Freedom Day: Hope, faith and home decor

2012-04-28 15:30

Pastor Norman Clack holds his church services in the platinum ballroom of the Silverstar Casino.

It’s not about having the collection plates of Rhema West boosted by the winnings of sinners, or even about catching transgressors on home turf. Instead, it says something about his church.

“It says that we’re not into religion – we hate it, to put it mildly – and that we’re open to everybody.”

The absence of bars and restaurants on the western wedge of Johannesburg, south of Beyers Naude and west of the N1 highway, speaks volumes about what residents do when they are not at work.

Instead, there is a profusion of Pentecostal churches, DIY stores and home decorating chains.

Along the area’s major routes, giant billboards advertise church services in buildings that look more like warehouses, some depicting the hellfire that will greet those who don’t meet their maker before they die.

Clack and his wife, Gerda, followed the demand for their brand of Pentecostal Christianity from Melville, Johannesburg, to the casino, situated just beyond Johannesburg’s western most border in Mogale City.

Their church was renamed Rhema West as they wanted to “partner with something bigger”.

“A whole lot have mushroomed up,” says Clack of the area’s churches.

“There’s a need, and the fact is that Pentecostal churches seem to be more involved in church planting than traditional churches. The population is exploding and people are moving to the West Rand.”

Many cite the freedoms Pentecostal churches afford them as the reason they attend.

There they are not judged for having money or driving smart cars and they are not restricted to wearing the uniforms of independent African churches, or the formal suits and dresses expected of Dutch Reformed Church congregants.

“It’s about the freedom to aspire, and we encourage people to dream,” Gerda says.

It’s also about shedding apartheid baggage. “Some of our younger people, they want to be done with the shame of the past and they’re looking for a bright future and they’re looking for hope,” says Clack. “They’re looking for that freedom.”

In the context of freedom it is perhaps ironic that these churches are also behind the growth of a new social conservatism, where the husband is still the head of the home and homosexuality remains a sin.

“Pentecostals today have reinvented social conservatism as a legitimate post-apartheid faith.

“This goes a long way to explaining their growing attractiveness to both black and white South Africans today,” according to the Public Affairs Research Institute.

But for Philisiwe Sefatsa, a Weltevreden Park town house complex resident, there is something more. She tried many of the churches in her neighbourhood before settling on Grace Bible Church in far-off Sunninghill in the north.

“When you go to churches like Grace, you find that more and more people have money, they have nice cars, and it’s okay. No one is judging them or gossiping, ‘Oh this one has got a new car’,” she says.

“I feel inspired to see so many black people who have achieved so much and some of them are young.
“So it’s more than just church.”

Residents of the area are so fervent about their faith that Riaan Ferreira, managing agent of five complexes in the Ward 97 neighbourhood, has had to deal with cases of town house owners wanting to display large crosses on the outside of their homes. But these are removed from what is, after all, common property.

Near to the churches, Hendrik Potgieter Boulevard is lined with decor stores, bathroom shops and DIY outlets.

“The guys I chat with still want to do stuff themselves,” says Clack. “Our worship leader used to be the lead guitarist for (Afrikaans singer) Snotkop. He’s a musician through and through, but he built his own dining room suite.”

Local town house resident Lauren Johnson bought her dining room table and chairs at a local DIY store, and stained and varnished them herself.

Her home is dotted with home-made offerings: a key rack, a kitchen paper holder and a holder for the remote controls.

“A lot of my friends are into it as well. People like to do things themselves. It gives them a sense of accomplishment,” she says.

For Ward Councillor Jaco Engelbrecht, residents taking everything from security to home maintenance into
their own hands is characteristic.

“As an area it’s out there. There are a lot of developments, new places, and I guess it’s a hands-on kind of population that we have here.

“It’s a function of the Wild West because, you know, ’n boer maak ’n plan,” he said.

Perhaps in an area where people live on a hillside in face-brick boxes which all look the same, there is a yearning for the unique.

Ferreira says the driving force behind the DIY demand is the need for town house owners to “individualise” their units and “add value to their investment”.

“Everyone wants something different. They don’t want to look the same.”

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