Winnie’s legacy must be about love
THE snow-scattered peaks of the North Shore Mountains above Vancouver in British Columbia, Canada, was my reference on my early morning walk about that city this week.
I was a speaker at the annual gathering of the Urban and Suburban Clergy Conference (USCC), a meeting of mainly Episcopalian priests from the
United States and our lone Canadian Anglican Peter Elliot, our gracious host and Dean of Christ Church Cathedral. My three-part talk was entitled “Memoir, memory and faith: A series of shared reflections on how our life experiences inform our faith perspective”.
We explored the redemptive possibilities of our past, personal and collective, viewed through the lens offered by the Twi word, ‘ Sankofa’ (‘Go back and get it’.)
This bird of Ghanaian mythology is depicted as a creature in flight, its head turned backwards, holding an egg in its beak. The image is well defined by the Asante Adingo proverb: “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten”.
Sometimes when you knock on the door of the past, be aware that the pain-filled, remembered opening of it, is necessary.
Sam Candler, Dean of Atlanta, Georgia, preaching at the Eucharist of the USCC’s last day of conference, cited Leonard Cohen:
“Show me the place, help me roll away the stone … I can’t move this thing alone … show me the place where the suffering began.”
The gift to a preacher – when listening to a sermon borne from a heart attuned to the dark complexities of grace – is the refrain sounding from the backroads of your own unremembered life. 1981, my first year at St Paul’s Seminary, Grahamstown, brought me into close, conflictual contact with white men who shared with me a calling to the priesthood. Our Friday evening Eucharist celebrations were joyous, yet unlocked in me both envy and anger that I shared with our chaplain, Carl Garner. There would be a moment of silence during the service. Then an almost murmured chorus of the voices of my fellows would rise to the rafters of the small chapel. It was beautiful and it confounded me.
“I long for the gift of the Holy Spirit,” I told Father Carl. I wanted to sing like those who had the gift of glossolalia, the ecstatic singing in an unknown language.
But all these angelic voices came from the hearts of hard-core racists. If God loves everyone, why does it seem that these bigots are his favourites? Was
God white and had we black Christians been conscripted into the ultimate parable of conquest underscored by that distant act of land appropriation referred to by Archbishop Desmond Tutu?
The Arch had said: “When the white man came to Africa, they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray’. We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.”
“You have the gift of the Holy Spirit”, was Father Carl’s gentle reply. He then detailed the gifts that God had given me.
For white men to step forward, he observed, to serve in a majority black church in a season of intense politicisation took courage. But fear was the hard insignia of entitlement and privilege and God only leads us where we are willing to go.
The gift of glossolalia was the first, budding fruit of being born again into the fullness of being human.
The documentary, Winnie, casts Mam’ Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in the role of a troublesome thorn in the flesh of the body-politic of patriarchy.
And that account is “gonna hurt, now,” said Amy, a character in Toni Morrison’s novel, Beloved. Because, “anything dead coming back to life hurts.”
But in loving Ma Winnie in the insurgent ways of recent days, can we really do so at the cost of damning our Arch and his fellow sentinel of justice, Madiba?
The accusations are the bitter fruits of guilt; of not having done enough. Let the legacy of the Mother of our Nation be in the ways that we love ourselves, each other and in all the ways that she was denied the fullness of love and life.