«Axel-Ivar Berglund Missionary Dr. Axel-Ivar Berglund was born in South Africa by missionary parents. He became a missionary there himself and worked ...»
Dr. Axel-Ivar Berglund was born in South Africa by missionary parents. He became a
missionary there himself and worked with Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa,
ELCSA and later with the South African Council of Churches, SACC. He was forced into exile
in Sweden and worked most of the time until his retirement with Church of Sweden Mission in
Bertil Högberg: It is the 13th September 2005 and I am sitting in Uppsala with Dr Axel-Ivar Berglund. You grew up in South Africa, didn’t you?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: I am born in South Africa.
Bertil Högberg: Where?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: At Ceza, just south of the border to Swaziland, beyond where the road ended in those days. I grew up at both Ceza and Ekutuleni.
Ekutuleni is situated between Eshowe and Melmoth, where my parents worked.
Bertil Högberg: They were missionaries?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes. I went to school to begin with in the local school that the mission had built for the education of the local people. In our home there was no such thing as apartheid; it was unknown. People were people, whether they were white or black, and so I went to school and had as a teacher a very good lady, whose name was Matilda Nzuza, an outstanding teacher, despite the fact that all she had was Standard Four.
When I’d completed the fourth year, the first legislation against whites attending black schools and black people attending white schools came, and therefore I had to move from the Ekutuleni Primary School and went to school in Melmoth. That implied riding on horseback on Monday, very early, twelve English miles to Melmoth and on horseback. Normally on a Friday, sometimes on a Saturday, I rode back to Ekutuleni. When I’d completed the school in Melmoth and passed Standard Six, which is 8 years of schooling, I went to Dundee High School and there I matriculated.
After matriculation I came to Sweden. The intention was that I was to study medicine, because I had fallen deeply in love with a missionary doctor lady, her name was Märta Adolfsson, who subsequently together with Anna Berntson, wrote a book on their work at Ceza. I admired her very much and when possible whilst visiting Ceza which was quite frequent, I would go along with her. I watched one or two smaller operations that she did and fell for this and thought that it must be the life. So I went to Uppsala.
To enter the university I had to complete the Swedish University examinations in the Swedish language and in Swedish history, otherwise my South African matriculation was accepted. That took a little time, since my parents had given up their Swedish citizenship. They had become South Africans in order to be able to work freely. Now they became Swedish citizens again, and the consequence of that was that I was also regarded as a Swede. That was a formality, but at heart I was not a Swede, because South Africa was home;
that’s where I was born and that’s where I grew up.
It all ended up that I did not study medicine, but did classics, Greek, Latin, some philosophy. Eventually I landed up studying theology and was ordained here in Sweden, to a large extent to satisfy my parents-in-law, because to them it seemed frightening that I should be ordained in the wilds of Africa.
How would that be possible? Be that as it may, I was ordained in Karlstad, and as soon as I had done the 18 months of compulsory service in the diocese of Karlstad, we left for South Africa. I have been a South African at heart, before that and ever after, and I hope to remain so.
Bertil Högberg: When did you return to South Africa after you had been ordained?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: In 1956.
Bertil Högberg: What did you do and where did you end up working?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: On coming back to South Africa we were placed in a parish in a place called Vryheid in the Northern part of Natal. There I served for little more than a year and then was placed as a staff member at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, which was at a place called eShiyane or Oscarsberg. English-speaking people normally refer to it as Rorke’s Drift. I very seldom use the name Rorke’s Drift, because the plot of ground, a largish area, a farm actually, was named Rorke’s Drift after the owner of the farm, a fellow by the name of Rorke who came from England. Rorke had the disease of very many men and he couldn’t see a woman without going and fiddling round with her. Soon a number of so-called coloureds were born in the area, to the extent that they were becoming so many that the men of the area got together. On a Saturday morning they went to Mr Rorke, who lived more or less where the present parish church and the vicarage are, and said to him, “Now look here Mr Rorke, if a single one of our women gives birth to another coloured, we will come here and kill you”. So he fled, to Durban and eventually to Port Shepstone, knowing that there were two or three more babies on the way.
Bertil Högberg: It was also a battleground between the Zulu and British armies, so it is known quite extensively?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: It is very well known.
Bertil Högberg: It is also the place where they weave these tapestries. I think you have one behind you.
Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, Amelia Mkize is the lady who made that. It was Peder Gowenius and company that started this fantastic work.
Bertil Högberg: It was also a project initiated by the Church of Sweden Mission?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, and it was heavily supported by the mission to begin with, but when the sales of the products of this place were high, the funding from Sweden was gradually withdrawn. Today it is self-supporting.
Having been at eShiyane, we had to move the whole seminary because it was on so-called European land, whoever Europeans were, who knows? The outcome of the deliberations was that the seminary would have to move to Umphumulo and that’s how I landed up at Umphumulo. There I taught theology, mainly Old Testament, Hebrew, can you believe it, and a number of other subjects, until I moved to the South African Council of Churches.
The reason for going to the South African Council of Churches was that under the very competent leadership of a number of people, a resolution was passed saying that staff members of the SACC should be South Africans, so that the authorities couldn’t just whip them off. That was one of the reasons why I landed up with the South African Council of Churches.
Bertil Högberg: And what time are we now in?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: Early 1960s. I then worked with a fellow by the name of John Reese, he is no longer with us. He was a very competent man, hardworking and very clear in his mind what the purpose of the SACC was and that we should not allow ourselves to be humiliated by the State and the Security Branch. He was subsequently followed by another crowd of very competent people, and Desmond Tutu was one of them. The strange thing with South Africa is that in the midst of all the turmoil and all the suffering and all the anxieties and deaths, it became the growing ground of very competent people. They stretch from Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, throughout the land, not least within the Church. And they still are the people that they used to be.
