Anglican priest Reverend June Major has put an end to her hunger strike, after abstaining from food and drink for six days. Major decided to stop her voluntary starvation after Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba visited her yesterday in Zonnebloem, where she had been living on the street for the past week. Anglican Church leaders are expected to meet with her on Monday to discuss some of her grievances, after she lifted the lid on allegations of sexual abuse within the church. She also claims the church prohibited her from her activism work within the Palestinian solidarity movement.
“The Archbishop came and we had communion together and then we spoke privately. I shared my concerns with the abuse endured over the years and he was not aware of most of it, even though my bishop is aware of it. He assured me that he would deal with some issues. Hopefully today, Bishop Garth [Counsell] and my legal team will have a meeting and we will decide the way forward,” she told VOC.
“I’ve experienced various abuses within the church which I have spoken to the Archbishop about. I laid criminal charges against the priest that perpetrated this abuse. There have been many instances over the years, such as the Palestine issue that has come up but was never dealt with.”
As for her quest to find new employment within the Anglican church, Major said she had “lost hope”. The possibility of a fresh start in Australia seems out of reach now, after the deadline for a post in the church passed two weeks ago. Major had laid blame at her Bishop Garth Counsell, who she claims refused to give her a vital recommendation needed for the position. She said despite the Archbishop instructing her bishop to provide her with this letter, he has failed to do so.
“I’d like to have an income and I feel I’ve been robbed of that. It’s a basic human right that was taken away from me. That was the main reason why I wanted to see the Archbishop and not just the bishop, as he is the head of the Anglican bishop in Southern Africa. I need to find a way to survive and support myself. I pray there will be a just outcome.”
But Father Michael Weeder, the Dean of the Anglican Church in Southern Africa has disputed these claims, saying Major was not dismissed by the church. In a press statement at the weekend, Weeder said he felt it necessary to “clarify and correct the inaccurate reports and social media comments” around the protest action.
“Contrary to what is being reported Ms. Major was not dismissed by the Church but chose to formally resign in 2014. No reference to her pro-Palestinian stance arose nor was it ever mentioned before or during the discussion of her decision, or in her formal letter of resignation,” he explained.
“Bishop Counsell was contacted by the Bishop of Wangaratta and had an open and honest conversation with him. No written “safe to receive” was requested and none was furnished by Bishop Counsell. As with any testimonial, it is at the discretion of a Bishop whether or not to write a letter of commendation and to determine the content of same. No person can claim a right to a recommendation.”
Father Weeder said Major had engaged the services of attorneys and subsequently a letter of demand was issued.
“Our attorneys of record comprehensively answered all queries and/or questions raised in the aforesaid letter of demand. Ms Major has not made any formal application for “permission to officiate”. It remains open to Ms Major to make proper application to a diocesan bishop for “permission to officiate”. This application will be duly considered in terms of the Church’s processes.” he said, adding that Bishop Counsell has never refused to meet with Major and the Church remains open to any meeting with her appointed attorneys.
On Friday, Major was advised by a doctor to drink water, or she could slip into a coma in the next few days. Determined in her resolve, Major continued her resistance campaign despite intense pain in the last few days.
While she did not experience hunger pangs, the past week was characterised by headaches, dizziness and fatigue. On a few occasions, she was unable to walk or stand up. She ended her hunger strike with sips of soup on Sunday afternoon.
On Sunday night, Major packed up her tent set up on the roadside and spent the night at the District Six Guesthouse, after the owner offerd her a room. “I was able to sleep last night for the first time in a week. I slept like a log,” she said, adding that she was still physically weak.
“I will be going to hospital to run some tests. My kidneys have been compromised and they need to check on it.”
Sunday has been “a very emotional day” as she engaged a flood of visitors, mostly ex parishioners, who came to offer their support.
“Ex-parishioners and I were crying together. Then my cousin’s daughter came to me. I completely broke down when I saw her. More people came, and shared stories of what I mean to them. Moulanas came and they wept. I wept too,” she recalled.
“The residents of Walmer Estate have been so warm and welcoming. Muslims, Christians and people of other faiths have travelled from afar to come see me. The children at Zonnebloem and Trafalgar high school have been so supportive. I’m overwhelmed by the prayers and duas.” VOC