Adventures In Africa

For one country to forgo the pleasure of holding Hans Jayanti on its own soil in favor of traveling to another nation to celebrate this festival may seem a strange decision, but it was made by South African DLM in light of the legacy of strife that surrounds it. Hans Jayanti '76 will be celebrated in the small, independent kingdom of Swaziland on November 23, 24 and 25. Most of the celebrants are expected from the Mission community in Johannesburg, six hours drive away, or a short plane flight to the Swazi city of Manzini.

Past, Present, and Future

From the beginning of the twentieth century at least, South Africa has had a troubled history. Originally colonized by Dutch settlers (Boers, now called Afrikaners) in 1652, the area's control was wrested from their hands by the British in the Boer Wars' climax of 1902. In 1910 the Union of South Africa was formed. Then in 1948 the Nationalist Party of Afrikaners came to power, ending British rule. This shift of power, however, did not change the predominant policy of white supremacy, starkly highlighted by the notorious Sharpeville Massacre of 1960 in which police killed 69 Africans, who were protesting the requirement that blacks must carry identity papers. In the following year South Africa declared itself a republic and left the British Commonwealth of Nations.

The present racist ("Apartheid") policies of the South African government have been condemned throughout the world. Out of a population of about 25 million (mid- 1974), only 16 percent are whites. The rest of the population is made up of 700,000 Asians; 2,300,000 Coloreds (people of mixed race); and 17,700,000 Africans. The growth rate among Africans and Coloreds is about twice that of whites. Despite these figures, the government is controlled entirely by the whites, and blacks have no right to vote.

Since the second World War the South African government has begun to face its situation more realistically. With a new political climate engendered by the emerging black republics on the African continent, and for its own economic reasons, South Africa has been forced to heed the criticisms of other nations. Eight tribal "homelands" have been designated, where blacks can live and establish some form of self-government. All-black hospitals provide 7.41 beds per 1,000 people, somewhat above the international standard of five beds per 1,000. However, all this amounts to token effort considering the poor quality of the "homelands" and the inequitable treatment in areas such as health care. Many blacks are now taking over blue collar jobs in white parts of the country, largely because there are not enough whites to fill employment needs, but the average pay of blacks employed by the government is below the official poverty line.

Observers of the current situation in South Africa feel that this imbalance cannot last much longer. According to Anthony Lewis of the New York Times Magazine "the diminishing status of the whites helps to explain one curious and chilling phenomenon of life in South Africa. Again and again one detects the unspoken assumption among white people that their privileged position will end - by gradual change, by explosion or whatever. People think in a time frame of perhaps twenty years, the intransigent and liberal alike."

Lewis also feels that the motivation of the government is not pure totalitarianism or fascism. He cites the free press as evidence against such an assumption. Instead, Lewis points out that the repression is geared toward manifesting the "pastoral vision" which was the Afrikaners' life fantasy during the Boer wars: they wanted to live a quiet, simple farming life, undisturbed by the tensions of many kinds of people living together in one area.

Working Towards Togetherness

Against this turbulent backdrop, the South African Mission has played out its own turbulent history. Initiation began in Shri Maharaj Ji's time in the Indian community of Johannesburg. No records were kept, and the estimated number of original premies ranges from 3,000 to5,000. The present resident initiators are Urmila Ben, who is a widowed mother and lives in Fordsburg, one of the Indian sections of Johannesburg, and Jesu Ben, who is married and lives in Lenasia, the Indian community just outside Johannesburg.

Before his visit in the spring of 1972, Guru Maharaj Ji sent Gary Girard ahead to propagate to the white community. When Maharaj Ji arrived with Gurucharnanand, one black person and 500 whites were initiated. Maharaj Ji really enjoyed eyed his stay, holding huge parties with the community. At that time other Indian spiritual groups expressed their antagonism for Guru Maharaj Ji's activities by exerting pressure on the government and making it difficult for Maharaj Ji to acquire a visa in the future.

In the spring of the following year, Guru Maharaj Ji sent Barbara Kolodney to South Africa via Nairobi, Kenya. Barbara had been in Africa before as a member of the Peace Corps, which was blacklisted in the South African republic as being too "radical." Her mission this time was to try to bridge the widening gap between the Indian and white premie communities. The reasons for their split were to some extent built into the country's political climate: there were and are many restrictions on who you can be seen with, where you can travel, and where you can congregate as a group.

