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Barney Pityana (1945 - )

The Order of the Baobab in

Barney Pityana (1945 - ) Awarded for:
His excellent contribution to a just and democratic South Africa and for the spiritual upliftment of the oppresses.

Profile of Barney Pityana

Nyameko Barney Pityana was born on 7 August 1945 in Uitenhage in the Eastern Cape. An exceptional child, the young Pityana earned the Andrew Smith Scholarship that enabled him to attend Lovedale, a progressive Scottish-run missionary school in Alice.

During his senior years at Lovedale, Pityana began to develop an interest in politics and joined the African National Congress Youth League. But it was also a period in which the relatively liberal ethos of Lovedale was being replaced by a conservative culture, through the introduction of Afrikaans-speaking teachers. In 1963, Pityana was expelled from Lovedale for forcefully articulating the inequities of Bantu education and the apartheid system.

After completing matric at Newell High School in New Brighton, Port Elizabeth, Pityana enrolled at the then University College of Fort Hare in 1966 where his political activism and commitment intensified. He became very involved in various progressive Christian organisations. He became a founder member of the University Christian Movement and later the South African Students' Organisation, both of which were eventually banned by the apartheid Government. In 1969, Pityana's leadership and mobilisation of students at Fort Hare culminated in his expulsion from the university.

His continued activism in the community soon attracted the attention of the State and between 1973 and 1978, Pityana was subjected to a series of detentions and banning orders. In 1978, exhausted after a year in detention, Pityana went into exile in England, together with his wife and child. By this time, he had already completed his BA and B Proc degrees through the University of South Africa (Unisa). He enrolled for further studies at King's College in London and obtained an Honours degree in 1981.

In the years that followed, he undertook training for the Anglican Ministry at Ripon Cuddesdon College in Oxford and also became ordained as an Anglican priest. He served as parish priest in Milton Keynes and Birmingham for several years. During this time, the struggle against apartheid was intensifying both inside the country and internationally. Pityana played a key role in mobilising support on the international front.

As director of the World Council of Churches' Programme to Combat Racism – a position he held between 1988 and 1992 – his activities proved decisive in the final dismantling of apartheid and the eventual agreement to enter into negotiations.

Pityana returned to South Africa in 1992 and joined the University of Cape Town from January 1993 to 1995.

In October 1995, Pityana was appointed as the chairperson of the South African Human Rights Commission. In June 1997, he was elected to the Africa Commission on Human and People's Rights at the Organisation of African Unity’s Assembly of Heads of State and Government in Harare.

Pityana obtained his PhD in Religious Studies from the University of Cape Town in 1995 and was admitted as an attorney of the High Court of South Africa in February 1996. He holds honorary degrees from Trinity College, Hartford (1996) and from the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina (1999). The Psychology Society of South Africa awarded him life membership in 2000. In 2001, he was awarded the Tribute Achievers Award for Leadership.

In 2002, he was appointed as a fellow of King's College London and in the same year he was given an honourable mention in the 2002 United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's Prize for Human Rights Education. Pityana became the first black vice-chancellor and principal of Unisa on 27 November 2001, a position he still holds today.

Throughout his life, Nyameko Barney Pityana has remained focused on the fight for human rights and the battle against racism. His life reflects a determined effort to end racism and injustice. Through his endeavours and example he has embodied an unshakeable commitment to build a free, non-racial and just society and world.