Axel-Ivar Berglund

Swedish missionary

Dr. Axel-Ivar Berglund was born in South Africa by missionary parents. He became a missionary there himself and worked with Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, ELCSA and later with the South African Council of Churches, SACC. He was forced into exile in Sweden and worked most of the time until his retirement with Church of Sweden Mission in Uppsala.

Axel-Ivar Berglund

Axel-Ivar Berglund

Bertil Högberg: It is the 13th September 2005 and I am sitting in Uppsala with Dr Axel-Ivar Berglund. You grew up in South Africa, didn’t you?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: I am born in South Africa.

Bertil Högberg: Where?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: At Ceza, just south of the border to Swaziland, beyond where the road ended in those days. I grew up at both Ceza and Ekutuleni. Ekutuleni is situated between Eshowe and Melmoth, where my parents worked.

Bertil Högberg: They were missionaries?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes. I went to school to begin with in the local school that the mission had built for the education of the local people. In our home there was no such thing as apartheid; it was unknown. People were people, whether they were white or black, and so I went to school and had as a teacher a very good lady, whose name was Matilda Nzuza, an outstanding teacher, despite the fact that all she had was Standard Four .
When I’d completed the fourth year, the first legislation against whites attending black schools and black people attending white schools came, and therefore I had to move from the Ekutuleni Primary School and went to school in Melmoth. That implied riding on horseback on Monday, very early, twelve English miles to Melmoth and on horseback. Normally on a Friday, sometimes on a Saturday, I rode back to Ekutuleni. When I’d completed the school in Melmoth and passed Standard Six, which is 8 years of schooling, I went to Dundee High School and there I matriculated.
After matriculation I came to Sweden. The intention was that I was to study medicine, because I had fallen deeply in love with a missionary doctor lady, her name was Märta Adolfsson, who subsequently together with Anna Berntson, wrote a book on their work at Ceza. I admired her very much and when possible whilst visiting Ceza which was quite frequent, I would go along with her. I watched one or two smaller operations that she did and fell for this and thought that it must be the life. So I went to Uppsala.
To enter the university I had to complete the Swedish University examinations in the Swedish language and in Swedish history, otherwise my South African matriculation was accepted. That took a little time, since my parents had given up their Swedish citizenship. They had become South Africans in order to be able to work freely. Now they became Swedish citizens again, and the consequence of that was that I was also regarded as a Swede. That was a formality, but at heart I was not a Swede, because South Africa was home; that’s where I was born and that’s where I grew up.
It all ended up that I did not study medicine, but did classics, Greek, Latin, some philosophy. Eventually I landed up studying theology and was ordained here in Sweden, to a large extent to satisfy my parents-in-law, because to them it seemed frightening that I should be ordained in the wilds of Africa. How would that be possible? Be that as it may, I was ordained in Karlstad, and as soon as I had done the 18 months of compulsory service in the diocese of Karlstad, we left for South Africa. I have been a South African at heart, before that and ever after, and I hope to remain so.

Bertil Högberg: When did you return to South Africa after you had been ordained?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: In 1956.

Bertil Högberg: What did you do and where did you end up working?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: On coming back to South Africa we were placed in a parish in a place called Vryheid in the Northern part of Natal. There I served for little more than a year and then was placed as a staff member at the Lutheran Theological Seminary, which was at a place called eShiyane or Oscarsberg. English-speaking people normally refer to it as Rorke’s Drift. I very seldom use the name Rorke’s Drift, because the plot of ground, a largish area, a farm actually, was named Rorke’s Drift after the owner of the farm, a fellow by the name of Rorke who came from England. Rorke had the disease of very many men and he couldn’t see a woman without going and fiddling round with her. Soon a number of so-called coloureds were born in the area, to the extent that they were becoming so many that the men of the area got together. On a Saturday morning they went to Mr Rorke, who lived more or less where the present parish church and the vicarage are, and said to him, “Now look here Mr Rorke, if a single one of our women gives birth to another coloured, we will come here and kill you”. So he fled, to Durban and eventually to Port Shepstone, knowing that there were two or three more babies on the way.

Bertil Högberg: It was also a battleground between the Zulu and British armies, so it is known quite extensively?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: It is very well known.

Bertil Högberg: It is also the place where they weave these tapestries. I think you have one behind you.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, Amelia Mkize is the lady who made that. It was Peder Gowenius and company that started this fantastic work.

Bertil Högberg: It was also a project initiated by the Church of Sweden Mission?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, and it was heavily supported by the mission to begin with, but when the sales of the products of this place were high, the funding from Sweden was gradually withdrawn. Today it is self-supporting.
Having been at eShiyane, we had to move the whole seminary because it was on so-called European land, whoever Europeans were, who knows? The outcome of the deliberations was that the seminary would have to move to Umphumulo and that’s how I landed up at Umphumulo. There I taught theology, mainly Old Testament, Hebrew, can you believe it, and a number of other subjects, until I moved to the South African Council of Churches.
The reason for going to the South African Council of Churches was that under the very competent leadership of a number of people, a resolution was passed saying that staff members of the SACC should be South Africans, so that the authorities couldn’t just whip them off. That was one of the reasons why I landed up with the South African Council of Churches.

Bertil Högberg: And what time are we now in?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Early 1960s. I then worked with a fellow by the name of John Reese, he is no longer with us. He was a very competent man, hard-working and very clear in his mind what the purpose of the SACC was and that we should not allow ourselves to be humiliated by the State and the Security Branch. He was subsequently followed by another crowd of very competent people, and Desmond Tutu was one of them. The strange thing with South Africa is that in the midst of all the turmoil and all the suffering and all the anxieties and deaths, it became the growing ground of very competent people. They stretch from Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, throughout the land, not least within the Church. And they still are the people that they used to be.

