Desmond Tutu’s Sophiatown connection
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is known globally for his unending support of universal human rights. Less publicised though, is his connection to Sophiatown during its golden era, before forced removals by the apartheid government.
Born in Klerksdorp, in the then-Transvaal, the Tutu family moved to Johannesburg when he was twelve years old. His mother found a job as a domestic worker at a mission school for the blind. The mission was led by a young British anti-apartheid Anglican priest named Father Trevor Huddleston.
Huddleston would go on to become a legendary figure in opposition to apartheid and would later become Tutu’s mentor.
“The Sophiatown child is the most friendly creature on earth, and the most trusting,” Father Huddleston once said.
Maybe this is why, when 14 year old Tutu was diagnosed with tuberculosis, the popular priest would visit his beside every weekend bringing books and great conversation. Tutu was hospitalised for two years and it was this grounding with Huddleston that strengthened his faith in Christianity, eventually leading him to a life of service through the church.
“Those days and those visits are amongst my most precious memories of what was, for me, the golden age of my whole ministry,” commented Huddleston, reflecting on his shared memories with Tutu.
So great was the influence of Huddleston on Tutu that he named his first child Trevor, after his beloved advisor.
Today, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is a patron of the Trevor Huddleston Memorial Centre in Sophiatown.
What’s more is that Tutu was also inspired by Dr Alfred B. Xuma, who was the first black African to practice medicine in Johannesburg, and who was also a Sophiatown resident. Dr Xuma’s house is one of the few homes that was not demolished during the forced removals. Today it houses the Sophiatown Heritage and Cultural Centre.