Bertil Högberg: I want to know about your encounter with the concept of apartheid. When did you become aware of that policy and the problems that it created?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: Intellectually I became aware of the problem, but it did not become a part of me until I moved from the school at Ekutuleni and the classroom with my teacher Matilda Nzuza, to the white schools, then it became like a knife that cut through my life. I couldn’t understand it because I was separated from all my playmates. I remember at the white school the rumour about me was that I had played with natives. Now natives were the black people, of course, and it hurt me terribly, because I couldn’t see that I would be better off with so-called white children. That is the first time that I really started being aware of and began groping with this problem.
Bertil Högberg: How would you say that the CSM (Church of Sweden Mission) tackled the issue of apartheid?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: That varied very much indeed. There were those who in their own thinking, and perhaps not only their own but in the thinking of many others, were heroes of apartheid. Gunnar Helander was one of them. Bishop Helge Fosseus was quite the opposite. The two ladies who ran Ceza Hospital and extended it, built it up and improved all the facilities, were very much antiapartheid, but they were placed at Ceza and Ceza was in a way a hiding place. There was a single road leading to Ceza and in the rainy season, the summer months, if you wished to go to Ceza you would have to leave your vehicle on the road between Hlobane and Ceza. There was absolutely no communication, no telephones, of course.
Bertil Högberg: So there was a difference in how different missionaries reacted to apartheid. Was there a difference between the Head Office in Uppsala and the missionaries in South Africa around this issue as well?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: That is a very difficult question because one would have to go to the library here in Uppsala and look up stands and resolutions taken by the governing board, but I do know that some staff members in Uppsala supported the missionaries who integrated themselves into Zulu Society. One of the strong people in that move was Holger Benettsson; he is late. I remember him very well, because I went to the Umphumulo Theological Seminary and became rector at a very difficult time, and he paid annual visits to us and we would spend hours talking about these things. In Uppsala he placed before me the support that I wanted from the Church of Sweden.
Holger Benetsson was one of the strong people.
Bertil Högberg: I think there was one issue around in the 1950s when Bantu Education was introduced and the Church was challenged around the running of its schools. Do you remember that conflict?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, I remember it very clearly, and my father revolted against it.
Bertil Högberg: Can you say what the conflict was around?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: The South African Government was taking over the payrolls of teachers and they just forced that move upon the schools that were now to be called Government Schools for blacks. In my home there was no such thing as apartheid, we had no servants in our home, we would do everything ourselves. Except when there were large conferences, then local people would be hired to assist, but they were paid good salaries. Don’t ask me what a good salary was in those days, but they were paid handsomely and people lined up for jobs of that nature. Now that was an expression against apartheid, because other people said that you pay a native one pound a month. Now one pound a month in those days, well of course it was money, you wouldn’t spit at it, but it didn’t take you very far. The way that I noticed this very clearly was how my parents would go out of their way to try to get work during vacation times for the scholars studying for example at the Teachers Seminary, so they would be able to pay rather than take a loan from the government. If they took a government loan, the government could send them anywhere they pleased as teachers. If they did not have any loans they could apply for posts.
Bertil Högberg: But if the government was going to take over the salaries of the teachers, it meant that the school must follow Bantu Education correctly?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: Oh yes, there was no such thing as a private school in those days.
Bertil Högberg: There was another church that took another position around the same issue; the reaction from the Anglican Church was different?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, but it was half-hearted. The ones who really took a tough stand were the Roman Catholics. But the Anglicans joined in the training of clergy, as we had done at Umphumulo, because no private school was allowed. We received people who had Bantu Education in order to bring them up to a level not of the senior certificate, as it was in Bantu Education, but to a Matriculation Board Exemption, which would imply that they could register with a University. That is what we did at Umphumulo. We trained them.
Bertil Högberg: You had bridging courses?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes.
Bertil Högberg: And where could they do the matriculation?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: They registered as private students.
Bertil Högberg: Okay, so that was possible?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: That was possible, and there were quite a lot of people who registered as private students as long as it was allowed. But of course it was very suspect and at the school that we ran at Umphumulo, which was called a Pre-Seminary School, we were very often visited by the Special Branch: “Why are you training these people here?” Bertil Högberg: Did you see any change in the relations of the Church of Sweden (CSM) nationally on how they saw developments in South Africa and apartheid in the 1950s and 1960s? Is there any particular time when you could see that this was when CSM took a stronger stand against apartheid policies?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: CSM did take a stand, but fixing it to a date, is not easy. It just grew onto CSM. One of the people who made a serious study of this is Gustaf Ödquist. He wrote a Licentiate essay; I have it here.
Bertil Högberg: I think I have that thesis.
Axel-Ivar Berglund: I think that that would be about the best source of information on that particular issue.
Bertil Högberg: Yes, I think he wrote about this conflict around the schools.
Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, that was his theme.
Bertil Högberg: Was there any contact between CSM or missionaries and the ANC in the early days, in the 1950s, when it was still working in the open?
Axel-Ivar Berglund: Again that is a very difficult question. Of course there were contacts, but they were personal contacts and not legalized in terms of a bold resolution or something of that nature. ANC President, Albert Luthuli, lived at Groutville as a banned man and had numerous contacts with missionaries at Umphumulo. I was one of them, and I would call upon him.
Occasionally he would visit Stanger, and when he had completed his first two years of being banned and hoped to be released, a new banning order came and they said, “We’ll have to ban you again because you have visited Stanger”.