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REVIEW: Pilgrim


Pieter Cilliers
Protea Book House

REVIEW: Shirley de Kock Gueller

The English translation and update of Pieter Cilliers’ groundbreaking book, ‘n Kas is vir Klere (I wish he had published the book under the title, A Closet is for Clothes) is making an appearance 16 years after the Afrikaans was published. The first part – the original book now called Different – is heartbreakingly and movingly written. The second part, Sixteen Years Later, comprises responses to the book, with Cilliers’ insightful commentary.

8776063359_860059bd19Cilliers is well-known as a television producer, and particularly as the man who turned Carte Blanche into an investigative journalistic force in this country. But, as a Hervormde Kerk minister at the age of 23, the young Cilliers was schooled in the Biblical response to homosexuality and thus, along with many of his peers, battled the wisdom that said homosexuality was deviant, and could be corrected with treatment. What’s shocking is that there are still people around who deny research that homosexuality is not a choice.

Faced with a father who had no truck with homosexuals, a country that believed the American Field Service was ‘commie’, a conditioned rural society of boys who scorned those who were different, Cilliers recounts without pity the pain he suffered, not least in accepting himself for who he was and is.

As important, he recounts his awakening to the struggles that others were suffering especially in the church thanks to the dogmatic justification of apartheid and keeping women out of the pulpit. It’s an assault on hypocrisy and were it not so damaging and hurtful it would be almost funny. There are times when you may be moved to tears, times when you will get enraged, times when you will laugh at the things he says and at the characters he sketches.

It’s a reminder of the narrow-minded days when people rushed to Lesotho to watch the banned Godspell, and when the church, for a time, banned the ‘pagan’ wedding march by Mendelssohn. It’s searingly honest and, coupled with the fact that the television producer is so-well known, it is really courageous. His writing style is clear and concise, also sensitive and keeps you reading. You can feel his desolation and isolation, usually self-imposed because he felt he couldn’t confide in anyone, and then applaud the guts it took to publish his story.

This is a social history, a lesson in self-acceptance and, above all, a lesson about ignorance, misconceptions, moral judgment and prejudice. In spite of our tolerant constitution, there’s still ignorance and prejudice, as you will discover in the letters he quotes.

Not all are hostile … some show how the book gave them courage, others recount their own quests for honesty, and others are downright laudatory. Prof Wimpie de Klerk writes: “I salute you with a sincere warmth … your accessible style … your storyline is gripping ….. your struggle …your protest against the traditions of the church …. ”

Buy it and read it. It’s completely worth it.