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Friday, 20 September 2019

St Martin-in-the-Fields, HeartEdge & St Mary the Virgin Cathedral, Johannesburg (2)

This week I am visiting St Mary the Virgin Cathedral, Johannesburg as part of the ongoing partnership between the Cathedral and St Martin-in-the-Fields, which now also includes HeartEdge membership for the Cathedral.

In addition to visiting churches and projects in Alexandra, Sophiatown and Soweto, I am also meeting a group of young people from the Cathedral who will be visiting St Martin’s at Easter 2020 as part of their leadership development. The visit includes HeartEdge discussions with the Parish Council, Cathedral Canons and International Partnerships Ministry. I have also been invited to be guest preacher at the service to celebrate the 90th year of the Cathedral’s consecration. The service is being livestreamed and can be viewed here.

Day 1 of my visit involved a Cathedral tour by Dean Xolani Dlwati, Mrs. Rosie and Mr. Malebo to take in the beauty and rich history of the building and to meet the Cathedral's staff team. I enjoyed seeing artworks by Tefo Dipholo, Job Kekana, Chaim Stephenson, Leo Théron, among others, as I prepare for my sermon of Sunday which uses these artworks as a lens through which to view the 90th Anniversary of the Cathedral. We also reflected on changes to area and and environment around the Cathedral and their plans to create a new precinct.

Day 2 took us to Soweto where we visited Holy Cross Church, Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, Mandela House and enjoyed a meal at McCoy's Lifestyle Butchery, a restaurant and butchers shop in Senaoane. The Hector Pieterson Memorial and museum is not far from the spot where 12 year-old Hector was shot on the 16 June 1976 during the Soweto uprising that today is a symbol of resistance to the brutality of the apartheid government. Soweto, a city developed as a township for black people during apartheid, lies south of Johannesburg. On 16 June on the day Hector was killed, school children had gathered to protest the imposition of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in township schools. As children began singing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika, and before they could be dispersed, the police opened fire. Some 20 children died in the ensuing pandemonium.
News of the events in Soweto soon spread, igniting uprisings around the country in which hundreds of people died. One of the first to be killed by the police was 12-year-old Hector Pieterson. Newspaper photographer Sam Nzima was in Soweto on June 16 covering the protests and the riots which followed. His iconic image of Pieterson’s body being carried by high school student Mbuyisa Makhubo, with his sister, Antoinette Sithole, running alongside, is a graphic representation of repression under the apartheid regime and has become an iconic image around the world of the senseless cruelty and brutality of the apartheid state. This image was used by Chaim Stephenson as the basis for his twin sculptures at St Mary's Cathedral and St Martin's.

On Day 3 we attended the Eucharist at St Michael and All Angels Anglican Church, Alexandra, led by their Rector Fr Clayton Moitsiwa. The church opened its doors in 1930 and it has been a beacon of hope and a place of solace for the community of Alexandra. Fr Clayton showed me the old church building, community projects, Nelson Mandela's first home in Johannesburg and the Alexandra Heritage CentreAlexandra Township, located in northern central Johannesburg on the banks of the Jukskei river, covers an area of under 8 square kilometres, yet is home to nearly half a million people. The township is one of the few remaining original 'black freehold' settlements and has huge cultural and political historical significance. Over time the original well-built housing has been subsumed with extensive 'informal' development, a reaction to the demand for accommodation from migrant labour. This poor, densely populated and inadequately serviced area is a stark contrast to the nearby wealthy suburbs of Sandton. Mandela's Yard is a small precinct of buildings set within the heart the township. Within the precinct is a small dwelling where Nelson Mandela lived in 1942. The nearby Alexandra Heritage Centre has a museum where Alexandra history is archived.

On Day 4 I had conversations with Godfrey Henwood (Canon and former Dean of the Cathedral) and Trisha Sibbons, visited St Alban's Cathedral, Union Buildings and Freedom Park in Pretoria, before a visit to The Market Theatre in Johannesburg to see Venus vs Modernity, by the acclaimed poet Lebo Mashile. Following this visit, there was an opportunity to meet theatreduo who are shortly to perform Tswalo at The Market Theatre. Tswalo combines ritual, physical storytelling and heightened text to explore the primary themes of being, chaos and beauty, blood and birth, love and war. Leo Théron completed four large windows for St Alban's Cathedral in Pretoria, a major achievement in South Africa in terms of figurative liturgical design, and it was a real pleasure to see them.

On my return I will share news of the Cathedral and our partnership as part of our Harvest Eucharist at St Martin's on Sunday 29 September, when the theme will be Global Neighbours.


Soweto Gospel Choir - Umbombela.