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Home : News : Local
4/28/2014 10:43:00 AM
Bishop's hometown full of cultures, history
Smith family photo
Pietermaritzburg City Hall
Smith family photo
Pietermaritzburg City Hall
Catholic News Service
Archbishop Desmond Tutu honored by President Obama.
Catholic News Service
Archbishop Desmond Tutu honored by President Obama.
+ view more photos
Archbishop Alexander Sample and Bishop Peter Smith meet at pastoral center.
Now retired, Archbishop Tutu still ‘conscience of nation’
It was apartheid and his prophetic witness against it that propelled South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to international prominence when he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, a few weeks before he was named the first black Anglican bishop of Johannesburg.

His episcopal position afforded him some protection from the brutal regime of P.W. Botha and, like several other Christian leaders, he used his privileged position to speak out against the injustice of apartheid. With his charisma and conciliatory but firm statements, the archbishop became a spokesman for the struggle, at home and abroad. There were more radical clergy — many of them, including Catholic priests, were detained and even tortured — but the untouchable archbishop frustrated the regime the most.

Archbishop Tutu's social and political engagement is rooted in the mandate of the Gospel to stand with the poor and oppressed. During apartheid, he subscribed to the principle of nonviolence in the struggle. 
By the late 1970s he and other church leaders — including Durban Archbishop Denis Hurley, uncle to Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith — concluded that apartheid could be fought peacefully by means of international economic sanctions.
 Calling for sanctions was not without dangers, because agitating for "economic sabotage" was outlawed under the stringent Terrorism Act. Historians now increasingly conclude that South Africa's weak economy and pressure from business were decisive factors in the death of apartheid.
The other factor was political protest. Archbishop Tutu was instrumental in staging the event that, in 1989, signaled the death of apartheid.

The former Anglican primate of southern Africa now lives with his wife in the middle-class Cape Town suburb of Milnerton. Neighbors are used to seeing the diminutive archbishop on his brisk morning walks. Their greetings are met with a friendly wave of the hand, but the archbishop does not stop for a chat. As extroverted as he appears in public, the private Archbishop Tutu is reserved and, indeed, shy.

Once always available to the media, the archbishop now denies all interview requests. He still writes occasionally and speaks at selected public events. When he does so, his comments on current issues invariably make headlines. In this way, he still serves as the conscience of the nation.

— Compiled from news reports

Auxiliary Bishop Peter Smith’s hometown is South Africa's second largest city at 500,000 population and capital of the KwaZulu-Natal Province in the southeast part of the country on the Indian Ocean. Pietermaritzburg was founded in 1838, but had been settled by black farming communities at least 1,200 years before.

Popularly called “Martizburg” in English and Zulu languages, the city is an important industrial hub for aluminum, timber and dairy. Also nicknamed the “City of Flowers,” Pietermaritzburg blooms with proteas, bougainvilleas and azaleas.

In the early 19th Century, the upper Msunduzi River Valley was inhabited by several small chiefdoms. The chiefdom that controlled the area where the city now stands was led by a woman, Machibise.

Each chiefdom consisted of fewer than 2,000 people who lived in areas approximately 100 square miles.

By the 1810s, the region around Pietermaritzburg was in political upheaval.  Groups migrated southward to escape conflict brought about by the Zulu leader, King Shaka, who was expanding his empire by creating a centralized Zulu state with an army and civil servants.

The migrating groups were bigger and more powerful than the small valley chiefdoms, and they began seizing cattle and other resources from the locals to support their own people. Members of the small chiefdoms had little choice but to submit or go into hiding in the forests surrounding their former home.

The new tribes that had seized control of the area paid tribute to the Zulu kingdom’s leaders via tributes of pelts and crane feathers, which were highly sought after by Zulu warriors.

Dutch-speaking Voortrekkers (“great trek”) traveled to the Natal area in their wagons after becoming disenchanted with the British administration.

Boer is the Dutch and Afrikaans word for farmer. They were descendants of the Dutch-speaking settlers of the eastern Cape frontier during the 18th Century.

Once they arrived, the Voortrekkers clashed with the Zulus, but gained power as their numbers grew, and eventually established the village as their new capital.

Many believe Pietermaritzburg was named for two famous Voortrekker leaders, Piet Retief and Gert Maritz. In fact, Retief never made it to the area now known as Pietermaritzburg; he was killed by the Zulu king before he reached the settlement.

Italian prisoners of war were housed in Pietermaritzburg during World War II. They built a Catholic church that is now a heritage site.

The city’s demographics are diverse: Residents include the many European backgrounds from colonial history, but also people of South and Southeast Asian descent whose ancestors were enslaved by the early Dutch colonialists. The city has South Africa’s largest Indian South African population, many of whom are descendants of migrants from colonial India.  

Famous people have left their marks in Pietermaritzburg.

Mahatma Gandhi was forcibly removed from a first class train carriage there. That fueled the politicization of his passive resistance campaign.

In 1961 there, Nelson Mandela made his final speech before being locked up for 27 years. A monument marks the place of his arrest in a nearby town to the north.

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