Sta­tions of the Cross on a spe­cial South African pil­grim­age

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES - MICHAEL WEEDER By the Way

THIRTY Angli­can clergy mem­bers, led by Bishop Garth Coun­sell, un­der­took an un­usual pil­grim­age a few weeks ago.

Its for­mat – that of the tra­di­tional sta­tions of the cross – was set in the con­text of Robben Is­land with its lay­ered his­tory as a place of ban­ish­ment and cruel iso­la­tion.

At the Robben Is­land Gate­way, we read from the Gospel of Luke, chap­ter 24. This story of the two dis­ci­ples meet­ing Je­sus while walk­ing from Jerusalem to their home in the vil­lage of Em­maus res­onates with the is­land’s sto­ries of so­cial death, its ex­am­ples of res­ur­rected hope and, ul­ti­mately, lib­er­a­tion.

Our first sta­tion was at the pen­guin board walk. Here the African pen­guin fea­tured as a sym­bol of hope. By the 1800s th­ese flight­less seabirds, vul­ner­a­ble to the ex­cesses of hu­man set­tle­ment, were listed as ex­tinct. The pen­guins were rein­tro­duced to is­land life in 1983 and they chose to give it “an­other chance and once again to make it their home”.

We broke for tea af­ter vis­it­ing the shrine ded­i­cated to the mem­ory of Sayed Mo­turu, a prince and Mus­lim cleric.

Here we greeted one an­other with a Salaam alaykum (Peace be upon you), fol­lowed by the re­ply, Wa alaykum as-salaam (And upon you be peace).

Fa­ther Mzwandile Ma­gadla rat­tled off the greet­ings in im­pres­sively ac­cented Ara­bic. Oth­ers, such as the rector of St Mary’s Wood­stock, Fa­ther Don­a­van Meyer, were ver­bally gen­er­ous with their Al hamdu lil­lah’s (Praise be to God).

We were re­minded that Ara­bic was a lan­guage and not a re­li­gion, and that it was the lin­guis­tic prog­eny of Ara­maic, the mother-tongue of Je­sus.

The sto­ries on the walls of the cell in the max­i­mum se­cu­rity pri­son pro­vided an insight into how Robben Is­land con­trib­uted to the South African story of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. The or­di­nary dramas of fam­ily life would test many.

One fel­low learnt that his wife, car­ry­ing the child of an­other man, had been sent back to her fam­ily. On his re­lease seven years later, this man sought out his wife.

He re­turned home with her, their chil­dren and the two chil­dren from the other man. He re­garded all the chil­dren as his own and, re­fer­ring to his wife re­port­edly said: “She didn’t send me to jail.”

We spent a long time in the house where PAC leader Robert Man­gal­iso Sobukwe was in­terned and held in soli­tary con­fine­ment.

The de­scrip­tion of his silent ges­ture of greet­ing and sol­i­dar­ity when­ever pris­on­ers trooped past his house, en­gen­dered a deep re­spect for this man of whom lit­tle is said or writ­ten th­ese days.

We con­cluded our pil­grim­age with the Eucharist in the Chapel of the Good Shep­herd.

In Novem­ber 1999, Arch­bishop Njon­gonkulu Ndun­gane reded­i­cated the chapel as a place of wor­ship.

Fa­ther Njongo had spent three years on Robben Is­land. He is num­bered among those who lit the pil­grim’s path. He and oth­ers, such as the poet Den­nis Bru­tus, left a legacy for suc­ces­sive gen­er­a­tions to know that re­sis­tance is pos­si­ble and evil can be over­come.

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