Bertil Högberg: I want to know about your encounter with the concept of apartheid. When did you become aware of that policy and the problems that it created?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Intellectually I became aware of the problem, but it did not become a part of me until I moved from the school at Ekutuleni and the classroom with my teacher Matilda Nzuza, to the white schools, then it became like a knife that cut through my life. I couldn’t understand it because I was separated from all my playmates. I remember at the white school the rumour about me was that I had played with natives. Now natives were the black people, of course, and it hurt me terribly, because I couldn’t see that I would be better off with so-called white children. That is the first time that I really started being aware of and began groping with this problem.  

Bertil Högberg: How would you say that the CSM (Church of Sweden Mission) tackled the issue of apartheid?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: That varied very much indeed. There were those who in their own thinking, and perhaps not only their own but in the thinking of many others, were heroes of apartheid. Gunnar Helander was one of them. Bishop Helge Fosseus was quite the opposite. The two ladies who ran Ceza Hospital and extended it, built it up and improved all the facilities, were very much anti-apartheid, but they were placed at Ceza and Ceza was in a way a hiding place. There was a single road leading to Ceza and in the rainy season, the summer months, if you wished to go to Ceza you would have to leave your vehicle on the road between Hlobane and Ceza. There was absolutely no communication, no telephones, of course.

Bertil Högberg: So there was a difference in how different missionaries reacted to apartheid. Was there a difference between the Head Office in Uppsala and the missionaries in South Africa around this issue as well?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: That is a very difficult question because one would have to go to the library here in Uppsala and look up stands and resolutions taken by the governing board, but I do know that some staff members in Uppsala supported the missionaries who integrated themselves into Zulu Society. One of the strong people in that move was Holger Benettsson; he is late. I remember him very well, because I went to the Umphumulo Theological Seminary and became rector at a very difficult time, and he paid annual visits to us and we would spend hours talking about these things. In Uppsala he placed before me the support that I wanted from the Church of Sweden. Holger Benetsson was one of the strong people.

Bertil Högberg: I think there was one issue around in the 1950s when Bantu Education was introduced and the Church was challenged around the running of its schools. Do you remember that conflict?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, I remember it very clearly, and my father revolted against it.

Bertil Högberg: Can you say what the conflict was around?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: The South African Government was taking over the payrolls of teachers and they just forced that move upon the schools that were now to be called Government Schools for blacks. In my home there was no such thing as apartheid, we had no servants in our home, we would do everything ourselves. Except when there were large conferences, then local people would be hired to assist, but they were paid good salaries. Don’t ask me what a good salary was in those days, but they were paid handsomely and people lined up for jobs of that nature. Now that was an expression against apartheid, because other people said that you pay a native one pound a month. Now one pound a month in those days, well of course it was money, you wouldn’t spit at it, but it didn’t take you very far. The way that I noticed this very clearly was how my parents would go out of their way to try to get work during vacation times for the scholars studying for example at the Teachers Seminary, so they would be able to pay rather than take a loan from the government. If they took a government loan, the government could send them anywhere they pleased as teachers. If they did not have any loans they could apply for posts.

Bertil Högberg: But if the government was going to take over the salaries of the teachers, it meant that the school must follow Bantu Education correctly?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Oh yes, there was no such thing as a private school in those days.

Bertil Högberg: There was another church that took another position around the same issue; the reaction from the Anglican Church was different?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, but it was half-hearted. The ones who really took a tough stand were the Roman Catholics. But the Anglicans joined in the training of clergy, as we had done at Umphumulo, because no private school was allowed. We received people who had Bantu Education in order to bring them up to a level not of the senior certificate, as it was in Bantu Education, but to a Matriculation Board Exemption, which would imply that they could register with a University. That is what we did at Umphumulo. We trained them.

Bertil Högberg: You had bridging courses?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes.

Bertil Högberg: And where could they do the matriculation?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: They registered as private students.

Bertil Högberg: Okay, so that was possible?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: That was possible, and there were quite a lot of people who registered as private students as long as it was allowed. But of course it was very suspect and at the school that we ran at Umphumulo, which was called a Pre-Seminary School, we were very often visited by the Special Branch: “Why are you training these people here?”

Bertil Högberg: Did you see any change in the relations of the Church of Sweden (CSM) nationally on how they saw developments in South Africa and apartheid in the 1950s and 1960s? Is there any particular time when you could see that this was when CSM took a stronger stand against apartheid policies?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: CSM did take a stand, but fixing it to a date, is not easy. It just grew onto CSM. One of the people who made a serious study of this is Gustaf Ödquist. He wrote a Licentiate essay; I have it here.

Bertil Högberg: I think I have that thesis.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: I think that that would be about the best source of information on that particular issue.

Bertil Högberg: Yes, I think he wrote about this conflict around the schools.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, that was his theme.

Bertil Högberg: Was there any contact between CSM or missionaries and the ANC in the early days, in the 1950s, when it was still working in the open?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Again that is a very difficult question. Of course there were contacts, but they were personal contacts and not legalized in terms of a bold resolution or something of that nature. ANC President, Albert Luthuli, lived at Groutville as a banned man and had numerous contacts with missionaries at Umphumulo. I was one of them, and I would call upon him. Occasionally he would visit Stanger, and when he had completed his first two years of being banned and hoped to be released, a new banning order came and they said, “We’ll have to ban you again because you have visited Stanger”.

Bertil Högberg: Was he a Lutheran?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: No, he belonged to the Congregationalists. His grave is at Groutville, it’s a huge monument.

