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T Wolfram Kistner (1923 - )

The Order of the Baobab in

T Wolfram Kistner (1923 - ) Awarded for:
His excellent contribution to the fight for justice, equality and democracy in South Africa.

Profile of T Wolfram Kistner

Wolfram Kistner was born in February 1923 in Hermannsburg, KwaZulu-Natal, the son of German missionaries who had settled in South Africa.

He studied History at the University of Pretoria and then at Groningen University in the Netherlands. After earning his doctorate in History in 1948, he studied Theology at various universities in Germany. He was ordained as a minister in the Lutheran Church in 1952, a church he would serve in various capacities for all his life. After being abroad for quite some time while completing his higher education, he returned to the country of his birth.

On his return he worked for the church, seeing it as an effective medium with which to confront morally questionable matters in society. His involvement over the years was increasingly directed at addressing the problems of the majority of South Africans, both inside and outside the church.

Kistner worked for the Hermannsburg Lutheran Church from 1955 onwards and from 1965 to 1969 he served as general superintendent of the Hermannsburg Mission Society in South Africa. He then worked in Germany until his return in 1973, when he lectured briefly in Theology at the University of Natal in Pietermaritzburg.

The turning point in his life came with his appointment as director of the Division of Justice and Reconciliation of the South African Council of Churches (SACC) in January 1976. He held this position until 1988 and actively pursued his beliefs in a nonracial South Africa.

The SACC was a leading and fearless critic of the apartheid State and Kistner was at the head of an important area of the organisation's work. The anti-apartheid struggle was unfolding at a rapid pace during this period with the Soweto uprisings, other student protests in the 1980s, labour militancy, community-based struggles and the spread of general insurrection against apartheid. In this context, Kistner came to play an important role within the Christian communities of South Africa in furthering the struggle against apartheid.

Through the SACC, and steered by his personal principles and passion for fairness and justice, he was active in various groupings representing the dispossessed of the country. He had close ties with political prisoners and their families, and was engaged in all kinds of legal and practical means to ensure that justice would prevail in the country.

He worked tirelessly in the SACC and became the most prominent Lutheran theologian to condemn the apartheid system and to actively work against it through the vehicles created by the SACC. His activities attracted the attention of the apartheid State and he was detained in June 1986, imprisoned for a week, and banned for six months.

These experiences did not silence him, they only strengthened his resolve to continue his work against injustice and racism. He retired from the SACC in 1988 but continued to lead an active life, participating in the church and related organizations that could make a difference in South Africa.

Along with his long-standing colleague in the SACC, Dr Beyers Naude, he established the Ecumenical Advisory Bureau.

Wolfram Kistner's life is a remarkable story of the will of a religious scholar and church administrator who devoted his career to working to end racism and to see the creation of a democratic South Africa. His life is a model of persistent effort and devotion to lofty ideals with all its attendant sacrifices.

Kistner is married to Adelheid. They have four children.