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Leading anti-Apartheid bishop, Mfaniseni Sigisbert Ndwandwe, has died aged 89

Posted on: May 8, 2018 10:24 AM
A statue of the pro-Apartheid former Prime Minister and President of South Africa, John Vorster, is removed from the John Vorster Square police station and detention centre as it is renamed Johannesburg Central Police Station.
Photo Credit: SABC

The funeral of the former suffragan bishop of Johannesburg, Mfaniseni Sigisbert Ndwandwe, will take place at 8 am SAST (6 am GMT) on Friday (11 May) at the diocesan centre in Matlosane. Bishop Sigisbert endured severe oppression from the South African authorities because of his participation in the campaign against Apartheid. He had been arrested, detained without trial, and his house was firebombed.

Bishop Sigisbert was originally ordained in the Roman Catholic Church, and earned a doctorate in canon law before becoming an Anglican. In 1978, he was elected suffragan bishop of Johannesburg. Later, alongside another suffragan bishop in the diocese, Simeon Nkoane, he worked with young anti-apartheid activists in their communities; and was subjected to attacks by apartheid forces.

In 1985, they joined Bishop Desmond Tutu, recently enthroned as Bishop of Johannesburg, and two dozen other priests in an illegal march to John Vorster Square, a police station and detention centre in Johannesburg, to protest against the detention of Father Geoff Moselane of Sharpeville.

Father Moselane was later charged alongside 21 other anti-apartheid activists in what became known as the Delmas treason trial. Designed to suppress the United Democratic Front, the trial was the longest in South African history at the time. Just before the jury delivered its guilty verdicts, seven black people were killed and 15-injured when a white supremacist, opened fire on people outside the court. The convictions were later overturned by the Supreme Court.

The police station was named after John Vorster, who had served as both Prime Minister and President of South Africa, and a fierce proponent of the country’s apartheid system. In the post-apartheid era, the building was re-named Johannesburg Central Police Station.

In April 1986, Bishop Sigisbert’s house in Jouberton was fire-bombed. In response, police arrested him on charges of public violence. They released him, only to re-arrest him under the Internal Security Act. He was strip-searched in public and detained without trial for 99 days on a claim that he had conspired to murder policemen.

On the day he was released from prison, he went to St Peter’s Church in Klerksdorp to preside at a Confirmation service. “We thought it won’t take place,” the parish’s Marie Van Wyk said, “but [the] bishop said ‘the work of the Lord must go on’, and it did.”

He was later named by the then Archbishop Tutu to a panel of four bishops who were appointed to promote peace during the conflict of the late 1980s and early 1990s in KwaZulu-Natal.

Bishop Sigisbert is survived by his wife, Dorcas, his children, Mbuso, Donald and Angie, eight grandchildren and two great grandchildren.