By Nyeleti Machovani
Religion has always been a source of much debate, often bordering on controversy and Rhodes University is no exception. Rhodes can be said to be a melting pot where different races, religions, cultures and beliefs diverge. Nyeleti Machovani hits the streets to find out what religion means to Rhodents.
“I do not think one can separate politics and religion,” said Nicolene Chloe Molino, a first year BA student. “I am an ecletic dyanic Christo-wiccan by religion and my religion permits a way of life for me.”
Molino explains that Wicca is not a centralised religion and that they believe in reincarnation. “For Wiccans, there is no binary such as sin. We simply believe that there is good and bad and eliminate the concepts of “heaven” and “hell”. We recognise karma and trust, that what goes around will come around – only three times the impact of your action be it good or bad.”
Acknowledging that, for many, first year is a time that challenges one’s identity; it is easy to leave behind characteristics that probably defined a previous you. Religion just happens to be one of those things which fall by the way side. How do students sustain their religions?
“In my spare time, I practise the Wicca ritual from a book called Inner magic – a guide to witchcraft by Ann-Marie Gallagher. It is probably undisputed that people who read this article will be shocked to be confronted with this reality because it is society’s way that if people fail to put you in a box in terms of religion, you are labelled a Satanist, which would be prejudiced and false in this regard.”
Molino lamented at the fact that Rhodes does not have a Pagan Society. But then again, perhaps that is because “pagans at Rhodes tend to hide who they are and just for interest sake, hang out a lot at Cow Moon Theory”. Molino confessed that when she decided to follow this religion, her father thought it was a teenage phase. “They have accepted that now and today my religion is a way to understand myself as a pagan in the context of the world.”
Shaheena Desai, a fourth year BPharm student, reflected on her religion and explains what it means to her. “I’m Muslim and Islamic by religion,” said Desai. “Occasionally you come across ignorant people who believe Muslim or Islamic people are terrorists – it’s just one of those dumb stereotypes. People can be narrow-minded.” First year for Desai proved to be a challenge, because she felt her social life began to infringe on her religion, “I messed up in first year and I hated my degree,” she admited. She attributed her success to the Muslim Students Associate (MSA), a society in Rhodes that takes Muslim scholars under their wing. “Through MSA, I got friends with similar beliefs; this was especially during O-Week.” Religion is a practice she believes in. “I don’t drink, or smoke, I try to pray five times a day and keep within the constraints of my religion. I walk around and see a lot of people who are a contradiction of themselves. On Friday and Saturday evenings they become alter egos of themselves, but when they return home, they paint an impeccable picture of themselves to their parents by ‘acting’ holy.” However, Desai made an effort to point out that she is not perfect. “Technically speaking, I should be modestly dressed and conservative, but I am still young, I still want to go out and have good fun. I’m just not ready for that commitment and it would be hypocritical of me to present myself in such a way when my actions contradict my demeanour.” So what does religion mean to Desai? “Religion to me is a way of life and represents the main fundamentals of living that I try to uphold.”
Boitumelo Sebopela is a third year BA Linguistics student. Approached with the question, “What does religion mean to you?” Sebopela interjects saying, “I have a problem with the word religion because the word means nothing to me. But faith is everything to me.”
Sebopela discloses that she is of Christian denomination and falls under Jehovah’s Witness. “There are a lot of stereotypes to people that belong to the Jehovah’s Witness denomination,” she said. “You hear crazy things like J. W’S bewitch people, brainwash people, that we don’t pray or that we bury people like dogs. All these are highly offensive and I can say are false. Our ministry involves going door-to-door and spreading the gospel, but because of such stereotypes I have dealt with rejection because people simply don’t want to hear about religion.” Sebopela recalled her initial years as a student and affirms that coming to Rhodes has not eroded the person she has always been. “When I came to Rhodes, I knew myself. I knew I was Tumi and a Jehovah’s Witness. However, when I came to Rhodes, I too packed in my bag stereotypes. Things like Buddhism, homosexuality were outright wrong and sinful to me because I wasn’t exposed to them and never came across them in my world. But I searched within me and realised who am I to judge? My ‘religion’ is very concise. Either you are faithful or you are not.” To conclude, Sebopela said, “I believe we were created with a spiritual need and I take my faith very seriously.”
Samtisha Chattergoon, a first year BJourn student is Hindu by religion. “Although I am Hindu, I fall under the Sanathan category,” said Chattergoon. “The Sanathan Dharma religion believes in the theory of Karma which is the relationship of cause and effect. They believe that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Karma is relative to religions like Buddhism which also stems from Hinduism. I am a devout Hindu or Sanathan and keep to the rituals and practices of my religion. I don’t eat beef because, in my religion, we revere the cow as a source of life. We see her as a mother – now, would you eat your mother?”
Chattergoon comments on the observation that Rhodes does not have a large number of Hindu followers. “Even though my religion is everything to me, I am still an individual and not a religions puppet. Religion means a form of guidance and has a huge impact on my life, but it does not dictate to me.”
Mandisa Tabe is a BCom student currently her second year here at Rhodes University. Tabe reveals that she belongs to the River of Life Church when she is on this side of the world, but at home, in Rustenburg, she belongs to the Pentecostal Christian Church. Tabe also reveals her special gift, “I cannot live without prayer and discovered that I have the gift of prophecy which manifested when I got saved at the age of 14,” she said. The little community of Rhodes seems to have imparted a sense of awareness in Tabe. “Although it was difficult living in res, it has opened my eyes and made me a more tolerant person when it comes to our differences and even conflicting religions. I was a very stereotypical person and this exposure taught me what a textbook had failed to educate me and changed me into a more humble person. Religion to me means a way of belonging and basic spiritual understanding to aid guidance.”