‘No man is an island’- chaplain who supports SA island teams

2016-10-07 08:02
Wonke Buqa, 38, an SANDF chaplain, believes no man is an island. And he should know. He brought together people of different religions and cultures while deployed to Gough Island. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

Wonke Buqa, 38, an SANDF chaplain, believes no man is an island. And he should know. He brought together people of different religions and cultures while deployed to Gough Island. (Jenna Etheridge, News24)

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Cape Town – It takes a special person to bring together people from different cultures and religions, especially when they are stuck on a small island.

But Wonke Buqa, 38, a chaplain with the SA National Defence Force, takes it in his stride.

He returned to South Africa on Thursday morning, radiating peace and happiness, after a six-week deployment with the environmental affairs department on Gough Island.

There he offered spiritual, psychological and social care to the small team conducting research.

One of his roles was to create cohesion.

“Whether Muslim, Hindu or Christian, we’re all combined. It’s interactive,” he said with a grin.

Buqa’s past missions were in different parts of South Africa and the continent, offering the same support to troops.

He grew up in the Transkei, in the Eastern Cape.

It was here a local minister sparked a desire to believe in something bigger than himself.

“I was keen to learn and always inquisitive. When I passed matric, I just had a feeling I would be doing more.”

Despite an adventurous spirit, he never thought a rural guy like himself would end up on a ship.

Research teams were deployed to the island for more than a year at a time.

Buqa was part of a relief voyage carrying food, supplies and people. The relief team was there for six weeks.

He said the researchers had been there a long time and were missing their family members.

“They come to me anytime when they are feeling emotional and also distressed. Some are homesick, some have seasickness.”

Another issue he encountered was alcohol use.

“It’s a challenge just like in South Africa. The space is so small and people usually drink just for fun. It’s fine though because I take my coke and sit at the bar to chat with them.”

The small confines of the ship and island base brought people out of their shells.

“Some people are conservative and in the beginning, it’s not always easy,” he said with a shrug.

“They stay in their corner, but as time goes they open up. As they say, no man is an island and you are not alone,” he mused.

Buqa was looking forward to being reunited with his wife and 5-year-old son in Pretoria.

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