Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 9_KwaZuluNatal

Platberg Pilgrimage

Harrismith had the biggest influx of people in its history recently. Well, that would be my guess. I don’t think even the Rhino Rally ever brought in THIS amount of people! I mean those rowwe hard-drinking okes fit a maximum of two people on their vehicles . .

– a rhino rally – I think –

. . . whereas I would guess the teetotal Shembes are unlikely to put less than sixty people in a sixty-seater bus? And there were LOTS of those buses in town. The view is the eastern side of town with the mountain behind you.

– shembe buses and cars – 95 Stuart Street in the yellow oval – our house 1960 to 1973 –

In a way they were coming home: The founder of the Shembe church, Isaiah Mloyiswa Mdliwamafa Shembe, was born in 1865 at Ntabamhlophe outside Estcourt in the Drakensberg region of Natal. When he was very young his family fled from Shaka during the Mfecane period to the Harrismith district of the Orange Free State, ending up there as tenants on a farm of ‘an Afrikaner family named the Graabes.’

Then the stories start: Like many other people of Harrismith he absorbed the local spirits; and like many ‘prophets’ before him, young Shembe ‘died and was resurrected at the age of three when relatives sacrificed a bull before his body could be interred’; He was ‘visited by God on many occasions’; He was ‘taught how to pray by God himself’;

The call of Isaiah Shembe to his life’s vocation can be traced back to an experience at Ntabazwe Mountain in Harrismith. The mountain is also called Platberg in Afrikaans, meaning ‘Flat Mountain;’ and Thabantsho in seSotho, Black Mountain. Earlier he was on a farm (near) Witzieshoek in the Harrismith district; and then he moved to the land on the outskirts of Harrismith, (near) the mountain of Ntabazwe. Here Shembe experienced several revelations as a young boy, and it was through the means of lightning that he received his call.

When he was told to ‘find a place to pray to God’, he tried the Wesleyan Church that was nearby. However they were not right for him: they didn’t know how to baptise properly. Then came the Boer War and, abandoning his wives, he spent some time on the Rand. He joined a Baptist church there. After he returned to Harrismith the leader of his new church came to his place in 1906 to baptise Shembe. Proper baptism under water, not just a drop of water on your forehead, Methodists!

Shembe went to Natal and started accumulating followers. He would send them ahead to new areas to pronounce him as a ‘Man of Heaven.’ As his success and number of followers grew, so did his power. What you ate, what you thought, what you wore, what you did, how men were to rule over their women, was all prescribed by the great man. A lot of what you had to do happened to make him rich. Hey! Coincidence! The legend grew. Shembe must have been highly intelligent and astute, as he told vivid parables, and showed uncanny insights into people’s thoughts. He also did the dramatic healing trick. He composed music, writing many moving hymns; he had his sermons reduced to writing and they became scripture, and he provided his followers with a rich liturgical tradition based on modified forms of traditional Zulu dancing. In 1913 Shembe visited Nhlangakazi Mountain which became the movement’s holy mountain. At Nhlangakazi he was told by the Holy Spirit to form his own church. This place later became his place of annual pilgrimage every first Sunday of the year.

The Shembe Bible is known as the Book of the Birth of the Prophet Shembe. Their writings say ‘On March 10, 1910 it was the arrival of the Prophet Isaiah Shembe at KwaZulu Natal (Durban) from Ntabazwe (Harrismith), as he was instructed by the Word of God to do so. The Word of God told Shembe that they will meet at KwaZulu (Natal).’

In the 1930s Shembe commissioned his friend and neighbour, the renowned John Dube, to write his biography. The book uShembe, appeared shortly after his death, and contains much of the essential Shembe lore and hagiography, but Dube was an ordained minister and not a Nazarite, so he does not only present Shembe in flattering terms. Shembe’s bona fides as a prophet are questioned, and his undoubted skill at extracting money from his membership is highlighted. Dube alleged that Shembe was overtaxing rentals; that he was conducting baptism for payment – part of his fundraising for the church; that he was extorting money from members as he paid lobola for young girls whom he married; and that he was corrupt and exploitative. – Tch! Just what an ambitious prophet / saviour / manifestation of God doesn’t need: an honest biographer! Shembe’s son and heir, Shembe II, Galilee Shembe forbade his followers to read the book. Hey! You know that book my father asked his friend, uMfundisi Dube to write? Don’t Read It!

