S. African blacks find champion -- in white Parliament
Cape Town — South Africa has had its fair share of what Britain's Henry II called politically "turbulent" priests and ministers of religion. Some of them have been obliged by the government to leave the country, sometimes rather suddenly. Some have been restricted or "banned."
But several of them, black and white, are still very much around and refuse to be intimidated.
Now one of them, the tall, tousle-headed former head of the Methodist Church in southern Africa, has bearded the government right inside South Africa's political inner sanctum, the all-white House of Parliament.
The Rev. Alex Boraine made probably the strongest speech since the session's Aug. 3 opening. And the members of the ruling National Party, which prides itself on its strong Christian beliefs, did not like it at all.
Dr. Boraine, an opposition Progressive Federal Party member of Parliament for the little community of Pinelands on the fringe of Cape Town, has the presence and voice of a born preacher.
With deliberate emphasis he described the race policies of the government as "not only degrading, dehumanizing, and dangerous, but -- and I choose my words carefully -- an offense before God."
Particularly and immediately he was referring to the astonishing saga of a group of "illegal" black squatters in Cape Town who are still defying several weeks of concerted government attempts to drive them away from the city and back to the rural "homelands."
They say they would starve there. So, instead, they are eking out an existence here under appalling conditions and in bitterly cold winter weather. Mainly they are women, often with babies and small children.
Government officials, protected by armed police, have broken down shacks erected by the squatters and confiscated building materials -- even pieces of wooden planks and shreds of plastic.
So the squatters are staying on in the open, often in pouring rain.Ironically , it has been the wettest winter for 24 years.
Turning to Prime Minister Pieter Botha, the Rev. Dr. Boraine said in parliament that it was effrontery for the National Party to claim it stood for maintaining family life.
What was happening to the Cape Town squatters in the fields between two black townships (called "The Sun" and "The Moon") showed Nationalist policy "in all its horror," he said.
Dr. Boraine -- whose son Andrew, an outspoken student leader, was jailed earlier this year without trial then released but restricted and "banned" -- also declared: "I have personal experience of how this government can destroy a family home."
Nationalist members interjected, "Your son is despicable, man," or called out the words of the song, "O, Mein Papa . . ."
But Dr. Boraine warned them: That squatter camp is a flash point in South Africa.
Meanwhile, the harder the government tries to make life impossible for the squatters, the more it seems other people, white and black, are turning out to help them.
Churches are collecting blankets and women's groups are turning up out of the blue at the camp at night with hot soup.
The squatters often sing hymns and clap hands to keep warm. One of their favorite hymns starts, "Good Samaritan, give me water . . ."
One white Cape Town family, so shocked at the conditions at the camp, has taken in a whole squatter family, moving their own son out of his bedroom to accommodate the guests.
Another white Cape Town woman is shuttling to and from the camp, picking up mothers and babies and bringing them home for baths.
She said that many of the babies were unwell.
She added, "I can cope when I am actually doing the job, but when I go out there and see that appalling set up -- mothers and babies in this freezing weather -- I am sometimes reduced to tears."
A 13-man delegation from the US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs is expected to visit Cape Town this coming weekend. It is likely to be invited to see the squatters.
The congressmen left the United States on July 31 and are visiting several African countries.
Meanwhile, at time of writing Wednesday night, the sky is clear and the stars are shining brightly over "The Sun" and "The Moon." It is cold in the open field nearby; but at least there is no sign of rain.