The Dean of Cape Town looks to Manchester for ideas on community cohesion

By Kevin McHugh

A vicar who fought against apartheid in South Africa is looking to Manchester for ideas on how to bring his own community in Cape Town closer together.

Last May, the Very Reverend Michael Weeder was installed as Dean and first rector of St George’s Cathedral – a church which has come to be known as ‘The People’s Cathedral’ due to the unifying role it played during the country’s struggles.

Reverend Weeder now wants to draw his community together again, and last week visited Manchester for inspiration.

He said: “We were, as a cathedral, very active in the anti-apartheid struggle, but within a new 21st Century post-apartheid society we needed some new ideas and so we looked to the UK because there has been very innovative work done by certain churches and cathedrals.”

The challenge, says Reverend Weeder, is finding a connection between the Church in Cape Town and the non-Anglican community.

“Church is often seen as the soul preserve of the blue rinse crew,” said he said.

“There is a broad stream of faiths in our society so how do we talk to people who have a belief that is an alternate belief system to ours?”

And the Dean of Cape Town thinks the answer may be here in Manchester.

“There is a lovely, gentle subversion of a religious cliché of how we exist and who we exist for and I can see it’s being, in a very dynamic way, achieved here,” said Reverend Weeder.

The Dean’s visit coincides with Anti-Slavery Day in the UK and it’s a day that has great personal relevance the South African vicar.  

“My interest in slavery is a very subjective one because I am of slave descent,” he said.

“It’s an aspect of South African society that is rather understated and very few people know about. It is a very important story that we need to tell.”

As a founder member of the December First Movement, an organisation that looks at the legacy of slavery, it is a topic Reverend Weeder is keen to draw attention to.

He explaineid: “Slavery is not a one off event – there are ongoing consequences in the human psyche that don’t stop. It’s not like a tap, that you turn off and the water stops flowing.

“You might stop the torture, you might stop the repression, but the human mind and spirit constantly relives it.”

The Dean of Cape Town also sees similarities between the issues of Apartheid-era South Africa and those that sparked the UK riots.

“You recently had these unexplained acts of urban youth outrage, known as rioting. Obviously a lot of it is opportunistic, but there are things that kick start it, that animate it,” said Reverend Weeder.

“It seems to erupt in an inexplicable manner – but it isn’t as inexplicable as we think. A lot of issues of young people are repressed.”

Reverend Weeder was invited to give a sermon on Sunday morning at Manchester Cathedral by the city’s Dean – and fellow South African – the Very Reverend Rogers Govenden.

The two originally met in 1983 when they were both studying for the priesthood in an eastern province of South Africa and were put in contact again by a mutual friend in London

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