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Scott Couper

South Africa

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How would you describe the mission of our partner in South Africa?

Inanda Seminary, founded in 1869, was the first secondary school exclusively for African girls in southern Africa. The active campus educates close to over four hundred students amongst ten historic buildings, the oldest being Rev. Daniel Lindley’s mission house (1858).  The Lucy Lindley building (1897) is open to tourists and researchers who wish to explore the school’s humble museum and archives.  Several of South Africa’s most powerful and influential women in government, business and the non-profit world received their education at this school.  The school is the only school under the auspices of the UCCSA (the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions) to have survived Apartheid.

Inanda Seminary has been entrusted with preserving the rich history of the church’s involvement in educational opportunities for rural, marginalized people in southern Africa over the past 140 years.  The most marginalized have been young girls, many of whom would not have received an education without Inanda.  The Apartheid era made it difficult for blacks in general to receive quality education and the post-Apartheid era has its own challenges where education for whites and the elite are still more advantageous.  Inanda’s contributions to education are recognized nationally and internationally today, and yet the school struggles in the post-Apartheid era to remain financially viable in order to provide quality education for the growing number of disadvantaged Black girls from all corners of the country.

However, the leadership at Inanda feels the additional urgency to preserve the school’s historical legacy and its contribution to the development of a Black governed nation.  It understands one of its roles as giving young black women an opportunity to build on the monumental past and legacy of those who have gone before them while ensuring that they are equipped to meet the diverse challenges facing black women in that country today.

In today’s South Africa, it is not uncommon for vulnerable girls to resign themselves to the negatives associated with being a girl child – submission, lack of zeal for education, maternal role to bear children, etc.  Inanda wants to restore dignity and give to the girls a sense of history and reference that will help shape their identity as proud black women who can rise above the obstacles. Inanda refutes the idea that black women and men in South Africa are a people without history or whose history started with arrival of white missionaries.

How do you fit into their mission?

As a consultant, I have three major tasks.

(1)  A key component of my work is to assist the school with resource planning and management, which includes grant writing.  I am expected to mobilize the alumnae and South African corporations for the financial sustainability of the school and its mission to educate potential female leaders.

(2)   I work with the leadership of the school to build the capacity of junior staff and students in the preservation of this rich historical information that is on the verge of being lost.   This entails helping the school to execute its plans to archive and restore historical documents. I assist with the training of junior staff and students with skills necessary to manage a historical museum.  

(3)   With Inanda’s 140 year history, the school has been recognized for its historical importance and named by former President Nelson Mandela as one of three historical sites essential to understanding the contribution of Black South Africans to the nation.  As a strategic planner and consultant, I assist the school in its long-term goal of developing historic tourism at Inanda. This is seen by the school as a mechanism for marketing the school, engendering economic sustainability as well as preserving the environment. 

In addition to my appointment at Inanda Seminary, I serve as the Acting Minister of the Thafamasi Congregational Church, UCCSA.

For the KwaZulu-Natal Region of the UCCSA, I serve on the Public Lecture Committee and the Bursary Committee.

I also frequently serve as pulpit supply to many local UCCSA churches (St. Luke’s, Bethel, Queensboro, New Forest and Musgrave).

What led you to engage in this calling?

I was confirmed in the United Church of Christ (UCC).  My mother is an ordained minister (UCC).  I served as a chaplain appointed by the UCC (Penn Northeast) to a small congregation at the age of 19.

While studying in Santiago, Chile, I attended a Good Friday service where the emaciated and brutalized body of Jesus was carried down the isle of the cathedral as many wept.  For the first time, I saw him who I claimed to worship since I was 12, yet who I did not really “know” nor had ever “seen”.  I decided at that point to serve him, for I saw him and he was real for the first time.  Then and now, I only wish to serve the Church, the Body of Christ.

Is there a passage of scripture that carries special meaning in your daily work?

Romans 8:28, “All things work together for good for those who are called according to God’s purpose”.  Much good and much bad happens in our context.  However, in relationship with God, even the most heartbreaking experiences can with healing and support lead to growth, improvement and a demonstration of God’s glory.

What are some of the challenges facing Inanda Seminary and your family?

Inanda Seminary

Our school is experiencing infrastructure, specifically utilities, difficulties.  Due to an inability to maintain deteriorating public systems, water and electricity are off more than they are on, and the cost is becoming exorbitant for the poor service.  Inanda Seminary is struggling to drill and pump for water and to purchase a large generator for electricity so that we can exit the public water and electricity grid when needed.

The school is struggling to accommodate additional students.  The public school system increasingly does not provide adequate education. The Seminary is building more classrooms and hiring more staff so as to enable more students with disadvantaged backgrounds to access higher quality private education.

Couper / Valiquette Family

Separation for extended family particularly our children from their grandparents and cousins,  not being present when parents and grandparents pass away,crime, and limited separation from children while they are at boarding schools

What lesson have you learned working alongside the staff and students of Inanda Seminary that you would like to share with churches in the U.S.?

After some 300 years of colonialism and a half century of Apartheid where white supremacy ruled the day, it is no surprise that many black South Africans suffer from an inferiority complex.  The image portrayed of Africans in the international press is unfortunately negative more often than not.  Black South Africans themselves often believe that anything from ‘overseas’ is superior to anything from home.

In South Africa, there is a new movement afoot, and its mantra in Afrikaans among all race groups is “Local Is Lekker”, meaning ‘Local Is Awesome’.  The saying is especially true at Inanda Seminary.  As a historic, Christian (Congregational), private, boarding school for black females, Inanda Seminary has produced South Africa’s best and brightest women since 1869.

There will be no shortage of competent, intelligent and promising Africans if Inanda Seminary continues to educate!  That is for sure.  In 2012, Inanda Seminary received its best graduation results in its long illustrious history.  100% of the students passed.  100% of the students received marks high enough to allow them university entrance.  The 73 students received an unprecedented 190 subject distinctions, almost doubling the previous high.  Inanda Seminary is allowing South Africans to say of their own, “Local Is Lekker!”

When Jesus demonstrated wise and competent leadership, many said, “Nothing good can come from here”.  Many say of Africa, “Ah, nothing good can come from there”.  Yet, like Jesus, Inanda Seminary girls prove the pessimists wrong.  Inanda Seminary’s motto is “Shine Where You Are”, whether at home or abroad!

What is a common phrase used in the local churches?

Ngiyanibingalela egameni likayise neNdodona noMoya oyiNgcwele!

I greet you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!

Are there books that have shaped your understanding of your work in South Africa?

Which movies have shaped your understanding of your work in South Africa?

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