Ndungane, Winston N. 1941–

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Winston N. Ndungane 1941

Archbishop of Cape Town

Consequences of Awakening Conscience

Opening Doors: Church and State

Climbing the Church Hierarchy

The Most Reverend Archbishop Ndungane

Selected writings


The Most Reverend Winston Njongonkulu Ndungane occupies a unique position in South Africas Anglican Church. He is the first Anglican Archbishop to head a church working with the government. This is a luxury denied his predecessor, Desmond Tutu, most of whose ten years in office were spent in an uphill struggle against the cruel apartheid regime. Therefore, he is able to steer the direction of the Anglican Church in far more productive directions, by promoting interracial harmony, furthering the aims of education, and alleviating the crushing poverty that deprives most black South Africans of sufficient food, adequate shelter, decent clothing, and a chance to live a life of dignity.

Ndunganes attitude towards anti-apartheid activity was shared by several of his schoolmates at Lovedale High School in Alice, a town in the Western Cape. One was Thabo Mbeki, who would one day be widely favored as successor to President Nelson Mandela. Two others were destined to sacrifice their lives for freedom: Chris Hani, who would distinguish himself first as head of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation) the militant wing of the African National Congress, then as head of the South African Communist Party, before he was shot in 1993 by a member of the virulently racist Afrikaner Weerstandbeweging. The other was Steve Biko, the tragic young leader of the Black Consciousness Movement, who was tortured to death by security police in 1977.

Consequences of Awakening Conscience

However, the most distinguished influence on the adolescent Ndungane was Robert Sobukwe, an African National Congress member who adamantly opposed the inclusion of whites in the party, on the grounds that any interracial mixing would weaken its power. Because he could not impose his will on the ANC, Sobukwe broke away to form the Pan-Africanist Congress, of which he became the first elected president in 1959.

Losing no time to make his presence felt, the charismatic Sobukwe headed an anti-pass campaign on March 21, 1960 that was destined to become one of the most tragic events in the history of the country. Events began at a Transvaal township called Sharpeville, where Sobukwe himself started the proceedings by leaving his pass at home and presenting himself for arrest at the local police station. By the end of the day, 69 people had been killed with shots in the back while trying to run away, and a further 186 had been wounded. Shortly after the tragic massacre, predictably, the South African government banned the PAC and all other anti-apartheid organizations.

Ndungane was not at Sharpeville that day. He was a freshman at the University of Capetown, in the last year that black students admitted on merit were permitted by the government to enter so-called white universities. Active in Cape Town demonstrations against the Pass

At a Glance

Born April 2, 1941; married Nomahlubi Ndungane, 1987; children, twoone each. Education: Lovedale High School in Alice, Western Cape; St. Peters College in Alice, after prison release in 1966; PACSobukwe, spent half prison sentence on Robben Island: ordained deacon 1973 in St. Georges Cathedral, priested 1974; Master of Divinity in Christian Ethics of Kings College, London.

Career: Rector of St. Nicholas Parish, Elsies River, 1980. Provincial Liaison Officer for the CPSA 1981; Principal of St. Bedes Theological College, Umtata, 1982: Provincial Canon and Chief Exec. Officer of the CPSA 1987; visiting Scholar at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, California, 1990-91; Bishop of Kuruman and Kimberley, 1991; Archbishop of the Anglican Church, 1996.

Awards : Fellow of Kings College, University of London, 1997.

Laws (the provision that blacks had to carry travel documents restricting them to certain areas of their own homeland) he was arrested and convicted of furthering the aims of a banned organization.

Ndungane was sentenced to three years in prison. The first half of the sentence was spent on the all-male Robben Island, the prison off Cape Town in Table Bay, where non-white political prisoners are sent to serve their sentences in the company of murderers, rapists, and other violent criminals. During the 18 months Ndungane spent there, many prisoners worked in the lime quarries. His special tasks, however, were to mix cement by hand, and to carry it around in wheelbarrows to the site of a new building which would later house Nelson Mandela.

