Anthony Richard Stubbs
Names: Stubbs, Anthony
Born: 1923, United Kingdom
In summary: Anti-apartheid cleric and published Steve Biko's collected writings
Anthony Richard Peter Stubbs was born in the United Kingdom (UK) in 1923, and educated at Eton, at Balliol College, Oxford, and at the College of the Resurrection at Mirfield.
In 1954 Stubbs was ordained a priest and took the name Aelred. He worked first in UK dioceses, and then in 1960 was sent to Rosettenville, South Africa. Here he became Principal of the College of the Resurrection and St. Peter. At this seminary the Community of the Resurrection (CR), an Anglican religious order, trained many Black priests. There Stubbs identified Desmond Tutu as potentially the first Black principal of the college, and worked diligently to have him sent to King's College, London, to be prepared for the post.
When the college was forced from Rosettenville by apartheid geography, Stubbs became an enthusiastic proponent of its relocation to Alice in the Eastern Cape as part of the multi-denominational Federal Theological Seminary. There he and his fellow teachers welcomed and nurtured debate among not only their own students but others, such as Barney Pityana, facing persecution by authorities at the University of Fort Hare. Among those Stubbs met was Steve Biko, the first President of South African Students' Organization (SASO). Stubbs said later that he came to realize that Biko, Pityana and others "had the key to the future in South Africa... [and] that I was almost uniquely privileged in having gained their confidence..." Of Biko, he wrote: "...I remember so well the physical presence of Stephen at that time. Tall, and big in proportion, he brought to any gathering a sense of expectancy, a more than physical vitality and power... But his soul was in his eyes, which were brown liquid and infinitely expressive..."
In 1972, Stubbs returned to the CR priory in Rosettenville. As the government tried to crush Black Consciousness (BC), he began a new ministry which, he said, became "my chief service and joy for the next five years" — visiting the banned and the banished. He "went out of his way", says Pityana, driving around the country to visit people such as Biko,Mamphela Ramphele and, from a previous generation, Robert Sobukwe. In Pretoria in 1975, a protracted trial of nine BC leaders took place. Stubbs, in his role as spiritual mentor and personal friend to many of the leaders of SASO and the Black People's Convention, was a regular attendee of the trial.
In 1977 the apartheid government withdrew an exemption which allowed Stubbs as a British subject to enter South Africa without a visa. He withdrew to a hut in the grounds of a convent in the foothills of the Maluti mountains in Lesotho. Three weeks later, the Port Elizabeth Security Police killed Biko. Stubbs told Donald Woods of the Daily Dispatch that "I can no longer recognize [Prime Minister] Vorster and his gang as fit to govern South Africa." Stubbs then collected and smuggled into Lesotho as much of Biko's writing as he could find. He went on to compile a widely published edition of Biko's work under the title, I Write What I Like. Stubbs was not blindly supportive of Biko, and in 1974, tackled him over an extra-marital relationship. Biko's response indicated respect for Stubbs as "a pastor, a 'missionary', and elder and my dear priest" while rebuffing the rebuke.
Early in his stay in South Africa Stubbs was not above racial characterization of behaviour. He once implied to one of Tutu's sponsors in London that he should watch the young student's spending. Handling money badly was,"... as no doubt you know... the besetting fault of Africans", he said, attempting but failing to soften the comment by adding "and not only Africans!" And as an unmarried member of a community largely made up of upper middle-class Englishmen, whose basic needs were all provided for, he was sometimes insensitive to the pressures on a married student with four children. He was also furious with Tutu for departing from the carefully scripted plan to appoint him principal of St. Peter's to lecture at the then University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland.
It is as editor of Biko's writings that Stubbs will best be remembered. In the final months of a long illness, a portrait in which Biko's eyes stand out with startling clarity, was hung over the foot of Stubbs's bed.
- Adapted from Allen, J. (2004). “Aelred Stubbs: Behind the scenes”, Sunday Times, 21 November, p. 35.