NZ born Bishop John Osmers’ fight for justice recognised in South Africa
New Zealand born, The Right Reverend John Osmers, retired Anglican Bishop of Eastern Zambia, was one of three pioneers in the fight for justice in South Africa who was honoured by the Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba.
Osmers was born in Christchurch.
He was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of merit in 2007.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his wife Leah, the first President of Zambia, Kenneth Kaunda, and Osmers, received the Archbishop’s Award for Peace with Justice during separate presentations this month.
His citation recognises the distinction he has achieved “in multiple countries for multiple reasons” as a result of his “lifelong work as a faithful servant of God.”
The citation says that “In his native New Zealand, he is known for his staunch record in fighting against collaboration with apartheid South Africa.”
In 1979 Osmers with fellow New Zealand-born Anglican priest, Michael Lapsley, wrote to Bill Burnett, the archbishop of Cape Town, complaining about statements Burnett had made about the World Council of Churches financing of liberation movements in Southern Africa.
They also complained about the Anglican Church continuing to licence priests to serve as paid officers of the South Africa defence Force.
Later in the same year the South African authorities attempted to kill Lapsley, Osmers and the activist lawyer Phyllis Naidoo, with a bomb concealed in parcels containing the African National Congress (ANC) journalSechaba.
This left Osmers without his left hand, blown off in the blast.
Within months of this event both men were in New Zealand addressing the issue of the pending Springbok rugby tour.
They toured the country, gave media interviews and spoke at numerous rallies opposing the tour.
Over six feet tall, Osmers was imposing sight to see on a platform or in a pulpit waving his shorn off arm as he exposed the brutality of apartheid and its policies of racism.
Upon his return Osmers was expelled from Lesotho.
He moved to Botswana,where he again became a target of South African security forces.
In 1988 they sent a death squad to assassinate him.
Tipped off, he escaped to Zambia.
A strong supporter of the African National Congress, he argued that if the national military of a country could have official chaplains, why couldn’t the liberation movements?
He adopted a role as a chaplain to the ANC in Lusaka, where many of the exiled leadership were living and indeed became a confidant of many future leaders.
He was elected the first bishop of the new diocese of Eastern Zambia in 1995
He took on the job reluctantly resigned after 6 years to allow an indigenous African to assume the post.
Subsequently he directed Zambia’s Anglican seminary in Kitwe, retiring in 2011.
After that he was assistant bishop of Lusaka.
Most recently Osmers has taken up the cause of Rwandan refugees,
About John Osmers
Osmers was born in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1934
He was brought up in a vicarage in Sydenham.
After completing his schooling in New Zealand Osmers travelled and studied.
While in England he decided to become an Anglican priest.
He attended a seminary in England and was ordained in 1961.
Trevor Huddleston encouraged him to join the Diocese of Lesotho in Southern Africa.
It should be no surprise to those in New Zealand who know Bishop John Osmers that he should now be recognised by the Government of South Africa as one of those intrepid people of the Anglican Church in South Africa who, recognising the problems of apartheid, threw in their lot with those opposing the regime of Dr. Verwoerd and his government, in order to seek a better life for native black South Africans and others of coloures races working in Africa at the time.
Fr. John lost his arm in the conflict and – together with Fr. Michael Lapsley, SSM, another Anglican priest, also born in New Zealand and who lost limbs and an eye as a result of a parcel bomb sent to him by agents of the S.A. Government Defence Force – helped in the struggle against Apartheid until they had to move to other African countries to continue their mission.
Having know Michael Lapsley, as an Auckland schoolboy in the Auckland parish of St.Paul’s Symonds Street in the late 1960s and early 1970s, one was struck by the piety and spirituality of this youngster, whose life was already dedicated to the thought of a priestly vocation – which he began through joining the Anglican Society of the Sacred Mission in Australia. Fr. Michael has toured the world – including visits to New Zealand, in pursuit of his work as an advocate of Peace and Reconciliation through the Church.
These 2 New Zealanders have both been honoured by foreign governments for their work of reconcilation, and are a credit to our country, as the root and source of their separate vocations in the Church.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand