Segregated yet United
By “Awake!” correspondent in South Africa
THE polyglot population of South Africa is divided into three main groups—Europeans (whites), Africans (blacks) and Coloreds (people of mixed descent). All three groups live in separate townships. Although segregated by law, Jehovah’s witnesses in South Africa are very much united in spirit and worship and show it in many ways, as, for example, during the recent “Men of Goodwill” Assembly.
Johannesburg provided three fine locations for the assemblies, to be held January 7-10, 1971. The European (white) Witnesses held their assembly in Milner Park Show Grounds. Some four to five miles west from Milner Park stands the Union Stadium, which is a fine sports ground with good facilities, and it was chosen as the convention center for the Colored Witnesses.
About seven miles farther to the southwest is Mofolo Park, where the African assembly was held. Mofolo Park is a very pleasant area flanked by trees and with its own large permanent platform behind which is a beautiful, small lake. It has no seats or shelter or buildings of any kind. So the Witnesses had to undertake a huge construction job.
Preparing for the Assembly
The construction work was carried out under the direction of European Witnesses with the necessary knowledge, skills and equipment, assisted by hundreds of African Witnesses. The way in which these Christians happily and lovingly worked together was proof that Jehovah’s witnesses in South Africa are united and have love among themselves.
Together the Witnesses constructed a large meeting place, with seats of nine tiers in the rear, forming a rounded, stadium effect. Sufficient seats were provided for about 30,000 people. Conditions here are very different from the African setups in the north. There is no convenient ‘bush’ or jungle nearby from which to obtain timber and supplies. This park is in the heart of a huge modern city. So all the timber and other materials had to be rented or borrowed from local firms. By careful organization and planning the whole stadium with seating was built for only $1,400. Can you imagine the amount of work needed to construct flush toilets and departments for this huge crowd of about 30,000 people? The municipal officials who visited the site made the remark: “We are amazed at what you are doing. Why, you have built two cities!”
The many Witnesses who would attend also had to prepare well in advance. Some traveled long distances, which meant that they prepared by saving up for months in advance, especially the Colored and African Witnesses. One African Witness living in South-West Africa had to cycle 350 miles to the nearest town, Grootfontein, and then he traveled 1,700 miles by train to the assembly. Reflecting excellent advance preparation is the fact that many of the Colored congregations had 100 percent of their numbers present at the assembly. Many Indian Witnesses prepared well and were also present at the Colored assembly, since they are classified along with that ethnic group. The saris of the Indian women, Witnesses made a colorful scene at this assembly. But even more lovely was the spirit of unity and goodwill shown by the Colored and Indian Witnesses.
Over at Milner Park something very interesting took place in the presentation of the drama based on the Bible book of Esther. For the first time at Witness assemblies in South Africa, while one set of players mimed the action, the accompanying dialogue was heard simultaneously in English by those sitting on one side of the stadium and in Afrikaans by those sitting on the other side. The sound technicians explained how this was done:
“First of all, special care had to be given in making the Afrikaans translation. Contrary to normal translation practice, the translation had to be arranged so that the length of the sentences followed the English construction closely. The Afrikaans participants then had to practice reading the Afrikaans script at exactly the same pace as the English, while listening to the English by means of earphones. A recording was made of the Afrikaans version of the drama and then this was synchronized onto a stereo tape containing the English version. The synchronizing and editing of this tape alone required sixty hours of patient work.”
When the drama was presented, this one tape was played on a stereo recorder, one channel for English and the other for Afrikaans. Thus both audiences could watch the one drama. At Mofolo Park the same procedure was followed for the African assembly. Here the whole program was presented in Zulu on the one side (for the Xhosa and Zulu Witnesses) and in Sesotho on the other side (for the Sesotho, Tswana and Sepedi Witnesses).
