Tutu Elected Top Anglican in South Africa

Times Staff Writer

Bishop Desmond Tutu, the Nobel Peace laureate and one of South Africa's leading opponents of apartheid, was elected Anglican archbishop of Cape Town on Monday in a move certain to bring the Anglican church here into sharper political conflict with the country's minority white government.

Despite considerable controversy over his call earlier this month for international economic sanctions on South Africa as a way to force an end to apartheid, Tutu quickly won the two-thirds majority needed from 500 representatives of Cape Town's Anglican clergy and laymen in a closed-door assembly there.

The election places Tutu, 54, currently the bishop of Johannesburg and winner of the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize, at the head of the 2-million-member Anglican church in South Africa. He is certain to use this position to broaden his campaign against the apartheid system of racial separation and minority white rule here.

First Black in Post

He will be the first black to hold the post although about 70% of the church's members are black.

The election also constitutes a strong endorsement by Anglican clergy and church members of Tutu's tough, uncompromising stand in his confrontation with the government of President Pieter W. Botha and his call for punitive economic sanctions on the country.

"I am overwhelmed at the enormous responsibility God has placed on my shoulders," Tutu said later Monday. "The church will continue, as always, to work for justice, peace and reconciliation in our land, and I renew my commitment to work for fundamental change in this country."

Tutu had said he did not want the Cape Town post but would serve if elected.

Controversial Figure

Since his installation as bishop of Johannesburg last year, Tutu has become so controversial among white members of the church, many of whom have reduced their contributions or stopped attending services to protest his political activities, that a deadlock was widely expected at the Cape Town meeting. That would have left the politically sensitive decision to the synod of bishops.

Some political commentators, in fact, had warned before the meeting that the issue could split the church, with many disaffected whites quitting if he were elected and disillusioned blacks leaving if here were not. Most speculation had focused, as a result, on black or Colored (mixed-race) bishops who might have been elected as compromise candidates.

Tutu acknowledged that some whites would not be pleased by his election, but added: "The church does not belong to Desmond Tutu but to God and his people. If people are annoyed with Tutu, they should not pull out of the church--that would be silly."

Church sources said there had been little opposition to Tutu, though several other candidates had been discussed, and none of the forecast acrimony. Expected to last three or four days, the meeting was finished in one.

Tutu will succeed Archbishop Philip Russell, who is retiring after five years as head of the Anglican church's South Africa province, which also includes neighboring Mozambique, Lesotho, Swaziland and Namibia (South-West Africa).

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World