His Legacy Will Live On - Farewell Reverend Leonard Maart FeaturedWritten by Kiersten Dunbar Chace
I write with tears. Today, South Africa has lost a great spiritual leader and his family and loved ones have lost a strong loving force in their lives.
Reverend Leonard Maart was a humble man who raised a beautiful family and was very proud of his heritage and his community.
I’m going to try and not make this little tribuite about me, however, he influenced me greatly 25 years ago (when I first went to South Africa) so I thought this would be a good opportunity to share my experience with Reverend Maart from that time period in South Africa, that space, those emotions, apartheid, understanding Cape Town, etc…
My first journey to Cape Town was early 1996, not even two years post-Apartheid. I was invited to South Africa to attend the opening of a small music school in the township of Nooitgedacht, Biship Lavis.
One of my very first dinners in South Africa was with my friend Jenny, her husband and both of their families who lived just down the street from the music school in a lovely home with a very long dining room table.
For the first hour, all of us (20+ people) were greeting each other for the first time, lots of laughter, hugs and just a lot of joy. Once we’ve settled around the dining room table for our meal we continued conversations, laughing and joking.
Across the long table from me sat Reverend Maart (pictured below). He was not a man of many words that evening and he observed me closely most of the evening. Toward the end of our dinner, he decided to speak and everyone became very quiet. Like eerily quiet.
With a very stern face (not angry) he looked at me and said “How is it that you feel so comfortable in this home?” I really wasn’t sure how to answer nor did I fully understand where he was coming from. All eyes were on me and the only thing was to be honest. “This is how I grew up. This feels like home to me.”
He then said to me “Kiersten, if you were a white South African, you would not be at this table.”
“I understand Mr. Maart. I feel honored and blessed to be here amongst friends.” He then went on to share other thoughts but that is all I can remember from that particular evening.
That was my first meeting with Reverend Maart. To this day I remember that question and statement very vividly because it put things into perspective right away for me. Even though South Africa was in the dawn of their democracy, there were still so many firsts to experience for South Africans.
I never considered that this would be the first time a white person dined in his house. That was my naivety. Not sure that I was the first, but his statement and stern look made me feel like it definitely didn’t happen often, right?
Reverend could have also been coming from other angles as well, like no white South African would even dare enter Bishop Lavis township on their own (which is true even today), or perhaps he would not feel comfortable even inviting a white South African into his home (at that time), or he was stunned that any non-black, non-coloured person was sitting at his table or it could have been something completely different. I’m not sure I will ever know, and it is not for me to figure out but it brought me to the reality of the effects of apartheid on Mr. Maart and of course others.
Once he got to know me and knew I was being authentically Kiersten, we had several long conversations about apartheid and he helped me understand Coloured Cape Town and Coloured South Africa; All the complexities and nuances of each township; All very different.
He said “Don’t make assumptions Kiersten. Don’t embarrass yourself. Wait until someone speaks, listen to the language then you will know how to address them. Listen and observe.”
He also shared with me the meaning of his surname and it put me on a path to research to learn more about South Africa. It is also the reason for this image.
Mr. Maart was part of a special calendar created by the Slave Museum in Cape Town. Each month of the year had a black and white image of a person with a surname of that month. Maart (Maarte) in Dutch means the month of March. A large majority of Capetonian ancestors were either slaves brought to the Cape or descendants of the first nations Khoe/Camissa/Griqua etc… many have Dutch surnames, biblical names Davids, Jacobs, Peters, Adams and many have surnames that are the months in a calendar, October, September, November, Januarie, April etc…
When slaves were brought to the Cape in the mid 17th century, they were given new surnames and depending on what month the slave ship arrived would determine the new surname. If the ship arrived in March your new surname was Maart or your new slave master’s Dutch name.
THIS is the ancestry of Mr. Maart, whose ancestors built Cape Town and he was not ashamed of his heritage. Not one bit.
So it is with great sadness to know that Reverend Maart is no longer here to impart his wisdom and knowledge. He is the reason tens of thousands of people across the globe learned about his community through my first film. He was a great inspiration. He will be missed by so many.
I lovingly extend my deepest condolences to Jenny and her family, her siblings and their relatives as well as to the friends of the family.
Reverend Leonard Maarthas left a fine legacy.
With all respect and honour… Till we meet again.
Much love… Kiersten [Tucson, Arizona]