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Mandela death reminds St Austell of John Colenso's part in African struggle

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: December 13, 2013

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ST AUSTELL is remembering a townsman whose work more than a century ago helped pave the way for the late Nelson Mandela to end oppression in South Africa.

Victorian John William Colenso was born in St Austell in 1814 and became the first Anglican bishop of Natal, South Africa.

Colenso championed the Zulu cause against Colonial oppression and his work helped form an organisation said to be the precursor to the African National Congress, reverend of Holy Trinity church Mike Marshall said.

He is also remembered for defending people who had been imprisoned on Robben Island – the facility where Mr Mandela spent much of his 27 years of incarceration for his battle against the South African apartheid regime.

Tributes from around the world have been paid to Mr Mandela, who became the country's first black president and died on Thursday evening at the age of 95.

Mr Mandela was known to his countrymen as Madiba, but more than a century ago bishop Colenso was known to the people of Natal as Sobantu or Father of the People.

Colenso's father , who was also called John William, invested his capital into mineral works at Pentewan which he subsequently lost following a sea flood leaving his son with an uncertain future.

However, young Colenso pursued a post as a mathematician and faced his own major struggles, including debt and a fire in which most of his property was lost, before he managed to pay of his huge debt through the publication of mathematical books.

He then became a rector in Norfolk and in 1853 he was recruited by the Bishop of Cape Town, Robert Gray, to be the first bishop of Natal.

He became an outspoken advocate of the native Africans in Natal and Zululand against the colonial regime and later championed the Zulus cause against Boer oppression. After his death in 1883 he wife and daughter carried on his work.

Holy Trinity Church, St Austell, features a stained glass window dedicated to Colenso.

Reverend Mike Marshall said: "Many of us over the past 30 years have been inspired and moved by the life of "Mandiba" – Nelson Mandela.

"Our awareness of racial oppression in the scandal of apartheid and the pursuit of human (God-endowed) rights in the life of this man who strode his extraordinary 'Long-Walk to freedom' has been followed keenly by all of us who value justice.

"Indeed his journey from angry activist to peace-broker and champion of acceptance, forgiveness and reconciliation has inspired the world.

It may interest you to know that part of the trail was laid by a man from St Austell.

"It appears that the work he did as 'champion' eventually led to what became the ANC.

"I think Nelson Mandela and he would have got on very well I think even though Mr Mandela was Xhosa not Zulu."

Another of the town's churches has provided a book of condolences where townsfolk can leave their message for the iconic statesmen.

The book – made available by popular request – at St John's Methodist Church on Bodmin Road, will be in place until Christmas.

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