Michael Lapsley

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Michael Lapsley

Michael Lapsley at USJ, March 2017.jpg
Michael Lapsley speaking at the Saint Joseph University in Beirut in 2017
Alan Michael Lapsley

(1949-06-02) 2 June 1949 (age 72)
New Zealand
CitizenshipSouth African
Known forSocial justice activism

Alan Michael Lapsley, SSM (born 2 June 1949) is a South African Anglican priest and social justice activist.

Personal life[edit]

Lapsley was born 2 June 1949 in New Zealand. He was ordained to the priesthood in Australia after training for ordination at St Michael's House, where he joined the religious order the Society of the Sacred Mission (SSM).[1]

In 1973 he arrived in Durban, South Africa, as an undergraduate student. Soon thereafter, during the height of apartheid repression, he became chaplain to students at both black and white universities in Durban. In 1976, he began to speak out on behalf of schoolchildren who were being shot, detained and tortured.

Social justice and anti-apartheid activism[edit]

This was the year of the Soweto Uprising, which sparked protests across the country. Fr Michael, as he is known, was taking a stand in his role as national chaplain to Anglican students, a position he held at the time.

In September 1976, he was expelled from the country. He went to live in Lesotho, where he continued his studies and became a member of the African National Congress and a chaplain to the organisation in exile. During this period he travelled the world, mobilising faith communities, in particular, to oppose apartheid and support the liberation struggle.

Letter bomb[edit]

After a police raid in Maseru in 1982 in which 42 people were killed, he moved to Zimbabwe. It was here that in 1990, three months after ANC leader Nelson Mandela's release from prison, he was sent a letter bomb by the Civil Cooperation Bureau, a covert outfit of the apartheid security forces. It was hidden inside two religious magazines. He lost both hands and the sight in one eye (left eye) in the blast, and was seriously burnt.[2]

On his return to South Africa in 1992 he helped to start the association Friends of Cuba and later became its first national president. He was awarded the Cuban Friendship Medal by the Cuban Council of State.

Post-apartheid work[edit]

In 1993, he became Chaplain of the Trauma Centre for Victims of Violence and Torture in Cape Town, which assisted the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). This work led to the establishment, in 1998, of the Institute for Healing of Memories (IHOM) in Cape Town. The IHOM aims to allow many more South Africans to tell their stories in workshops where they work through their trauma.

The IHOM is based in Cape Town, South Africa, but Fr Michael has worked in many other countries, in Africa and across the world. The organisation now works with groups including those affected by political violence; those affected and infected by HIV and AIDS; refugees and asylum seekers; prisoners and war veterans. The IHOM is also represented in the United States.

Lapsley is a graduate of the Australian College of Theology, the National University of Lesotho and the University of Zimbabwe. He has honorary doctorates from the Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa and Liverpool Hope University in the United Kingdom. He has been awarded the Queen's Service Medal by the Government of New Zealand for service to Southern African communities. He is also Honorary Consul for New Zealand in Cape Town.[citation needed]

He was the subject of the biographical work Priest and Partisan: A South African Journey (1996)[3] by his fellow South African priest and theologian Michael Worsnip, with a foreword by Nelson Mandela.

The Government of the Western Cape awarded him the Order of the Disa.[citation needed]

Nelson Mandela said of him, "Michael’s life represents a compelling metaphor: We read about a foreigner who came to our country and was transformed by what he saw of the injustices of apartheid. His life is part of the tapestry of many long journeys and struggles of our people[4] and "Michael Lapsley's life is part of the tapestry of the many long journeys and struggles of our people." [3]

Fr Michael is vice president of the South African Council of Churches.

International Network for Peace[edit]

For the fifth anniversary of 9/11 ( held on 8 September 2006), Lapsley joined more than 30 terror victims from all around the world and families of those killed in the 11 September attacks to create the International Network for Peace to promote effective and nonviolent solutions to terrorism.

Recent timeline[edit]

  1. March 2007: Speaker at an international conference in South Africa on prophetic witness, social development and HIV and AIDS, speech entitled Towards Effective Anglican Mission,
  2. April 2008: Awarded an honorary doctorate of theology from the University of KwaZulu Natal.
  3. May 2008: Conference in Belfast – keynote speaker on victim empowerment and the contribution to peace building on the theme Victims/survivors as agents of change.
  4. August 2008: Annual Diakonia award citation, Durban
  5. November 2008: Speaker at the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights event in Luxembourg, entitled Healing the aftermath of terror and tyranny: A survivor speaks.
  6. February 2009: keynote speaker at world conference for Chief of Military Chaplains, South Africa
  7. July 2010 Awarded doctorate of humane letters, Liverpool Hope University, Liverpool, UK
  8. September 2010: Speaker at the South African Council of Churches Conference The role of punitive justice in reconciling – Is this a christian concept?.
  9. May 2012: Awarded honorary doctorate at Virginia Theological Seminary, USA
  10. May 2012: USA launch of the memoir Redeeming the past – My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer.
  11. September 2012: South African launch of the memoir Redeeming the past – My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer.
  12. October 2012: Speaker at the Havel Symposium 2012 Courageous Citizenship: Redeeming the Past and Building the Future.
  13. October 2012: Speaker at United Theological Seminary, USA, Pain Knows No Boundaries: An Interfaith Journey of Healing and Hope.
  14. October 2012: Speaker at St. John's University (New York City), Pain Knows No Boundaries: An Interfaith Journey of Healing and Hope.
  15. 2013: First Prize from the Catholic Press Association of the USA - Biography category, for the memoir Redeeming the Past – My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer.
  16. 2013: Andrew Murray (minister) & Desmond Tutu Prize for the memoir Redeeming the Past – My Journey from Freedom Fighter to Healer.
  17. 8 November 2013: Delivered the closing sermon at the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches, in Busan, South Korea.
  18. During 2014: he was given a Living Heroes Award by the Program for Torture Victims in Los Angeles and also honoured by Middle Collegiate Church in New York City.
  19. November 2014: he was given a living legends award by the City of Johannesburg.
  20. January 2016: Public Peace Prize - Laureate 2016, Global Peace and Reconciliation Internationally Reputed Peacemaker.


  • Neutrality Or Co-option?: Anglican Church and State from 1964 Until the Independence of Zimbabwe. Mambo Press. 1986. ISBN 978-0-86922-407-6.
  • What Apartheid Has Done to All of Us, Black and White. American Committee on Africa. 1991.
  • Begegnungen mit Father Michael Lapsley SSM anläßlich des Jahresfestes des Nordelbischen Missionszentrums in Breklum vom 21. - 23. Juni 2002. Nordelbisches Missionszentrum. 2002.
  • "Confronting the Past and Creating the Future: The Redemptive Value of Truth Telling". Social Research. 65 (4): 741–758. Winter 1998. JSTOR 40971285.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Redeeming the Past has also been published in the Bosnian language, German, Sinhalese, Spanish, Japanese. In 2015 it will be published in Afrikaans, French and Tamil.


External links[edit]