For a journalist, gaining entry into most public functions is a piece of cake. More often than not you don’t even have to flash your press card; just say the word ‘journalist’ and Bob’s your uncle.
But the recent launch of the Faith Based Organisation’s HIV/AIDS Response Strategy was a bit of an anomaly. The launch, ostensibly hosted by the Ministry of Health and involving various religious organisations, could have easily passed for a ZCC affair.
And the level of security was top notch. The Police service seemed to have taken the backseat as the ZCC marshals took control, manning not just the entrance but also the roads leading into the stadium. The accreditation process was absolutely cumbersome; thirty minutes, give or take. Just as we (journalists from various media houses) thought the hustle was over, we now had to contend with the fact that there were no seats designated for the press.
It was only after intense negotiations and begging that the marshals relented, pointing us to one of the gazebos designated for ‘VIPs’.
Just as important as the pen and notepad are to every journalist, so are a pair of denim jeans and a smart-phone. But as one female journalist would soon find out, judging by the stares and the subsequent warning from one of the uniformed marshals, rocking jeans (for women) to a ZCC gathering is just not cool.
“Women are not allowed to wear trousers,” she was told. And her response was as simple as it was direct, “In my church women do wear trousers.” The only thing standing between her and the exit was the fact that it was a multi religious affair.
A few minutes into the proceedings, perhaps out of sheer ignorance, I whip out my camera-phone to capture the splendid mosaic of the uniformed ZCC congregation occupying two-thirds of the National Stadium only to be told, “No pictures.”
It turns out only designated photographers are allowed to take pictures. “The church wants to avoid a situation whereby people would take pictures and use them for commercial or any other purposes that are in contravention of the organisation’s rules and regulations,” explained a church marshal seated next to me. The marshal, clad in a green suit with a single yellow stripe running down the sleeves and trousers, was also kind enough to dispel the hierarchical misconception behind their various uniforms especially the khakis and green suit.
“Everyone is allowed to wear it (green suit). I also get to wear khakis sometimes.” He says the green suit is mostly used for ceremonial purposes. The other thing one gets to appreciate about the church, besides the awe inspiring atmosphere of spiritual togetherness, is the overwhelming presence of the leader Bishop Dr Barnabas Lekganyane. The respect he commands among the multitudes of his congregation is absolutely incredible.
“Of all the pilgrimages I have taken to Moria (their popular shrine in South Africa), this is the first time I have ever seen him (Lekganyane) close,” confesses a clearly excited member as we push and shove our way out of the stadium. “As soon as I realised he was coming I rushed to the gate,” he explains, “a security guy tried to wrestle me away but I tightened my grip on the gate and stood my ground until the Bishop passed.”
Despite all the initial hustles and tussles it turned out to be a great day of …prayer, launching and more importantly (for me), learning how to do things the ZCC way. When in ZCC do as the ZCCs do.