Before becoming a devoted man of God, Reverend Norman Bafo (61) of United Reformed Church in Pimville, Soweto, was addicted to alcohol from when he was just 15 years old.
Because of his heavy drinking, he ended up being arrested for mugging a white woman when he was 28 years old because he was desperate to get his next drink. He was sentenced to five years in jail. In that time, he found God and his life changed forever.
Reverend Norman’s mother raised him and five other siblings alone after his father walked out on them. She was a domestic worker and the little money she made didn’t really cover their basic expenses. At the age of 15, Reverend Norman dropped out of school.
“It was really hard. We would go to school barefoot and on some days, we would not have anything to eat,” he says. He defied his mother’s wishes as she wanted her son to become educated, but because the situation at home was hard, Reverend Norman thought it was better to find work and forget about school.
He started working at the age of 15 at a textile company and his job was to port wool. Years later, he got a better job where he travelled all over the country and to neighbouring countries delivering furniture. But because his drinking was out of control, he got fired.
“When I started working, I always had money and it felt good to be able to spend it,” he says. His excitement for independence got out of hand when all he did was drink whenever he had money. “It was so bad that I would drink on my way to work, during working hours, on my way back from work and when I got home,” he says.
Even though he knew how bad the situation was at home, he never supported his family financially as all his money was spent on alcohol. His last job before he got arrested was at a mechanical workshop.
THE DAY HE WAS ARRESTED
He got paid on a weekly basis so on Thursdays, the drinking spree would be heavier than normal. “One day, I woke up hung over and was late for work. On my way to work, my friends and I bought beers before getting on the train.
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When we got off, we were already drunk after having beers and brandy, but we wanted more,” he says. Reverend Norman and his friends stopped at a drinking spot, but he realised that he didn’t have money to buy more alcohol.
“I saw a white woman with a handbag and I just decided to grab it and run off. She screamed and because I was drunk, I could not even run fast and I was arrested,” he says. The law wasn’t lenient during that time, especially when a white woman was involved.
Reverend Norman was sentenced to five years in prison, but only served three years of his sentence.
TIME IN JAIL
Reverend Norman says outside jail, he had so many friends that he drank with. “They were always around me and I thought they loved me, but when I was in jail none of them came to visit, not a single one,” he says.
He could not believe what was happening and realised then that his friends didn’t care about him, but about the fact that he spent money on them by buying them alcohol. While in jail, he had an encounter with God. One day, a priest from United Reformed Church shared the word of God with him and other prisoners and he felt the hand and favour of God over his life.
TURNING HIS LIFE AROUND
He was released from jail in 1987 and asked for his old job back at the mechanical workshop. “Although I had a criminal record, after I came back from jail they took me back. I had to prove I was a changed man.
“During my tea break and lunch time, I would study and write notes on cardboards we used there. Everyone who knew me was shocked by this. They called me an inspiration and living testimony at work,” he says. Years later, he fulfilled his mother’s wish by going back to school. “It was not easy because people would discourage me and say I was too old as I was 32 years old at the time, but by the grace of God I persisted.
I went back to Standard Six (Grade 8) and ended up in university where I completed a degree and honours in Theology. What is impossible with man is possible with God,” he says. He was officially inaugurated as a reverend in 1999.
He is passionate about changing the lives of others and has written a book titled Heaven in Prison. “Being in jail saved my life because I would have not stopped drinking on my own. I was suffering because of alcohol. I experienced God when I was in prison,” he says.
Not only does he want to share his story, but also wants to inspire other people who are suffering because of addiction and those who have committed a crime so that they become better versions of themselves.
“I want to say to my brothers and sisters who might have committed a crime and sentenced to prison that they must forgive themselves and stop condemning themselves,” he says. Today, Reverend Norman is a father of four children, a husband, a spiritual father and a servant of God.