The more conservative Indian community, represented by middle-aged businessmen, favored a go-slow approach. Their feelings were expressed in the Mission's governing body, formed originally by Guru Maharaj Ji and presided over by Doctor Lewis Eisenberg, a tall, white-haired figure who epitomized the humanitarian sentiment, working with a medical clinic in Soweto, one of the black areas of Johannesburg. At the same time Mr. Bhoolabhai Gokel was the general secretary of the governing body and is now the Mission's national director. Their respectable image enhanced their legal entity in the eyes of the government, and their recognition as a spiritual organization enabled them to hold

14    Divine Times, November 1976

Prem Rawat: Divine Times magazine multiracial gatherings.

Although the Mission was now viewed favorably by the government, the young white premies, who ran the Johannesburg ashram with their own brand of laissez-faire, saw this conservative approach as a barrier to propagation. No leafletting or public programs were happening. They were also concerned about arti and pranaming at satsang, which (with their Hindu tradition) dissuaded the white South Africans and any participation at all by the Moslem Indians.

The Indian community's caution may have been warranted, however. Every group activity, regardless of religious or political inclination, is investigated by the government. There is no way to discern the extent of the government's scrutiny so it is only natural for individuals to be reluctant in discussing matters by phone and in talking on controversial subjects in a public forum such as satsang.

One of the events of 1973 which helped to bring the differing groups together was their work on a float, featuring large pictures of Maharaj Ji, which took part in the annual University Parade. It also received a mention in a local newspaper. 1974 saw an increase in activities, with neighborhood programs in Johannesburg and centers opening in Capetown and Durban. Premies also came together in Pretoria, the administrative capital of South Africa and the capital of the province of Transvaal. Though this period of expansion went smoothly, it marked the first overt opposition to DLM from the white community, when a group of Jesus people leafletted at one program.

As the Mission became more stabilized, the governing body tried harder to integrate its work with the younger white premies. Today the majority of premies are still businessmen and their families.

There are satellite satsangs and the old ashram is now the community center, with the present ashram housed in an apartment building. Visits from Bob Mishler in 1975 and Arthur Brigham in 1976 helped to boost positive community feeling, with Arthur giving Knowledge reviews to 622 people.

Planning the Festival

Initial plans for Hans Jayanti '76 proposed a two-day program in Johannesburg, with visiting premies being accommodated in local premies' homes. However, whereas approval is granted for sat-sang, multiracial eating and sleeping facilities could cause problems with the government. Bhoolabhai also felt that Johannesburg itself was too much of an unrelaxed, bustling city and that the University of Witwatersrand Great Hall, the best indoor facility (necessary because of summer rains), would be too small for the festival audience.

Recent racial trouble capped off the uneasiness about a South African city as the festival site. On June 16, 1976, 10,000 black students marched and rioted in Soweto. They were protesting the government policy that some school subjects be taught in Afrikaans, the language of the Afrikaners, considered by blacks as a symbol of oppression. Both whites and blacks are required to study Afrikaans in state schools, but whites are not required to learn other subjects in Afrikaans if their primary language is English. Most of the black students do not speak Afrikaans as a primary language, so they saw the government policy as discriminatory.

In that outbreak of violence and further riots in Pretoria and Capetown, property damage, mostly to government property, has been estimated at over $35 million. More disturbing still, over 300 blacks have been killed.

Hunting is illegal in Swaziland: The White Rhino, like all wild animals, is protected.  Tradition is strong among the Swazis: Sibaca dancing is one of its most popular expressions

Divine Times, November 1976    15

South African premies gather around Maharaj Ji at the Bryanston Residence in 1972 Site-searching turned to nearby Swaziland. The South Africans discovered the Somhlolo National Stadium, 14 kilometers from Mbabane, the administrative capital. On the original Hans Jayanti dates, local hotels could provide only 800 beds, and there were not enough premies to organize complex facilities such as tent accommodation. Fortunately, Maharaj Ji felt it was all right to move the festival later into November. Bhoolabhai then visited Swaziland and reserved 680 hotel beds with an option on a further 750.

