20/20 vision for the kingdom of the blind.
25 April 2017 10:38 (South Africa)
Opinionista Mlilo Mpondo

God bless South Africa, our land

  • Mlilo Mpondo
    Mlilo-Mpondo-02.jpg
    Mlilo Mpondo

    Mlilo Mpondo is a mother, a writer and a student of many things, waiting on a vocation decent and worthy enough to support these titles

In times of trouble, I pray to the God of my childhood – the God who was everywhere – to come and find me. Now, more than ever, as an adult, I find that there are places where the God I believed in is missing, especially in this critical time before the elections. I am looking for him, and it is urgent.

“Go monate ho ba mo, it is nice to be here; It’s nice to be here, go monate ho ba mo. God is good all the time; all the time God is good. I greet you all in the name of the most high, glory be to Jesus.” And then the Easter service begins.

I am the granddaughter of a Presbyterian priest. A colossal and strict man, a deep black colour, shoulders large enough to carry the weight of the house and the children that lived in it, with omnipresence that haunts me to this day, sometimes I swear he is still watching me even beyond the grave he rests in, in the rural Eastern Cape. He was my first idea of God; formidable and large, and every night my sisters and I, on bended knees in our living room with palms clasped together and eyes closed shut, were forced into conversation with God, even though we had no idea what we were supposed to say to or to ask of this God; we had conversations with Him regardless.

My grandfather told me that God was everywhere, and he meant this literally. He was on the granddaddy chair in our living room when we watched cartoons, at the foot of our beds when we slept, and the shadow of man that walked with us whenever we were sent by our grandmother to the corner shop. I was never comfortable with the idea of an overarching man following me wherever I went, it was far too intimidating and incomprehensible for my eight-year-old self; besides, God never gave me time to my own thoughts, and so I resolved that I would find a place for him. Where he would henceforth reside was in a large and overshadowing oak tree that grew beyond the fence of the primary school my sister and I attended. This tree, I reasoned with myself, was fitting for a man that immense, it would provide him shade whenever he got weary, and perched on it he could be entertained by the banter and laughter of children playing.

I grew up in a good neighbourhood, New Brighton Fordville in Port Elizabeth. I had no idea it was a township until I started attending school in the suburbs. The kids in my neighbourhood had bicycles, and in each household there was a television set that had M-net open time. Every house had a backyard with a shed and dogs with names other than Browny, Fluffy or Blacky. Some even had swimming pools. But separated by a mere wall there was, and still is, a slum called Chris Hani, where television sets are far and few in between, there are no gravel roads, just dirt, and the houses were, and still are, made of zinc and have no walls. The bicycles that the children from Chris Hani owned were stolen from the children from New Brighton; it was affirmative repossession, our parents joked. Littered with garbage bags soaked in rain or bursted drain pipes, without lights, constantly dark, and always the cloud of a stench that made it impossible to breathe. Houses plastered to each other, with adults that always looked vacant and babies that never stopped crying, not even for a moment to breathe. Trees didn’t grow in that slum; there was no soil for them to. So I supposed that God didn’t live in Chris Hani because there was no place for him either.

“Go monate ho ba mo, it is nice to be here; It’s nice to be here, go monate ho ba mo. God is good, all the time; all the time God is good. I greet you all in the name of the most high, glory be to Jesus.” The preacher asks that we bow our heads in prayer, but right before the congregation does this, a woman the colour of charcoal with a shadow of distress on her face approaches the pedestal and asks that we pray for our country’s leadership. “Pray for this country, pray for our government, pray for our people; these are trying times, God help us.”

Of course, I grew older, and came to understand what my grandfather meant by God being everywhere. And so his home moved from the oak tree outside our school playground and came to reside within me. Because he is inside of me, I take him with wherever I go, although at times I must admit that I tend to misplace him, and have to ask that he come and find me.

In an enigmatic and mystic mantra, chanted in unison with spirit and the slight pace of loin cloth pressed upon hollow wood, Simphiwe Dana sings in the darkness of my room at res. I am pregnant, frightened and barely 23 years old. I have misplaced God yet again, and Simphiwe asks that he come and find me.

Tyhini kutheni na/ingathi nis’libele/ilizwe liyafa sicel’ulwazi/ ngoba nislibele/ Kwasek’qaleni, kwasekuqaleni Naphakade/wawukhona kwasekuqaleni/ubukhulu bakho ubanzi bakho/sendalilibala idinga lam nawe Naphakade/sendiyasondela isizalo sakho nabantwana bakho/ Mna ndiyasondela/ sondela moya.

