Book Review: In Transit

In Transit: Between the Image of God and the Image of Man

Author: Tshenuwani Simon Farisani

Publisher: William B. Eerdmanns & Africa World Press Inc.

251 pages, including: Preface, Prologue, and Appendixes

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

The Author

At the time of writing this work, the Rev. Tshenuwani Simon Farisani served as a dean and deputy bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in South Africa, and was a visiting scholar at Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary, Berkley, California. He was also the subject of two films: The Torture of a South African Pastor and A Remarkable Man. He is also the author of Diary from a South African Prison (translated into German, Dutch, and French), and a book of poetry, Justice in My Tears.

The Context

This work was written in the context of the South African apartheid regime, which has parallels to the experience of segregation in the U.S.A., as well as the present situation in America, where blacks continue to be treated unjustly—especially by white systemic racism. Rev. Farisani, prior to the publication of this volume, had been held in detention four times by the South African police, without charge or trial. While in detention he had been interrogated and tortured and had suffered two heart attacks. He suffered all of this merely for preaching the gospel message that all human beings, regardless of their skin colour, are equal in God’s eyes, and are created in the image of God.

The Genre and Content

This work makes for interesting and inspirational reading due to its creative genre. It is, simultaneously, autobiography, story, history, dialogue, and lament poetry—reminiscent of biblical prophets speaking truth to power. The chapters are compiled into four parts. The following titles of the parts are: Part I Tshiuda Grows Up; Part II Tshiuda-Tshenuwani And The God Of South Africa: The Creator’s Call; Part III Tshenuwani Answers The Call; Part IV Tshenuwani’s Fourth Time In The Bowels of Hell; and Appendixes A-F, consisting of letters and documents, a meeting report, an application for Tshenuwani Farisani’s release, news releases, and letters to congregations from Bishop Serote and Dean Farisani.

Dating back to 1600, the Dutch first encountered blacks and thought them inferior to whites and viewed them as Satan’s people. The Dutch then proceeded to create an oppressive theology, philosophy, and social, cultural and political system against blacks.

Rev. Farisani’s lament poetry speaks out passionately, revealing apartheid oppression; blacks being forced off of their fertile land to a life of starvation and working as slaves for the whites; of being punished when children come to be with their parents when the latter are working for the whites on land once belonging to blacks. The Afrikaners confiscated and expropriated black land and animals, cattle and chickens, and other possessions.

Rev. Farisani remembered how he was abused and beaten by his employer and not given the wages he was promised. This happened more than once with other bosses he had as well—as it did for far too many blacks in South Africa.

The author also recalls the racist attitudes and practices of a white missionary and school teachers: “…blacks have no mental capacity to learn much of white people’s things. There is no room for both civilization and sophistication in their brains, in their whole makeup (p.74).”

In Rev. Farisani’s call from God, he relates God’s answer to him regarding politics and faith: “Politics is not a dirty game reserved for Satan worshippers; it is among the holiest of responsibilities. (p. 84).” In one important dialogue, between God, Rev. Farisani and South African government officials; the venue is a law court and apartheid is put on trial.

Readers also learn of Rev. Farisani’s description of the status quo racist attitudes at Lutheran Theological College among the whites. He struggles with his anger at the unjust apartheid system and those whites supporting it. He also recites portions of the 1984 Lutheran World Federation Assembly document against racism, which suspended white, apartheid-practicing Lutheran churches in Namibia and South Africa.

One cringes at the vivid descriptions of how several secret police plots and traps tried to convict Rev. Farisani; and his experiences of being tortured while in detention. One poem-prayer lament recalls the abusive interrogation tactics of the white “authorities” who detained him without charge—again reminiscent of prophets like Jeremiah.

After his release from his fourth detention; Rev Farisani’s “in transit” status meant that he had to apply to the government for a visa in order to do his work as Dean.

The so-called government “reforms” were merely window dressing to give the blacks and the international community the false impression that the apartheid regime was not oppressive, racist, and unjust. In the words of Rev. Farisani: “Oppressed people want shelter, food, and clothes, not political gimmicks geared to the gullible racist world which do nothing to correct the fundamental cause of their poverty: racist greed and a false sense of superiority (pp. 202-203).”

A Personal Note

I had the privilege to attend a talk that Rev. Farisani gave in Edmonton sponsored by Lutherans and Amnesty International many years ago. In the talk, Rev. Farisani related how instrumental the work of Amnesty was in contributing to his release from prison. It was this talk that, moved by the Spirit, convinced me to become a member of Amnesty International over 30 years ago now.

Nelson Mandela: A brief tribute

Receiving Doctor of Laws Degree at Ryerson University, Toronto

Receiving Doctor of Laws Degree at Ryerson University, Toronto

Yesterday, December 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died at the ripe old age of 95 years. What an incredible life he lived! He started out in a rural area of South Africa as a humble animal herder. He then moved to one of the nation’s urban centres to eventually become a lawyer and begin his long fight for freedom and democracy against the South African Apartheid regime. His fight for freedom and democracy landed him in jail for 27 years. His time in prison however gave him an opportunity to grow richer and stronger in character as a human being. After his release from prison in 1990, he continued his long struggle as South Africa’s most gifted and inspirational political leaders, and eventually was elected as the nation’s first black President in 1994. A year earlier, he and President deKlerk were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

 

Mandela has been described, among other things as: The African Lincoln, noble yet humble, Father of the nation [i.e. South Africa and/or of the whole continent], prophet, brilliant leader, courageous peacemaker, and so forth. We Canadians awarded Mandela an honourary citizenship and made him a member of the Order of Canada, we also named a school after him. Of course, in many respects Mandela was also not only a citizen of his own nation, but a citizen of every nation-especially regarded as such, I think, because of his political wisdom and compassion for humankind.

 

Without question, he was an inspirational exemplar and hero of the black citizens of his nation, and of blacks in general in all of Africa and around the globe. Yet, he had feet of clay like the rest of us, and he at times was the first to admit it. He had, in his earlier years, intimidated and bullied an East Indian leader, removing him off the stage at a public gathering. In humility that bespeaks repentance, he admitted on one occasion publicly that he had failed as, and had been a poor husband to his first wife. He also publicly spoke words of compassion rather than condemnation regarding his second wife, when he was asked about an alleged adulterous relationship with another man.

 

Yet his charisma and sense of doing the right thing at the right time in a symbolic way, earned him the respect of even his worst enemies-including P.W. Botha’s wife, whom he visited shortly after her husband’s death.

 

I think the most significant thing we as Christians can learn from the life of Nelson Mandela is his brilliant capacity to forgive and work for reconciliation with his enemies. In this regard, he was extremely successful, and deserved winning the Nobel Peace Prize. South Africa could have devolved into a brutal civil war, however against all the odds, Mandela’s brilliant leadership led the nation into a state of forgiveness, peace, justice and reconciliation. In this way, most likely he was influenced by such non-violent peacemakers as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Mohandas K. Gandhi, [and, most of all, I would like to think, Jesus himself our Saviour and Messiah].

 

May this legacy of Nelson Mandela live on in the history of South Africa, as well as the history of humankind! In closing, I would like to let Nelson Mandela speak for himself, I believe the following quotation epitomises the man and his life: “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” REST ETERNAL GRANT NELSON MANDELA, O LORD; AND LET LIGHT PERPETUAL SHINE UPON HIM.