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Second Coming of Jesus Christ: Essay

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In the play, Woza Albert! by Percy Miwa, Mbongeni Ngema, and Barney Simon, the role of Christianity and the hope of redemption (in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ - the subject of the ‘what if’ premise of the play), provides a perspective from which to view the realities of Apartheid South Africa; and criticizes the “hypocrisy of the Apartheid leadership in appropriating Christianity to justify an onerous system” of institutionalized racism, systematic oppression, and the denial of basic human rights (Ngaboh-Smart 177). In Woza Albert! Morena (Jesus Christ or a divine king) – a common term for someone in authority (Miwa, Ngema, and Simon 122) - is being cited as the savior and change agent.

The play’s critique of the imagining of the biblical prophecy of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ in Apartheid South Africa illustrates the irony in which all of Morena’s miracles are associated with the mundane yet politicized difficulties of black South Africans. Morena is portrayed as the sympathetic creator of miracles, able to fulfill the ordinary needs of individuals. Various characters portrayed by the actors – reflective of the story-telling tradition of long narrative monologues (Ngaboh-Smart 183) - express modest and easily accomplishable desires, nothing greater than everyday enhancements in their lives. This is expressed in scene seventeen:

Auntie Oudu will find chicken legs in her rubbish bin and whole cabbages. And amadoda – our men – will be offered work at the Pass Office. The barber will be surrounded by white tiles. The young meat seller will wear a nice new uniform and go to school, and we will all go to Morena for our blessings (Miwa, Ngema, and Simon 87-88).

Woza Albert! contests people’s meanings of fantasy by disputing the commitment of the Apartheid government to the Christian religion and their expectation in the rectification of a black Saviour – a savior is someone that must bring enlightenment to people or save people. In scene eighteen, when Morena is betrayed and caught, Morena, similar to Jesus when he is being crucified, prays, “Forgive them, they do not know what they are doing,” but his follower insists, “They know! They know!” a hit to the Christian ethics that the followers of the Apartheid regime in South Africa claim to have (Miwa, Ngema, and Simon).

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The ‘what if’ question that initiated the play thus leads one directly to a consciousness of the irony that a state claims to be a Christian nation – in twentieth-century South Africa, it was commonly acknowledged and imparted in schools that South Africa was a Christian state. The education system contrived by the Apartheid government (1948-93) was, however, formally named ‘National Christian Education’, and (Christian) religious education was compulsory in learning institutions (Miwa, Ngema and Simon 12) - would simultaneously be willing to approve and implement racial segregation and the denial of basic human rights to the extent that it did. The play addresses this point when Morena’s fellow prisoner on Robben Island says in scene twenty-two: “But why do they give us your book to read, Morena? They must be bladdy mad, Morena. This book only proves how mad they are” (Miwa, Ngema and Simon 107). He is puzzled as to why the prisoners were given Bibles but were kept confined in Robben Island, even though the New Testament repetitively emphasizes that freedom comes through a belief in the Saviour. Religion is a system of beliefs, faith, and worship with people upholding and leading the organization of those associated with the religion – similar to the domain of politics. The decisions are imposed by the leaders of the communities. “Thus, two domains exist, each with its own agenda, system, decisions, and leaders. A struggle for power between politics and religion seems inevitable” (Beyers 146).

Although the play is riddled with theological diction, “at tense moments, the play even doubts the efficacy of the Christian doctrine that provides its subtext” (Ngaboh-Smart 179). In this scene, Percy mocks Jesus Christ’s teaching of “turning the other cheek”: “A man hits this cheek you give him the other. Aikona, Morena! They’re calling the police to arrest you now!” (Miwa, Ngema, and Simon). One can thus come to the conclusion that Woza Albert! only uses symbols associated with the Christian religion to criticize the system of oppression and divide in Apartheid South Africa because this is the grammar that the Apartheid system itself uses to validate its presence in South Africa – the play is reusing the implements of the system in methods that would alter them into instruments of resistance; “diffusing the complicity between Christianity and state repression” (Ngaboh-Smart 177). Allan Boesak once said:

Afrikaners believe that they are the chosen people of God, that whites in some special way have a divine right to rule, and that their overprivileged position is somehow God’s will. The truth of the gospel cuts through this propaganda. It is liberating for black South Africans to discover that the message of the Bible is that God is the God of the poor and that He is on the side of the oppressed (Ngaboh-Smart 177).

Resurrection exists in this Second Coming of Jesus Christ, in the wake of death. The play’s title “Woza Albert”, means “Rise, Albert,” referring to the deceased leader of the African National Congress (ANC). Morena resurrects historical, prominent figures of the anti-Apartheid movement (as Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead in the New Testament), including Albert Luthuli, Robert Sobukwe, Lilian Ngoyi, and Steven Biko, to rise and make South Africa a “heaven on earth” for black people by confronting the atrocities of Apartheid (Miwa, Ngema and Simon). In the resurrection of past anti-Apartheid icons, Woza Albert! announces the requirement and significance of black leaders in the fight against Apartheid.

The critique of the savior motif and the hypocrisy of the claimed Christian state of the Apartheid regime in South Africa in Woza Albert! alludes to the relationship between religion and politics, and how political power can be gained and people can be indoctrinated under the guise of religious belief. Christianity is transformed into a tool for resistance in the oppressive and segregated system in which it was created.

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