An enduring reminder

Issue 

Michael Lapsley, Priest and Partisan: A South African journey
By Michael Worsnip
Ocean Press, 1996. 167 pp., $19.95
Reviewed by Marina Cameron

This book, about the life of prominent ANC activist and Anglican priest Michael Lapsley, provides some interesting insights and general comments on the struggle against apartheid.

The main theme is the choice that people faced in South Africa to confront injustice or turn a blind eye. For Lapsley, this choice meant the loss of both hands and an eye in a letter bomb in 1990. The real question raised by the book is where this commitment comes from.

Lapsleys principled approach to his beliefs is described as coming from God. However, one could just as easily see Lapsley's strength and commitment as coming from a profound sensitivity to human suffering and an understanding of its social causes.

He describes his religion as a moral obligation to pursue "a cause one knows is just". This was a view that brought him into conflict with the institutional structures of the Anglican Church.

The book documents his struggle to obtain church support for the anti-apartheid movement, rejecting the idea of standing aside from social struggle.

He argues strongly against the neutrality of religion, citing the use of religion by the South African regime in shrouding its actions and demonising the ANC. He criticises the idea of reconciliation pushed by the church, which simply means reconciling the oppressed to injustice instead of taking up the challenge of struggle. For Lapsley, orthodoxy is designed to create impotence, to prevent analysis and action, by religious individuals or by the church.

Lapsley's views on religion and the transformation his religious beliefs undergo through experience in political struggle are interesting, even for unbelievers.

The principled commitment of Lapsley and others like him is still needed in South Africa. Despite his elation at the victory over apartheid, he writes at the end of the book of being "struck by the glibness of the New South Africa, putting on a clean shirt without understanding the scale of past and present suffering". This book is a reminder of things that should never be forgotten or ignored.

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