The Very Rev Michael Weeder. Picture: Leon Muller

The telephone number, if the Special Branch officer had been a bit more wakey, would have led them to an address in Sunderland Street, Factreton.

They had found it in a little book of coded names and telephone numbers during the search of the room, where the now handcuffed and severely beaten MK cadre had moved after his 10-month stay in the rectory of St Timothy in Factreton.

He had been a guest of the Weeders. The telephone number was listed under the name of Clive McBride who had lived in the same rectory which my family and I were in, mid-1980s.

Father Clive had been detained during the partial State of Emergency of 1985. Perhaps for this reason, the Branch fellows were content to gloat over the big fish in their net and leave a little anxious tadpole like me.

In the 1980s, Father Clive had been part of an ecumenical group that met to pray and converse about the issues of the day.

Trevor Manuel, in hiding from the security police at the time, had been invited to address the group.

I have a sense - given his predilection for the utterances of Pope Francis with whom, by the way, he and his beloved Maria, had an occasion to meet in the Vatican - that Trevor had been an altar boy at the church of the Good Shepherd in Kensington.

His mum, Aunty Philma, recalls how fond their parish priest, Father William Way, had been of her tousled-haired son. He had even wanted the young Trevor to live with him in the parish rectory.

McBride, fresh out of seminary at Zonnebloem, had been the popular assistant priest to Way. An adolescent Trevor had harboured the hope that he would be the page-boy when McBride married the beautiful Marie Dames. So, the two men, the priest and the UDF activist, were not strangers.

Engaging the group, Manuel, who fancies himself as a bit of a biblical scholar, reminded them that believers are called to fight evil in all its forms. Sacrifice was required.

“We are called to die for Jesus”, he told the pastors, “but are you willing to kill for Jesus?”

The challenge was a contextualised reformulation of the words of Jesus Christ that there is no greater love than laying down one’s life for another. Many young Christians at the time had responded to the call to join the armed struggle and Manuel’s words refrained their views.

A shocked McBride exclaimed, “Treva, Treva - where did we lose you?” I do not think he was invited back to the prayer and study group again.

Father Mac had had my back since the day he arrived at my grandmother’s house on Beatty Avenue in Garden Village in the early 1960s. My parents were going through some personal difficulties and so my brothers and I were living with Mama at the time.

Father Mac found me on the side of the stoep in the yard. I had fled there when I heard that he - “six-foot” something with an Ayatollah Khomeini type of beard, wearing his black cassock with cut-off sleeves and his Vespa scooter helmet in hand - wished to speak to me, 5 years old at the time.

I don’t remember his words but the memory of him, lifting me up high into his arms, has never left me.

I visited the old priest recently and after a long chat, I knelt before Father Mac to receive his blessing after which he asked that I help him to his feet. I slowly and steadily drew him up from his easy chair, and into my arms.

* The Very Rev Michael Weeder is the Dean of St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Weekend Argus