Hundreds of people packed St George’s Cathedral to attend a memorial service for Ahmed Kathrada. Pravin Gordhan recently axed as finance minister, was the keynote speaker. Picture: David Ritchie/ANA Pictures
Michael Weeder finds himself doing back to the Struggle days during a memorial service for Ahmed Kathrada.

Father Desmond you were often in my thoughts during Thursday’s memorial service for your fellow Struggle veteran, Ahmed Kathrada.

Our cathedral was packed with hundreds gathered outside on Wale Street and the surrounding areas.

I stood where you once led us from on a thousand freedom marches. In those days I would be helping out as a marshall in the nave during the mainly United Democratic Front meetings and services. On one occasion we received news there was trouble in the vicinity of the Grand Parade. Young folk were intent on plundering the stalls that had been locked for the day.

I found myself in a queue of clergy lined up in front of a row of shops on Darling Street. I turned to see what I was placing my body on the line for. It was the benevolent face of Yankee imperialism, KFC.

I thought of my children. They would grow up knowing that their daddy died, not for Azania, but defending the interest of white monopoly capitalism.

I walked away from possible martyrdom and was invited into a bus heading towards the cathedral. That is how I met Muhammed Ali. I cautioned him against going further, given the mayhem a mere 100m away.

“A believer is not afraid to die,” he assured me.

I suppose it depends also on your choice of cause.

We made it to the cathedral parking lot where Ali and I joined a small crowd gathered near the bell tower. I was introduced to Joe Slovo. Standing behind Slovo and armed with a menacing looking semi-automatic gun was Garth Strachan (now a Trade and Industry government adviser).

He and Derek Hanekom (as of last week an ex-cabinet minister once more) had attempted, during a week-long stay in Harare in 1991, to tutor me in the ways of underground work such as Dead Letter Boxes and how to detect if you were being followed.

Despite the uncertainty of that period, the violence on the Grand Parade, the gun visible to my curious eye, I had a sense of the luminous then.

I feel that way about Thursday’s memorial service when we gathered in a moment of the Celtic ascribed “thin-places” when heaven not only seems close by but almost visible. This was apparent in the way we seemed keenly aware of the impermanence of evil and the injustice it spawns.

As presider of the service I struggled with the inability of some speakers to summarise and keep to deadlines. I would intermittently meditate on Gabriel Loire’s stained glass depiction of Christ in Triumph over Darkness and Evil. I enjoyed the soft afternoon light filtering through and lighting up the Link area.

This window was dedicated in 1982 in memory of Earl Mountbatten of Burma, the last viceroy of India. Mountbatten fell victim to a bomb of the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA). That was in 1979 and within three years the money was raised to commission the work and pay for it.

It has taken five years to raise the funds to repair the roof of this “People’s Cathedral”. A sizeable amount of the money was sourced from US and UK donors.

It is a metaphor for our city and country. If a cathedral has a problem with its roof to the extent that we have with ours, then we should ask about what has not happened beneath the roof. What have we left undone?

Part of the answer, when weighed on the demographic scale of the day, is evident in the lack of black African presence in the pews of our cathedral, their absence from our city. Where do white folk go when they exit our pews and take their children out of well-established, middle-class and hitherto largely whites-only schools? Why are white Africans so angry?

Pravin Gordhan, while not responding to the questions aired here, believes that a way to reclaim our land (and I would argue to regain ourselves in relation to one another) is to seek unity in action: “Fragmented voices don’t have the weight it requires. Masses make history, not individuals”.

Weekend Argus