A factor of the huge success of African Independent Churches like the amaNazaretha has been their emphasis on ‘Africa for Africans’. Often implicit, but explicitly verbalised by Shembe, this has been the main cause for the break-away from the mainline or mission – or European – churches. They wanted their own identity. However, discontent has continued to plague these church formations, even after self-governance and independence. Money and power corrupts, and they have splintered into many different internal groups and factions. Succession wrangles in the Shembe Nazaretha Baptist Church have given birth to the current seven factions, six of them headed by Shembe family members. Various battles have raged since 1935 when the original Shembe, Isaiah, died. The latest succession struggle started in 2011.

So who decides who is divinely anointed to lead the church? Very modernly, it is not a God . . not a king . . not a council of elders . . nor a new legitimate national democratic government – No! A judge of the courts. They’re like, Step aside, this is not a small matter! I have brought my lawyers! The prize is reportedly worth many millions. As with all human endeavours, greed is always a big factor.

So who went to Harrismith this year? Which faction? I don’t know . . we’d have to ask an insider. I just hope they didn’t ascend the mountain. Fragile Platberg does not need 6000 humans on it.

See some of Platberg’s beauty in this amazing post.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

hagiography – biography of exaggerated, uncritical praise, usually of a religious person; I had to look that up;

Pippin Oosthuizens’ THEOLOGY OF THE AMA-NAZARITES WRITTEN AT THE REQUEST OF THE RIGHT REVEREND LONDA NSIKA SHEMBE – BY G. C. OOSTHUIZEN

Magnus Echtler’s Shembe is the Way: The Nazareth Baptist Church in the Religious Field and in Academic Discourse

Lucky Dube wrote a song about the Shembe religion –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
3_USA 7_Confessions travel

Let’s Save Us Some Souls!

The new preacherman at the Christian Church of Apache Oklahoma, looked me up after he’d been in town a while and invited me over to his place. Turns out he was interested in becoming a mission-nary to Africa and wanted to meet one of the real-deal Africans he’d heard and read so much about. Maybe suss out just how much we needed saving?

A HUGE man, six feet and nine inches tall, Ron Elrick wore a string tie, a ‘ten gallon’ stetson and cowboy boots, making him damn near eight feet tall fully dressed as he stooped through doors and bent down to shake people’s hands. I met his tiny little wife who was seemingly half his height, and two lil daughters at their house, the church ‘manse’ or ‘vicarage’.

there’s the house next to the church

Ron was an ex-Canadian Mountie and a picture on his mantelpiece showed him towering over John Wayne, when Wayne was in Canada to film a movie.

The actor Mountie in the movie had to be shorter than John Wayne!

Soon he invited me to join him on a men’s retreat to “God’s Forty Acres” in NE Oklahoma (the yanks are way ahead of Angus Buchan in this “get away from the wife, go camping on a farm, and when you get back tell her you’re the boss, the head of the house, the patriarch – the ‘prophet'” shit. I mean, this was 1973!). I had made it known from my arrival in Apache that I would join anybody and go anywhere to see the state and get out of school – I mean hey! I’d already DONE matric!

So we hopped into his muddy pink wagon with ‘wood’ panelling down the sides – it looked a bit like these in the pictures. We roared off from Caddo county heading north-east, bypassing Oklahoma City and Tulsa to somewhere near Broken Arrow or Cherokee county  – towards the Arkansas border, anyway. Me n Ron driving along with the wind in our hair like Thelma and Louise.