During the years that Ndungane was on the island, black prisoners received less food than their Indian or mulatto counterparts. The book, Dreaming of Freedom: The Story of Robben Island points out that many prisoners and warders became friends simply because both were essentially prisoners of the island and of the system that denied warders the freedom to leave without written permission. But most prisoners did not have this good fortune. Since the majority of the white warders on the island came from racist backgrounds that had taught them to believe that all black people were automatically inferior, they were quick to resort to physical abuse and strip searches. Ndungane himself does not specify the type of treatment he received on Robben Island. But he noted, for Highway, a diocesan newsletter, in July of 1996: One of the experiences that hit me between the eyes on Robben Island was how grossly inhuman people can be to other human beings. The people who looked after us inflicted extreme hardships and unnecessary punishments on us. Incredibly this did not toughen him or make him bitter. Instead, it focused his ambition in a new directionhe decided that like his father, his grandfather and his uncles before him, he would one day enter the priesthood.

Several years were to pass before he was able to realize this dream. First, after 18 months on Robben Island, Ndungane was transferred back to the mainland, to Victor Verster prison, where he coincidentally also built the cell that would later house Mandela. Then, drifting somewhat after his release in 1966, he spent a short time back at the University of Cape Town, then joined a construction company. In 1971 he began to train for the ordained ministry at St. Peters College in Alice, near Grahamstown. In 1973 he was finaly ordained as a deacon in St. Georges Cathedral, Capetown, following up a year later with ordination as a priest.

Opening Doors: Church and State

In 1975 Ndungane left South Africa for Kings College at the University of London. Here he earned first a Bachelor of Divinity degree, then a Master of Divinity, concurrently working as a curate in London, first at St. Marks, in Mitcham, St. Peters in Hammersmith, and St. Mary the Virgin in Primrose Hill. By the time he returned to South Africa in 1980, the superiority of South Africas apartheid-bound government had been deeply eroded. Several factors were responsible for this development. The first was the erosion of the neighboring white colonial governments, all formerly firm friends. Mozambique, formerly Portuguese, became independent in June of 1975; South-West Africa was in the process of throwing off South African government, to become independent Namibia, and even Zimbabwe, formerly South Africas closest ally in the fight against Communism, declared Robert Mugabe its new leader in 1980.

Crack number two in the facade of Afrikanerdom was a continuing wave of strikes in manufacturing facilities and in the mines, that began in 1972, to protest both job reservation for white workers, and wages far lower for black workers than for their white counterparts. As a result, black trade unions wielding considerable political clout came into being in 1979.

If these things were not enough to focus international attention on South Africa and her government policy of racial segregation, other important developments contributed. There were the Soweto Riots which started on June 16, 1976, after the government tried to enforce the policy of Afrikaans in all schools. There was the tragic fate of Steve Biko, who was tortured to death by police in 1977; there was also the disastrous propaganda war to support the causes of apartheid, started in 1975 by Eschel Rhoodie, which began with the establishment of a pro-apartheid newspaper in South Africa called The Citizen, and ended with disgrace and dismissal not only for Minister of Information Connie Mulder, but also for the prime minister, John Vorster, who resigned in September of 1978, ostensibly for health reasons.

On top of all this there was the new prominence of the South African Council of Churches, an organization formed in 1968 to provide a unified Christian voice in the struggle against apartheid. Desmond Tutus 1978 appointment as its General Secretary emphasized the organizations range of anti-government activities, which included backing the new trade unions and supporting the families of political detainees. Adding to the publicity was television exposure, which Tutu, experienced in the benefits of publicity, used to encourage the world to apply economic sanctions to the country.

Climbing the Church Hierarchy

Immediately upon his return, Ndungane became Rector of St. Nicholas Parish Church in Elsies River, Cape, following up in 1981 with an appointment as Provincial Liaison Officer for the Church of the Province of South Africa, an independent church with 17 dioceses in South Africa, which was originally formed partly by British Anglican missionaries, and partly by British Anglican emigrants to South Africa, that by the early 1870s became the autonomous Church of the Province of South Africa.

In 1982, as the country began to writhe in the grip of the violence that would eventually break the superiority of apartheid, he assumed the Principalship of St. Bedes Theological College, Umtata, in the independent Ban-tustan, Transkei, a position he held until 1987, when a new post as Provincial Canon and Chief Executive Officer of the CPSA gave him responsibility for administration and synodical government.

Also part of his new life was remarriage, after several years as a widower. His new wife, Nomahlubi, was not the usual woman one expected a bishop to marry. Also previously widowed for some years, she owns a butchery and gas stations in Guguletu Township, and is always far too busy to undertake duties connected with the parish. That was just fine with her husband, as he told the diocesan newsletter High way in July of 1996. She is an independent person, which I believe is a healthy thing in a marriage... It would be boring if we were always toe-to-toe.

