The day a small deaf boy inspired Archbishop Hurley

2014-03-03 00:00

THE hands in white cotton gloves were luminous even under the bright sun. It was impossible not to follow their movement as they signed the Lord’s Prayer in the language of the deaf.

Thus began a moving ceremony held to unveil a statue at Kwa Thintwa School for the Deaf, Inchanga, on Friday.

The statue depicts the founder of the school, Archbishop Denis Hurley, former Catholic archbishop of Durban, who died in 2004. But Hurley is not alone on the plinth; next to him stands a small boy, Bhekene Dube.

“Today we are honouring our founder and co-founder,” said school principal Mavis Naidoo, who told how Hurley had visited the rural parish of Thintwa, near Bergville, in the seventies. A young boy walked up to him and touched him. Hurley spoke to the boy, but when he did not respond Hurley realised the boy was deaf.

“At the time there was no education for the black deaf,” said Naidoo. “Hurley asked himself how could he respond to the boy’s unspoken desire to communicate.”

The result was Kwa Thintwa School for the Deaf — Kwa Thintwa meaning the place of being touched — which opened in 1981. It has a staff of 106 and 320 pupils — all boarders, and all from impoverished areas. For the last three years the school has had a 100% matric pass rate.

Dube died in early adulthood, but his mother, Elsina Dube, travelled from Bergville to be at the ceremony. “I was so happy when the statue was unveiled,” she said. “I recognised my son and when I saw the statue it suddenly brought back the memory of the moment when he touched the archbishop’s cassock.”

Paddy Kearney, Hurley’s biographer, said it was a special honour that Bhekene Dube’s mother was able to attend the unveiling. “We didn’t know her whereabouts until last year. Cardinal [Wilfrid] Napier was in Bergville and telling the story about Archbishop Hurley and the young boy to a congregation when suddenly Mrs Dube jumped up and said ‘that’s my son’.”

In the keynote address, Premier Senzo Mchunu referred to Hurley as “one of the greatest South Africans”.

Mchunu said the statue came about thanks to his predecessor Zweli Mkhize who, in 2012, highlighted the need “to celebrate not only political heroes involved in the struggle for liberation — but also to bring on board those who had made contributions from other perspectives, such as religion”.

Mchunu said Hurley “epitomised Ubuntu” and promoted the ecumenical spirit not just with other Christian churches, but with other faiths.

The statue was sculpted by André Prinsloo and Ruhan Janse van Vuuren, who created the nine-metre statue of the late Nelson Mandela that stands in front of the Union Buildings in Pretoria.

After blessing the statue Cardinal Napier said a nation could be defined by three things: how it respects its children, how it accepts them and how it shows them love. “Respect, acceptance and love are the basic values of a society,” he said. “And this statue is a symbol of what our nation is supposed to become.”

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