Non-stop monologue on the way. He didn’t need any answers, I just had to nod him yes and he could talk non-stop for hours on end. At the retreat there were hundreds of men and boys just like him, no women. Unless you count them in the background who made and served the food. The men were all fired up for the Lawrd, bellowing the Retreat Song at the drop of a hat:

“In Gahd’s Fordy Yacres . . !!”♫

We musta sang it 400 times in that weekend. If I was God I’d have done some smiting.

We left at last and headed back, wafting along like on a mattress in that long slap wagon, when Ron suddenly needed an answer: Had I ever seen a porno movie? WHAT? I hadn’t? Amazing! Well, jeez, I mean goodness, he felt it as sort of like a DUTY to enlighten me and reveal to me just how evil and degraded these movies could be. So we detoured into Tulsa. Maybe he regarded it as practice for the mission-nary work he was wanting to do among us Africans?

We sat through a skin flick in a seedy movie house. It was the most skin ‘n pubic hair ‘n pelvis ‘n pulsating organs this eighteen year old boykie from the Vrystaat had seen to date so it was, after all, educational. Thin plot, though.

I suppose you could say I got saved and damned all on one weekend.

——-ooo000ooo——-

footnote:

Ron did get to Africa as a mission-nary. He was posted to Jo-hannesburg. Lotsa ‘sinners’ in Jo-hannesburg, I suppose. I’m just not sure they need ‘saving’ by a Canadian Mountie.

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

Crisis Averted

The Church of England, Vrystaat Outpost of the British Empire Division, in its small sandstone building in Harrismith – off the beaten track, not even in the shadow of the tall, imposing Kerk of the Chosen People in the square which sat smack in the middle of Warden Street, interrupting the flow of traffic, forcing ox-wagons and – later – automobiles to go AROUND it – had a big problem:

Dwindling membership and a severe shortage of people able to serve the Queen and the Home Country – oh, and the Lord – as deacons.

Not a new problem, this shortage had occupied the minds of these good Anglican, Anglophile Colonialists even before the darned Nationalists had taken over Colonial Rule in 1948 and the death of their dear King George in 1952. Long gone were the days when the mayor and a few councilors might occupy these pews (and speak English at town meetings!). Everyone who was anyone now sat in the Kerk pews of a Sunday and listened to thundering donder n bliksem sermons of power and guilt (and what one could quite legitimately do to the sons of Ham) up the road.

Part of the problem was those families who might cough up good English deacons sent their sons away. Hilton, Michaelhouse, St Andrews, Treverton. You know, good Church schools (yes, some of them might be Methodist, but one has to make do out here in the Colonies). Trouble was, these good schools’ chapels cured them of any desire to spend more Sundays on cold, hard wooden benches. So what to do?

A thought: What about young Clive Oswald? An approving murmur started up among the little group of Church elders, a quiet buzz . . . He had recently returned to the district to join his father and mother on the farm. Young, good-looking, polite, capable; why, it was like manna sent from . . .

“Has his shadow ever darkened the door of this church!?” boomed a voice.

Belonging to Joan Simpson. Dairy farmer; Long-serving deacon; Anglophile; Known for sleeping on her bed on the open porch of the farmhouse she shared with her sister Vera. Year-round, even in Harrismith’s freezing winter. And for delivering milk in big metal cans on the back of her grey Morris Minor pickup – made in England, what. And for wearing khaki trousers at all times. Occasionally a dress to a MOTH do or high church. She’d served in the war, and was still now serving in defence of what was right.

Well, that settled that question. Tabs Fyvie was safe. England expects every Church of England in the Provinces to do its duty and die quietly, fizzling away with dignity.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Joan is probably in this picture somewhere:

MOTHs names
– Platberg MOTH Shellhole, Harrismith ca.1960 –

Luckily Joan probably hadn’t spotted Tabbo patronising the Anglican Bazaar, or she might have mollified her stance and he might have been sentenced to carry the collection plate for decades.

~~~oo0oo~~~

kerk – stepping stone to heaven; compulsory

donder en bliksem – fire and brimstone