Priest holds hunger strike at Bishopscourt

Reverend June Major holds a hunger strike outside the official residence of Archbishop Thabo Makgoba in Bishopscourt.

An Anglican priest held a hunger strike outside the Bishopscourt home of the Archbishop of Cape Town, calling for him to act against a fellow cleric she claims raped her.

Reverend June Major, 51, started her hunger strike outside Archbishop Thabo Makgoba’s official residence on Wednesday July 1 and ended it on Monday July 6, after the church agreed to address the issue.

“I did the hunger strike because it’s the only time that the archbishop listens. You can phone or email; he doesn’t respond to you,” she said.

Reverend Major claims a priest raped her while she was at a Grahamstown seminary in 2002.

In 2004, she had returned from Grahamstown and had reported the alleged rape to a bishop “who told me to keep quiet to protect the name of the church”, she said.

Reverend Major held an earlier hunger strike in 2016. She said Archbishop Makgoba had promised at the time to take action, but nothing had happened since then, and her alleged rapist was still serving as a priest.

Reverend Major said she had opened a case at Bellville police station – in either 2004 or 2005 – and it had been transferred to the Grahamstown police. She said a detective had told her that the case was an attempted rape as there had been no ejaculation.

“I believed it all these years until 2016 I saw it as rape as there was penetration,” she said.

A 2016 Cape Times report about Reverend Major’s first hunger strike quoted police spokesman FC van Wyk, who confirmed at the time that the case was being handled by the Grahamstown Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Unit. The Tatler was unable to independently confirm the current status of the case at the time of going to print, but the Anglican Church says the state prosecutor declined to prosecute.

Reverend Major has presented a list of demands to the church, including an internal investigation into her case and any other sexual misconduct allegations that might have been made against the man; a process where the alleged perpetrator and his alleged victims can speak openly about the accusations; a committee to combat sexual misconduct and abuse in the Anglican church; sexual awareness strategies in the church structures; opportunities and structures to empower and support all women.

Reverend Major slept in a tent for the duration of her hunger strike, while her friend from L’Agulhas, Henry Prince, slept in his car, to ensure she was safe.

Some from the Bishopscourt community invited Reverend Major to freshen up and use their bathrooms, while various gender-violence activists came to show their support.

District Six celebrity Soli Philander also put in an appearance.

Reverend Major said she had not eaten for the duration of the hunger strike and had only taken some water after the fourth day.

“I felt abdominal and chest pain,” she said.

Reverend Major said the strike was for every raped or murdered woman and child failed by the system.

Reverend Major has worked as rector at St Saviour’s Chuch in Claremont, St George’s Anglican Church in Silvertown and St Matthew’s Church in Harfield, from where she resigned in 2014. She is now unemployed and staying with friends in L’Agulhas.

She said she had wanted to take up a position as a priest in Wangaratta, Australia, in 2015, but had not received a letter of commendation from a bishop despite requesting one.

“Without a letter of commendation from a bishop to another bishop, I can’t apply for any position in South Africa or worldwide.”

In response to questions from the Tatler, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa issued an unsigned statement in which it vowed to launch an internal disciplinary process to address Reverend Major’s allegations.

“The church will also ask state prosecutors, who declined to press charges some years ago, to reopen the case,” the statement said.

The church has asked Reverend Major to submit details of her allegation in writing so that the process can begin.

“Responding to her protest action outside the gates of the archbishop’s official residence in Bishopscourt, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba has addressed her twice, once on the day she began her protest, and again on Saturday,” the statement said.

It added that Archbishop Makgoba had told Reverend Major the church was committed to follow a fair, just and transparent process in which she would have the opportunity to state her case, and the priest she had accused will have a chance to state his.

Reverend Major said she was glad Archbishop Makgoba had responded to her demands for the Anglican Church to investigate the alleged rape, but she wanted to know when it would happen.

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