One afternoon I toyed leisurely with my Zulu Bible at home, looking for familiar words in the mysterious language of the Nguni people. After a while, when boredom had set in, I tried to open the Bible at its very centre. My finger fell on Psalm 111:6:
"Ubonisile abantu bakhe amandla emisebenzi yakhe ngokubapha ifa labezizwe."
The word amandla immediately caught my attention. It means 'power' in the Nguni languages of Southern Africa. Amandla was often shouted loudly and with devastating effect in freedom marches across South Africa, with fists thrust upwards in challenging salute. Protagonists shout Amandla!, fists raised high in anger to demonstrate the so called "black power salute". It is a perverse irony that the word salute is from the Latin salus which means "good health".The English translation reads:
"He has given His people the power of His works, giving them the lands of other nations."
I felt betrayed by this text because it felt much like the old Colonial South African dilemma of Europeans coming to stake prejudiced land-claims and to establish a unique branch of xenocracy - a rule by foreigners to the exclusion of the natural residents of the land.
I immediately took the Bible and began to search for the nations who had lost their land and lives in ancient Israel. I found thirty-six and assigned their names as the second names of the imaginary, vulnerable little doll-creatures stuck down in my work. As first names for them, I chose the names of people who had more recently been part of the similar land/life challenge in South Africa.
BAD FAITH CHRONICLES are eleven panels, each comprising thirty-six very small baby dolls, stabbed with nails through the heart, like insects, labelled and displayed on a collector's chart. The labels bear the names of Old Testament nations, now extinct. Below each collection is a Bible in an official South African language, opened at Psalm 111:6.
There were thirty-six luckless nations in the wrong place at the wrong time when the Israel of Moses came back from their prolonged Egyptian stay. I was astonished at how the United Nations recently dealt with similarly tyrannical acts of one country that claimed another in an oppressively brutal way, killing men, women and children and plundering without regard for any contrary point of view.
Derek Hanekom, South Africa's minister of land affairs, has the unenviable task of finding the legitimate proprietors of the land. He is the refuge for those who have been deracinated and reracinated against their will. The new constitution protects land-ownership dating back to pre-apartheid times. This helps him to re-allocate land to the original autochthons and to negotiate equity for those that have since been authorised with illegitimate ownership.
The religious loyalty and fervour of most South Africans have kept a relative and tenuous peace in the land, but we sing This Land is My Land at our peril. My baby dolls are metaphoric effigies, silent witnesses to the inability to understand, or deal with, the mortifying notion that, in this land we have always jostled for a place in the sun under the pretence that God takes sides. Why should God be any different now?