Elisha the prophet witnessed his mentor, Elijah, disappear from his sight in spectacular vision of a flaming chariot and horses.
Afterwards, he went about his prophetic ministry. This included the fatal cursing of a group of boys. “Go away, baldhead! Go away, baldhead!” they shouted at him. He cursed them and “two she-bears came out of the woods and mauled 42 of the boys”.
When Joram, king of Israel, received a letter from King Ben-Hadad II of Syria, stating, “I am sending my servant, Naaman, to you so that you may cure him of his leprosy” he was vexed. Naaman was an esteemed commander in the Syrian army. Joram saw a possible deep state machination by the regional super power, creating a pretext for invasion.
Elisha, on hearing of the king’s anxiety, illustrated in the customary expression of agitation, the tearing of one’s clothes (I can’t imagine President Cyril Ramaphosa doing that to his House of Monatic suit), informed the trembling monarch that he should send Naaman to him, “that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel”.
Naaman arrives with his entourage astride their horses and chariots. Elisha refuses to receive him and sends a message telling the commander to “go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean”.
It’s a bit like Minister Bheki Cele, sitting aloft a SANDF Olifant MK2 Main Battle Tank as it rolls down the Die Laan in Manenberg. The people there (and later in Bonteheuwel, Delft, Hanover Park and Philippi East) don’t rush out of their homes shouting heartfelt greetings of welcome. He would feel sort of unwanted and under-appreciated.
But here’s the back story to the stand-off between the two groot manne.
A young enslaved woman, a maid to Naaman’s spouse, had assured her mistress that the prophet in Samaria had a cure for leprosy. It’s a bit like saying there’s a doekoem in Heideveld that could deal with the HIV/Aids pandemic. But desperate people will knock on any door, as did Naaman.
The angry military man of valour is placated by his servants: “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” He did so and “his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean”.
History is often silent about the ones who redirect the rough course of the rivers of injustice by their consistent commitment to doing what is right. They bear the wounds of battle and often, as noted by Trevor Manuel of Aunty Vivvy Daniels, they die as they had lived, in poverty.
Like Elisha, she had lifted the mantle fallen from the hands of the exiled, the jailed and the banned of our Struggle labouring in the poorest parts of Bellville South where a 23-year-old Trevor first met her: “From about 1980 she led the local civic organisation campaigning on matters such as the installation of waterborne sewage, electricity, for maintenance and against rent increases”.
When she was laid to rest last Saturday, her neighbours honoured her. One recalls: “All her neighbours dressed up in their ANC T-shirts and formed a guard of honour, waving their ANC flags. These two lines, flanked the hearse down Armada Crescent and along Industrie Street, to the AME church whence she was buried.”
Aunty Vivian Daniels, may your good deeds of love and justice for all light the path to Paradise.
* 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.