Steve de Gruchy’s life celebrated

2010-03-01 00:00

NEARLY 1 000 people gathered at the Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Nativity in the city centre on Saturday to celebrate the life of one of Pietermaritzburg’s distinguished sons and to say goodbye.

Many came from across the country, Africa, Britain, the United States and Europe, demonstrating the far-reaching influence and wide achievements of Professor Steve de Gruchy, head of the School of Religion and Theology (Sorat) at UKZN.

De Gruchy went missing after a tubing accident on the Mooi River in the Drakensberg last Sunday. After extensive searches by family, friends and police, his body was found on Wednesday morning.

Speaking at the funeral, De Gruchy’s father, well-known SA theologian Professor John de Gruchy, said that after listening to the wide range of speakers who had come from all over the world to honour his son, he had discovered things about him, including achievements that he had not been aware of.

Despite the sadness of the occasion, many of the 12 speakers who paid tribute shared memories and anecdotes that drew laughter from the congregation.

One of his colleagues at Sorat, Dr Simanga Kumalo, recalled De Gruchy would be remembered as the first person to use the word “shit” in an academic paper. He explained that some of De Gruchy’s most recent research was in the field of public health, particularly issues related to sanitation and drinking water. Referring to the fact that water was a key environmental issue and central to African development he said: “Steve said we needed to develop ‘a theology of shit’.”

Water was an element that ran through the service because it was a theme that flowed through his life and because of the way he died.

For example, he spent time heading the Moffat Mission in Kuruman, where the well-known spring, Die Oog is. Professor Jim Cochrane, co-principal of the African Religious Health Assets Programme and director of the Research Institute on Christianity in Southern Africa at the University of Cape Town, recalled how an international research project he and De Gruchy worked on had its first meeting “in a boat on the river at Vermaaklikheid” in the Western Cape where the De Gruchy family have a holiday home.

The research, which has been implemented in a public health programme all over Africa, “started on a river, and for Steve, it ended on a river”, an emotional Cochrane said.

De Gruchy studied at UCT. He was active in student politics and served on the SRC. He was a conscientious objector to national service, an ordained Congregational minister and served a congregation on the Cape Flats during the height of apartheid.

Recalling these times, several speakers called De Gruchy “a voice for the voiceless”.

A representative of the United Congregational Church recalled that he was one of the signatories to the Kairos Document in 1985 and forced the church to face up to issues of social justice and transformation.

”An acclaimed musician, although that title is dubious, a highly published academic, a professor and head of school at the age of 48: what more can you do and where do you go from there?” asked the Reverend Paul Germond, who led the service. He is an Anglican priest, an academic at Wits in Johannesburg and one of De Gruchy’s oldest friends.

Germond said it is important not to canonise De Gruchy and turn him into a saint, but to remember that in addition to all his academic achievements, he was a flawed human being, and his roles as a husband and a father were important to him.

De Gruchy is survived by his wife, Marian, and three children, Thea, David and Kate.

Further memorial services are to be held in Cape Town tomorrow and at Sorat on Thursday.


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