Sunday in District Six and Table Mountain

2017-11-19 13.49.36On Sunday the conference journeyed to the Moravian Hill church in District Six. In the 19th century this was a working class community to the south of Table Mountain. People of many ethnic groups lived there together and worshiped in a variety of churches, mosques, and synagogues. The Moravians built a beautiful and had an active ministry, especially among folks who had moved from rural areas to work in Cape Town.

But during the Apartheid era the government decided that Cape Town needed to be made into a “modern” city and that District Six should be only for white people. Hundreds of thousands of people were forcibly removed from their homes, which were then destroyed. The people were sent to shanty towns where there were no schools or most modern facilities. The Moravian congregation was removed and the church building was almost demolished, but instead it was given over to the university and was used as gymnasium. After the end of apartheid the building was returned to the Moravian Church and a new congregation is being formed.

Some of us rode buses and others walked to the church for a rousing worship service in multiple languages with an inspiring sermon from Bishop Joemath. He was one of several bishops present. We managed to take a group photo outside the church.

After the service we took buses to the District Six museum. That museum is primarily for local people rather than tourists, and so it is probably not surprising that the bus drivers took us to the South African Museum instead. We corrected the mistake and arrived at the proper museum. It was hard to fit a hundred people in the museum, which is housed in a former Methodist Church.

The museum moved me to tears. It is dedicated to the memory of the people who were forced to leave. I have rarely been in a museum that was so thick with memories and emotions. It is a sacred space. Some of the people who were relocated serve as guides in the museum. Our guide spoke with such joy about what it was like to be a child growing in District Six and about her multi-ethnic family. Some people had assembled “memory suitcases” of items from their old homes that showed what they loved and valued. We heard about apartheid and the resistance to us.

The museum director praised the Moravians for the key role they played in the resistance effort. She said that the best schools were run by the church and that Moravian teachers taught politics as well as religion. She called them schools of resistance. She told us that the museum is not for tourists, but Moravians are not tourists. It is our museum, too.

I had lunch with a German fellow named Neals and I mentioned that I was planning to play hokey and go to Table Mountain on Monday. He told me that the weather would be bad that day, but it is perfect now, so he and a fellow German named Christina were planning to go to the mountain right after lunch. I asked to be included in the trip and we picked up Crystal from Trinidad. We felt a little guilty for skipping the musical event planned for the late afternoon, but the trip will be a special memory for me for years to come.

The mountain is one of the oldest mountains in the world, and it forms an impressive backdrop to Cape Town. We rode the cable car up to the top and spent a couple of hours hiking up there. Some areas were a bit challenging to an old man like me, but it was worth the effort. We had such fun as a group. Crystal was particularly effervescent. The landscape is very rocky but there are a variety of beautiful flowering bushes. The view from the top is overwhelming. From one direction you look out over the city and across the harbor to Robben Island where Mandela was imprisoned for so many years. From another direction we could see the Twelve Apostles mountains. And in yet another direction we could look out over the beaches to the southern Atlantic stretching to the horizon. The ocean was especially beautiful as the sun began to set.

When I got back to the hotel people told me that my face was glowing. It was not just the effect of the sun on my pale skin. After days of being indoors in meetings, it was rejuvenating to walk across the rocky mesa under a blue sky. My new heart valve is working well. Even though my hips and back were aching from the excursion (especially the cramped cab ride) I felt so good. Not surprising I was ravenous at dinner. After talking to Julie and Madeleine on FaceTime, I went to sleep in gratitude for a beautiful and meaningful day.

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