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US anti-apartheid activist dies

2010-01-06 21:05

Johannesburg - United States anti-apartheid activist Bill Sutherland has died at the age of 91, Africa Action said on Wednesday.

"Bill was a remarkable person and a true pioneer committed to the liberation struggle in Africa and achieving an end to colonialism and global apartheid," the organisation's executive director Gerald LeMelle said in a statement.

"Africa Action is grounded in the history and purpose of his vision and through his legacy, we are committed to promoting human rights and working towards social, political and economic justice in Africa," he said.

Sutherland died on the night of January 2.

A private funeral will be held for his family this week, with a memorial service to be held later in the year, said Africa Action associate director of policy and communications Michael Stulman.

Objected WWII

He said Sutherland was raised in New Jersey, the son of a dentist and the youngest brother of Reiter Sutherland and Muriel Sutherland Snowden of Boston.

A life-long pacifist and liberation advocate, he became involved in civil rights and anti-war activities as a member of the Student Christian Movement in the 1930s.

He spent four years at Lewisburg Federal Correctional Facility in the 1940s as a conscientious objector to World War Two.

In the 1950s, he married playwright and Pan African cultural activist Efua Theodora, and became the headmaster of a rural secondary school in Ghana.

He left there in 1961 for Lebanon and Israel where he worked on founding the Peace Brigades International, and the Israeli labour organisation Histadrut.

Home 'a campground for exile'

Stylmans aid Sutherland settled in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1963, as a civil servant, supporting burgeoning independent governments and liberation movements and helping to develop the Pan African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa.

"His home... became a camping ground for liberation leaders in exile from Namibia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, South Africa and throughout the region," said Stulman.

In 1974, Sutherland joined the international staff of the Quaker-based American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) which pushed for the awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to the now Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu.

In 2003, the AFSC initiated an annual Bill Sutherland Institute, training Africa lobbyists and advocates in various policy issues and educational techniques.
Stulman said that in a message to Sutherland on his 90th birthday last year, Tutu noted that "the people of Africa owe Bill Sutherland a big thank you for his tireless support".

Bill Sutherland is survived by his partner Marilyn Meyer, his children Esi Sutherland-Addy, Ralph Sutherland, and Amowi Sutherland Phillips, and grandchildren in Accra, Ghana; Spokane, Washington; Lewiston, Maine; New Haven, Connecticut; and Brooklyn, New York.