Confronting truths in False Bay

Confronting truths in False Bay

Susan Binks

Susan recently completed the long journey of training for ministry in the Church of England. As part of that programme she was offered a short-term placement in Africa. Here she reflects upon rich and illuminating experiences she encountered there.

As part of the Ordination Training on the Yorkshire Ministry Course we undertake a ‘Social Context Placement’, in order to reflect and focus on ways in which the presence of Christ may be discerned, named and witnessed in the wider world. Some students have had placements in hospital or hospice chaplaincies, with Street Angels, or with Food banks. We are also encouraged to consider an overseas experience. I had the wonderful opportunity in February this year of a placement in South Africa, in the Diocese of False Bay, which has a ‘companion link’ with York Diocese.

I was placed in Ocean View, a township in the Southern Peninsula, about 20 miles south of Cape Town – a community established during the apartheid era in the 1960s.Ocean View (which has no view of either the Indian or Atlantic Oceans, though it is tantalizingly close to both) as a town was created when the Black and Coloured citizens were forcibly moved in the 1960s from beautiful Simon’s Town with its picturesque harbour, a town closely associated with the British Navy  - to Ocean View; the displaced community who could only take with them, the possessions they could carry, built a new life in the dusty plain in the foothills of Table Mountain. Despite this inauspicious start, and all the associated challenges of limited resources, it is a vibrant community, and The Church, St. Clare’s of Assisi, Ocean View, is at the heart of it all.

I was received and embraced with great warmth and overwhelmed by the hospitality; every minute was accounted for. It was an intense time and a great learning experience .I was profoundly moved by the dignity and enduring faith of a community that had lived through the oppression and suppression of the apartheid era, and their desire, without bitterness, to work for, and their vision for a better future for their children and grandchildren. But the joy is infectious and I had great fun. My feet had scarcely touched the ground, before I was whisked into a parish life; weddings, a funeral, preaching, leading a week of prayer, hospital visits, a visit to the homeless shelter, a visit to the orphanage, and especially, listening to the stories of the Community.   

I also had the opportunity to see something of the bigger Diocesan picture, travelling round the Bay to the east of Cape Town. This involved sharing Morning Prayer with Bishop Margaret in Somerset West, then spending time in an informal township Khayelitsha, acre after acre of tin shacks, where every aspect of daily life is a challenge. It was humbling to witness the social development initiatives of the local church – care of those whose lives are blighted by Aids; education opportunities for children and adults; leadership programmes for women; and particularly inspiring the setting up of a market gardening enterprise. I also spent a day at a Fair Trade vineyard following the production of wine from picking the grapes to bottling. Through its partnership with the U.K Co-op, it is run on co-operative principles, investing any profit into health and education provision for the employees and their families.

False Bay is stunningly beautiful; much of the Southern Peninsula is under the care of the Table Mountain National Park, and the glorious scenery was a backdrop to my placement. I was richly blessed and had the opportunity to visit Cape Town and the beautiful Waterfront and the famous District Six. One parish spectacularly included Cape Point, and I went on early morning walks with Ocean View congregation members before Morning Prayer into the foothills, enjoying the wildlife – baboons and ostriches (penguins and daxies at Betty’s Bay) and enjoyed the glory of fynbos and proteas.

It is a cliché – but it was a life-changing experience; it was a wonderful opportunity, a great learning experience on so many levels, for which I am very grateful.        

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