“No white person has done more for South Africa than Trevor Huddleston.”
So said former President Nelson Mandela of one of the greatest anti-apartheid activists this country has known. Trevor, creator of the renowned African prayer (see below), was an Anglican bishop born in Bedford, England in 1913.
He was educated at Lancing College, Christ Church in Oxford, and spent his early life studying theology at Wells Theological College before joining the Anglican religious order, Community of the Resurrection (CR) in 1939. He arrived in South Africa in 1943, joining the CR mission in Sophiatown to take over the work of another member who was sent back to England for recuperation.
There, for the next 13 years, Trevor gained the love of the nearly 70 000-strong Sophiatown community as a respected priest and anti-apartheid activist. He tended to their educational, spiritual and social needs, and was at the forefront of the community to intercept violent authorities when they tried to enforce apartheid rule. This earned Trevor the nickname “Makhalipile” or dauntless one.
He was also honoured with the Isitwalandwe Medal, the highest award given by the African National Congress (ANC). Isitwalandwe means “the one who wears the plumes of the rare bird”.
In 1954, Trevor gave South African legend Hugh Masekela his first trumpet, and asked the leader of the Johannesburg Native Municipal Brass Band, Uncle Sauda, to teach him the basics of the instrument. This essentially paved the way for Masekela’s musical triumph later in life.
With fears for his safety mounting in his home country, Trevor was recalled to Britain in December 1955. But even outside South African borders, he was determined to highlight to the world the atrocities of apartheid, which he did in his moving and eloquent book Naught for Your Comfort. The publication made headlines in Europe and the US.
Later addressing the United Nations, he predicted that the forced removals, which took place in Sophiatown, would take place in other parts of the country. He was right, and soon there were violent removals in areas like District Six and Durban’s Cato Manor.
After another 10 years in England, he was appointed Bishop of Mauritius in 1978, before being elected Archbishop of the Church of the Province of the Indian Ocean. Trevor became president of the Anti-Apartheid movement in1981, and was awarded the United Nations gold medal in 1983 when he retired from episcopal office.
He finally returned to South Africa in 1991, expressing a wish to live out his remaining days in the country he held so dear. But he soon changed his mind and moved back to Mirfield, West Yorkshire, where he died in 1998. Although Trevor was never able to see the renaming of Sophiatown from Triomph as it was once sardonically known, he was given a state funeral there.
His ashes are interred next to the Church of Christ the King in Sophiatown, which was renamed in 2006.
The African Prayer
God bless Africa,
Guard her people,
Guide her leaders,
And give her peace.