Bertil Högberg: If we move to the 1970s and the advent of the Inkatha movement, what kind of reactions did that create within the mission? The Church of Sweden involvement was largely in the Kwa-Zulu area.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, and particularly at Ceza. Chief Buthelzis children were born at Ceza hospital and Mangosuthu (Gatsha) Buthelezi frequently came to Ceza. The people in charge of the hospital, Märta Adolfsson, Anna Berndtsson, and many others gave him whatever support he needed. I don’t think that they thought of him as a particular politician. His ambition, I think this is the way that he understood it, his ambition was to have the Zulu people recognized as a nation. This was why he said that he was very happy that Ceza was next door to his place, and that he therefore could make use of Ceza hospital. I remember my mother, who was a gifted woman, one day saying, “We just hope that Gatsha will retain his ethical outlook on his task as a people’s leader and not make it into a political issue”.

Bertil Högberg: Because it started as a cultural movement?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: It was a cultural movement.

Bertil Högberg: In agreement with the ANC?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes.

Bertil Högberg: But then it took a different path?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, it took its own way.

Bertil Högberg: What was the reaction in Uppsala at CSM? How did they deal with it, because the Inkatha thing cuts through the church completely.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, very much indeed. I really don’t know how the CSM folk in Uppsala interpreted this gradual process that was taking place. Sometimes I wonder whether they were really aware of it. Certainly the indications were such that one thought that they regarded him as an individual and not as a representative of the nation, a fact that was very bad. One occasion when the whole thing became pointed was during the extension of the Ceza hospital to the Ngalonde area, where one built a TB hospital and named it Thulasizwe Hospital. Gatsha was there and played a very dominating role. Then it became very clear that it was no longer a cultural issue only, it was on the way to become a strong political movement. I don’t know whether the ANC was represented there, but certainly the Inkatha people were there in great numbers. I think that there were no fewer than 3 or 4 cattle slaughtered on that particular day.

Bertil Högberg: What time was that, the end of the 1970s?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Mid-1970s. Anna Berndtsson and Märta Adolfsson say something about this in their book.

Bertil Högberg: CSM concentrated its mission in Kwa-Zulu Natal, but then that church was joined together with the churches built up by other missions to create the Evangelical Lutheran Church of South Africa.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes. Helge Fosseus became the first Bishop of the South Eastern Region of that church. There were five missions, Church of Sweden Mission, Norwegian Missionary Society, Berlin Mission, Hermannsburg and the Hanoverian Free Church, The Hanoverian Free Church withdrew quite soon because they were very conservative. But these missions and their work were united in the ELCSA, Evangical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, which Helge Fosseus has described in his book.

Bertil Högberg: This was something that happened in the mid-1970s?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: It took many years to establish, but the Church came into being in 1977 or 1978.

Bertil Högberg: How did that change the relationship between the Church of Sweden Mission and the Church?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: I think the Church of Sweden Mission, and we’re talking about Uppsala now, took this development to some extent with relief, because the decisions were no longer made in Uppsala, they were made in South Africa and by the various dioceses that were created.

Bertil Högberg: Your work at the South African Council of Churches, what did that entail?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: I was placed as Director of Theological Education, due to my intense moves to develop a theological education of some standing, not simply Sunday School work. My ambition at Umpumulo was to raise the standards, and therefore we registered some students as students with UNISA, which was a very good thing. Now with that kind of experience, the South African Council of Churches wished to embark on something similar within South Africa and that led to the creation of ASATI, Association of Southern Africa Theological Institutions. We met annually with staff members from the various theological schools, seminaries, call them what you please, throughout South Africa, in order to raise our own standards as staff members and to support one another in our efforts to improve theological education. Theological education in the situation in which we had to work in South Africa was anything but a neutral kind of academic exercise. It was an involvement in the situation of South Africa, the presence of the Church in that situation. What was the message of the Church to the South African way of living, apartheid? That’s where I worked. I became right-hand man to John Reese to begin with, and subsequently to Desmond Tutu, as General Secretary.

Bertil Högberg: Where was the funding for SACC coming from?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Chiefly from Europe. Considerable sums came from the mission in Uppsala, CSM. There was also funding to the various parts of the council from various donor agencies in Germany, Holland and England, particularly when it came to human rights and human dignity, and the support of families whose fathers were in prison. That was of course regarded as very dangerous indeed.

Bertil Högberg: Was there any other Swedish support apart from CSM?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: SIDA.

Bertil Högberg: Through the Ecumenical council or what was the channel? Was the channel through CSM?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: CSM, yes. Subsequently I think it became a larger united effort in Sweden, because SACC could swallow any amount of money. I mean, all the families of banned people had no income. One would hear that Mrs So and So has to work because her husband is on Robben Island, but many wouldn’t employ her. So the family had to be supported and the children given an education and if at all possible be given funds to allow them to visit their folk on Robben Island. You know, those visits were terrible things. I accompanied a large number of people to Robben Island. I recall with disgust the crushing of the expectations of some of these women, particularly people from Namibia. When they had had their visit, half an hour or so, having said nothing because there was a policeman at either end of the glass wall through which they could see the prisoner, they had that frightening sense of inability to do anything, then I took their hand and that was it. This is just to put you into the picture of my role as one of those who accompanied some of these women. I got back to Namibia on one occasion, when we celebrated independence in Namibia in 1990, I think it was Kameeta, who said, “The people here say it was you who held our hand”. That meant more to me than anything else.

Bertil Högberg: That became one of your roles from the South African Council of Churches towards assisting the Namibians?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, not only Namibians, there were others, but chiefly Namibians. I had been to Namibia and had seen how people lived and worked there.

Bertil Högberg: Didn’t they have an ecumenical council for quite some time?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: No, I knew Bishop Auala quite well and I think it was he who said, “Send Axel-Ivar”.

Bertil Högberg: What other contacts did you have in SACC with the Nordic countries? Were there any exchanges of people?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Very little. I never made an effort to build up those contacts. It was a matter of upholding those that we had, when I could get out of the country. But in addition to the frustrations of being on the council and having the opportunity of travelling to Europe, an added frustration was that they would say, “Alright we’ll give you a passport for two weeks”. Now, what do you do in two weeks?

