In the early hours of the morning on Saturday 25 October 1997, Reverend Thandekiso died in the Johannesburg General Hospital. As father figure and a leader to a predominantly youthful congregation, his death had a profound impact on the church community.
The congregation expressed intense grief over his loss, and at the same time fear about the future of the HUMCC. The events associated with grieving, burial and mourning provided much insight into the HUMCC church community. Through a detailed analysis of the memorial service and the funeral service, I would like to draw out some of the main themes.
The funeral arrangements involved several groups of people – the HUMCC church congregation; the King Luthuli Transformation Centre (where Thandekiso served as a Director); the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality (to which the HUMCC was affiliated); the Thandekiso family; the Marumo family (the family of Thandekiso's wife, Karabelo); and the Apostolic Faith Mission Church (of which his estranged wife Karabelo was a staunch member).
The potential for conflict and disharmony was evident in the preparatory meeting for the memorial and funeral services, as was a sense of vulnerability, especially since the HUMCC was then based in temporary premises. The chair of the meeting announced the appointment of Paul Mokgethi as leader of the church, and until such time as a new pastor was appointed, Paul Mokgethi was to be known as the ‘chief elder’.
The chief elder, following the advice of the church board, identified the main groups involved in the preparations for Thandekiso's burial as ‘the family, the wife, and the church’. ‘The family’ referred to Thandekiso’s relatives, specifically those who had demonstrated their support by attending the Thanksgiving Service five months earlier. ‘The wife’ Karabelo and her family were regarded as hostile to the HUMCC. Their marriage had produced a daughter who was eight years old at the time. ‘The church’ referred of course to the HUMCC.
At the board meeting held the day after the Reverend's death, divisions were anticipated between the Reverend's wife and her family, and the members of the Thandekiso family who had accepted Thandekiso’s sexual orientation. Because the Reverend's divorce was ‘not finalised’, the funeral service was regarded as being subject to Karabelo's plans.