Semana Santa, the S.A. way

 Gimme that ole time…

It’s Easter and that means four days of unusual peace and quiet in buzzy Joburg.  Half the city leaves to “go home”. Joburg is not home for many who live/work here, it’s where they live/work; home is where they came from, where the gogos live, and where the ancestors are buried. On Monday, people will gather at the graves, tidy them up, plant flowers and have a picnic with family.

This morning at Aquafitness, our instructor, Mfundu, was giving the class from the pool deck wearing black slacks, a white shirt (with cufflinks!) a tie and highly polished black brogues. He cut the class a bit short so he could get to church on time.

South Africans are way more religious than Canadians. And some of the religions are a bit of a mishmash of traditional stuff and “Christian” add ons. On most Sundays around Joburg and elsewhere in S.A. there will be churches meeting outside, usually under a tree. The one below is on a strip of land I drive by every day to work.


Rainbow headgear nation!

And, like elsewhere, there are religious wing nuts. This guy I call The Friday Preacher.

Repent, ye minions of Mammon!

Repent, ye minions of Mammon!

Great garments, Batman!

Great garments, Batman!

He comes and parks below our offices in the CBD on Friday mornings. Driving a big black SUV, he opens the back gate and installs two great big speakers that blast Jesus tunes. He’s dressed in some kind of half-Zulu, half God only knows, hold up a cross and stands there for 1/2 hour. Then he comes down and shakes hands with folks. I shook his hand and thanked him for his prayers. He told me that, after the CBD, he goes to Sandton and does the same at the Stock Exchange. I’m sure there’s a really good story here…

This would make Stevie squirm…

But here in South Africa, there is not much discussion about who is the bad guy in the Palestine/Israeli debate. The words Israel and Apartheid are used in the same sentence without anyone blinking. There are huge demonstrations, with unions, politicians of all stripes, religious leaders from all faiths and many people who remember the bad old days here.

No debate here

No debate here

You may by now have heard about Trevor Noah, a stand up comic from SA who will be replacing John Stewart. There is a lot of chatter about his suitability, partly because of anti-Israel jokes he has tweeted out.
South Africans know how to recycle like Israel knows how to be peaceful”  It’s gonna be hard for him in the States, I’m pretty sure. But it’s true, South Africans can’t recycle worth beans!

Oh, and speaking of Apartheid (alive and, well…)

If you’re ever in the Northern Cape, you can visit the lovely town of Orania. That is, only if you’re white (and better yet, if you can speak Afrikaans). Yes, about 15 years ago, they trekked up and formed an “intentional community” to ensure the survival of the Afrikaaner culture. I went to see a great documentary about this place. It probably won’t come to Ottawa soon, but if you get a chance, it’s worth catching. The black men who have been delivering bags of chips and cans of pop to the local pool for over ten years have never been inside the town limits. The pool caretaker meets them on the road and loads up his truck!  Here’s a vimeo trailer:

When is a statue ever “just a statue”?

In Ottawa, we removed the “Indian scout” at the bottom of the Champlain Astrolabe statue when Ovide Mercredi, the chief of the Assembly of  First Nations pointed out that the position and relative size of the scout was demeaning. The NCC agreed to move the statue and have it sit alone. The Ottawa Citizen reported receiving over 500 letters objecting to the removal, saying it was “re-writing history”.

What's wrong with this picture?

What’s wrong with this picture?

This happened about 20 years ago, after the Oka crisis and way before  Idle No More. But probably around the same time many aboriginal women started disappearing out in B.C.

Is this Samuel de Champlain’s “fault”? Do his descendants (I might be one, who knows?) have to wear the burden of oppressors forever?

The question comes up again here in South Africa and has made the news for the past couple of weeks.

Cecil Rhodes was one of those larger than life guys who had a huge footprint on this land,mainly by removing diamonds from the ground. He founded DeBeers, made a whack of dough, did some nice stuff like donating land to the University of Cape Town (UCT) and started the magnificent Kirstenbosch Gardens. He also funded a well known scholarship (Rhodes), producing excellence in many fields (Bill Clinton and Bob Rae are Rhodes scholars, but let’s not go there!). He was probably gay, and he was definitely a colonialist, believing that:  “We (English) are the first race in the world, and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race”. So, there is a statue of Cecil Rhodes at UCT and students have mounted a campaign to have it removed. This has included throwing excrement on it.



It looks like the statue will be removed and now the discussion is about where it will land. One of the options is apparently Mary Fitzgerald Square in Joburg. This is a huge public space, often used for concerts and events, more often used as a parking lot. I can’t imagine this will happen without debate or dissension!

And now there is same happening in Pretoria over a statue of Paul Kruger (President, Afrikaaner) and in Durban about a statue of King George V ( English King, grandfather of current Queen) in Durban.

And ISIL is destroying ancient (7th Century) statues in Nineveh. I dunno….


Re-writing history?






Easter is when you get out your socks and scarves

It’s getting chilly in the mornings here and I’ve taken out my jean jacket. Keeping an eye on the Ottawa weather, where there are still frostbite warnings from the homelessness folks, so not ready to head home until it gets a bit warmer, svp!

And even though the temp is going down and Joburg is getting dryer and dryer, it can still produce this gorgeous thing outside my window:



That’s all for now folks….!






6 thoughts on “Semana Santa, the S.A. way

  1. Cyd Rainville

    Your letters/blogs are really so wonderful. Both you and Debbie write brilliantly and are doing amazing things. I will miss these once you’re home.

    But, it will be lovely to see you soon. Stay warm! We can but hope that it is somewhat improved weather-wise in May for your homecoming!

    Much love

    Cyd xo Sent from my iPhone


  2. melodiebroome

    Nice read over my breakfast! Hey Catherine, happy long weekend! Yesterday it was close to15+ and sunny. We made supper on the barby. However, woke this a.m. to a dusting of snow and a high of only +2 or 3 today, but the sun is shinning! Yes, birds are returning and ever so slowly weather is getting better. Hardly any snow in our backyard. We did a little shopping yesterday at the new Lansdowne Whole Foods, along with the biggest lineups at the cash since opening. It was obviously profitable for them to pay the fine for being open Good Friday! So, be sure that it will be warmer when you come home. Look forward to seeing you! Enjoy the weekend and speak with you soon, Mel

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. alsandor

    “And some of the religions are a bit of a mishmash of traditional stuff and “Christian” add ons. On most Sundays around Joburg and elsewhere in S.A. there will be churches meeting outside, usually under a tree.”

    Synchretistic religions are common. Santeria is a case in point. In fact, even Christianity has some pagan elements to it, especially the calendar of Feast Days which corresponds fairly closely to the Roman religious calendar. It was easier to keep the new religion alive if you pretended to practice the old one as a cover, or in the case of animistic practices, the inverse.

    Alors Joyeuses Pâques. Betty est en Californie jusqu’au 20.

  4. alsandor

    “Is this Samuel de Champlain’s “fault”? Do his descendants (I might be one, who knows?)”

    No. Samuel had no children.

  5. future landfill

    Kris Kristofferson was a Rhodie too. And I don’t think Charlotte Whitton deserved all the flak re: anti-Semitic attitude. Frickin’ prime minister at the time was a right bastard on that file! Hey, did I ever tell you about Charlotte’s South Africa connection?

  6. Karen

    Who will continue to educate us about South Africa in such an interesting way when you are back? I have so enjoyed reading your blogs and Debbie’s as well.I am sure it takes some time to prepare these and I thank you for taking that time. I think there are a lot of us enjoying your posts!

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