Bertil Högberg: You had problems to get out?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Terrible problems.

Bertil Högberg: When we look at Swedish policy, I’m not talking about CSM now, but about Sweden’s policies as a nation towards South Africa, how did you view the actions taken from Sweden, when you worked at SACC?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: When the Swedes decided to not import South African goods, fruit, jams, what have you, we all said “Hello!” and “Hallelujah, you are supporting us!” It was generally known that from the Council of Churches and in the various dioceses throughout the land there was much rejoicing when Sweden, amongst other countries, took the stand to boycott South Africa.

Bertil Högberg: There was quite a lengthy debate within the church, if you go back in time to the beginning of the 1970s, around the investment issue and the call from the World Council of Churches to disinvest. It was not adhered to directly, companies were given a period of grace. Did you follow that debate?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Very closely, yes. You see, every stand that was taken against South Africa was to our benefit, although of course there was a cost. Somehow or other it was in the blood of South Africans that freedom is coming. This wording, “Freedom is coming” it was just there. And Madiba’s role from Robben Island was incredible. Madiba is Nelson Mandela, his role was always present. People knew that he was the man whom we want. When eventually he was moved from Robben Island to the mainland, it was interpreted as a positive sign. Perhaps the people in Pretoria and Cape Town were using their brains just a little.

Bertil Högberg: Before we leave your time in South Africa and move to what happened when you came to Sweden, are there any more memorable events that you recall during the time?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Any number of them. Now Ekutuleni is situated next door to the Royal Household of Dinuzulu. At Dinuzulu there lived what in South African English was called a ‘chief’. In the Zulu language he was ‘Nkosi’. He was the son of Sitheku Nkanthini. The communication between the Royal Household at Dinuzulu and Ekutuleni with my parents, was built on the foundation that the people of Dinuzulu were as much human beings as anybody else. They were not kaffirs. One of the hidings that I got from my father was when I got back from the white school, and spoke about the kaffirs, and my father beat me thoroughly and said, “That is the first time and the last time that you ever use that kind of language in our home”. It was one of those occasions when it was made clear to me where we stood, on Christian foundations, nothing less, nothing more.
There are a large number of these occasions. One of the sad occasions for the Royal Zulu family was when Ekutuleni Farm was bought by Frans Fristedt, the first Swedish missionary in the late 1800s. The Royal Household lived on a piece of ground, which was just inside the border of the farm, but were turned out and had to leave, and they had no option but to do so. So there was antagonism between the Royal Household and the Swedish missionaries, until my parents came. They hoped that my parents would be able to build over this antagonism. When I came onto the scene and had matriculated, I went to report to Chief Nkosi Nkanthini that I had taken my matriculation and was hoping to study medicine, we’re back at that time now. Then he arranged for a meeting between two of his councillors and himself and I was asked to come on a specific day to see him. I was invited, so I was met at the gate of the homestead. Our discussions eventually came to this; he called in a young lady, whom I knew very well, we had played together and so she was no unknown person. He said to me, “Do you know this lady?” “Yes, I know her very well.” “Do you like her?” “Yes, of course, I like her.” “You can take her in marriage.” The idea being that if I married her, we could arrange for a bridge over that fearful thought of the Royal graves that were left on the farm and had not been moved to the Zulu area, that schism could be breached over. It took a long time for me to realize what Nkosi Nkanthini was saying. I had a sense of it, but it was only later on, when I made an effort to study Zulu people in order to write a book on the people, that it dawned on me what the consequences of a marriage between a Royal Princess and myself would be. I was not a seasoned missionary, but I was a product of the mission, and that marriage would cover up the evils that had happened. Now these things come to my mind every now and again, I dream of them.

Bertil Högberg: What happened to this offer to marry this girl?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Oh I said I wish to continue my studies. And that was accepted. I said nothing about her, I knew her very well indeed. I think she must have been a year younger than I am. We met every now and again and when I came back to Ekutuleni after the years in Sweden, we met. She was then married to a fair, good man. I came in time to baptize their second child and the second child was a boy and in typical Zulu fashion, as the celebrant of the baptismal ceremony, I should have a say in the name. I found it difficult to find a name that could be attached to my person as well as to this little young gentleman. At home I wasn’t called Axel-Ivar, I was known as Sleever. They said, it was the mother, “But why not Sleever?” And Sleever it became. To this very day he is Sleever.
I don’t like the word ‘chief’ because lots of people were chiefs, but prefer the Zulu word ‘Nkosi’. Relationships between Nkosi Nkanthini as well as his brother Piga and my parents, were very good indeed. Every year Nkosi Nkanthini would send a goat to my parents for Christmas and my parents behaved in corresponding fashion. When the goat was slaughtered you take the part of the meat on the ribs, which is a delicacy, and send it back to the people that brought the goat, so that they could report that the goat had been slaughtered and skinned properly and say that this is what Nkwazi, my father, is sending to Nkosi as thanks. All these little niceties we observed in our home all the time and it all gave a certain standing to my parents in Zulu society.
I think that to get an overall picture of what happened in my life, I would have to distinguish three things. Firstly, come my relationships with the Zulu people. From the royalty of Nkosi Nkanthini down to the more humble people, families, children, the servants, all of them were treated as people. The second lot were our family, the people at home, my parents, and very many visitors and the kind of Swedish that was spoken there. My mother was an excellent teacher and so people came to our place to learn Zulu. New missionaries came and studied Zulu under the influence of my parents. The Zulu that they learnt was a kind of royal Zulu, because the royal homestead surrounded the mission. Therefore one didn’t speak just any old Zulu. You had to observe the language as it was spoken in that area. Zulu is unforgettable.
Thirdly, came our relationships with a few whites in Central and Northern Zululand. They weren’t all that many, and our next-door neighbours lived some six, seven miles (10-12 km) from us. Not that we met often, but we did meet from time to time. Their attitude to life and their stand against Zulu people and others was the same kind of thing that I met at school. It was with great horror that people heard that I spoke Zulu. “Do you speak native?” There were others that spoke reasonably good Zulu, but they were despised. I had to balance between these three. Not that it was difficult, I knew where my sentiments were, but nevertheless it was a matter of balancing.

