Teacher, author, director of Diakonia, political detainee, Executive member of the Natal UDF, Chair of the Denis Hurley Centre Trust, chair of the Gandhi Development Trust, and advisor to KZN Christian Council
Gerald Patrick ‘Paddy’ Kearney was born in Pietermaritzburg, Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) on 28 August 1942. He was educated at Catholic schools and for some years was a brother in the Marist order.
As a young boy he heard pastoral letters opposing apartheid from Archbishop Denis Hurley that were read in his church. Another influence was when his eldest brother, a university student, who spoke about the effects of apartheid and resistance to apartheid.
Kearney taught at Marist Schools; first in Durban, and then in Johannesburg. He began to invite people like the Reverend Beyers Naudé to speak at the school to enlighten his students.
Thereafter he taught at the Inanda Seminary for African girls, north of Durban, where he was introduced to political activists such as Mewa Ramgobin who lived at the Gandhi Phoenix settlement , north of Durban, near the Seminary. When his banning order was lifted, one of the first things Ramgobin did was to come to address the students.
He subsequently studied in the United States of America (USA) and Mexico, and on his return joined the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Church. In 1976 Archbishop Denis Hurley asked him to head Diakonia after the chosen applicant did not take up the post. He was appointed to set up and lead Diakonia, an inter-church agency dealing with social justice.
Kearney helped victims of political violence in Natal in the 1980s, was involved in the Release Mandela Campaign, spoke out against repression during the 1980s and generally assisted the poor and downtrodden.
Following the death of Joseph Mdluli from Lamontville in police detention, Kearney persuaded the Diakonia Council to put the spotlight on Mdluli. They organised a huge service in Emmanuel Cathedral called “An Evening of Reflection” on the death of Joseph Mdluli. About a thousand people attended. Thus began his harassment by the security police.
He also worked closely with Professor Fatima Meer (now late) on various projects.
In 1985 Kearney was detained. It was the time of the attacks in the Inanda area and the burning of the Ghandi settlement. The Reverend Wesley Mabuza’s house was surrounded by Inkatha [Inkatha Freedom Party – IFP] people. It looked as though they were going to kill him. Somehow he escaped from the house. At the time Kearney was a member of the United Democratic Front (UDF) executive. Kearney also addressed the very first Release Mandela Committee meeting in Durban in the early 1980s.
With all the violence associated with the conflict in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) lots of people came to Diakonia for help. Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi once attacked Diakonia in the KwaZulu Legislative Assembly. In 1979, a German woman came to visit Diakonia, and the housing officer took her out to Malagazi, a shack settlement near Isipingo. When she was there she asked the people about Inkatha, and they just gave a cynical, sarcastic laugh. When she got back to Germany she wrote a letter to one of the leading papers that when the name Inkatha was mentioned in Malagazi there was harsh and bitter laughter. This was translated and sent to Buthelezi. They were attacked for that letter. It was really bad stuff he was saying about Diakonia in the Legislative Assembly. It was decided that Diakonia should go and see Buthelezi. It was the most appalling experience of Kearney’s life. There were five people in the Diakonia delegation led by Archbishop Hurley. And there were about 20 people that came from the IFP side, including a number of people from the newspapers like Ilanga. Buthelezi chaired the meeting and let them speak. He let three or four of them speak for every one of the Diakonia people who was allowed to speak. Kearney recalled at this meeting there was a person, from Umlazi, who was a real warlord. He was sitting next to Kearney, and he banged on the table and said: ‘We will come down to Durban and we will smash up the place’. Buthelezi said nothing. And there was a guy called Dennis who was a cabinet minister and a Catholic. He said the most outrageous things. Archbishop Hurley, trying to make a joke, said: ‘Dennis, you and I have got the same name. How can you say that?’ And these guys were really laying it on thick. They had all sorts of papers with things that Kearney had said and written. There were also things that the Catholic Institute of International Relations had written. They used to do surveys here, and use that to write a report on KwaZulu Natal. And they were very critical of Inkatha. The Inkatha people blamed Diakonia for that although the organisation had nothing to do with it.
The churches, even those who were opposed to Inkatha, were nervous of getting close to Diakonia. Church leaders began to put pressure on Diakonia to review its UDF membership. Eventually its member churches voted by 9 votes to leave and 2 to remain in the UDF.
In Lamontville and Chesterville people were resisting being taken over by the KwaZulu homeland. Inkatha wanted to incorporate them into the homeland, and Claremont, Chesterville, Lamontville and Hambanathi were not going to have any of that. Diakonia provided a lot of logistical support to these communities resisting the incorporation.
After retiring from the helm of Diakonia, Paddy Kearney continued to serve on a myriad of NGOs, boards, organisations and civil society bodies. For his commitment to the struggle Kearney was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of KwaZulu-Natal. He was an integral part of the development of the Denis Hurley Centre, serving as the Chair of the Denis Hurley Centre Trust, the organisation behind the development of the Centre. The Centre serves three main purposes: promoting care, providing education, and building community.
Among several books he wrote or edited on late Archbishop Hurley, was his magisterial biography, Guardian of the Light.
He was also the chair of the Gandhi Development Trust, and an advisor to KZN Christian Council, among many other important positions.
In August 2018 he was awarded the Papal Bene Merenti medal during Mass in Durban’s Emmanuel Cathedral. This medal is awarded to priests and lay people whose service to the Church has been exemplary.
In 2014, Kearney was awarded the eThekwini Living Legend award and an honorary doctorate by the University of KwaZulu-Natal.
Gerald Patrick ‘Paddy’ Kearney passed away in Durban on 23 November 2018.
Dear friends of SAHO
South African History Online (SAHO) needs your support.
SAHO is one of the most visited websites in South Africa with over 6 million unique users a year. Our goal is to fulfill our mandate and continue to build, and make accessible, a new people’s history of South Africa and Africa.
Please help us deliver this by contributing upwards of $1.00 a month for the next 12 months.