Archbishop Makhulu honoured for helping SA’s liberation
An archbishop who was brought up in Pimville, Soweto has received one of South Africa’s highest honours from President Cyril Ramaphosa.
No, it wasn’t Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, who grew up in Pimville after his family was forcibly removed from Alexandra north of Johannesburg in the 1970s. It was the retired Archbishop of Central Africa, the Most Revd Walter Khotso Makhulu, who lived much of his life in self-imposed exile, and who has been recognised for his contribution to the country’s liberation.
At a ceremony in Pretoria on Thursday, President Ramaphosa conferred on Archbishop Makhulu the “Order of the Companions of OR Tambo” at the annual ceremony during which national honours are conferred on distinguished individuals.
The citation lauded Makhulu “for his courageous contribution to the fight for liberation.” It continued: “He followed his calling and lived the ideals of lending a helping hand to his fellow human beings. He provided refuge, comfort and family to young activists arriving in exile to join the South African liberation struggle.”
After growing up in Pimville, he was one of the young ordinands trained by members of the Community of the Resurrection at St Peter’s Seminary in Johannesburg before the seminary was expelled from the city under apartheid laws.
After serving a parish in Soweto, he moved to Francistown, where in the early 1960s he gave refuge, food and clothing to young activists fleeing South Africa and Namibia, raising enough money to buy a house in which to accommodate them.
After further training at the Selly Oak Colleges in Birmingham, he served as a priest in London, where he met and married Rosemary, an English church worker. Prevented from living in South Africa by the Mixed Marriages Act, the Makhulus spent the rest of his ministry in the UK, in Geneva – where he was the secretary responsible for African refugees in the Commission on Inter-Church Aid Refugee and World Service at the World Council of Churches – and in Botswana, where he was Bishop of Botswana and later Archbishop of Central Africa.
In Botswana he continued his ministry to South African refugees at a time when apartheid military forces were launching raids into Botswana and attacking exiles and those who gave them support.
For more than a decade from 1980, he clandestinely funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Norwegian government and churches to institutions and individuals in South Africa with the objective of providing legal, educational, medical and other humanitarian assistance. For this work, the Norwegians called him – in a book on his work – “the Church’s Secret Agent”.
He is a past president of the World Council of Churches and the All Africa Conference of Churches, a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG), and a recipient of France’s Ordre des Palmes Académiques as well as Botswana’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Order of Honour.
He now lives in retirement in London.