This year’s Wordfest activities kickstarted with the Makhanda (Grahamstown) leg of clergyman Peter Storey’s book launch of his debut project I Beg To Differ: Ministry Amid Teargas, at the Eden Grove Lecture Block at Rhodes University. An autobiographical project, I Beg To Differ documents Storey’s role and contribution to the fight against Apartheid, especially during the years of his leadership as national head of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) and head of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.
Storey began by taking the audience through his early days as scholar at the former Methodist mission school Kilnerton Institution in Pretoria, prior to the change of government in 1948. Soon after the election of the Nationalist Party, Storey started to form a new understanding of social cohesion in South Africa – one of a far sinister character than that he had been accustomed to in the first decade of his life, drawing from his Christian upbringing. This became more evident with the government’s introduction of race-based policies, which later saw to the removal of blacks from Kilnerton.
Years later post his university education, Storey went on to become a minister and the first Chaplin of Robben Island Prison where would come into direct contact and form friendships with the political inmates at the facility. Prominent of these was Robert Sobukwe, and later the Rivonia Trialists. Storey relays how the stark differences between him and the prisoners agonised him, and became the basis of his life of activism.
“… I became even more committed to being part of change. In a society that could lock up people of that calibre… that moral stature, that intellectual capacity, that leadership…lock them away and prevent them from making a contribution to our terribly twisted and tortured situation was wrong. It was utterly wrong!”
In the course of his tough but successful activism against the struggle in Johannesburg (then based at the Central Methodist Church), Storey’s work would take a different turn and have to face one of its allies, Mrs Winnie Madikezela-Mandela in 1989. He dedicates three chapters to reflect on the Stompie Seipei murder case, along with the kidnapping of at other youths by Madikezela-Mandela’s infamous football club. Speaking on the “Winnie chapter” he says:
“…I was there. I was involved in negotiating with Winnie for days trying to get the remaining hostages. I buried Stompie Seipei. I was a witness against her at her trial. I listened as she lied unashamedly to the Truth Commission.”
“I Beg to Differ” is a full bag of nuggets of the Storey’s personal and theological experiences in South pre democracy era, and the first decade post 1994. These include the clergy’s protests to Parliament against government’s clampdown on anti-apartheid organisations; the inception of organisations like LifeLine SA, and Gun Free South Africa which were both championed Storey. The book also documents his experience as a member of the selection team of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission panel.
This article has been written in English. You can also read a version of it in isiXhosa.