Grave con­cerns fire up pro­test­ers

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - FRONT PAGE -

LAST Sun­day, dur­ing our Eucharist ser­vice, a group of peo­ple gath­ered in protest on the steps of St Ge­orge’s Cathe­dral.

As I walked out through the cathe­dral doors, the pun­gent smell of burn­ing kooi­goed im­me­di­ately brought mem­o­ries of my child­hood to mind. It also confused me.

The sage we burnt in our home was part of a rite to ward off evil and to as­sert our faith in God, whom we called upon to pro­tect us.

Now it was part of the the­atre of protests against the mother church of the Angli­can Church of South­ern Africa (ACSA). Some peo­ple in the group of 30-some­thing pro­test­ers self-iden­ti­fied as mem­bers of the khoi com­mu­nity.

Just a week ago, a woman from the North­ern Cape had told me, “I am proud to know that we have a Boes­man dean at our cathe­dral”.

The lyrics of Bob Mar­ley’s Am­bush in the Night de­fined the mo­ment: “All guns aim­ing at me. Am­bush in the night. They opened fire on me.” Our church was in the fir­ing line of peo­ple who ac­cused us of be­ing greedy cap­i­tal­ists and ly­ing grave rob­bers.

Con­cerned res­i­dents of Gar­lan­dale, Athlone, were un­happy about an an­tic­i­pated prop­erty de­vel­op­ment ad­ja­cent to the lo­cal high school in the area and they felt there had been in­ad­e­quate con­sul­ta­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Oth­ers added their voices to the call to halt the ex­huma­tion of the re­mains of 2 500 peo­ple buried at Black River Ceme­tery in Athlone.

The land is owned by ACSA and we had ad­hered to the re­quire­ments of the Her­itage Act with re­gard to the ex­huma­tion process.

On Sun­day, the pro­test­ers ex­tended their bat­tle site from the ceme­tery to the steps of “The Peo­ple’s Cathe­dral”.

It was a tar­get well cho­sen, as the steps are the tra­di­tional site to regis­ter calls for jus­tice.

A fur­ther irony was that the Sun­day of the protests against ACSA was within the oc­tave of days in which we com­mem­o­rate All Saints Day. Our litur­gi­cal fo­cus re­mem­bered the many un­sung and un­known heroes of the faith, whose fidelity was known only to God. Many of the dead of Black River Ceme­tery could surely be num­bered on the roll of hon­our as­so­ci­ated with All Saints Day.

I am a mem­ber of our church’s board of trustees and there­fore party to the de­ci­sion with re­gard to the ceme­tery. In a state­ment, I ap­pealed that the church and the var­i­ous in­ter­est groups should sit down and talk, and lis­ten to each other with­out pre-judge­ment.

By Mon­day, Head­man Joe Da­mons of the Western Cape Leg­isla­tive KhoiSan Coun­cil (WCLKSC), con­tacted me and said the fol­low­ing: “We deeply re­gret the in­ci­dent that took place out­side the church, and con­demned the con­duct of the pro­test­ers in the most strong­est terms ever.”

He also wel­comed my re­quest for en­gage­ment and asked that we re­flect “on these very se­ri­ous is­sues per­tain­ing to the plight of the Abo­rig­i­nal KhoiSan Peo­ples (‘coloureds’) and the huge re­spon­si­ble role the church ought to play in the dy­nam­ics of these chal­lenges”.

In ret­ro­spec­tion, I ac­knowl­edge that we ought to have ap­proached the ex­huma­tion process in a man­ner that was more in­clu­sive of the broad sec­tor of Cape Town’s com­mon­wealth of com­mu­ni­ties.

When some­one dies, there is the or­gan­ised com­fort of a prayer meet­ing as part of the rit­u­als of mourn­ing. Dur­ing the burial ser­vice, the life of the de­ceased is re­called and re­mem­bered in trib­utes, songs and po­etry.

The dead are laid to rest to the sound of our voices say­ing their names, re­mem­ber­ing their laugh­ter. We bid our fond and sad farewell while singing hymns to ac­com­pany them on their jour­ney to the home of eter­nal love.

We can be right ac­cord­ing to the stip­u­la­tion of the law and yet wrong in the way we re­gard those who have died as if they are dead.

They are alive in so many ways and it not too late to hon­our them ap­pro­pri­ately.

Let us gather at the ta­ble of un­com­fort­able con­ver­sa­tions and talk, no mat­ter how right we may be and how wrong we be­lieve oth­ers to be. That is the African way.

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