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Apartheid and the Archbishop: the Life and Times of Geoffrey Clayton, Archbishop of Cape Town

From the dust jacket:

This 'great, strange, extraordinary man' had his human quirks and immoderacies - he smoked and talked too much and he was best not spoken to until he had had his breakfast. But these were mere 'excrescences on the oak' of his towering personality. He could walk into the hearts of people, of all races, and he was a splendid preacher.

Geoffrey Clayton arrived in South Africa in 1934 as Bishop of Johannesburg, and found a society with complex customs and laws concerning race. This was the time of Father Trevor Huddleston and the Reverend Michael Scott, with whose political activisms Clayton was not always in agreement.

In 1949 Geoffrey Clayton was elected Archbishop of Cape Town 'It is a thorny throne on which you are to sit,' commented another bishop. The new Nationalist Government had begun to implement its apartheid policies, presenting the Church of the Province of South Africa with many difficult dilemmas of principle. In Archbishop Clayton the Anglican Church had a wise and firm leader with a disconcertingly direct way of looking at these dilemmas.

Like Alan Paton's biography of Jan Hofmeyer, the book is as much about the times in which Clayton lived as about his life. It is rich in anecdote about this legendary man who could hardly open his mouth without saying something profound or mordant or amusing. It is also an account of the confrontation between Church and State in his time, culminating dramatically in 1957. In March Archbishop Clayton and the Anglican bishops wrote the crucial letter to the Prime Minister on the Government's proposed 'church clause' restricting the right of Africans to attend churches in 'white' areas. Clayton died the day he signed the letter.

This major biography of  a great man is written with all of Alan Paton's wit, astringency and humanity.

 

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