CHARMAIN NAIDOO: What the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood could teach Zuma and Hlaudi
There’s something contagious about immoral behaviour – one indecent act somehow makes all those that follow… acceptable
We South Africans are living in an immoral time, when faithfulness to the principles of truth and honour and commitment and the keeping of promises and behaving with dignity have been abandoned.
One man has set the tone for this wicked disregard of acceptable behavioural norms: the President.
For years Jacob Zuma has flouted our laws and cocked a snook at South Africans, changing the rules to suit his needs.
He’s undermined Thuli Madonsela’s Public Protector report on Nkandla and is now doing his best to get around her ruling regarding the Guptas and the State of Capture report.
It’s set a tone and this week, this moral insouciance spilled over into the public space when an ad hoc committee set up by Parliament to look into the rot at the SABC was hijacked with a mass walk out of those being investigated.
There’s something contagious about immoral behaviour – one indecent act somehow makes all those that follow… acceptable.
We learnt that the hard way in the extended Naidoo family.
On the ninth day of Christmas my Uncle Lou fell down and broke his ankle.
On the eighth day of Christmas he’d been partying with eight maids-a-milking.
But it was the six geese-a-laying that got him into trouble.
Or rather, as my mother suspected, it was just the one very, very bad goose who made my uncle break his marriage vows.
When conjecture moved into fact, my mum clucked her pious tongue and made noises of disapproval and resolved not to let my Uncle Lou stay with us. We were upstanding, God-fearing and righteous (self righteous!) and would not provide an alibi for his nefarious liaisons. That’s what she called it. Not an affair but a liaison.
That harlot – my mother was not above slut shaming – should be tarred and feathered and marched through the streets of Estcourt with a sign round her neck that read Home Wrecker.
The woman in question was the daughter of one of my parents church friends, a careworn woman they shared a pew with, prayed with at mass, a small woman whose pinched face bore the pain of years of suffering at the hands of an alcoholic husband.
It seemed a pity that my uncle, who was equally attached to the bottle, would add to her woes.
I have never understood why it was that my mother took up so about the illicit affair that really had nothing to do with her.
I put it down to the fact that mum was schooled in zealotry by nuns – not just any nuns but by the Missionary Sisters of the Precious Blood, an order founded in Grisons, Switzerland in 1833.
In 1923, nuns from this order started the Little Flower School for indigent coloured children in and around the area of Ixopo in KwaZulu Natal.
As the demand grew, the school began to take children from around the country, so, in 1931 my mother (she qualified because her mother was Coloured and her father Indian) was sent from her home in Dundee to be a border at Little Flower.
Under the watchful, often cruel eye, of Sister Annuncia, my lovely mum was turned into a religious fanatic who prayed a lot and lit candles every day and went to mass in a mantilla and spent hours on her knees with eyes closed and head bowed and plucked fresh flowers to put in front of a statue of our lady and who believed in a wrathful, angry God, and who believed too that if she was bad, she would end up in purgatory (not hell; she made sure that her sins were merely venial, never mortal).
Despite the cruelty the nuns showed to these poor, defenceless Coloured children in their care, who were often hungry having been fed Dickensian gruel and dry bread for dinner, my mother extolled the virtue of these women of God. Often they feasted on bratwurst and cervelat sausages and my mum remembered delicious aromas wafting up to the dormitory where the hungry girls shivered under thin blankets. I thought it reminiscent of a Victorian workhouse. My silly mum thought it character building. What it did build was sanctimonious preachiness and the assumed right to judge other people for their behaviour choices.
My mum was rigid in her beliefs and there was little room for compassion in her carefully constructed “moral” world. A large part of her life was devoted to the art of suffering, learnt at the knee of the Ixopo nuns. When Mum suffered, we all did too. And my mum suffered. A lot.
On the ninth day of Christmas, my mum’s suffering spilled over into guilt and remorse, a horrible combo for us, the other five people she shared a home with.
She’d let uncle Lou come to stay, made soft by the fact that he’d pushed R20 into her hand (a tidy sum in the 70s) – to buy presents for the kids, he’d said.
My mother was moved by his act of generosity and said yes when he asked if he could bunk down with the boys, my brothers, in their room at the back of the house.
Uncle Lou lived in Ladysmith with his wife and numerous children, we lived in Estcourt – hometown of his paramour.
A few days before this fateful day, the “harlot’s” mother, long suffering Aunty Kay had hand-wringingly confided in my mum: yes, Jane was indeed the “other woman” in Uncle Lou’s life.
It took great determination for Uncle Lou and Jane to find a place to conduct their affair.
She lived with her parents, he lived in another town; all the hotels in the town were “Whites Only”, prying eyes were everywhere.... So his green Valiant with its wide, leather back seat had to provide a sinful bed for any illicit trysts.
And so, on the 9th day of Christmas, at a quarter to seven in the evening, Uncle Lou and Jane were discovered near the river by Jane’s drunk father who took a crowbar to the Valiant making Uncle Lou flee, then trip on an exposed root and fall against a rock and break his ankle.
It all felt a little farcical; vaudeville theatre put on for the cheap laugh, a mocking of the social norms and mores of our small town.
But people were outraged when my uncle responded by refusing to condemn his actions and ask for forgiveness. He refused to denounce his love, or himself. Confession to our parish priest, he informed my frosty mum, was not an option.
He walked out of town – he drove, actually in his dented Valiant with a broken window – ungallantly leaving Jane to face humiliation as she walked down our streets a fallen women.
Uncle Lou’s act of immorality had an unforeseen consequence. His oldest daughter, at 16, wrote her matric pregnant with the child of his married business partner, 15 years her senior.
My mother’s response? Much tut tutting and about grown ups setting an example.
Jacob Zuma should take heed.