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Canon L John Collins (1905 - 1982)

The Order of the Companions of O.R. Tambo in

Canon L John Collins (1905 - 1982) Awarded for:
His excellent contribution to the struggle against apartheid through the Defence and Aid Fund (DAF) and the Canon Collins Educational Trust for Southern Africa (CCETSA) and his contribution to the campaign for nuclear disarmament.
Profile of Canon L John Collins

Canon L John Collins was born in 1905 and was educated at Cranbrook School, Kent, and at the University of Cambridge. He served as chaplain in the Royal Air Force during World War II, an experience that deeply affected him.

In 1946, Collins founded the organisation ‘Christian Action’ to work for reconciliation with Germany. He was appointed as a canon to St Paul’s Cathedral, London, in 1948, an office he held for 33 years. In 1951, Collins was one of the four founders of the charity ‘War on Want’, which fights global poverty. Collins became disturbed by the developing apartheid system in South Africa. In 1956, he committed Christian Action to raising funds for the defence of anti-apartheid activists accused of treason in South Africa, giving rise to the Defence and Aid Fund (DAF) for Southern Africa.

He was strongly opposed to the spread of nuclear weapons, and was one of many on the left in Britain who believed that it was unnecessary and wrong for Britain to own such weapons. Collins was one of the founders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in 1958. Collins remains one of the essential shapers of the world today. As a campaigner against apartheid and as a saviour and friend of so many figures whose work now helps to constitute the soul of South Africa – O R Tambo, Walter Sisulu, Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela – he became curiously obscure.

The biography, White Lies, is an exciting account of Anglican practical politics in the noble forms of Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, Dean Gonville ffrench-Beytagh, Archbishop Joost de Blank and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

His intelligence was beautifully matched by that of his wife Diana, his ’partner in protest’, as she described herself, and their brilliant cloak-and-dagger financial support for white South Africa’s victims continues to be one of the thrilling success stories of the late 20th century. No one who lived between the 1950s and the 1990s could have remained untouched by the huge moral issues of those decades. Collins secretly filtered millions of pounds into the country to pay for the defence of those who might otherwise have been executed.

When a young imam was murdered by the South African police, Collins held a memorial service in the crypt of St Paul’s – the first time the cathedral had honoured a Muslim. There were such incidents as the dramas of the Mandela trial, Soweto, the cricket tours, Sharpeville and Robben Island, but always in the context of 2 Amen Court, revealing Collins’s ’driven’ personality, and providing all kinds of insights into those who joined him in his crusade. It was a life full of acronyms, so many that a glossary has had to be provided. Those for the CND and the DAF stand out from all the rest.

The Canon Collins Educational Trust for Southern Africa is a charity founded in 1981. It was set up by the DAF for Southern Africa with Collins as its first chairperson. In the days of apartheid, it provided money to help South African and Namibian refugee students gain higher education in the United Kingdom and in independent African states. It now provides scholarships for students within South Africa and in other African countries.

Resolute in his belief in righteousness, the truth and morality, Canon John Collins made a material difference to the lives of many victims of apartheid.

Collins passed away in 1982.