... happening in Swaziland

Friday, June 23, 2006

Gospel soap

by Ken Rowley

Reading the Ncandweni Christ Ambassadors story last Sunday, I discovered a subtext in Khayalethu Masuku’s remarks about how difficult it was for him to live the life advertised in his songs. In fact his remarks reminded me of the story about three pastors who regularly met to discuss what was happening in their churches and their lives. One time, one of the pastors suggested that the three each confessed their secret sins, knowing that as a group they could pray for each other and provide healing. The first pastor, who was a Roman Catholic, confessed that he’d become addicted to the communion wine in his church—so much so that on many Sundays he prayed that no-one would come to church so that he could drink all the wine himself. The other two pastors listened and said they would pray for him. The next pastor said that a young couple had just moved into the house next to his church house and that the lady was very pretty. One morning he had been at home and noticed that the young wife put the washing on the line whilst wearing only a negligee. The pastor had become so excited that now he organised his weekly schedule so that he was always at home to watch the lady when she put out the washing. The other two pastors listened and said they would pray for him. The third pastor now had his chance to confess, but to the others’ surprise he said he’d changed his mind and refused to say anything. The other two reasoned with him and argued why he should confess. ‘All right,’ he said, ‘I’ll tell you, but you won’t like it. I’m a terrible gossip, and I can’t wait to get out of here and tell everyone about you two!’

Just why did I remember that joke that isn’t really a joke? It’s because many churches are hotbeds of gossip and backbiting and many Christian families try to live up to an image that is only that—an image.

But anyone who reads the New Testament with even half an eye can see at once that the first Christians weren’t superhuman, super-rinsed, clean-as-clean believers. Paul wrote to the Corinthians because of their sexual escapades and blatant abuse of spiritual gifts; James wrote his letter because of the gossips and those who thought themselves holier than the rest; and the whole of the short letter of Jude is both a rebuke and a warning to the church about attitudes and lifestyles. (Interestingly, in the first letter to Timothy, in a famous passage about women’s beauty, the writer specifically attacks women’s expensively and elaborately braided hair.)

If it’s a truism that great minds discuss ideas, that average minds discuss things, and that shallow minds discuss only people, then we live in a very shallow world, for discussing people is the everyday game of the masses, who are addicted to television and radio soaps. One of the best soaps never made yet is the one centred on the intrigues and goings-on within a local church. Think The Bold and the Beautiful where the main characters are the preachers and their families; think Generations within a church choir or gospel group.

Part of the problem is that the gospel industry has drunk of the spirit of the world. I remember three stories that are pertinent here. In the early 1960s, three men got together in the UK to form a gospel group. They made great records and their songs were very influential. But they never allowed their pictures or even their names to appear on their records—‘It is God, not us,’ they said, ‘who deserves the glory.’ They donated all their profits to charity. Then there was a gifted Christian ‘rock’ artist who released a much-anticipated album (it even had Bob Dylan guesting on it) but decided that it shouldn’t be sold but given away ‘for whatever—if anything—people can afford’ because ‘the message of life should be free to all who need it.’ Lastly, I remember being with a gospel artist from the USA who turned down requests to sign records and give autographs, because he was ‘nobody special, just a servant whom God has been able to use’.

In the last fifteen or so years, especially with the explosion of Christian TV and radio, we’ve witnessed the mushrooming of church superstar personalities whose TV shows, CDs, videos, tapes and books are seemingly everywhere, advertised and sold just as routinely as toothpaste. These individuals are now household names, as is the man from Ncandweni.

We might have been shocked by last week’s story, but Jesus wouldn’t have been. He would have been full of compassion for a man going through difficult days; and Paul would no doubt have applauded Mr Masuku’s honesty.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Mobile coffins

