Baptism of fire…but first, an unspectacular watery ritual

Last week while visiting my brother in Durban, I was told that his teenage daughter was at baptism rehearsal. I remember laughing out loud, because it seemed strange to me that the baptism ritual would require rehearsal.

I mean, how hard can it be to be baptized? Is there an elaborate process of walking in step, or skipping to a tune,  that needed to be followed meticulously? Did she need to memorize a segment of a Pauline epistle, or perhaps a chapter and verse from the Gospels? What is it about this whole ritual that necessitates a rehearsal? I was intrigued, so when I got back to Johannesburg this week, I decided to find out.

It turns out modern baptisms involve either a sprinkling of water to the head (aspersion), or pouring of water over the head (affusion), or lastly the dipping of the body either completely or partially under water (immersion). So far so good. I can’t see any reason why one would need to rehearse for any of this; unless off course you have an aversion to water, which most people don’t. Apparently until the middle ages, baptisms were performed completely naked. If that were still the case today, I suppose it would require a bit of practice keeping from dying of embarrassment, as the baptism is a very public affair. Since only complete exhibitionists would agree to being baptised in the nude, in public, I don’t think any practice is required of your ordinary prudish member of church.

Some baptisms that require complete immersion in water are performed in a river or stream, or even in the surf it seems. If you can’t swim or have an aversion for flowing water, then some practice would be in order. I suspect that most modern baptisms does not involve full submersion, as it does not seem very practical. But then, when it comes to religion, practicality is usually tossed out the window in favor of blind adherence. Nonetheless, most people would not need to practice for a full immersion.

The conditions for being baptised seem simple enough: the candidate requires one or more sponsors who make a commitment to the church and to being a mentor, and the candidate also needs to accept Jesus as his or her saviour and renounce the devil. Pretty straightforward. People make commitments all the time – no practice needed there.  Anyway, if you need to practice accepting a saviour or renouncing the devil, then it probably means that you don’t really want to. Incidently, the church is committed to ensuring you stay committed to them; it’s called self-preservation, and they’ve had 2000 years of  practice perfecting their grip.

So, I can’t really find any reason why a rehearsal is necessary. It just seems to me that it is done to give a totally unspectacular event more importance than it actually deserves; perhaps to reinforce the supposed importance of the church and clergy, just in case the baptism symbolism is lost on the initiate. Perhaps you need to be a captivated member of the church to see the logic; because I don’t.

I guess I’m just disappointed that my niece who is aspiring to become a journalist or writer, allowed herself to be convinced that a baptism is necessary, or that religion itself is necessary, I was hoping that she would have adopted a more skeptical attitude towards supernatural beliefs, and a more open and exploring mind. She may yet become a good writer, albeit another tool of the religious propaganda machine.

But then again, perhaps a baptism of fire will one day release her mind from religious slavery. I can only hope…

South Africa, third world? Hell, no!

I attended a briefing session yesterday at the Royal Bafokeng Sports Stadium just outside Rustenburg , in preparation for the FIFA Confederations Cup that is due to kick off on Sunday, 14 June 2009. After the briefing session we walked around the stadium precinct to all the various areas (zones) which will be frequented and used by the Press and Broadcast Media, photographers, players, officials etc.

Now, even though I was intimately involved as a Project Manager in  installing the IT & T and Broadcast WAN and LAN networks in this, and other stadiums which will be used during the Confederations Cup, I was still amazed as we viewed our handiwork,  by the complexity and sheer brilliance of all those involved in conceptualizing and designing this futuristic network. The billions spent to put all this together is dedicated to one thing only; ensuring that billions of soccer fans around the world can receive all the action from the stadium, through either a television or radio channel, the Internet, or a multitude of print media, and give their audiovisual senses a treat.

The organizers of the tournament, FIFA have left very little to chance, if anything at all. As you observe the cutting edge technologies and facilities deployed around the stadium, you realize that they have thought of everything. I have been personally involved with the planning, deployment and commissioning of the entire IT & T and Broadcast solution for just over a year already, but FIFA personnel have been busy for much longer. And we have only just begun, because the Confederations Cup is only the opening act for the main event – the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup, which will be held in exactly one year from today.

Imagine full high definition video of the matches being transmitted to every continent in the world almost instantaneously, and being watched by billions of people at the same time. Imagine photographers on the soccer pitch whose cameras are “plugged into the network”, taking high quality photographs practically every second, and having them transmitted to all corners of the globe immediately for editing and publishing. Imagine journalists interviewing different soccer players speaking a multitude of languages, at media conferences and having their responses translated immediately into a language of their choice, through headsets they are provided with. Imagine hundreds of journalists and commentators from a host of different countries having a dedicated Media area in the stadium grandstand from where to write, commentate, even photograph. Imagine a journalist based in one stadium, being able to “connect to” and cover a match taking place at another stadium entirely. The technology and facilities for all this, and much more will be available for the Confederations Cup.

And the most amazing thing is that it is all happening here on the southern tip of the African continent – a place which many people from overseas, still visualize as having wild animals running around in the streets. But maybe they’re not far off the mark; soccer stadiums featured in previous FIFA and UEFA tournaments are usually located in densely populated cities, but the Royal Bafokeng Stadium is situated in a semi-rural area, minutes away from Nature Reserves teeming with wild animals. What a treat for visitors coming to attend the soccer matches?

I feel privileged to be a part of such a huge undertaking, perhaps the biggest in the history of this country. In terms of the technology, skills, facilities and attractions, South Africa is up there with the best in the world, even surpassing world best in some areas.

Now, if only our politicians adopted some “first world” habits, we would really be laughing…

The arrogance continues…

And continuing with the theme this week of venting some spleen, how can the recent outbursts against the press, by Jessie Duarte, ANC spokeswomen go unchallenged?

Only this weekend, she layed into Sunday Times journalist, Philani Nombembe. To the question (by Nombembe) “Does the ANC President also get to answer (responses from his blog)?” she replied:

“He’s got his own blog. Yes. You can write to him if you want to. It’s ancpresident. In fact if you go www you can link straight from there to any of our blogs. Ja, he does read it. He does, he does. You know he can actually read, contrary to your opinion. I mean how can you ask me a question like that you know, does the ANC President actually read? Good God. Can you guys just get a life now. Ja no, you must get a life. You people must get a life. You’re terribly classist and if you’re not black I would say you were racist. But, well I suppose you could be racist even if you were a black like me. But you’ve got a very bad attitude, your newspaper has, you know and seriously speaking now this man, whether you like it or not is going to be the president of the country. And actually we’re not so concerned about what The Times thinks…”

It seems that she had a chance to practice, while being interviewed late last week, on BBC presenter John Humphrys’ Today radio show, where her conduct could only be described as “terribly arrogant.” Judge for yourself by listening to a recording of the interview here.

I think by now South Africans have become immune to the arrogance of government officials and indeed ANC officials as well. The utter disrespect for the citizens of this country from these officials is all but gazetted into law as normal, legal and acceptable behaviour. However, when someone like Ms Duarte goes mouthing off to the foreign press, it shows the utter disdain, the ANC has for the international community as well. When one considers all the damage our Foreign Minister, and the former Minister of Health have already perpetrated, I suppose one more spokesperson cannot make it any worse than it is.