It seems you have forgotten us/the nation is dying/ we ask for knowledge ‘cause we seem to have forgotten. It was you from conception, you were there from the dawn/ You who is forever, you existed/ in the beginning your magnitude, your depth/ I have forgotten my covenant with you Almighty/ I draw closer to you/ As I come nearer to your divinity/ draw me near to you/ I ask that you bring me closer to you/ your blood/ your children/ I come nearer to you.

Siyabuza nisilibele na/ Sondlale ngengubo eluhlaza/ imithandazo yethu phezulu/ Kwehlabathi lonke/ Masizuze ukukhanya/ Mabudede ubumnyama/ Masizuze ukukhanya/ Mabuded ubumnyama/ Sicula ingoma yabantwana be Afrika entsha.

In sincerity we ask, have you truly forgotten us/ cover us in a green blanket with our prayers to the heavens/ for the entire world/ let it be enlightened/ let us bring the light nearer/ let the darkness subside

Our nation has always turned to God, because we know that we misplace him often.

“Go monate ho ba mo, it is nice to be here; It’s nice to be here, go monate ho ba mo. God is good, all the time; all the time God is good. I greet you all in the name of the most high, glory be to Jesus.”

I am in fifth grade at a white Model C school. There is a vast hall where the school congregates each morning for notices and prayer. It is a Roman Catholic school where I first learn the Hail Mary, and I come to fall in love with this woman. The Lord is with her; Mary full of grace, blessed is she amongst women and blessed is the fruit of her womb, Jesus; and so each morning at Mass we call to her to remember us in prayer. To this day we say this prayer, even when inebriated, because truly at our most joyful of moments we remember what she meant to us as children.

When Mass ends, right before we are to leave the hall to attend either English or Maths (to which we implore God for his mercy), the headmaster commands that we rise from our seats and sing the national anthem. This was the first dignified song I had ever learned. Even at age 10 I knew it was the womb of our people’s ancestry and sorrow, a prayer of hope sung by a people that were all too familiar with spiritual anguish bellied in the chords of prayer. Even when in song my people pray.

Nkosi sikelel' iAfrika/Maluphakanyisw' uphondo lwayo/Yizwa imithandazo yethu/Nkosi sikelela, thina usapho lwayo.

God bless Africa/ Raise her glory high/ hear our prayers, our petition/ beloved God bless Africa/ Bless us, her children.

Morena boloka setjhaba sa heso/O fedise dintwa la matshwenyeho/ O se boloke, O se boloke/ O se beloke Morena/ setjhaba sa heso/ Setjhaba sa South Afrika

God save our nation/ Bring an end to her pain/ Save her/ Save her/ Save us Almighty/ Save our nation/ Save and keep our South Africa.

Uit die blou van onse hemel/Uit die diepte van ons see (doom doom doom)/Oor ons ewige gebergtes/Waar die kranse antwoord gee.

From the deepest blue of our heavens/ from the deepest of our seas (we imitate piano: doom doom doom)/over everlasting mountains/ where the echoing crags resound

Sound to call to come together/ and united we shall stand/ let us live and strive for freedom/ In South Africa OUR LAND (we all go insane with fucking pride).

Then it is off to our classrooms after mass, off to our lives after rugby games, off to our selves when the show is over, curtains closed, lights off when no one is watching. And we forget, we forget who we were and what we have become. We forget what we prayed for in song and in history. We forget and misplace God. He remains yet in the oak tree beyond my school’s playground, always in waiting with no place in Chris Hani, my backyard slum, absent in our Cabinet, in our presidency, in our people, in ourselves. Perhaps now is when we should call upon him to come and find us, because again he has been misplaced.

“Go monate ho ba mo, it is nice to be here; It’s nice to be here, go monate ho ba mo. God is good, all the time; all the time God is good. I greet you all in the name of the most high, glory be to Jesus.”

My daughter is three years old; I pray that when she comes to know the world she will beat her chest for this country and all in it.

The service begins, and South Africa votes for the fifth time. DM

  • Mlilo Mpondo
    Mlilo-Mpondo-02.jpg
    Mlilo Mpondo

    Mlilo Mpondo is a mother, a writer and a student of many things, waiting on a vocation decent and worthy enough to support these titles

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