Unity Demonstrated in Many Ways
The warm love among the segregated, yet united, Witnesses in southern Africa was demonstrated in so many ways. For example. in recent times there has been a considerable famine in the country of Lesotho, an enclave in South Africa. Many of the Witnesses there were in serious difficulty. Because of their neutrality in politics, they were not able to get corn or maize seed for planting. Some were even starving. When this matter was brought to the attention of the Witnesses in Johannesburg at the time of the “kickoff” meeting for the assembly, it was suggested that all the money put into the contribution boxes at the meeting be sent to help the Witnesses in Lesotho. The response was overwhelming. More than $2,400 was contributed, and within a week the Witnesses in Lesotho had their seed and money for food.
One of the Lesotho female Witnesses who benefited from this loving arrangement said: “We reached the point where we had nothing in our house, not even ten cents to buy some mealie-meal [corn meal]. Then money for food arrived from our white brothers in South Africa. I could only cry and not say anything. The other Witnesses and I were able to overcome our immediate problems, and so, through Jehovah’s provision, we are able to be at this assembly to enjoy also a spiritual feast.”
Although the Witnesses from the three racial groups were unable to mix freely together, the fact that there was such a large number of Witnesses in Johannesburg at one time naturally threw some together. One European Witness, her eyes shining, told her experience:
“I parked my car at the shopping center in town when five buses filled with Africans came to a halt, being unable to find any parking space. My daughter pointed out that the bus passengers were wearing assembly badges. We then pointed to our badges, and the Witnesses on the buses waved to us. Some got off the bus and told me they were trying to visit the South African branch of the Watch Tower Society but had lost their way. At that moment a traffic officer arrived. I was able to explain the situation and stated that I could guide them to the Society’s branch office. The officer very kindly held up the traffic to enable the buses to turn, and in a convoy they followed me to the branch office.”
Taking the African Witnesses to their accommodations at night presented quite a problem in the huge complex of Soweto. In that vast area gangs of vicious hoodlums known as “Tsotsis” roam the streets at night and attack anyone foolish enough to walk alone, assaulting and robbing him. Many African Witnesses came from quiet rural areas and were an easy prey to those “Tsotsis.” So the Johannesburg Witnesses felt deeply responsible to protect their Christian brothers from other parts of the country. They showed their unity and concern by arranging a special system of “security guides.” The first bus would drop a group of these local experienced guides at each bus stop. As the next bus dropped off the Witnesses, two or three of these guides escorted them safely to their accommodations.
A Fine Outcome
The number baptized as becoming God’s “men of goodwill” reflected a fine outcome of the assembly. For example, at the Colored assembly 112 Indian and Colored persons were immersed. This is an excellent result when compared with the number of Witnesses in the Colored field, which is 1,390. The number of Africans baptized came to 603. And at the European assembly the number baptized was 381. This brings the total number of those baptized to 1,096. This is a fine outcome when it is considered that till a couple of years ago the total of those baptized here in a whole year used to be around 1,000.
As for the highlight of the assembly, the public talk, people just flocked into the three stadiums. There were 2,770 at the Colored assembly, 12,252 at the European one and 33,757 at the African assembly, making a grand total of 48,779! This is a remarkably fine outcome, when we consider that there are only about 22,000 Witnesses in South Africa.
Further encouragement awaited the many thousands who stayed to listen to the closing remarks by the Watch Tower Society’s president, N. H. Knorr. He described the fine outcome of the series of “Men of Goodwill” Assemblies in Africa and also told of plans for expanding the Society’s office and factory in South Africa.
The spirit of unity and love at all three assemblies was so marked that even the public press commented on the “peace and goodwill manifest in all the delegates.” (The World, January 12, 1971) And the caretakers of the Milner Park Stadium were deeply impressed with the order and cleanliness. The comment of one of the African employees was: ‘Europeans usually shout at us, but you people spoke nicely.’
Segregated yet united, the Witnesses in South Africa look forward to the time, in God’s new order, when all can come together to experience more deeply the love they have in their hearts and to enjoy complete and lasting unity.