Rommel Roberts

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Rommel Roberts was born on December 2, 1949, in Durban, South Africa. He is a theologian, human rights activist, Director of the Hilltop Empowerment Centre, consultant, lecturer and author.

Life[change | change source]

Rommel Roberts grew up in Mafeking (today: Mahikeng, North-West Province, South Africa), where he was confronted with the effects of apartheid as a child.

His father was white, and his mother Maureen Roberts, a qualified nurse and the only medical specialist for the surrounding townships, was of Indian descent and thus classified as non-white according to the categories of apartheid, and so the family was exposed to diverse discrimination. Rommel grew up with seven siblings.

Rommel Roberts graduated from High School in Cape Town and then studied theology and philosophy at St. Joseph's Theological Institute near Pietermaritzburg.

After his studies he went back to Cape Town, and in the following years committed himself against apartheid working in various human rights groups and organising non-violent actions. Many years he worked alongside Bishop Tutu.

Rommel Roberts was married to Celeste Santos, also a human rights activist, and they had a son and a daughter. They were divorced later.

In the years after Nelson Mandela's release, Roberts was involved in various projects to build up democratic and economic structures as well as taking care of returning exiles. In 1994 he was called to Mafeking to prepare and monitor the first general free elections, also to resolve conflicts in the then ‘Homeland’ Bophuthatswana.

Since 1995 Roberts has been director of the Hilltop Empowerment Centre in the Eastern Cape. He lives there with his wife Robin, with whom he has been married since 2002. They organize numerous projects aimed at education issues and improving the living conditions of people in rural areas.

He is involved in consultancy work with South African municipalities and government departments as well as occasionally guest lecturing at universities, his topics being community development including IT literacy, communication and conflict resolution.

Rommel Roberts is still politically active today and criticises corruption and lack of services as well as the unequal living conditions in today's South Africa.

Anti-apartheid and political views[change | change source]

When Rommel Roberts came back to Cape Town after his studies in 1974 he was especially interested in working with children and young people. He came in contact with the Early Learning Centre (today Early Learning Resource Unit, ELRU[1], in Kewtown that was involved in caring for children and general community work.  Kewtown was a township near Cape Town where mainly coloured people lived[2]. So Rommel Roberts learned about the townships and informal settlements which emerged as a result of the apartheid government’s policy to evict and resettle black and coloured people. Roberts got deeply involved in supporting those people who often lived in poor housing conditions, sometimes only in shacks or provisional shelters. And even these dwellings were not secure as the government often destroyed whole townships, e.g. the township Modderdam in 1977[3]. Through his association with the South African Council of Churches, Rommel Roberts worked together with Bishop Desmond Tutu as his national development officer. Rommel Roberts´ tasks also included building up national and international support networks.

Roberts worked  in human rights groups organising campaigns against government oppression and cruel treatment. In the case of Modderdam, after legal interventions had failed, they organised the evacuation of about 10.000 people when their homes were demolished and people were threatened to be deported to the so-called ‘homelands’. The Apartheid policy was that Blacks were no real citizens of South Africa and had to live in remote so-called ‘homelands’ where there were no job opportunities. They could only live in South Africa temporarily, and in order to live in South Africa they had to have a ‘Pass’. The protest against these ‘Pass Laws’ was one of the key issues in the struggle against apartheid and has a long history. Together with others Roberts organised lots of campaigns, boycotts and protest marches. One of the famous actions was the Cathedral fast in the St. George’s Cathedral in Cape Town where people fasted for more than 20 days before Easter in 1982 and which resulted in the suspension of the Pass Laws.

Because of his activities against apartheid Roberts was in prison several times.

Roberts has always believed that real changes could only be brought about with non-violent means and so did not agree with the attitudes of ANC (African National Congress) and PAC (Pan Africanist Congress) in this point. During the 1980s, when the country became more and more insecure and violence increased, including the infamous practice of “necklacing” , Roberts organised several peace conferences together with Bishop Tutu where they tried to bring  together the various hostile factions  and find a solution to end the violence.

The Quaker Peace Centre[change | change source]

In 1974 Rommel Roberts joined the Quakers and has worked with Quakers since then. Mainly on his initiative the first Peace Centre in South Africa was founded in Cape Town in 1985, the Quaker Peace Centre[4] in whose administration he is still active today. They then felt that a great deal of work was required in terms of reconciliation and general peacemaking.

Rommel Roberts is now involved in a special Quaker Peace Centre initiative speaking truth to power through the exposure of leadership corruption in the promotion of arms deals.

Writings[change | change source]

  • Roberts, Rommel (2018). Seeds of Peace: Stories of Silent Heroes and Heroines in South Africa. ISBN 978-3-9524560-7-1.
  • Roberts, Rommel, Stimmen für die Freiheit. Geschichten von mutigen Menschen für ein neues Südafrika, 2. Aufl., Küsnacht: Digiboo, 2018. ISBN 978-3-9524560-4-0
  • Rommel Roberts, Wie wir für die Freiheit kämpften:Von stillen Heldinnen und Helden in Südafrika, Bern: Lokwort Verlag, 2014. ISBN 978-3-906786-52-0

References[change | change source]

  1. Heyde, Tracy van der. "Innovative pioneers of early learning". The M&G Online. Retrieved 2019-07-16.
  2. "Google Maps". Google Maps. Retrieved 2019-07-16.
  3. Roberts, Rommel 1949-, Rommel (2018). Seeds of peace : stories of silent heroes and heroines in South Africa (Revised and updated English edition, second edition ed.). Küsnacht. ISBN 978-3-9524560-7-1. OCLC 1097616552.CS1 maint: extra text (link)
  4. "Peace Centre, South Africa – UXOLO PEACE VREDE". Retrieved 2019-07-16.

Other websites[change | change source]