A man who Motivates Change
Arabella Phase 2
Nosy Rosy chats to Edwin Arrison at
Edwin Arrison is a priest and social entrepreneur by profession, but
an activist at heart. He refers to himself as a contemplative
activist, drawing his strength from his reflective side. He grew up
as a “kaalvoet klonkie” on the Cape Flats in Bonteheuwel and stayed
with his aunt and uncle who did not have children of their own. His
uncle, Lesley Slinger had a great influence on the young Edwin’s
life and his aunt made it clear from the very beginning that he had
to be involved in an organisation in the church. “You could not just
sit and warm the benches.”
Edwin became an altar server and the beautiful liturgical traditions
and the mentorship of Father Bob de Maar resulted in his studying
”It sort of grew on me that I should pursue the possibility of
becoming a priest. It was always an experience that I had to test –
It is better that you are uncertain - it is best if you go in with a
spirit of. “I want to test this.” The church had to decide –
thinking about it now, there was always this sense of marriage with
the church in my upbringing – the community had to decide, which is
the opposite of many people who are somewhat impatient with this
kind of guidance from the faith-community and who believe that they
do not need to have their calling tested. I was in the very
fortunate position that I was eventually selected by Archbishop Tutu
and he also ordained me.” The bishop has been a great influence in
his life and they continue to be in close contact to this very day.
Edwin is already planning to bring Archbishop Tutu’s biographer to
Hermanus in September this year as a fundraiser for the Overstrand
Learning Academy, of which he is the chairman.
Edwin was the only student at St Paul’s Theological College who in
his final year studied Greek. He had a thirst for more knowledge and
was motivated by the New Testament as originally written in Greek.
He achieved a distinction and uses this particular skill regularly
when he translates from Greek to English for his sermons or
After school he worked at Allied Publishing Company, and then he
trained as a church youth worker and worked in an ecumenical action
movement called Team.
As president of the Interchurch Youth group he was detained and
imprisoned in both 1985 for 66 days and in 1986 for 71 days. In 1985
he was arrested at his mother’s house and taken to Victor Verster
prison where he was held with people such as Dullah Omar, Trevor
Manuel and Ebrahim Rasool.
“Lots of people in top positions today were in that prison – I think
the biggest mistake that the apartheid government made was to keep
us in prison on Christmas Day in 1985. My mother and many others who
were not political activists became active against apartheid simply
because a so-called Christian government kept thousands of us in
prison on Christmas Day.”
Edwin explains that families became politically involved in the
eighties in a way that the government never predicted. ”Their theory
was that if you put these instigators into prison they will cease
with their activities - instead they actually mobilised the rest of
the population into action.”
Before starting his theological studies, Edwin was invited by the
Lutheran Church in Sweden to spend six months in Sweden and he was
able to visit other parts of Europe during that time as well –
Switzerland, Germany, France and Italy.
While studying theology in Grahamstown, Edwin was offered a
scholarship to study in Oxford in 1989 for a year. He was in Oxford
when Mandela was released, “Part of me wanted to be here but it was
good to witness the reaction of the people in Europe.”
He was ordained as a priest in 1992 and reflects on how his life has
intersected with that of Bishop Tutu. He was ordained as deacon by
the Bishop in Khayelitsha, thereafter he served as a priest at
Mitchells Plain until the elections in 1994.
He arrived in Bredasdorp on 1 May 1994 and remained there until
August 1996 whereafter he served as priest at St. Andrews in Hawston
In mid 2003 he was asked to be the chaplain of Hope Africa – a
social development arm of the church and that evolved into his
current position – amongst others, the chairperson of the Arabella
Community Trust. (ACT).
It is evident that Edwin is passionate about business projects with
a community element to it – his involvement with the Abalone village
project, the project around the fishing harbours, and now Arabella,
bears witness to this passion.
He is very excited that, as a result of Abalone Village negotiations
with the IDC, a Development Agency with a budget of an R18 million
grant (not a loan!) by the IDC to the Municipality over the next 5
years, will soon be established in the Overstrand.
Albert Nolan is a Roman Catholic priest from the Dominican order and
his published work Jesus before Christianity has been used by
most theological faculties in the country for the past twenty years.
He has recently published Jesus Today and Edwin cites Nolan as being
the most profound theologian in South Africa and admires him for his
humility and deep and profound thought.
Activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu is well known throughout the world
and Edwin holds him in the highest regard. “His humour has diffused
many a tense situation as he has the gift of saying the strangest
and funniest thing at exactly the right moment.” Edwin recalls him
saying to PW Botha, “I am your brother,” and we all know how
“unbrotherly” he reacted to that!
Arabella Phase 2
When Arabella Phase 2 was not approved - an Arabella Phase 2 action
group was formed to lobby for a significant stake for the
communities. From this process Edwin emerged as the natural leader.
Riaan Gous, Executive Director of Arabella South Africa and Chairman
of the Arabella Country Estate Home Owners Association and Edwin
were the principal negotiators in the Arabella Phase 2 negotiation
process that resulted in the formation of the Arabella Community
One of the people that helped them through this process was attorney
Mariki Chin. “She offered her services pro bono, and she was
absolutely brilliant,” says Edwin.
Mariki has a strong business background and could assist on several
technical issues, thereby speeding up the negotiation process,
resulting in the trust receiving 1% of all sales and resales and
they managed to procure 5% on the net profit of the entire project.
Family and future
Edwin is married to Desiree and they have two beautiful daughters,
Layla and Lara.
“Even though I no longer work full time for the Anglican church, I
am still a priest of that denomination and most Sundays I assist in
the Caledon parish.” Every alternate Monday he leads the service at
the St. Georges cathedral in Cape Town.
Edwin is a keen road-runner but also plans to play golf and he
enjoys reading works of fiction and non-fiction and listening to
jazz music. A favourite pastime is playing chess with his daughter
Layla and having friends over forms a big part of their social life.
Edwin enjoys nothing more than sitting around the fire with friends,
telling stories and making potjiekos. “We also love eating out and
whenever the opportunity arises, Desiree and I will go to the Baxter
Edwin is studying for his doctorate in ministry through the
University of the South in Sewanee in Tenessee. The BBBEE agreement
with Arabella is currently taking center stage and once that is
concluded, Edwin hopes to become more reflective and to finish
writing his doctorate which will focus on strategies the church
could pursue to alleviate and eradicate poverty.
A community of monks in Taize in France provides a lifeline for this
busy reverend. “Whenever I go through a difficult or complex
situation I ask them to keep me in prayer”.