Apartheid not so bad? Read this book!
They're Burning the Churches is a book that should be read by those who claim that apartheid was not so bad; that we should forget the past and look into the future so that we may become reconciled. Father Patrick's book is a first-hand account of what happened in the black townships of the Vaal Triangle during the turbulent decade from the mid-eighties to the birth of democracy.
Tyrants and their underlings often blame churchmen for their troubles. Archbishops Denis Hurley and Desmond Tutu, Dr Beyers Naude and Archbishop Manas Butelezi, together with other high profile clerics in the South African Council of Churches, played an important role in the struggle for freedom, particularly in the 1980s. They were not alone. There were many other priests, ministers, imams, rabbis and pastors who were well known to the oppressed in the black communities which these clerics served. They were unknown to the vast majority of white South Africans but were carefully watched by the security police because they were part of an enemy no less dangerous than the "terrorists" and "agitators”. The apartheid state believed that by putting the blame on the Friars they would get rid of the all of them.
The clergy provided asylum for the oppressed, allowed their churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and halls to be used for meetings where inflammatory speeches were made. They attended their trials, gave assistance to the widows and children of those who had been killed or put on trial or indefinitely detained, They invite journalists from within and outside the country to report on shootings, torture and acts of revenge committed by vigilantes in collaboration with the police.
Father Patrick Noonan was in Sebokeng, part of the Vaal Triangle, on 3 September 1984 when the struggle took a new turn. He was not only a spectator that day but a vital eyewitness to the tragic events, and a shepherd to his community.
Thousands marched peacefully toward the local council's offices to protest against an increase of the rent for their houses. They declared that they would not pay it. The police shot with live ammunition, killed some and wounded many more. In the surrounding townships, including Sharpeville and Boiphatong, the council's properties, particularly their beer halls, were destroyed. The apartheid-supporting councillors' shops and homes went up in flames. Community leaders, including priests, were detained under the Terrorism Act. Bishop Tutu's personal assistant, Tom Matata, and three leaders of the United Democratic front were among these detainees. Charges of treason, murder, terrorism, arson and public violence were brought.
Father Patrick was involved in the lives of the people in their few moments of joy and in their prolonged times of sorrow. He attended funerals at which more were killed and even more sere seriously injured. He attended the trial of the Sharpeville Six and the Delmas Trial. He speaks of the Boiphatong Massacre and the divisions caused by apartheid.
Yet he was there when Popo Molefe, "Terror' Lekota and other victims met some of their tormentors in a football stadium in order to be reconciled.
The book is an important contribution to our recent history, which we and our children and our grandchildren cannot afford to ignore.
George Bizos SC. Counsel for the Defence in the Delmas and Rivonia Treason Trials