The hotels - believe it or not - are both Holiday Inns. One of the hotels has given DLM complete control of its kitchen, which can cater for 1,400 people. The approximate cost for each participant in this adventure is $ 100 U.S., which includes food, accommodation, transport, and a registration fee to cover the additional festival expenses. This estimate has been made only for the African premie community, as no arrangements are being made for visitors from other continents.

Somhlolo National Stadium is mostly a crescent-shaped grass hill on three sides, with covered seating on the fourth, which can hold up to 3,000 people. A covered stage facing the seats will be built for Maharaj Ji in the center of the stadium, where there is a 200-yard grass field.

A Brief History

Swaziland differs from most other African nations in that it is neither a young black republic nor dominated by a white minority, but it is an independent kingdom rich in tradition.

The ancestors of the Swazis lived in Mozambique until about 1700. Then, led by Ngwane III they moved into Natal and crossed the Lubombo Mountains into Swaziland in about 1750. Over the next hundred years a loose confederation of clans became a nation, ruled from 1840 to 1868 by Mswati. "Swazi" means "the people of Mswati." Mswati's kingdom was about twice as big as present-day Swaziland. His death ended an era of unification and there followed a hundred years of commercial and political exploitation by white settlers.

The present north, west and south boundaries of the nation were defined in 1881 by the Pretoria Convention between the British and Transvaal governments. Following several attempts by both the Boers and the British to gain control of the country, Swaziland became a British protectorate at the end of the Boer Wars. An important part of Swaziland's history in the twentieth century is the

Swazi's efforts to win back land taken from them by the early white settlers. After many frustrations these efforts have been partially successful and today about 56 percent of their original territory is owned by Swaziland. In 1960 negotiations began with Britain to secure full independence, and on September 5, 1968, Swaziland became a sovereign state once again.

The King of Swaziland, Sobhuza 11, the Ngwenyana ("Lion"), was proclaimed king-designate in the year of his birth, 1899, and was installed as the head of the traditional administration in 1921. His status among his countrymen is far greater than that of most contemporary monarchs, since tradition endows him with mystical characteristics. According to the tourist brochures, "He is the embodiment of the nation, his health is the nation's prosperity, his fertility is that of the nation's soil. He commands the unquestioning loyalty and devotion of all Swazi people."

Swaziland Today

By all accounts, this small kingdom is a tourist's paradise. You can drive through Ezuliwini Valley ("Valley of the Heavens") to Lombamba, the site of the modern parliament, the royal village and the Mantenga waterfalls. You can watch the white rhinoceros in the Mlilwane game reserve, or have your fortune told by a bone-throwing witchdoctor. All about you, people dress in bright togas and beads, and you can gamble your money away in the casino at the Royal Swazi Spa.

Alongside developing their industries, such as sugar, handicrafts, metalwork and asbestos, the Swazis maintain great pride in their customs and traditions. Swazi warriors still carry shields and spears, and Swazi women wear the traditional "beehive" hair style. These are outward signs of a deeply rooted social system which lays great stress on courtesy and respect for older people. Dancing is also an important traditional ceremony and is known as Sibaca. Each year the Reed Dance (Umhlanga) is performed by Swazi maidens before the Queen Mother at Lobamba, and in December or January the most sacred Ncwala dance is performed as a "first fruits" ceremony and as a mystical dance of kingship.

The population of 478,000 (estimated in 1974) speaks siSwati and English. All native Swazis and many residents speak siSwati, while English is widely understood. In either language they'll tell you that Swaziland is a country of sunshine. It is written that "because of variation in altitude. it is always possible to find the sun

16    Divine Times, November 1976

South African national director, Bhoolabai, chats with Henry Barrnett, Johannesburg premie by driving a few kilometers."

Swaziland is also lucky enough to have a wealth of native wildlife - kudu, impala, monkeys, druiker, zebra, reedbuck. Most animals are protected and the guidebooks emphasize that Swaziland is not a hunter's country; visitors are encouraged to hunt with cameras only. Other tourist delights include prehistoric rock paintings and the Lion Cavern in the cliff face of Ngwenyai Mountain, which dates back to 43,000 B.C.

According to Sishayi Nxumalo. the Minister of Industry, Mines and Tourism, Swaziland is the ideal place for a peaceful gathering like Hans Jayanti. He says that, "We offer a genuine welcome to all people of goodwill, of every color, race and creed, and hope that by receiving you with friendliness we may contribute to international understanding and happiness."

- Michael McDonald