Church leader honoured for work against racism and apartheid

By staff writers
24 Apr 2008

The Rev Philip Potter, a former general secretary of the World Council of Churches, has been honoured by the South African government for his determined commitment to combatting racism and apartheid in the 1970s and 1980s.

On 22 April 2008, President Thabo Mbeki conferred on Potter the country's highest civilian honour for foreign nationals, the Oliver Tambo award.

A citation said that Potter, WCC general secretary from 1972 to 1984, was receiving the award for leading efforts against apartheid and his "excellent contribution to peace, justice, non-racism and equality in the world through the vehicle of Christianity".

Potter, a Methodist pastor, led the WCC during a period when the Geneva-based church grouping took a high profile role in the struggle against apartheid and white minority regimes in southern Africa.

The WCC's Programme to Combat Racism, launched in 1969, led to controversy, including among its own members, because of humanitarian aid given to armed liberation movements in southern Africa, financed by a special fund.

Potter, who was born in Dominica in the West Indies in 1921, was awarded the "Order of the Companions of O. R. Tambo in Silver". The award is named after Oliver Tambo, president of the African National Congress from 1967 to 1991.

Mbeki at the 22 April award ceremony said of the recipients, "These are citizens of other countries, who, without discrimination and at great cost to themselves, their countries and peoples, have made an exceptional contribution to the efforts of the people of South Africa to define themselves as human beings."

Potter was unable to travel to South Africa to receive the award in person, the German Protestant news agency epd reported. He now lives in Germany where he is married to Lutheran Bishop Bärbel Wartenberg-Potter.

Past recipients of Oliver Tambo awards include former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and the first director of the WCC's anti-racism programme, Baldwin Sjollema.

[With acknowledgments to the WCC and ENI - www.eni.ch ]

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