Yes, I know this is the same title as an article written some years ago by Vusi Ginindza—I still remember him writing it; and yes, I know that that article was so hotly received that a vigilante mob of busmen descended on these same Times offices, aiming to add injury to injury; and, yes, I also know that much ink has already been spilt about the recent bus crashes; but it seems to me that spilling ink is always preferable to spilling blood. Unfortunately, what Vusi wrote about then is still happening now.
It does seem that here in Swaziland we never learn from the past. How many cattle have to stray onto our roads before we realise that people are more important than cows? How many drunken drivers have to be locked up before we realise that drinking and driving don’t mix? How many children have to end up scarred and maimed for life or sealed in wooden boxes before we realise that buses, fishes, kombis, sprinters, taxis and the rest are supposed to provide a service for the public rather than provide an opportunity for the transport industry’s chancers?
The chancers—those owners who are so obsessed with making money that they don’t want to pay to maintain their vehicles; those drivers who are so obsessed with proving that they are the ‘men’ of the roads that they speed and swerve as if they are literally on the highway to hell; those conductors who are so obsessed with conducting some of the profits into their own pockets that their owners’ vehicles finish a journey and then almost immediately are forced to turn around to make another, allowing no rest for either man or machine.
Look, it doesn’t matter overmuch if a journey takes a long time—but it does matter if some of the passengers never get there. The point of being in a bus is primarily to get to where you want to go.
Because of where I live I regularly get to drive past buses that have broken down during a journey, and often too I get to see the weary, long-suffering passengers, who have had to abandon a dead bus, struggling up the hill, using good old reliable SD10 to get them there.
Yet even SD10 can get you hurt these days, since some public transport drivers are so reckless that pedestrians get bumped too.
Mobile coffins. Not all of them, it’s true. Maybe not even most of them. But some of them? You bet. And why, just why, should members of the public have to put their lives on the line because of the chancers? The people do—many of them every day—because they have to. The transport industry is a service industry: that is, it offers an essential service to the public, and therefore it is not only open to public scrutiny but also requires tough regulation by government.
Here’s something that you can do to open your eyes: go to the Mbabane Plaza car park after hours and count the number of kombis and fishes and sprinters that are parked there overnight. You will likely be shocked, as I was, for there are so many. And that’s just in one spot. Multiply that spot throughout the country and you will begin to see how big this industry is.
Whether the minister cried or not is not an issue, but the proliferation of these vehicles is. Recently the city council said it needed to build a bigger bus rank to house all of these buses. Yet I can tell you that a new rank, however big it is, will also become too small if things continue the way they have. Already the transport industry is stretching government’s ability to police it, and the people are dying.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The week that was...

It's been a hot and humid week in the kingdom, with temperatures well over 30 degrees. The school results--Primary and Form Three--were published and Chelsea drew with Man United in the Carling Cup. This following of English football is a big thing here, and a lot of men take the games very seriously.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Good Friday 2004
This may be one of the few places in the world that still honours Good Friday by closing down shops, businesses and almost everything so that worshippers can worship. I never thought this was a good thing in earlier years but I do now, realising with horror that our ancestors' ways of life are all fast disappearing. Or if not disappearing, they're certainly fragmenting. Around the globe, multi-culturalism and mass media are feeding into a new hybrid mass-culture that sweeps away national and community identities and champions individuals and cul-de-sac minorities. The result is a maelstrom of differences but shared heroes without any shared morality or philosophy. This is a kind of structured anarchy: I don't have to like you or agree with you or even have anything in common with you, but we must respect each other's right to be entirely different. If you want to set fire to your dog in your yard, then that's your affair--as long as you keep out of my yard and away from my dog. No, that's not it; I forgot, dogs also have rights now. Well, anyway, you get the drift. You're a Muslim and I'm a Buddhist but we both listen to Nirvana 'cos Kurt's our joint hero and we both want to be like him even though we both know he's dead. It's Good Friday, and it's good 'cos we don't have to go to school or work; we don't have to do anything in fact, so we watch the worshippers on their way to church or to the top of the hill if they're Zionists, and we say, 'Wow, how cute,' or 'how quaint' and we appreciate their smart dressing-up and their bibles and their sticks--all the colour and variety of them--but we say no thanks, that's not for us, and we drive instead through town blasting Kurt from the big speakers we purposely placed in our cars just so we could blast Kurt out of them.
Oh, if the whole world would just listen to Kurt! But wait... if the whole world listened to Kurt... that would mean... that would mean... gasp! that would mean that Kurt would be official! It would mean that Kurt would be mainstream and not a rebel! That Kurt would be a culture god! No, no, that would never do. The whole world loving Kurt? Then we'd have to find another hero, somebody else who also wanted to be different, just like us.
But wait up. You and I are the same, aren't we? We're the same because we both want to be different.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

03rd April 2004

Back in action, the day after the night before. The night before was the new nightspot in the valley of heaven, Quartermain's. The joint is named after a character in Haggard's 'King Solomon's Mines', a novel set in Swaziland. Quartermain's is cool, something like an O'Hagan's. There is live music on a Wednesday and Friday, and live music is a great thing. Also, a reasonably timed happy hour on Fridays--9 to 10.

Saturday, October 05, 2002

It’s a bit much when even a word like ‘panty’ seems exciting; my only defence is that the days are hot and a lot of pollen is currently afloat on the breeze. The sap is rising and other things too. Without doubt this sap is feeling the heat.
When I’m out, almost every chick I meet is legging me on—or so it seems. When I’m in, those ethereal beauties haunt my dreams.

Friday, March 22, 2002

Another beautiful day, bright and sunny, blue-skied and hot with a sleek breeze to cool us down. Quite a bit happening in the kingdom but I've been too busy to post anything here. Articles are getting written though (see new stuff on www.swaziplanet.com, and the newspaper, Times Sunday) and myother blog, The Food of Love, is getting attention...
Also, I've moved house, so getting plugged into a phone line is not so easy at the moment. Still, keep it coming, keep writing, keep reading...