent in their marriage. Malcolm and their eldest son, Edward, were killed in a fight against the English at the Battle of Alnwick on 13 November 1093. Her son Edmund was left with the task of telling his mother of their deaths. Margaret was not yet fifty, but a life of constant austerity and fasting had taken their toll. Already ill, Margaret died on 16 November 1093, three days after the deaths of her husband and eldest son.
Below: Site of the shrine of St. Margaret,Dunfermline Abbey, Fife
Saint Margaret was canonised in 1250 by Pope Innocent IV in recognition of her personal holiness, fidelity to the Church, work for religious reform, and charity. On 19 June 1250, after her canonisation, her remains were moved to Dunfermline Abbey. The Roman Catholic Church formerly marked the feast of Saint Margaret of Scotland on 10 June, because the feast of “Saint Gertrude, Virgin” was already celebrated on 16 November, but in Scotland, she was venerated on 16 November, the day of her death. In the revision of theRoman Catholic calendar of saints in 1969, 16 November became free and the Church transferred her feast day to 16 November.However, some traditionalist Catholics continue to celebrate her feast day on 10 June. She is also venerated as a saint in the Anglican Church.
Several churches are dedicated to Saint Margaret. One of the oldest is St Margaret’s Chapel in Edinburgh Castle, which was founded by her son King David I. The chapel was long thought to have been the oratory of Margaret herself, but is now considered to be a 12th-century establishment. The oldest building in Edinburgh, it was restored in the 19th century, and refurbished in the 1990s.
Others include the thirteenth century Church of St Margaret the Queen in Buxted, East Sussex, St Margaret of Scotland, Aberdeen and the Church of England church in Budapest. There are also memorial stones and shrines to her in and near Mecseknádásd in Baranya County.
St Margaret’s Chapel, Edinburgh Castle
Victor J Green (1978), Festivals and Saints Days: A Calendar of Festivals for the School and Home. Poole: Blandford Press
Wikipedia, Saint Margaret of Scotland.
My younger son, Oliver, is ten, and loves the Narnia books of C.S. Lewis, who died 50 years ago today. I read most of them to him in English years ago, though we only finished The Last Battle earlier this year, as I thought it was ‘too grown up’ for him until then. Oliver is now reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe again in Hungarian. Lewis is reported to have said that when he was ten, he read fairy stories in secret and would have been ashamed had he been found doing so. ‘Now that I am fifty’ he said in 1952, ‘I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.’ Yet grown-up matters, which were preoccupying Lewis when he continued to write about Animal-Land (The Last Battle was written in 1956), find no mention in the Narnian books. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, published in 1955, he writes of two lives, the ‘outer’ and ‘inner’, the life of the intellect and the life of the imagination, being lived over each other, at the same time. The ‘outer’ is chiefly concerned with those things that he spoke about openly, whereas the ‘inner’ is essentially the story of Joy, or intense longing, working on his imagination. The Welsh word for ‘Joy’ is ‘hwyl’, which is not the same as happiness, and is close to ‘hiraeth’, which is a heart-felt longing, especially for one’s homeland. Narnia would never have come into being had Lewis not come to understand the deep meaning and purpose of Joy, what he defined in the books as ‘the deep magic from the dawn of time’.
As Walter Hooper has pointed out in his useful little book, Past Watchful Dragons: A Guide to C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis, as a child, was all too aware that religion seemed to be associated with lowered voices and stained glass windows. Wanting to make belief shine out in all its strength and splendour, he created the make-believe world of Narnia as one of the ways to ‘steal past those watchful dragons’.
Oliver was born without fingers on his right hand. C.S. Lewis was also born with a deficiency in his right hand; he had only one joint in his thumb, which kept him from taking up the hobbies and sports that interest most young boys. His manual clumbsiness was what drove him to write. When his family moved into Little Lea on the outskirts of Belfast in 1905, he took over one of the attics and there wrote his first stories, stories that combined his chief literary pleasures – knights in armour and dressed animals. When his brother came home from school in England, the attic became a shared land. Warren brought India into it and it became related to Jack’s Animal-Land (‘JacK’ was the name he preferred to ‘Clive’). They eventually merged into the single state of Boxen and, with great invention and patient endeavour the boys created a Boxonian saga spanning several hundred years. Ambitions run high and are almost solely concerned with money and political power. These were the chief topics of conversation among the group of friends who conversed with Lewis’s father. Although as an adult he came to hate these topics himself, as a juvenile Jack wanted his stories to reflect as nearly as possible the things that seemed important to adults.
In his autobiography Lewis defines Joy by relating three experiences from his early childhood. He remembered a morning on which his brother had brought a toy garden into the nursery. The memory of this evoked in him a ‘longing’ for the joy he had felt at that time. His second glimpse of Joy came through Beatrix Potter’s Squirrel Nutkin, a book whose ‘Idea of Autumn’ also plunged him into an experience of intense desire. The third glimpse came when he was reading Longfellow’s poem, Tegner’s Drapa and his mind was uplifted into huge regions of the northern sky. At the very moment he felt stabbed by desire, he felt himself falling out of that desire and wishing he were back in it. He tells us that Joy, the common quality to these three experiences, is an unsatisfied longing which is itself more desirable than any sense of satisfaction. This authentic Joy disappeared from his life when he was sent to school in Watford, Hertfordshire. A few years later he was a pupil at Cherbourg House in Malvern, Worcestershire. It was there, while looking at Arthur Rackham’s illustrations to Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods that his feelings of Joy returned. However, as this thrill became less and less frequent, he became desperate to ‘have it again’ and turned from one medium of Joy to another, hoping always to find permanent contentment. He experimented with erotic pleasure, but found that while ‘Joy is not a substitute for sex, sex is very often a substitute for Joy’.
