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|Blessed leader: With St Engenas on Sunday at Moria|
THE fabled road to Moria, on any given Good Friday, is not to be trifled with. Off the nation-long N1 at Polokwane and up towards the mountains on the R71, you are greeted with 100,000 buses in an iron-human ribbon headed stoically towards the gates of their vast Zion.
The journey is littered with those who struggle to make it. Breakdowns, crashes, toll plaza jams. But no impatience, no anger… just a vast horde of largely uniformed men and women quietly determined to be there for their Bishop at Boyne in Limpopo.
|Khaki army: Inside one of the buses|
I clambered on a couple of buses while they were stopped, waiting to get past a crash not two miles from the twin gates of Moria.
The buses are largely gender specific. On the women’s charabanc, noise and children among the blue-and-white and the green-and-yellow congregants. The men sit in serried ranks, with the ubiquitous ZCC hats, khaki suits and white shoes. One long row of smiles.
|Iron-human ribbon: buses on the R72 to Moria|
At the end of their long road they are faced with a choice. The Dove or the Star. Founded in 1910 as a breakaway from the Scottish Free Church by Engenas Lekganyane, there are now two branches of the ZCC, with a combined congregation of around EIGHT million in a nation of 55 million.
First you come across the Star, led by Engenas’s grand-son Barnabas. Then, under a bigger, more elaborate gate, there’s the Dove sect, inspired by another grand-son, St Engenas. Insiders suggest the Star congregation is largely urban while the Doves are more rural, and draw many from neighbouring nations.
As an estimated three million people set up camp within the property of around 12 square kilometres; I expected chaos. I have seen Glastonbury and the Isle of Wight when huge concerts are held. It’s a matter of grabbing a site for your tent and a place to do your business. Disease and pollution are rampant, so is theft and beer.
|On camera: the nerve centre at Moria|
It took me, an mlungu (white) who grew up from the age of 10 protected by a ZCC vicar called the Reverend James “Smart” Sibanda, quite a while to take in the enormity of the organisation. If you learn one line, it’s “KGOTSONG A E BE LE LENA” (or the shorter “KGOTSO E BE LE LENA”) it means "peace be with you" and will earn access all areas.
|We are gathered here today: the blue-and-white crowd|
And everywhere, the army of men in hats and khaki, keeping the peace, guiding the Easter campers through the food shops and latrines in a campsite five kilometres long, speckled by loudspeakers and huge video screens.
At the gate, given my pale visage, I become a focal point. Video cameras follow my every move. Photographers save my image. I’m taken in to a plush gate house, my picture is taken for the umpteenth time and I give me name, address and religion (Methodist) before a vicar sprinkles me with holy water before I take a nervous sip.
By Easter Sunday, when Saint Engenas emerged in a Rolls Royce Phantom with eponymous number plates to give his long-awaited sermon, I had not seen a single incident of violence or theft. None of the smell of sewerage or garbage I expected. Amid the millions, peace and contentment – and plenty of dancing – reigned in the blazing African heat.
|Phantastic Phnatom: St Engenas's Rolls Royce|
Like his father before him, St Engenas’s son drove the Roller. There is a collection of huge black limousines over the mountain at the Bishop’s home, including two Mercedes and older American Cadillacs. This is the only obvious sign of wealth on offer, though the VIP lunch lacks little.
The assembled masses go crazy. Surprisingly, the pre-sermon is given in Afrikaans by a high-pitched white man who even uses the old-fashioned term “Transvaal” for the Gauteng province. Not a murmur. Every word of every service in both Dove and Star camps is translated from the original Pedi in to English, Afrikaans, Zulu and Tsonga.
Such translations are not helpful for the flow of the message. But St Engenas has them hanging on his every word. I keep my eyes tight shut during the prayers, on advice from Twitterers concerned about my blessing levels.
In the middle of his lesson, which starts with Noah and ends with modern, troubled South Africa, a lady in blue-and-white is dragged out screaming: “taken by the spirit” the Bishop’s wife assures me.