Bertil Högberg: I remember when we were together in Swaziland in 1985. You were preaching in Mbabane and afterwards I heard people coming out from church saying, “What a deep Zulu he is speaking”.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: I can tell you something very similar. Our son Anders and his wife Eva went to Zimbabwe as missionaries and they were placed at Masase. On a visit to South Africa, I visited them for about ten days. I was with Anders and we conducted services on Sundays. The week after the first Sunday, Eva held a course at Masase for teachers and the more prominent people in society. When we had tea, a teacher whom I had met at one of the congregations where we’d been on the Sunday, said, “Excuse me, may I ask a question?” I said, “Yes of course, certainly. If I can answer it is a different matter.” He said “You know you spoke Zulu as if you were a Zulu. Excuse me, and I am not going to try to be funny, but you are not an albino, are you?” Well I could assure him I wasn’t an albino but that I had grown up with Zulu.

Bertil Högberg: You learned Swedish and Zulu, and then?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Swati.

Bertil Högberg: Yes, siSwati, because that was close.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, quite close and the same with Xhosa, it’s quite close, too. Then Afrikaans and English.

Bertil Högberg: Afrikaans in school, or where did you learn it?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: The first school that I went to was the local school with a Zulu teacher, Matilda Nzuza. Then I had to go to a white school when legislation came that the schools were to be separated and that was early apartheid. But I had a tough time.

Bertil Högberg: Did you have to take English and Afrikaans as subjects?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Oh yes. The majority of children at the Melmoth government school, were Afrikaans-speaking. But you know what it is like with children, they pick up a language quite soon and I have a number of Afrikaans books that I still read when that kind of sentiment falls over me. When I read JM Coetzee I can feel the Afrikaans.

Bertil Högberg: Where are we now in time?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: We are now in the early 1980s. I was back in Sweden by 1981, because by then life had become so tough and difficult due to my stand against apartheid. The reason for coming to Sweden was that contra -espionage people in South Africa had discovered documentation on people who were to be got rid of. One of them was Beyers Naude, another name on that list was Axel-Ivar Berglund, myself. It was Bishop Desmond Tutu together with Mr Skakane and Sally Motlana, I’m sure you’ve heard of her, who called on me. We went out and sat in Joubert Park in Johannesburg quite near to the car park and they said that we have such and such information, you must not ask us from where it came and how we’ve got hold of it. One of the gentlemen, a staff member of the South African Council of Churches, said, “Look, you are living very dangerously, and tonight you go home and pack your suitcase with what you need and you come to work and we’ll take it from there . Don’t make a lot of noise, don’t phone, don’t do anything and we will see to it that you are taken care of . ” I was driven to Gaborone in Botswana, put on a flight to Lusaka, and then I flew to London and from London to Sweden. I always regarded it as being the life of a coward, somehow or other.
On the other hand, I had my wife here, because it was impossible for us to stay in South Africa with two boys who were to be called up. In fact, one of them had already been called up to do military service, and we had pleaded for him. It went through the schools in those days, that you were allowed to conclude your matriculation before you did your military service, and we took it for granted that it was just a slip when we were told that he had not been granted an extension. So we visited the officials at Voortrekkerhoogte, which is between Johannesburg and Pretoria, and the person who received us, one of the dignitaries in the South African Army, said, “We have heard your case and you will be informed,” and after about two weeks there came a letter from Voortrekkerhoogte to say, “You know that our country is placed in a very difficult situation and we think that your son should do his military service first and thereafter we will see to it that he can get back to school”. That’s when we decided that Kerstin and the children should go back to Sweden. I refused to accept that I was now going to live in Sweden, it was too much for me. On my return, knowing the people of Johannesburg and the Church folk, I lived with the Dominicans, Albert Nolan and company, for three years.

Bertil Högberg: When you had to leave South Africa and came to Sweden, what role did you get here? What tasks were you given when you came to Sweden in 1981?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Then we had an honourable man as mission director, well, two of them were good, decent people, Tore Furberg and Holger Benettsson. They said, “You come in and work in our offices,” because for some reason the then Africa Secretary, Tore Bergman, was due to retire. He was going back to Zimbabwe and then I stepped in. It just went overnight. I don’t think that there was any minuting of that decision. I took over after him and got stuck in and worked hard and was accepted by the staff until these rumours came, then I was cut off just like that.

Bertil Högberg: Did you take back South African citizenship?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: No, I kept it, even during the very difficult years when Sweden, rightly, I had taken a stand against apartheid. South Africa was my world. I came to Sweden to study, but South Africa has always been home, even in the tough times that Sweden offered me, because, you know, the Swedes can be treacherous people.

Bertil Högberg: In what way?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: South African intelligence forces, the security branch, had an outstanding ability to spread a rumour. They spread it here through the South African legation that I was one of their main informers.

