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Missionary Reflection on Recent Book Launch

August 7, 2013

Scripture: Exodus 20:17

“Thou shalt not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s”.

It is true that much of the Bible contains history, that is, his-story.  What do women think when they read this commandment prohibiting one from coveting a neighbor’s wife?   We must realize that history is often written from a male’s perspective.  By men.  For men.  About men.  Women are often left out, nameless.

Inanda Seminary opened in 1869 and it began to write her-story, or history from the perspective of women.  Inanda Seminary ingrained in its students that they ought not be forced into arranged nor polygamous marriages.  The Seminary engendered a desire for women to be educated, to have a professional vocation, to be independent.  One Seminary graduate, Bertha Mkhize, whose granddaughter I interviewed this week, was charged in the famous Treason Trial with Nelson Mandela and Albert Luthuli.  Her brothers pestered her constantly to marry so they would receive their share of the lebola (bride price or dowry).  Her solution to this patriarchal irritant was to pay to her brothers her own lebola and thus finally silence them!  She never married.

On July 19, 2013, during two events Dr Meghan Healy-Clancy, a Harvard trained academic, launched her book A World of Their Own: A History of South African Women’s Education (UKZN Press, 2013) at Inanda Seminary: one to current students (‘Members’) and one to alumnae (‘Old Girls’).  Meghan’s book contains a social history that examines through the lens of Inanda Seminary the role education played in shaping women’s lives through the colonial, Apartheid and democratic eras of South Africa’s history.  The book tells the story of women’s ‘agency’, that is, how they intentionally navigated within their white and black male dominated world.  At Inanda Seminary, young women carved out a “world of their own” and through various means extended that world into wider society through their pioneering spirit.

Young and old ‘members’ were awed by Prof Sarojini Nadar, a South African theologian of Indian descent who specializes in gendered histories, who gave an erudite and interactive lecture.  All were inspired by Meghan’s response and her reading of excerpts from her book.

At Inanda Seminary, young women are empowered to fulfill their God-given potential.  They have many examples that went before them.  They know what is expected of them.  At Inanda Seminary, those high expectations are met.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank you for the radical vision of a school for African women in a world where it was thought that neither blacks nor women needed to be educated.  We give you thanks for those women in the Bible, who though often nameless, allow your will to be known and proclaimed.  May you bless Inanda Seminary; may it continue to serve your purpose in the world.  As the school’s students prepare for their end of the year exams, may you guide their work to achieve the bright futures you intend for them.  Amen.

Love always in Christ,

Scott Couper serves with the United Congregational Church of Southern Africa (UCCSA) as a Development Manager of the Inanda Seminary.  Susan serves with Inanda Seminary, Durban, South Africa as the chaplain.

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