from Louis in Johannesburg, South Africa: beyond the looting

August 1. As the funds that may be stolen are exhausted, the looting intensifies and becomes desperate. The ransacking of the VBS bank, which housed the life savings of the poor collapsed under the weight of theft, is one indicator of this desperation. The EFF, allegedly involved, has suffered reputational damage as a result. Hopefully, voters will punish them at the forthcoming municipal elections in 2021.The good news is that this looting will stop soon as funds dry up completely. The IMF Covid19 relief fund once it has been plundered will enable the IMF to refuse to provide any further funding. Technology now assists with software that can trace all banking transactions. In the hands of competent journalists transfers into the accounts of politicians and their trusted family members and other surrogates can be traced and published.

In the absence of national leadership and any sign of embarrassment at being caught, thieving will probably continue until all taxpayer’s money has been exhausted. In the face of these dire circumstances, I remain an optimist. The unrecognised work of faith-based organisations such as Caritas, Gift of the Givers and church groups such as the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) provide a basis for trusting the decency of the average South African. Survey after survey demonstrate their priorities for a job, education for their children and decent healthcare. Building trust and cohesion between races in the middle levels of society is the result of the selfless work by the average citizen taking care of their neighbour, also faith-based organisations and churches.

Caritas strives for a world where the voices of the poor are heard and acted upon, where each person is free to flourish and live in peace and dignity and where our natural environment given by God is managed responsibly and sustainably in the interests of the entire human family. While many councillors and other ANC office bearers shamelessly steal food parcels destined for the poor, these organisations ensure that parcels in their hands reach their destination. Selfish politicians, and others that should know better, call for schools to remain closed, forgetting that children receive meals at schools. They now have to find a daily meal in other ways.

I woke up this morning to the Muezzin in the Turkish Mosque in Midrand, calling the Muslim faithful to prayers at dawn. It was the first time I had heard the Muezzin’s call to prayer. The cold morning air and a favourable breeze as well as the absence of traffic noise because of Covid19 curfew probably enabled this experience. The Mosque is situated approximately ten kilometres away on the other side of the massive granite dome midway between Johannesburg and Pretoria. I was both surprised and elated. The additional volume from the Muezzin’s public address system was probably part of the EID celebration. Eid Al-Adha is celebrated on the 10th day of the last month of the Islamic lunar calendar. In 2020, that date falls on July 31.

I was immediately transported back to Istanbul where I lodged for a month in Sultan Ahmed, the oldest part of Istanbul. I was in lodgings in the shadow of the Blue Mosque with its six minarets, in the vicinity of the Hagia Sophia once the largest Christian church building in the world. Built in 537 as the patriarchal cathedral of the imperial capital of Constantinople, it was the largest Christian church of the eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) and the Eastern Orthodox Church, except during the Latin Empire from 1204 to 1261, when it became the city’s Roman Catholic cathedral. In 1453, after the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire, it was converted into a mosque. In 1935 the secular Turkish Republic established it as a museum. In March 2020, it re-opened as a mosque. I learnt on my month-long stay in Istanbul to value and look forward to the richness of the Muezzin’s call to prayer as part of my soundscape. I was also reminded of working in Mali where we would pause our workshops during the day for prayers of the faithful by our Muslim participants. Praying the Angelus came to mind but few people observe that ritual these days.  

In Midrand where I have lived since 1980, we are the beneficiaries of a number of unique churches, namely, St Saviours an Anglican Church just down the street, the Russian Orthodox church across the valley and the Turkish Mosque close by. More about the former two churches in a future diary entry.

Nizamiye mosque in Midrand, South Africa

The construction of the magnificent, authentic Turkish Mosque in Midrand is the consequence of USA regulation or should I say over-regulation and perhaps prejudice against another Muslim place of worship on their soil. “Uncle Ali” first attempted to find a site for his dream mosque and Islamic School in the USA. When this failed, he approached the South African Government and specifically the Midrand Municipality.

The only stipulation from the Midrand local authority was that if “Uncle Ali” built the Mosque in Midrand it would be open to all who wished to visit it. Informal sources assert that “Uncle Ali” invested nearly one Billion Rand, constructing a scaled-down version of a Turkish mosque designed by one of the finest Islamic Architects. “Uncle Ali”, as he is affectionately known, personally supervised its construction and the Islamic School next to it from his caravan parked close by. The Islamic school boasts a number of its pupils graduating with distinctions in ten subjects when only seven passes are required for admission to universities in SA.

The Imam provided me with a personal tour of these magnificent buildings, resplendent with imported ceramic tiles, paintings and other internal adornments, honouring Allah. Shining marble floors, convenient foot-baths and suspended lights complement the spiritual atmosphere and Muslim ritual. Four Minarets and a copper-clad dome stand out on the horizon announcing the presence of an important Islamic place of worship and the presence of a community of the faithful who worship in this Mosque. Ironically, the Muslim-owned Mia property on which this mosque is built was situated far out of town in 1934. As Johannesburg and Pretoria have become one metropolis this Muslim community now finds itself at the confluence of two cities.

Testimony to the spiritual diversity of Midrand it has been constructed in a corner of a vast Muslim-owned, 2000 hectare property straddling the Juskei River which is being developed into a R30bn multi-purpose zone. The four floodlit minarets subtly shift colour against the night sky, hypnotically changing from luminous green to cobalt blue. The physical beauty is accompanied by active, positive community engagement. The Islamic Gift of the Givers Foundation is the largest disaster response non-governmental organisation of African origin on the African continent. The essence of its presence is to bring hope and restore dignity to the most vulnerable. It has played an important part in providing material relief in the form of food, blankets and shelter amongst the poorest of the poor during the Covid19 lockdown. At times it has been the only lifeline between ISIS captives in Mali, Central African Republic. Nigeria and other African states and their families.