Bishop Desmond Tutu, the black South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was named Anglican bishop of Johannesburg today, after a group of senior white clergymen failed in a bid to block his election.
Bishop Tutu, who was honored by the Nobel committee last month for his role as the moral spokesman for the black struggle against racial oppression in South Africa, will assume his new office early next year.
Friends said tonight that he would resign his present position as general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, which he has used as a platform to speak out against his country's segregationist system of apartheid and to call for increased international pressure on its white-minority government.
"We at the Council of Churches are shattered that we are to lose his outstanding leadership, but we are delighted for him," the council's acting general secretary, Dan Vaughan, said tonight.
The Anglican Church is the main faith among South Africa's English-speaking minority community. The position of bishop of Johannesburg is the second most senior in the church after that of the archbishop of Cape Town, who heads the church. No black person has held such high office in the church before.
English South Africans traditionally are opposed politically to the Dutch-descended Afrikaners who dominate the government, but their attitude toward apartheid often tends to be ambivalent.
This was reflected in a rift among the Anglican clergy over the choice of Tutu as successor to Bishop Timothy Bavin, the present prelate of Johannesburg who has decided to return to his native England.
According to reliable reports of the proceedings, an elective assembly of all the church's ministers in the Johannesburg diocese became deadlocked at a meeting Oct. 24, just one week after Tutu had been named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Although the meeting was held behind closed doors, reports circulated that the division was largely along racial lines, with black ministers supporting Tutu, while many of the whites opposed him because of his opposition to military conscription in South Africa and his support for the divestment of foreign funds in companies operating here.
The job of selecting a new prelate for South Africa's largest city was then turned over to a special synod of bishops, which began meeting yesterday at a remote retreat called Modderpoort in Orange Free State province.
The bishops were similarly divided, although less clearly along racial lines. Bavin was reported to be among those opposed to Tutu as his successor, but the archbishop of Cape Town, Phillip Russell, was among Tutu's supporters.
After two days of wrangling, it was announced late tonight that the special synod had elected Tutu, who is spending the fall semester as a guest lecturer at the General Theological Semninary in New York City. A member of his family who telephoned him said tonight that Tutu was pleased about the election and would accept the new job.