Jack lost his virginity in Malvern, but it was the ‘potent, ubiquitous, and unabashed’ eroticism of William Morris’s romances which chiefly persuaded himself that sex might be the substance of Joy. Writing Loki Bound, a pessimistic Norse tragedy, he became a convinced atheist, and later wrote from Little Bookham in Surrey, where he had become a pupil of William T. Kirkpatrick, to his Belfast friend, Arthur Greeves:
You know, I think, that i have no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best. All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man’s own invention – Christ as much as Loki. Primitive man found himself surrounded by all sorts of terrible things he didn’t understand…Thus religion…grew up…Of course, mind you, I am not laying down as a certainty that there is nothing the material world: considering the discoveries that are always being made, this would be foolish. Anything MAY exist.
When he went up to Oxford after serving in the trenches during World War I, Lewis was determined that there were to be no flirtations with the idea of the supernatural. All the images he associated with Joy were, he had concluded, sheer fantasies. He had at last ‘seen through’ them. However, all his reservations about the Christian faith were swept away one by one and, after long searching, he was brought to his knees in the summer of 1929 and forced to admit that God was God. It was in the sidecar of his brother’s motorcycle on the way to Whipsnade Zoo, in 1931, that he became a Christian. After that, the old bittersweet jabs of Joy continued as before.
In his personal epilogue to his book on his ‘Guide Book’ to Narnia, Walter Hooper argues that there should never be any attempt to read the Chronicles as Lewis’s ‘autobiography’. Writing about the desire for heaven as part of the desire for God, Lewis said that ‘the proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation.’ The ‘old Narnia’ flowed into the ‘real Narnia’. In the penultimate chapter of The Last Battle, Jewel the Unicorn, arriving on the other side of the Stable door, expressed the feeling of all the others. He stamped his hoof, neighed and cried, ‘I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now.’
After years of illness, Jack Lewis was taken to the Acland Nursing Home in Oxford. He went into a coma immediately, and a priest gave him extreme unction. Walter Hooper and other friends waited close by, and, to their amazement, he awoke and asked for tea. When he came home, he dictated many letters describing his feelings about his experience in the nursing home. He wrote, ‘the door was open, but as I started through it was closed in my face. I would rather have died, but apparently it is my duty to live. I am happy to do either, but – oh, I would like to have gone through that door.’
A few months later – the same day, the same hour, that John F. Kennedy was killed in Dallas – the door opened again. This time he went through.
RIP, Clive S. Lewis
Walter Hooper (1980), Past Watchful Dragons. London (Copyright, 1971 by Walter Hooper and the Trustees of the Estate of C.S. Lewis): Fount Paperbacks.
C. S. Lewis (1956), The Last Battle: A Story for Children. London: The Bodley Head.
St Cecilia’s Day, November 22nd.
But bright Cecilia rais’d the wonder high’r
When to her Organ, vocal breath was given,
An Angel heard, and straight appear’d
Mistaking Earth for Heaven.
Saint Cecilia by Guido Reni, 1606
Saint Cecilia is the patron saint of music. She was martyred for her Christian faith in A.D. 176, under the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, when both she and her husband were put to death. She was high-born Roman of a Christian family, and a great Church was built over the house in Rome which is said to contain her body, the Church of St Cecilia Trastevere. The present church was built in 1599, when Stefano Maderno claimed to have seen the body of the saint and carved her the sculpture of her lying on her side, uncorrupt, as he saw her.
There are legends about her attracting an angel to earth by her singing and of her singing at her martyrdom. The thirteenth century Golden Legend tells of how she sang as she took three days to die:
And while the organs maden melodie
To God alone in hearte thus sang she.
This is the source for Chaucer’s Second Nun’s Tale. From this rather flimsy evidence Dryden attributed to her the invention of the organ, by which she added length to solemn sounds.
In the middle ages, guilds of musicians adopted her as their patron saint and painters produced works showing her playing the lute or the organ, or another instrument. At the time of the Reformation in Britain she went out of fashion, for many puritans were suspicious of music, which they thought was a dangerous cup of poison. Despite this, St Cecilia’s Day was celebrated in 1683, when the programme included a church service and an entertainment which included an ode, or poem of praise. In that year The Musicians’ Company was formed to keep the Day in a worthy manner, and each year after that the Company met at St Bride’s Church in London. Later, they transferred the ceremony to St Paul’s Cathedral, where in 1907 a stained glass window was presented in honour of the saint.
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries several provincial cities held similar festivals, including Wells, Oxford, Salisbury, Winchester and Devizes. Dublin and Edinburgh also staged celebrations in more recent times. These festivals inspired Odes by Purcell, to words Nicholas Brady, and by Jeremiah Clarke, to words by Dryden. In 1942, Benjamin Britten, whose birthday was 22nd November, also composed an Ode to St Cecilia. In 1946, after a public lunch at which the Lord Mayor spoke and the Poet Laureate recited a poem, there was a service at St Sepulchre’s Church and a concert at the Royal Albert Hall, attended by the Queen. Two orchestras took part and works by Purcell and more recent English composers, Elgar, Vaughan Williams and Walton were performed, including Purcell’s Ode of 1692.
Saint Cecilia with an Angel, Gentileschi
- Hail, Bright Cecilia! (exeterbachsociety.wordpress.com)
- Prayer to St Cecilia (prayers4reparation.wordpress.com)
- Rome Pilgrimage (toloveandtruth.net)
- Happy St Cecilia’s Day (blueeyedennis-siempre.blogspot.com)