Bertil Högberg: When was this now?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: 1982/83. They knew how to go about things, these security people from South Africa, and the legation here was wicked, terrible, awful. Unfortunately, anybody who had anything good to say about South Africa was a suspect person. I have suffered very much under that, of being a suspect, and rumours of what I was up to spread all over the place. I eventually took it to heart and thought about whether I should cut my ties with South Africa, but that was impossible, so I retained them. The rumours grew worse because of South African Intelligence’s interest in me, to the extent that even Archbishop Olof Sundby, who was Chairman of Church of Sweden Mission, became involved in my communications with South Africa.
I wrote a letter to him and said, “I hear that you have been informed that I am not to be relied upon and I would be glad to know the details”. He did not reply, so I phoned him and he said, no, he had no notion of that. But the rumours just kept on being added to, and went all the way down, so I wrote a second letter to Archbishop Olof Sundby and said that I have noticed the change of attitudes towards me, I have heard that you’ve had secret talks in your office, which then was in the old stable building. Again there was no response and when I asked him, h e denied everything and said he knew nothing.
Eventually I was removed from being Southern Africa Secretary in CSM and I was offered the position of South-East Asia Secretary. I intended to say no, I’ve got my job. However, Bengt Sundkler, Karl Fredrik Hallencreutz and Marja-Liisa Swantz, a gracious woman, and I sat one night until late and we talked through this matter. I’m saying “Can you imagine me relating to Indians? I’m not an Indian, I’m a black.” Just before they left here, we had tea, evening devotions, Bengt Sundkler said to me, “Axel-Ivar, take Asia and you will hit them in the face, because that will be very unexpected.” The following day I went to see Biörn Fjärsted. He looked at me a long time and when eventually he did say anything, he said, “Are you joking or are you serious?” I said, “One doesn’t joke about things of this nature,” so I took on Asia.
Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz was going to go to India to give the Tambaram lecture and had two tickets. His dear wife, who still lives here in Sweden in Uppsala, was to travel with him, but for some reason she couldn’t. I think it was the boys. Then he said, “You take my ticket and both of us will go.” So we went and I got to know many Indians. That is the only occasion when I slept one night in a hotel; after that I stayed with people. At Tambaram I was to share a room with an Indian, and do you know who that person was? MM Thomas! That was fantastic and we stayed up half the night talking. Here was a man of great depth, a gracious man, who belonged to the Syrian Christians in India. After that we somehow got to know one another so we upheld our contacts and that is how I got into Asia.

Bertil Högberg: You continued to work as Secretary for Asia for how long?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Until 1995. Then I was more or less forced to retire, at least salary-wise.

Bertil Högberg: So when you left South Africa, did you have a passport then?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, and I still have it. I won’t have a Swedish one, although I honour it very much indeed. I’m not trying to say that I’m not a Swede, I am by virtue of my parents being Swedes and Kerstin and so forth.
But after I left, I visited South Africa many times and normally came into the country through Gaborone. You know all those cattle gates where the cattle from Botswana that were to be sold for slaughter purposes, there were certain weekdays when those cattle gates were open and I had a list of cattle gates. What I did was to hire a car in Gaborone and travel to a gate so that I would arrive at the gate five minutes before it closed. I spoke Afrikaans and wore a khaki shirt, khaki trousers and that’s all. I will have said something like, “Hi, lucky for me that you are still here!” and the implication was that they should just stamp my passport and then I was in. It was a different matter to get out, but that is a different story.

Bertil Högberg: Your South African passport was never withdrawn?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: I have it here.

Bertil Högberg: So you could travel on that.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: I could travel. I wasn’t welcome all over the place, least of all in Tanzania, which Bengt Sundkler said I should visit, but I had a South African passport. When coming to Germany, they really looked at me, “What do you want here?” But I coped, I managed and I am proud that I managed and didn’t fall for the offer to become a Swedish citizen in terms of getting a passport. That I could have had within two minutes, five perhaps.

Bertil Högberg: You also served for some years as a professor here at the university?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes.

Bertil Högberg: But that was a temporary thing?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: That was temporary yes. Carl Fredrik Hallencreutz had been invited by the University of Harare to set up the Department of Philosophy and Religion, and he was to be away for a year and a half. I was then docent (associate professor) here in Uppsala and so I acted as professor in his place.

Bertil Högberg: If we turn to your academic career, you wrote a dissertation in South Africa, didn’t you?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes I started it here for Bengt Sundkler, but Bengt Sundkler wasn’t a great letter writer and I got nowhere with it, so I changed to Monica Wilson, an outstanding scholar at the University of Cape Town. I wrote a thesis on Zulu thought patterns and symbolism. Unfortunately I have only a single copy left, it’s been printed twice and now a third edition is being planned.

Bertil Högberg: If you go back to the time when you worked at the CSM office here, your region was Southern Africa. How was that defined in CSM, which countries did it involve?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: It involved virtually all because we channelled money to Namibia and I had been to see the folk in Namibia in attempts to raise theological education standards. Bishop Auala invited me time and again and so I would fly to Windhoek and stay at the theological seminary. There was a German missionary by the name of Theo Sundermaier who later on became professor in Heidelberg in Germany and Raua Woupio from Finland. I got to know the people quite well.
As far as the Republic of South Africa is concerned, at the time there were great efforts put into uniting the mission areas into one church. The snag was to involve the white Lutherans in South Africa who were difficult to handle. Eventually a united church came about without the whites. Still today they are outside. It was difficult to say that it was only in KwaZulu-Natal. Transvaal was very much on the scene, so was the Cape. CSM eventually sent missionaries to the Cape and to Swaziland that, by the way, was included.

Bertil Högberg: Was Zimbabwe also part of what you worked with?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes, but that was a different area. The church in Zimbabwe was different. ELCZ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Zimbabwe, had their first indigenous bishop, Jonas Shiri, and I worked a great deal with him.

Bertil Högberg: When you were at CSM, was that when a struggle was still going on in Namibia in the 1980s?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Oh, yes.

Bertil Högberg: The traditional support for the Lutheran Churches there, used to come from Germany and Finland, but were you also were involved in supporting them?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes.

Bertil Högberg: Did you support anything else beside theological education?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Oh, yes. All these technical widows, because their men sat on Robben Island, had to live and nobody would employ them. So considerable sums of money went to these persecuted people.

