A Return Trip to South Africa

A Return Trip to South Africa

Howard Christofersen – South Africa

The trip to South Africa was in celebration of my eldest sister’s 90th birthday.

When Eric retired from teaching at Mt. Selinda Secondary School some 34 years ago (he was ten years older than she), they purchased a flat a block from the beach in Durban. She has just moved to a very pleasant retirement home but is still very sharp and active. She has given up driving, giving her car to her granddaughter Robyn who is in her second year at Grahamstown University. There were 12 family members from the States for this trip organized by my brother, Arthur. My daughters Lynn and Karen went.

We flew into Johannesburg. visited Anna Bruekner Ludlow, a fellow missionary kid, her daughter Helen, and sister Roberta (a doctor who did her internship at McCord Hospital when I was there). It was a great pleasure to meet Roberta again and know that she had a successful career as a general practitioner and in retirement still does some medical work. Then to Kruger park where we rented two Kombis (8 passenger diesel vans). Saw lots of game, then motored 500 mi. to Durban. Celebrated the birthday with June’s two daughters and their families, her son, Christopher, who had also come from the States with his family, and an almost equal number of relatives of June’s deceased husband.

I had the opportunity of visiting at McCord Hospital, all is well and they push ahead with a great HIV/AIDS program (lauded by both Yale and Harvard professors). For those of you who remember McCords, the house below where we lived where the single ladies stayed, has been taken over by the HIV/Aids Clinic. The approach is holistic and includes help in finding support, a social worker who investigates the family situation and who selects some individual who can supervise medication, and a psychiatrist who councils on mental health. They expressed appreciation for a fund from Mr. Bush from which they had received a grant. The head matron, Mrs. (sorry name slip away and I loaned my pamphlets to our pastor) overlapped my time by two years. She has had excellent experience in a number of hospitals and advanced training in administration. There is some competition for smart students as more women move into business jobs with the end of Apartheid. And the matron told us that she has difficulty getting candidates who are dedicated to nursing. However they still turn out great nurses with mostly 100% passes for the class (some other hospitals are as low as 50%). Somewhere along the way they must inspire them. We had no difficulty getting high school graduates who were eager and willing. As I remember, we had as many as twelve acceptable applicants for every one we could accept. Big change is that they now train some male nurses also. This has caused some problems with the difficulty of the African male working under a female matron. Also some unwanted attention to the opposite sex. Dr. Helga Holst was more upbeat in her praise of the nursing students and spoke very highly of the medical staff. I regret that I did not take time to talk to more of the staff.

Some years ago I read in the Calendar of Prayer about Lydia Johnson-Hill’s work at the theological section of the University of KwaZuluNatal Durban/Westville. I visited her successor, Professor Isabel Phiri now head of the Theological section of the University of Natal/KwaZulu now moved to Pietermaritzburg. Lydia had started a magazine to publish theological items by African women. She, now at a theological school in the Fiji Islands, met Isabel at a conference and decided that she should succeed Lydia. Isabel is from Malawi and has had extensive post graduate training, some at Yale. She has done an amazing job of getting women throughout Africa to join in theological discussion “Circles” and to encourage theological writing by women. She publishes a semi-annual journal of these writings and has written a number of books. Was I surprised to see my name in one because I informed her of the coming ordination of an African woman in the Bantu Congregational Church? She has written up Victoria Nomvete’s story.

Victoria, daughter of one of our best African pastors, was a theological student at Adams when my father was assisting in instruction. For years she worked as a Christian educator as ordination was denied her. In her mid forties she married a widowed minister with two children. They had one child of their own and she relates the problems of being stepmother. She took a course in Social Work to better meet the needs of her husband’s parishioners and organized Christian education but was unable to win ordination. When her husband retired, they moved to Richmond area where he had been born. There was no Congregational church there. It also proved to be a very troubled area with fighting between two tribal groups. At a church gathering, she noted four women wearing the uniform of the Congregational church women’s group (Isililo?). She approached them and said “we must form a church.” Men were frequently attacked, but women were freer to move around during the faction fighting. She organized a church; it grew and won the recognition she deserved. She was 72 when ordained as minister for that church in 2000. She has since died but she broke the dam. When we visited my old home at Ifafa Mission, the young minister there was a lady!!!!

Some 18 miles inland from Durban, is Inanda Seminary, a boarding high school for African Girls. It is the one school we were able to save from take-over by the Nationalistic Government in 1956. Partly because it was a girls school, and the government was not so scared that we would be producing liberal activists. Wouldn’t some of those apartheid supporters be surprised to learn that six Inanda graduates sit in Parliament! Partly because of financial difficulties and partly due to failed leadership, the school nearly closed about ten years back. A committee of “Old Girls” [alumnae] took over, fired the principal and some teachers, and got things going in the right direction. Then four years ago, Judy Tate, a white woman with years of experience in teaching and administration (some in black schools), was hired. With her financial discipline and insistence on a Christian emphasis, the school has blossomed again. It is a five year school and families find great difficulty in paying the fees so students go to government schools and then try to transfer in for the last year or two so as to claim they are Inanda graduates. Judy feels they need the full five years so great effort is being made to get bursaries(scholarships).I was there in ’99 when Nelson Mandela stated that because of their historical significance and contribution to leadership there were three secondary schools in KwaZuluNatal that should be honored and supported, Adams College, Inanda Seminary and Ohlange Institute. Adams College was our boarding high school, manual arts and teacher training school. Ohlange was a boarding high school for boys down the road from Inanda established by John Langalibele Dube, the minister at the Inanda church and the first president of the African National Congress. I remember meeting him when I was a boy at Ifafa. Nelson Mandela chose to cast his first vote at Ohlange Institute! Nelson then introduced Mr. Job, CEO of S. African Paper Products who handed over a check for Rand 3 million, about $500,000, to be used to restore buildings and grounds. They have done a great job but there is still one building that needs refurbishing. In his retirement, Mandela has traveled throughout S. Africa, encouraging businesses to support schools. We also met the retired African librarian who is now organizing various memorabilia and papers and presenting them in a way that is of interest to tourist who take the tour from Durban to see Phoenix Village, started by Gandhi and Shembi’s village to see religious dancing then on to Ohlanga and Inanda.

It was also a pleasure to meet the. Rev. Susan Valliquette, mission chaplain and to hear that the girls seek her counseling. Her husband, Scott Couper, was away. I would have liked to question him about his experiences getting the Groutville Church to face up to the problem of HIV/AIDs.

Well, that is a very brief summary of a very event packed two weeks and this old man survived. Yes, I could not get into my slip-on shoes until one day I took a diuretic morning and evening, Magic, next day I could see the blood vessels on my feet.

Thank you, Arthur, for organizing this effort. Special thanks to my two daughters who made sure that Dad was taken care of, and to son, Mark, who helped out in a financial crisis.

Love to All,
Howard Christofersen

Howard served McCord Hospital in 1953 through 1958. They returned to McCord Hospital in 1960 through 1966. Howard’s father and mother (Arthur and Julia) served in South Africa from1915 to 1960. His sister, June Rose married Eric Dahle both were missionaries in South Africa and then in Zimbabwe. She still lives in Durban. Sister Mabel was also a missionary in South Africa and continues to live in Durban. Younger brother Arthur is a retired UCC minister.