BEING chased by an angry rhinoceros was only one startling experience in a whirlwind of startling experiences that Collie Anglican priest Father Ian Bailey is still processing after three weeks in South Africa.
What stays with him is the bitterness tearing apart a beautiful country, despite many wonderful people he encountered there.
This country, with so many natural resources, is being destroyed because of people’s attitudes, he lamented.
They seem unable to bury the legacy of apartheid.
The early-1990s euphoria that followed Nelson Mandela’s release after 27 years in prison and the repeal of apartheid has long since evaporated.
“Instead of saying ‘that was a bad time, now we must work together’, the black majority seemed to be saying ‘you owe us’,” Father Bailey said.
“In a lot of industries and government, people are being put into positions for which they have neither the skills nor training.”
As a result, companies and infrastructure are crumbling.
“Young people mix in and don’t see the problems,” Father Bailey said.
They are the country’s only hope.
South Africa is not only dealing with the problems of its own past, it has also inherited problems from neighbouring countries.
People from Uganda, Zimbabwe and Nigeria have flooded into South Africa, fleeing corruption, cruelty, famine and poverty in their own countries.
“They are coming into Johannesburg but there is no work for them,” Father Bailey said.
As a result, crime is rampant. “I really don’t know what is going to happen”, he said,
Father Bailey was part of a Bunbury diocesan team which went to Hyveld, in Johannesburg, to run Cursillo training, short courses on Christian living, which aim to refresh students and revive their churches.
The Cursillo movement began in the Catholic Church in Spain after World War II. From there it spread first to the Americas, was picked up by the Anglican Church in Canada and then to other countries and other churches.
Father Bailey attended his first Cursillo course while he was ministering in Grafton, in New South Wales. Since then he has been spiritual director on 20 Cursillo courses and was spiritual director on the South African missionary journey.
“Four million people around the world have done Cursillo courses,” Father Bailey said. “They have been held in every major country, by Catholic, Anglican and Uniting churches.”
People who did the courses in South Africa, and there were separate courses for men and women, would pass on what they had learned to their own people.
Some had come from South Africa last year to do the course in Bunbury.
Those who attended the Hyveld courses ranged from general managers to labourers, black and white, husbands and wives.
Husbands would do one Cursillo course and the wives the other.
The menace of South African society is such that even church houses are like fortresses rather than open to all comers.
“I stayed in a rectory in a Johannesburg suburb, in a housing estate which measured about two kilometres by one kilometre,” Father Bailey said.
“Around the whole estate, there was a 10 feet high spiked fence with armed guards and a boom gate at each end.”
Then the house itself was surrounded by an eight feet high wall with razor wire on top as well as 240-volt electric fencing.
Access was by an electric gate.
“Even in the house, between the bedrooms and the living areas, was a steel gate which was locked at night,” Father Bailey said.
There was no way people would walk anywhere at night, he said.
A young mother living in the compound sadly told him that despite the perimeter fence and guards, she could not allow her children to ride their bikes in the street or visit the beautiful park nearby.
There was no way people could walk to work, they had to drive and the areas in which they could work were also restricted by safety considerations.
When driving people always had to be alert in case of hijacking, Father Bailey said. “You just don’t stop at red lights.”
Some aspects of life in South Africa are very much cheaper than Australia. He went out one night and everything – car park, meal and show by the “fantastic” song and dance troupe Africa Umoja – cost $60.
Umoja is coming to Perth next month and Father Bailey recommended that anybody who could get to the show should do so.
He did escape the urban tension during a day off in the stunningly beautiful Drakensberg region.
He visited Estcourt, a town about the size of Collie, where the major employer was a Nestle factory processing bacon products.
When looking for lunch, he found the only food shop was a Nando’s. (Nando’s originated in South Africa’s Mozambiquan Portuguese community and now operates in 30 countries on five continents. It specialises in chicken.)
While customers sat and waited for their food, armed guards would check if they had been issued with tickets. “If you did not have a ticket you were out of there,” Father Bailey said.
In Drakensberg, he climbed 2500 metres to cross one of South Africa’s famous flat-topped mountains.
He also visited Rorke’s Drift next to the Tugela River in Kwa-Zulu Natal, where just over 100 British and colonial troops successfully defended the garrison against an intense assault by 3000 to 4000 Zulu warriors. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded as a result of that desperate battle.
His encounter with the rhino occurred north of Pretoria, when he went sightseeing on a “quad runner” farm bike. His eyes had been glued to a mob of zebras when all of a sudden this enormous black rhino appeared, stamping his feet.
His guides said they had not seen a black rhino for 12 months but Father Bailey was chased by one.
He came away saddened that such a beautiful place with such natural and human resources was being destroyed by people’s attitudes.
“There is enough there for everyone,” he said. “They could educate all and all could live and grow but people are living in the past and when they can’t let go of the past they are making themselves victims.”
That was not just a problem in South Africa, it was the tragedy of many Australian Aborigines as well.