In 1991 he was consecrated Bishop of Kimberley and Kuruman, in the Northern Cape. An area famous for its diamonds, this is also an area with a well-established Anglican missionary tradition. Since Ndungane was particularly interested in the missionary history of the region he became Chair of the Kuruman Mission Trust and Convenor of the Commission on Mission and Ministry of the CPSA.

During this time he also wrote articles on church issues. A popular theme centered around the equality that all people share. In 1994, the year that Nelson Mandela took his place as the first president of independent South Africa, a book called Doing Ethics in Context contained an article of Ndunganes with the appropriate title Human Rights. Written from the heart, it contained the core of his own religious philosophy: The dignity of the human person signifies that by virtue of natural law, the human person has the right to be respected, is the subject of rights... The article also suggested that a Bill of Rights ensuring democracy be incorporated in the Constitution of the new South Africa.

Another piece, written to mark the fifth meeting of the African Bishops of the Roman Catholic Church which ran for four weeks during April and May of 1994, centered around the conference theme The Church in Africa and her Evangelising Mission towards the Year 2000. As Ndungane saw it, the challenge centered around five main themes. These are: proclamation, or statement of the gospel of Christ by word and deed; inculturation, or persuading new members to choose to follow the Christian religion rather than their traditional tribal one; dialogue, both with members within the Church and in the wider community; the goal of justice and peace for all, and finally, communication with a wider audience, via evangelistic television and radio. At this meeting, Bishop Ndungane was appointed an Anglican Fraternal Delegate by the Archibishop of Canterburya singular honor.

During all this time, Bishop Ndunganes many achievements were common knowledge in church circles. But he was little-known outside of religious parameters until 1996, when Bishop Tutu was forced by ill-health to retire from his post as head of South Africas Anglican Church. Then, on June 4, he was elected to replace the imposing and exceedingly well-known Desmond Tutu.

The Most Reverend Archbishop Ndungane

Enthroned in September of 1996, Ndungane made strong opinions known almost immediately. Speaking at Southwark Cathedral in England on April 25, 1997, he made an impassioned plea to the wealthy countries of the world to forgive the debt of developing nations generally and South Africa in particular, since these had mostly been developed during the years of colonial rule. The time has come, he declared, to invoke the Doctrine of Odious Debt [which] argues ... that where a debt has been incurred ... to strengthen a despotic regime ... it should be declared odious and written off.

Ndunganes strengthening muscle was next seen after the warders at a jail outside Cape Town donned balaclavas and beat prisoners while searching for arms and ammunition. It was the Archbishops influence and demand for the sacking of the Minister of Corrections, Dr. Sipho Mzimela, that prompted President Manndela to institute an enquiry into this shocking matter.

Outspoken on other matters, Ndungane raised his voice again in July of 1997, to comment on what he called the naked face of tyranny, which he feared was appearing in new forms all over the African continent. Speaking in Johannesburg, South Africa at the opening of a consultation of African Archbishops and their representatives, Ndugane asserted the rich heritage of Africa was no longer up for grabs as people of old had seemed to think it was, and it was not to be forcibly taken by the greedy of the world.

This self-confident new stance bodes well for the future of the countrys Anglican Church, which makes no bones about its close relationship with the political machinery by which the government runs the country. It is also a fitting bearing for Archbishop Ndungane, whose name, Njongonkulu means far-sighted.

Selected writings

Assembly of the Synod of Bishops for Africa, South African Outlook, June, 1994, p. 60.

Human Rights, in Villa -Vicencio, Charles, and John W. de Gruchy, Doing Ethics in Context: South African Perspectives, Orbis Books, 1994.


Office of the Archbishop of Cape Town: Curriculum Vitae, thhe Most Revd. Njongonkulu Ndungane; Press Statement, June 24, 1997.


Berens, P., et al. Dreaming of Freedom, Sached Books, 1993.

Isaacson, Rupert, South Africa, Cadogan Books, 1995.


Anglican World, Michaelmas, 1996, p.39; Advent, p. 32.

Challenge, August/September, 1996.

Drum, August, 1996, p. 16.

Electronic Mail & Guardian, August 22, 1997.

Financial Mail, July 12, 1996, p.5.

Good Hope, July 1996, p. 1.

Highway, July 1996, p.1.

Sowetan, June 2, 1996.


Worldwide Faith News archive: Ndungane April 27, 1997; June 26, 1997; June 26, 1997; July 28, 1997. http:www.wfn.org.

Gillian Wolf