Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, one of the founders of the antiapartheid movement, is a clergyman who served as a missionary in Tanganyika, Mauritius, and South Africa. It is with South Africa and its liberation movement, however, that his life is forever connected.
At Oxford University in the 1930s, Huddleston was a pacifist and Christian Socialist. This background led him to join the Resurrection Fathers, a tiny Anglican religious order committed to social action and popularly known as the Mirfield Fathers. In this order he found a congenial fellowship of monastic spirit that was devoted to social justice and that he still calls “my home”. In 1943, Huddleston was sent to South Africa to bolster a small mission effort. He began working in Sophiatown, a squatter township of 60, 000 outside of Johannesburg, where he encountered the plight of Africans in a racist society. Within a few years he became regional superior of the order and moved to another township mission in nearby Rossetenville. Mirfield sponsored St. Peter’s, a large school that Huddleston used to develop black leadership. The novelist Peter ABRAHAMS was an alumnus, and African National Congress (ANC) leader Oliver TAMBO and writer Ezekiel MPHALELE were teachers. Hugh MASEKELA, a student, received his first trumpet from Huddleston, who also helped him to form a jazz band.
When apartheid became codified in South Africa in the early 1950s, Huddleston was among the first to protest. After Sophiatown was crushed beneath bulldozers in 1955 and its people were scattered and replaced by a white neighborhood cynically named Triomf, Huddleston wrote Naught for Your Comfort (1956), a devastating indictment of racism, bigotry, and legalized persecution. As the book received worldwide publicity and sparked controversy, Huddleston became more active politically. He helped organize the congress that drafted the Freedom Charter, the ANC’s statement of principles. At the congress, he received the ANC’s highest honor, the Isitwalandwe, for his work. After this accomplishment, he was called back to England to be director of novices for the Mirfield community. He calls the transfer “the toughest bit of obedience I’ve ever had to face up to, a terrible bereavement.” The move proved providential, however, because Huddleston brought the antiapartheid campaign to England and internationalized it.
In 1960, Huddleston was elected bishop of Masasi, Tanganyika, a rural diocese that was a totally new environment for him. Within eight years he had trained an African successor and returned again to Britain. He was next chosen to be assistant bishop of London, in charge of Stepney, a slum in London’s East End. He felt the contrast: “Deprivation in an affluent society is infinitely worse than poverty in a Third World society, which has marvelous values of community.” If Huddleston had hoped to retire to Mirfield after another 10 years, he was surprised by his election as archbishop of the Indian Ocean, which sent him to Mauritius. From his post he saw something new: a multicultural society of many races, religions, and ethnic groups, living in partnership.
Huddleston returned to Britain in 1983 to continue the antiapartheid movement. He criticized white liberalism, arguing that it had “done so much to keep the apartheid structure in place . . . by its essential philosophy of evolutionary change.” A radical and combative man, Huddleston led the move for economic sanctions against South Africa. In Xhoza, his nickname is “the dauntless one”. When the ANC was unbanned in 1990, he flew to Sweden for a moving ceremony in which he introduced the ANC leadership to a cheering crowd of supporters.
Alan PATON described Huddleston as “one burning to serve the world,” a prophetic critic of social evil, yet with “an absence of all prudery and censoriousness.” Tall, spare, and frail, with a penetrating gaze, Huddleston comes across as intensely personal. His inner serenity and transparent holiness seem integral to his commitment to justice, yet his personal piety is of the reserved, nondemonstrative Anglican variety. A delightful companion, he enjoys a good meal with good wine. He is equally at ease with Nelson MANDELA or legions of small children. Above all, people are at ease with him. Paton modeled the priest in Cry, the Beloved Country on Huddleston. Although they later went their separate ways politically, Paton still called Huddleston “one of the most human of saints.”
Norbert C. Brockman
Additional reading: Honore, C.B. Deborah. Trevor Huddleston (1988).
This article is reproduced, with permission, from *An African Biographical Dictionary, *copyright © 1994, edited by Norbert C. Brockman, Santa Barbara, California. All rights reserved.