Occasionally the frantic women in the front unleash a volley of cackling between the gentler hum of “amen”; again the spirit is to blame.
|Khaki kerb stones: holding back the blue-and-white worshippers|
During the Apartheid years, the ZCC was seen by some as counter-revolutionary but here the millions might be a quiet revolution waiting to happen. Waiting to assert their calm over a turbulent Rainbow Nation. During his speech, unexpectedly, St Engenas turns around and gives me a huge smile and thumbs up.
|Deep in Moria: crowds lined the Bishop's route|
almost ridiculous uniform, black with lashings of gold braid, the very model of a modern major general. The family have always worn military uniform, it’s expected.
He says: “So glad to have you here, I hope you enjoy it, watch this…” and I am waved to a golf buggy with Jacques, the manager of the Magoebaskloof Hotel up the road. We are the only two white men in sight, apart from the crew who run the broadcast facility and a photographer with a fantastic Boer beard.
St Engenas takes up his mace and performs his ritual role as drum major to his ear-bashing brass band. And we surge straight in to the crowd, where a road with khaki-clad men as kerb-stones has been steam-rollered through the throng.
|Drum major: the Bishop leads|
Somehow the thin Khaki line holds. The Bishop doesn’t falter. Like the Titanic, the band plays on. Loudly. They have two marching songs, they beat still through my slumbers.
We are through the blue-and-white to the gentler green-and-gold ranks. The noise remains deafening. When Kathy Simpson won gold at the Sydney Olympics I thought my ear-drums would burst. When Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal won the Rugby World Cup, a wall of noise assailed me. Now, I can hear nothing. For an hour afterwards my ears were ringing.
St Engenas twirls his mace with some skill. This is his time. For a good half-hour, we soldier on through the masses, past “Food Shop Number 5”, past the kiosks selling holy coffee and tea, past the endless buses, with human barriers holding back the thousands eager to see their spiritual leader. I have been on Arsenal victory parades, Olympic marches, Buckingham Palace Garden Parties. Nothing like this. Never.
|Star on the hillside: Moria, Boyne, Limpopo|
And finally, unscathed, we emerge from the masses and retreat to a room upstairs in the pavilion. Outside, the crowds gather to witness one last glimpse of their bishop. Inside, St Engenas works the room, flanked by pictures of his meetings with Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, who came last year but, perhaps significantly, wasn’t present this year.
The Bishop pumps my hand again: “Did you enjoy that? Will you come again?” He tells how he has bought “the Van Der Walt farm” over the road. How he received a prize bull as a birthday present: “And he can do the job, this bull, he has 15 cows to service!” Booming laugh. In 1996, 40 percent of black South Africans were reported to be members of the ZCC.
St Engenas moves smoothly between languages. An old white man explains how he used to serve the family at the KFC in Polokwane in the 70s, how they were always “fine people, the best”. Local politicians jostle for position. The sound and vision guy, a Greek chap who has been involved since 1998, explains how the Dove is growing.
Patrice Motsepe’s ARM directors are there, talking easily with MEPs. Of Malema, since the speech, there has been no sign. One man takes me aside. He tells me the prophecy: “One day the Dove and the Star will be reunited again. Soon. And the numbers will be incredible. We grow every year. The new farm will be for parking. We will transport the people, we get bigger every year.”
Outside, tractors pull huge green-and-yellow trailers around the site. An aerial picture on the wall shows the full extent of what we are involved in. Millions of people, thousands of buses, cars and tents, stretching for miles around.
It's late. Armoured cars filled with cash move slowly through the crowd. The financial implications of eight million-plus members doesn’t need to be spelled out. I didn’t see a single collection plate but the money offered is carefully ploughed back in to the church. It doesn’t get squandered. Corruption is a c-word here.
The Bishop is back. “Take a picture,” he beams, “You will be back. I know this. Do you need a police escort to get home? I can sort that out.”
|The new garage on road to Moria: no Total Nobody's in sight|
The drive home is terrifying. Breakdowns litter the route. The N1 tolls are heaving. Cars and buses occupy oncoming lanes. For two hours we wait, while the pilgrims, tireless, sing and dance in the buses. Home exhausted. The dominant thought: Everyone should do this, at least once.
Somewhere in the real world, Zuma is preparing to bury 13 SANDF soldiers, Arsenal won, Orlando Pirates drew, Andile Jali remains an enigma. The world goes on. Until September, when the ZCC millions gather once more.
I can’t wait. St Engenas for President anybody?