the Columbia and foretold eternal punishment.
And they collected the endless dues from the
people: money for the monthly ticket; money for
the quarterly ticket; money for the half-yearly
ticket; money for Holy Communion; money for
the minister’s journey to a conference; money to
build a church in some outlandish area or another; money for the minister’s bicycle. “We’re
poor, we have no money anymore,” people said.
But they brought something and laid it on the
table. And regularly the white superintendents
came to preach sermons. Every church except
the AME had a white minister as overseer. And
when they did come, the congregations turned
up in full force to listen to the white preacher.
The stewards and the church councillors were
more correct and officious than usual on such
days, keeping up a tight-jawed look of responsibility. Stout prayer women looked immaculate with their dazzling red blouses and white
starched hats. But the dazzle of these colors
was toned down by the sleek, shining black
shawls they had on. How very much of birds the
women reminded me!
There was a surge of revival services in the
various churches. Grandmother herded us and
left my brother, sister, and me in the Methodist church hall, as our mother was Methodist
because my father was nominally one. Then
grandmother, Aunt Dora, and the rest of the
family went to the Lutheran Church because
my grandfather had been Lutheran. The night
of the eve of Good Friday, Lutheran women
sang from street to street, waking up their
church members, singing all the time. The music jolted us out of our sleep, and we rubbed
our eyes and sat up until the last chords of that
grave music could be heard faintly in the distance, and we slumped back into sleep.
From Down Second Avenue. Raised in rural South
Africa, Mphahlele came to Pretoria as an adolescent
and in 1946 published Man Must Live, his first book
of stories. He agitated against apartheid and left South
Africa in the late 1950s to live elsewhere in Africa and
later the United States, returning to South Africa in
1977. After his death in 2008, one scholar called him
“the father of modern black South African writing”
and a journalist wrote, “If Nelson Mandela is our
political star, Mphahlele was his literary equivalent.”
The Merry Fiddler (detail), by Gerrit van Honthorst, 1623.