By Mea Lashbrooke
For further tributes to Reverend John Oliver see www.bottomroadsanctuary.co.za and the tributes on SAFCEI and A Rainbow for Father John.
Father John, resident of Zeekoevlei, has played a leadership role at the Princess Vlei Forum since its inception, gently but firmly guiding this diverse group of citizens. He seldom missed a meeting and he attended and contributed to every function – protest or hike, information session or cultural event, delegations to Officials and to Interfaith groups – during the recent years of campaigning to Save Princess Vlei. Father John responded “Yes” to every request.
The consistency that characterised Rev John Oliver was the result of a deep commitment and profound understanding of what was right and what was wrong. Our very own ‘green Reverend’ understood the crucial link between social and environmental justice.
Until the moment of his death in the early hours of Thursday July 4th 2013, Father John’s plea for a change of heart rang loud and clear. He ached to see this change grow amongst God’s people. It was this that informed his intense engagement with the complexities, discrepancies, injustices and endeavours for a better world. He never let up. His unceasing work at saving Princess Vlei from commercial development was only one of many vital areas to which he dedicated his skills throughout a long career of stewardship of people and planet.
Father John will no longer be seen paddling in the vleis he loved, hiking the hills, campaigning amongst the people with regard to cherishing the natural world, engaging with youngsters and the aged, students and intellectuals, politicians and people of faith on matters close to his heart. He understood the urgency of action in today’s world. He was a man of the people, he was a man of the environment; and his great desire was to connect the two.
In the words of Nikita January, a young woman who feels passionately about the need to preserve Princess Vlei, “Father John gave others the knowledge and understanding they needed to have the same peace he did.”
Mariette Daubenton of the Green Team, Christ Church Constantia, has written, “Somehow the rest of us must continue Father John’s work at Princess Vlei, as a memorial to John.”
The Princess Vlei Forum is documenting messages from those who came into contact with Father John through his work at Princess Vlei and who wish to send their thoughts on Father John and their condolences to his family. These can be sent to email@example.com. The material will be collated into one document for John’s wife Emma and their two children, Sarah and Joseph as a tribute to a man who has been widely loved and respected.
We at the Forum grieve with the family of Reverend John Oliver. We grieve with the people of South Africa who knew and loved him, and deeply regret this loss to nation.
Letter from Mariette Daubenton
On behalf of the Green Team at Christ Church Constantia and the Diocesan Environmental Group (DEG), representing the Cape Town Diocese of the Anglican Church, I am writing to express my sadness, shock and disbelief at the passing overnight, of Reverend John Oliver.
I met him at various DEG and SAFCEI functions, always with his trusted camera, in his skilled hands, at the ready. At a meeting at the Edith Stevens Wetland on the 21st April last year, John had been invited to address the gathering of representatives of Eco-congregations from around Cape Town. I remember him wandering in, relaxed, and although we had been a little dismayed at our low attendance figures - and how sad to waste John’s time on 25 individuals! - he was not at all put out, picked up his guitar and proceeded to accompany us as we rewrote words to “He’s got the whole world in His Hands”. By the time John had guided us towards the end of the song, we all felt inspired, regenerated, with a new vision around how we were going to explore ways of making meaningful changes in our immediate environments.
Eloquent and engaging, I have heard John speak on a number of occasions on the issues facing Princess Vlei. Not only was he passionate about protecting the vlei, he also spoke of the Forum’s plans with a deep reverence for God’s Creation and the threat we face to our own existence as humanity if we fail to bridge, at all levels, the gaps between ourselves and the environment that nurtures and sustains us.
My deepest condolences go to Emma and Joseph and Sarah. I cannot begin to imagine how deep their pain and confusion must be and I am praying that they are able to release John to God’s loving arms with trust and peace.
The Princess Vlei Forum has lost a skilled ambassador and a dedicated supporter, and we have lost a voice who could be heard making sense of the challenges facing humanity in social and environmental arenas.
May God grant him peace.