Bertil Högberg: Did you receive any government money from SIDA for that work, or was it your own funds?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: It was, in a round-about way. CSM money went there and we asked SIDA for funds to fill the vacancies. Eventually SIDA agreed to support the work when they noticed the move towards independence in Namibia. I cannot give you any figures, but at times considerable sums of money were transferred.

Bertil Högberg: When we look at South Africa, the money from CSM used to go to ELCSA, the Lutheran Church as you mentioned, but you also supported a number of other institutions?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes.

Bertil Högberg: Can you mention what type of relations you had?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: The Art & Craft School at eShiyane .

Bertil Högberg: Known as Rorke’s Drift, that’s how people relate to it.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Unfortunately, but you mustn’t ever use the name Rorke’s Drift. Quite a lot of money went there. Quite a lot of money went to hospitals and clinics not registered under the Lutheran Medical Aid because they were too small. We couldn’t get a government grant for them and the money had to come from somewhere and therefore it came from Sweden. Then there were the projects of scholarships to fund people who were studying elsewhere. Again the idea was that standards of theological education had to be raised and the church was not able to send money from South Africa for extended theological education abroad. These sums were held and budgeted separately while the large grant went to ELCSA, and ELCSA would define how the money was to be used. Normally money would not go to the salaries of indigenous clergy because the congregations were regarded as the ones that ought to pay them, and they did, although it was a tough task. The money would be used in extension work.

Bertil Högberg: That came in a form of a block grant?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Block grants, yes.

Bertil Högberg: It means that the church was doing the prioritizing?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes. The block grant would be sent four times a year, quarterly, because the money had to be collected in Sweden.

Bertil Högberg: What about the South African Council of Churches?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: They received quite a lot of money, but it was a good deal easier to get money from SIDA for SACC. Donor agencies in the States, Holland, Germany and Britain would not limit their funds; we could get virtually any amount of money from them.

Bertil Högberg: Were there any other institutions, like ICT, the Institute of Contextual Theology?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Right, and Beyers Naude and the Christian Institute. Then there was the Institute of Race Relations, although of course with the later developments within the Institute, our relationship changed.

Bertil Högberg: Did that mean that CSM withdrew funding from Race Relations?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: To some extent yes, and they rather put the money into Diaconia in Durban, because that grew into a massive movement. The driving force there was Archbishop Dennis Hurley. Have you met him?

Bertil Högberg: No.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: You’ve missed something, an incredible man, brave. To this day I marvel that he was not appointed cardinal, but the Catholics took the Bishop of Cape Town instead.

Bertil Högberg: Was Hurley too controversial?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Perhaps.

Bertil Högberg: Did you see any other changes in the CSM’s relations to South Africa during those years?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Lots of things happened underground. There was support to groups in Sweden working for a change in South Africa and to the movements trying to get South African trade out of Sweden. That was vital and was supported. South African Airways flew to Frankfurt and offered missionaries, perhaps others too, a certain discount, which CMS did not accept. There was that kind of thing. Wherever you went where CSM was involved, there would be this tricky question of dare we do it in the open or must it be done secretly?

Bertil Högberg: Were there many of these kinds of dealings on the side that were not really revealed, money that was channelled to places that was not reported because it was sensitive?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Put it this way, instead of receiving certain money, one could give advice to the donor to send it to so-and-so. Normally it would go to SACC, though not always. Particularly under the leadership of John Reese, SACC was very particular that every single cent could be traced and placed on paper. I do know that Gatsha Buthelezi, as he was called then, Mangosuthu today, was always looking for more and greater funds. I am not quite clear, but I think that certain sums were channelled through SACC to Mangosuthu, but I am not certain of that.

Bertil Högberg: Were there any problems, I mean, did the CSM relations to South Africa create problems for getting visas for people to travel or for missionaries to go in and out of South Africa?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes greatly so. Do you know who Mamphela Ramphele is?

Bertil Högberg: Yes.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: She gave birth to Steve Biko’s child, though they were not married. Much later she became the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town. Earlier, considerable sums of money were channelled for Steve Biko’s black consciousness movement through her. Again don’t ask me for figures, I cannot give you those. These were things that took place and yet did not take place.

Bertil Högberg: That was when you were still in South Africa. Was it money from CSM or from other sources that went through the South African Council of Churches?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Both. I supported this kind of thing when I came here because I knew the people and I could write a private letter to John Reese, not to his address because I knew that his post was censored as was mine when I was in Johannesburg, but I wrote to a different address and in the letter I would just write ‘For John’ and he would know how to handle it. There were lots of these kinds of strange things, strange to the world, but to us in South Africa they were necessary to keep the pot boiling.

Bertil Högberg: Were any Swedish missionaries thrown out of South Africa? Gunnar Helander was refused a re-entry visa, but that was in the 1950s.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: This is what he himself claims, but I doubt it, he chose to stay in Sweden. He was then a man of great news. I wouldn’t like to say that he was kicked out of South Africa. No other Swedish missionaries had to leave, but a large number were refused entry visas. We were desperate for staff at the Umphumulo Theological Seminary. but it was very difficult to get them in and we wanted qualified staff. Carl Fredrik was the one in Sweden who helped us to pinpoint the folk we could make use of but when their visa applications came, they were just ignored, no reply, nothing. That was a tough time.

Bertil Högberg: What about Per Svensson in Cape Town?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: He got in.

Bertil Högberg: Yes, but wasn’t his renewal refused?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: It wasn’t extended. The system never used the word ‘refused’; a visa was not extended. They said, “We told you beforehand that you should get a local whom you could train during these three years or four years, because we won’t extend your visa.” Per Svensson was one, Peder Gowenius was another.

Bertil Högberg: After they started the art school at Rorke’s Drift?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes.

