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Inspiring Lives

Character Virtues


Teachers' Notes



Inspiring Christian Lives

John Bradburne, 1921-1979

John Bradburne

One of the only two white men left in Mutoko, a war torn part of Rhodesia, is found shot dead. It appears he had been dragged out of the leper colony he was ministering to and shot in the back of the head. Who was this man, and why had he been shot? What was so inspiring about his life?

The dead man was the Englishman John Bradurne, born in 1921 into a well connected political and artistic family. His life had been a restless quest for God. He had served with the Ghurkhas in World War II, drifted through forestry work and school teaching, until he was received into the Roman Catholic Church in 1947. He tried to become a monk (twice) but could not settle, and drifted from job to job until he arrived in Rhodesia. One day in 1969, almost a decade after Bradburne's arrival in Africa, his friend Heather Benoy, who used to play the guitar to his long recorder, suggested they go to see the leper settlement at Mutemwa, about whose poor condition she had heard. They arrived to find a scene of dereliction. The lepers were dirty and hungry, the roofs of their tiny huts falling in. "I'm staying," said Bradburne, and being him he meant it literally - that he would stop there and then, and for good.

John Bradburne became the warden of the settlement, and gave the lepers the care they had never had before. He improved their hygiene and housing, driving away the rats which used to creep in and gnaw their insensate limbs. He bathed them himself, cut the nails of those who had fingers and toes, fed them, and cared for them in sickness. He knew them all and wrote a poem about each one of them (there were more than 80). With his encouragement, a small round church was built at Mutemwa, where he taught Gregorian plain chant to the lepers. When they lay dying, he read them the Gospel.

John's spontaneity and generosity in helping others incited the suspicion of others, particularly the local authorities. Amongst other things, he infuriated the authorities by refusing to put numbers around the necks of the lepers, insisting that they were people with names, not livestock. They expelled him from the settlement, but he would not go away, finding instead refuge in a nearby hut. At midnight on 2 September, about ten youths came to John Bradburne's hut. They were "mujibhas", not full-blooded guerrillas, but the local messengers, the eyes and ears of Robert Mugabe's soldiers. They were probably acting on a tip-off from a worker at Mutemwa who hated Bradburne because he had reprimanded him for stealing the lepers' rations, and so denounced him falsely as a Rhodesian spy. The guerrillas were in an uncomfortable position. They had been inundated with local reports that their prisoner was a good man, and they were angry with the mujibhas for kidnapping him, but they were nervous of taking him back to Mutemwa now that he had seen so much. They interrogated him. He seemed quite unconcerned, and after about ten minutes he knelt and prayed, which infuriated the guerrilla commander. The guerrillas set off with John Bradburne and made for the main road. Just before they reached it, in the early hours of Wednesday morning, the security commander ordered Bradburne to walk a few places ahead and then stop and face him. He did so, and fell on his knees and prayed for about three minutes, again showing no sign of fear. Then he rose to his feet, and as he did so, the commander shot him. His killer is now a businessman in Zimbabwe.


Find out what was alleged to have happened at John Bradburne's funeral. Compare and contrast his life with the life of St Francis of Assisi.