Obituary: Hannah Stanton

Randolph Vigne
Sunday 23 October 2011 02:20

Hannah Margaret Stanton, social worker and theologian: born Teddington, Middlesex 30 November 1913; Warden, Temelong, Pretoria 1956-60; Warden, Mary Stuart House, Makerere University, Uganda 1962-70; died Esher, Surrey 9 December 1993.

HANNAH STANTON went out to visit her brother, Fr Tom Stanton CR, in South Africa in 1956, scarcely aware of the awakening conflict there over the apartheid policy that Dr Verwoerd was tightening day by day. But her study at University College London, the London School of Economics (social science) and Oxford University (theology), combined with work for Quaker Service in the displaced persons' camps of Europe in 1947-48 and a career as a hospital almoner, had equipped her well for the task awaiting her.

She was slow to accept the wardenship of the Tumelong Anglican mission in Lady Selborne, then a mixed black township on the edge of Pretoria. Yet her deep Christian commitment gave her work wings and Tumelong and the offshoots she started throve. Under Verwoerd's Group Areas their days were numbered, making the work the more urgent.

These were the years when the campaign against apartheid came rapidly to the boil, from the Treason Trial to the Sharpeville shootings and the emergency that followed. Hannah Stanton's own role was marginal - letters to the press, membership of the non-racial Liberal Party, and a brief meeting with the ANC President, Chief Luthuli. Then at 3.15am on 30 March 1960 she was taken from the mission house and held in Pretoria gaol. The Security Police could not have made an arrest better calculated to arouse public opinion round the world. Parliamentary questions, diplomatic scurryings and protests followed.

Her own account of nearly two months in prison (Go Well, Stay Well, 1961) is free of heroics or self-pity. Amazement - 'I lay on my bed and thought. In prison] Arrested? Me]' - was followed by resolution and refusal of the 'deal' the High Commissioner, John Maud, brought her; freedom if she agreed to leave the country immediately. Her cell-mate, Helen Joseph, won her over to the ANC cause. Verwoerd deported her anyway in mid-May and in England she became a great asset to the anti-apartheid campaign and Canon John Collins's Defence and Aid work. The imprisonment of one such as Hannah Stanton, Christian, unpolitical, a vivid personality, beautiful and a gentlewoman, worked against both black and white racism. In her modest way, she would not have asked for more. Yet she gave so much more, at Makerere University, in Uganda, teaching theology and caring for students and as secretary of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, as dedicated social worker and lay reader.

After a brutal armed police raid in Lady Selborne in 1957, she wrote: 'From that moment onwards I was committed to the African cause.' But her wider commitment was to people and their problems everywhere.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments