It was a long time ago, thirty, almost forty years, and I wasn’t remotely as involved as the Faraghers were. Joe and Lynette lived on the Ikhwezi Lokusa property outside Umtata with their four small children, all daughters; Joe taught pottery there to Xhosa children who came to his classes on crutches, in leg-braces, even on trolleys or gurneys – I don’t know the proper terms for all these apparatuses, but you get the idea. There was one young man I remember particularly: huge, dark, soulful eyes, who lay on his side and worked at the clay from his trolley. Lynette and I taught secondary school English in town.
Ikhwezi Lokusa was run by nuns, a refuge for children disabled by polio and other diseases of the poor and disenfranchised. The head nun, as I recall, was the aptly named Sister Dolorata – short, stocky, ginger haired I think, blunt and bossy. And then there was the other one, Sister Mary Paule, her second-in-command: Mary Paule, the peacemaker, the sorter-out of troubles, the wise soul to whom Lynette and Joe turned for advice and comfort in the midst of marital and other troubles, a second mother to their children.
I remember the house that the Faraghers lived in, a kind of bungalow affair along a rutted dirt road, the kids playing outside, Lynette loyally gardening, and beyond the wire fence the open hills. I would go there on weekends, for lunches, braais and trips to the Wild Coast; the Faraghers would make me stay over sometimes, when I had had more than was sensible. I can see the blue sky, red dirt, the struggling green grass, picture Sister sweeping down the path to the Faragher’s open door in her nun’s habit, her smile firm but gentle.
All this, as I say, was a long time ago, and I hadn’t heard of Ikhwezi or of Sister Mary Paule quite literally in decades, although Lynette and I are still friends, and I come across Ruth, or Kirsten, two of her now grown-up children, every now and then. Joe, the father, died a number of years back. And then I did hear, and I wish I hadn’t.
Sister Mary Paule, aged 82 (my mother’s age) but still active in the community, was abducted the other day, and murdered. Her car was found overturned near the village of Qokolweni, her body was found floating in a stream near Tyara. Lynette sent me the link that Kirsten had sent her. Of course Lynette was devastated. I remember I just sat for a while, stunned, unable to say anything, unable to explain to Rob what had happened.
Sister Mary Paule was of the order of the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood. She had come to South Africa from the United States in the 1950s, in the bleakest days of apartheid, to one of the most beautiful and impoverished corners of the land – the land that had nurtured Nelson Mandela – and she had given her life in service to the people who lived there. The weak, the lame, the poor, the abandoned. And this was how her life had ended. Who could have done this? How was it possible? For the love of god!
It is tempting, you see, to editorialise – in the vein of ‘what-is-the-world-coming-to,’ ‘what brutes, what unspeakable brutality’ or even, sadly, shaking one’s head, ‘see what South Africa is becoming. All those dreams lost, those hopes of change and redemption.’
I have no way of knowing what Sister Mary Paule would have thought. She would have cried out, one imagines, to God, in her secret prayers and from the hidden corners of her soul. But I doubt that, ultimately, her faith would have been shaken – her faith, not only in God, but in the community she had spent her entire life serving.
I imagine that, given the chance, she might even have forgiven her killers, which is more than I can do. But then, quite apart from being a nun, Sister was a much better person than I will ever be.
You can follow the link to her story, if you wish, here.