Bertil Högberg: So that is why he then landed in Botswana?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: In Botswana, yes, and from Botswana, where he actually was kicked out, he went to Lesotho. He was also kicked out of Lesotho, but I think that Lesotho had been told to kick him out.

Bertil Högberg: By the big brother?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: By the South African big brother, yes.

Bertil Högberg: How significant was the support from the Church of Sweden Mission to the Lutheran church and to SACC? Was it a very important?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Very important indeed. CSM was looked upon as a most reliable counterpart in Europe. Not all the others were of the same calibre as CSM.

Bertil Högberg: What type of cooperation was there between CSM and other organizations in Sweden and in Europe?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: I think that the donor agencies would meet, not regularly, to share information and discuss how to increase their support and how to go about it. I do know that CSM met with donor agencies in Germany, in Holland, and occasionally perhaps in England also. England was normally very well informed.

Bertil Högberg: What relations did CSM have with the Lutheran World Federation and with the World Council of Churches?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: On and off depending on who was at the head of the Lutheran World Federation, which is very flexible. The Lutheran World Federation in South Africa is today headed by Ishmael Noko, he is a nice man. [According to the website, the Presiding Bishop is Joe RAMASHAPA]  

Bertil Högberg: And a product of the Swedish Mission to Zimbabwe?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes. He grew up at Manama and we had him at Umphumulo, I know Ishmael Noko inside and out. In fact, I officiated at his marriage.

The World Council of Churches would seek to operate through SACC rather than the Lutheran missions. The Lutheran missions were taken care of by LWF, the Lutheran World Federation, which does not mean that they were antagonistic to one another. They worked well, but with a little shift in emphasis.

Bertil Högberg: In Sweden we have Lutherhjälpen, which is Church of Sweden Aid, that also worked in South Africa?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes.

Bertil Högberg: What was the relation between CSM and the Church of Sweden Aid in the years you worked there?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Church of Sweden Aid gave us good funding for the welfare of technical widows, their children, schooling, and that kind of thing. They were generous, particularly if we could name the people. I don’t know what I should say over and above that. There were close contacts between Tore Bergman and Church of Sweden Aid for the channelling of funds. When I came onto the scene, I made use of the contacts and could mention by name living conditions and social conditions of many of the people who we hoped would benefit from the funding. We got money from Church of Sweden Aid, not great sums.

Bertil Högberg: But they were also giving directly, was it to the same recipients as you were giving in South Africa or did they have different targets?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: SACC chiefly and Namibia. Mozambique came onto the scene at a later stage, but Namibia was in the forefront.

Bertil Högberg: Was CSM involved in Mozambique in any way?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes.

Bertil Högberg: Via which church?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: The Anglican church. But I was one of those in South Africa who pushed for Mozambique and with me there was a gentleman by the name of Alf Helgesson. We got on well together and he lived about two blocks away from us in Johannesburg, so we met frequently.

Bertil Högberg: He was a Methodist missionary?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes. He did lots of fine work. He taught at Rakatla, the theological institution just outside then Lourenço Marques, now Maputo.

Bertil Högberg: Yes, when he was readmitted in the 1980s.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: 1984, I think it was.

Bertil Högberg: Was any particular work done together with the Nordic mission organizations, anyone that you worked more closely than the others?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes there would be an annual meeting between the donor agencies and the Church with its various offshoots, the Norwegian Mission Society, the Berlin Mission Society, Hermannsburg, CSM, and the American Lutheran Mission, these five. They would meet annually for two or three days perhaps, somewhere in the world. Often they met here in Uppsala, which was central somehow or other, but if they necessarily wanted to meet in South Africa, they would apply for visas, against their hopes they would get visas, otherwise they would meet in Swaziland, or perhaps Lesotho.

Bertil Högberg: Denmark didn’t have any tradition of having mission work in South Africa or Southern Africa?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: No.

Bertil Högberg: But were there any contacts with the Danish Lutheran Church?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Not that I know of.

Bertil Högberg: Finland had their hands full in Namibia?

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Yes. The Finns did outstanding work, unselfishly, and they had their great man in Bishop Auala. They went about their mission work by earmarking important leaders from the word go, which the other missions did not do. Auala was marked as a leader to be brought up in that spirit. When the time came for him to take over, he was ready, and in that way the Finns were remarkable.

Bertil Högberg: I met him in 1974 already, when he came to the Church development week as a guest in Västerås. I had him in the biggest debate that we ever had in Sweden around Swedish investments in Southern Africa

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Is that right?

Bertil Högberg: He was representing the Church voice, but disappointed us because he took a different standpoint from the one that we anticipated. He was asking for more investments by Swedish companies in Namibia, while we were pushing for disinvestment. SWAPO’s representative, Ben Amathila, was his interpreter.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: Is that so?

Bertil Högberg: It was quite a strong message about relationships between SWAPO and the church.

Axel-Ivar Berglund: What I think is important in terms of what you said about Bishop Auala and his stand for investments, is that he was greatly honoured in Namibia. When one person was killed who was known to be an informer, he was to conduct the funeral service. I was present because I happened to be in Windhoek and we travelled from Windhoek to Onipa. Bishop Auala, a very strong hefty man, stepped forward and refused to have the funeral in the church, because he said that the church is for God’s children and the behaviour of this man has not been that of God’s children. So he conducted the service at the graveyard, next to the grave, and it was a costly business, the whole thing. The coffin wasn’t a cheap one, but all he said is, “We are all to die and the question is how have we prepared for our death? I leave the question to you, my friends.” and he stroked his hands over the congregation. That was the end. Now to do that in those days, this must have been 1978, to do that and to imply that the people are to respond, requires courage. Apartheid had a very different notion. You were told what to say from above.

Bertil Högberg: I thank you very much for this interview. It was very interesting, thanks.

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Updated 29 January 2010, 13:43

The interview was held by Bertil Högberg on 13 September 2005.

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