Biography of Njongonkulu Ndungane

2012-01-04 00:00

SUCCEEDING Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Njongonkulu Ndungane served as Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town from 1996 to 2007. Written by the novelist Sindiwe Magona, a large portion of the book covers Ndungane’s experiences as a political prisoner from 1963 to 1966, mostly on Robben Island.

It is apparent that Magona draws on interviews with Ndungane and his family and friends, although, surprisingly, the book does not include a bibliography or details of sources. Ndungane provides interesting anecdotes and observations about life in prison. It was while he was on Robben Island that he felt touched by God, and after his release from prison and subsequent two-year banning order, he went on to study for the ministry.

This biography is a significant ­addition to the corpus of political prisoner writings and biographies related to the apartheid era. It charts Ndungane’s involvement in church organisations, his studies, the various positions he held in the church and the projects he championed, and so it also makes an important contribution to church history.

Ndungane’s close family contributed to his early development and continued to sustain him, as did his marriage to Nosipho Ngcelwane. Magona ­obviously admires Ndungane enormously, and on several occasions contributes her own opinions of him and his life, as well as on broader societal and political issues in South Africa.

Although there is a lot of anecdotal information in this book, for me, only occasionally does Ndungane come to life as a person. In fact, it is from the 2005 address to the ­Provincial Synod of the Church, reproduced in an appendix at the end of the book, that I get a more immediate sense of his vision.

Disappointingly, although an interesting story is told, I found it hard to get through the sometimes awkward and sometimes archaic language deployed by the author and her frequent use of sentences that I found to be unnecessarily complicated.

The book could have done with more extensive editing, and it would have benefited from an index. All in all, I found the book to be worthy rather than inspiring.

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