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BREAKING FREE: A LONG TIME COMING (PART ONE)

By Jennifer ~

I grew up under South Africa’s apartheid government whose leaders were Fascists as well as fiercely religious. This white minority group called themselves Afrikaners, likening themselves to “modern day” Israelites of the Old Testament to whom God had given the Promised Land. White people were naturally superior to non-white people because it said so in the bible, according to the Afrikaner clergy of the time.

See, after the flood when the ark finally landed on dry land after forty days and forty nights’ rain, Noah had planted himself some vineyards. One day he had too much to drink and passed out naked in his tent. Noah’s son, Ham, saw his old man in the buff. Giggling, he joined his brothers outside relaying what he had just seen. Next day, Noah now sober, found out that Ham had seen him “nekked,” cursed him and sent him to Africa where he sired black people! (I'll reserve my objections to biblical racism for another blog.) Funny how nudity always pisses off God and other Biblical characters, though.

Anyway, so Ham’s black offspring was to become slaves and servants to the Afrikaners who landed at the tip of Cape Town during the 17th century. They (as well as European missionaries, I must add) tried to “civilize” the heathen blacks by teaching them bible lessons hoping to make them less savage and more European - like God!

Religion had always been a part of the school curriculum and still was when I started school in the late 1950s. Not only was I inculcated with Christianity in school, but I also grew up in an ultra-strict Christian fundamentalist family. We attended church three times a day on Sundays - the morning service, afternoon Sunday school for us kids and the evening service.

The church patriarchy, according to St. Paul, was set up by God, the head of the husband, and the husband, in turn, head of the wife and his children. Women (and children) had no voice at all and had to be “obedient” to their husbands.

Marriage vows, back in the day, had the bride promising to “obey” her husband. There were a slew of rules for how Christian women were to generally conduct themselves. Women were not allowed any leadership role in the church, other than leading women’s groups.

During church services, women had to cover their heads. (Unlike Eastern religions, we got to wear pretty hats, though.) Women were not allowed to wear pants, make-up, cut their hair, go to the movies and I didn’t even yet get to the biggies – booze, sex, cigarettes, drugs and rock ‘n roll! How’s that for ultra-strict!

“Pentecost is real, no matter what they say, Pentecost is real, I’m on the narrow way, Pentecost is real, by the Spirit say, allelujah, Praise the Lord, I know, I know it’s real.” These are the types of choruses we’d sing accompanied by guitar, accordion and spirited handclapping.

American evangelists such as Oral Roberts, who we caught on shortwave radio from time to time, had a huge influence on the South African mixed-race people in particular. As a kid, I remember, placing my hand on the little transistor radio for the healing of a wart. Oral Roberts, who was up there next to God, invited listeners all over the world to place their hands on the radio. Miracle of miracles - the wart disappeared!

At twelve years old, I “went forward” in church together with a bunch of other people, to accept Jesus into my heart because I didn’t want to go to hell. After all, look what happened to beautiful movie star, Jane Mansfield, who “gained the whole world, had fame and fortune, but her pretty little head was decapitated in a car accident,” bellowed the preacher. “For what doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his own soul?” (Matthew 16:26) Apparently, Ms. Mansfield didn’t know Jesus. So she certainly wasn’t taking the celestial escalator to the Pearly Gates. Can you imagine using such a gruesome scene to scare the hell of out of kids?

At 16 years old, I went forward again, because my heart was black with sin and I needed Jesus’ blood to wash me white as snow. This time I was serious about my commitment and got myself baptized in the river together with a group of other “candidates.” The pastor said God was pleased that we were making a public declaration of our commitment to God. We, donning white robes, following our Moses-like pastor, staff in hand to test the water depth, certainly put on a great show for spectators watching from the river banks.

In truth, as a teenager, I felt hugely self-conscious and embarrassed but I didn’t want to be disowned by God in heaven one day, because I disowned him publicly. The upshot was that I buried my sinful self in the watery grave and emerged ‘the new and improved’ me. I won approval from God, the pastor, my family and the entire congregation. I’d take approval any day.

Alas, I didn’t keep my promise to God. Yeah, my heart got black with sin over and over again, because since an early age, I was easy pickings for the gropers and fondlers. Yep, those same Christian “brothers” waving their holy hands in the air singing glory to God, were molesting me when no one was looking. Only, then it was not called molesting. It was this horrible thing that happened to young girls that nobody talked about. Culturally, it was understood that men couldn’t control their “urges” so women in particular, turned a blind eye to this behaviour. It was always the victim’s fault. Looking back, depression began to manifest itself then, but of course, those dark feelings were ascribed to the devil.

I had tried so hard to be a “good” girl but I lost the fight against carnality to my hot and horny boyfriend. I lost my virginity at age sixteen. The day after, I was apoplectic with shame and remorse and petrified of getting pregnant. I holed myself in my room for the entire day and wept till my tears ran dry. I figured I was beyond redemption, but nonetheless begged God that I would not be pregnant. I dared not even wish to die, because I’d go straight to hell.

My mother, who found out about my “sin” heaped added judgement on me. “If grandma and grandpa knew what you’ve been up to, I don’t think they’d be pleased to have given you that bible,” she scolded. My grandparents had given me a white leather bound bible for my sixteenth birthday...


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