What a courage. And for some speech gifts.
Head of the International Department, LO
There was a service in a church in Cape Town. The year was 1987 and services here were not like services I had brought with me back home in Norway.
Here in Cape Town, there was fiery talk about the poor, that blacks were entitled to respect, that God had meant that governments should listen to the people and had never meant that there should be a difference between whites and blacks.
Outside, apartheid prevailed. In here it was equality, freedom and love. Right outside the door, the police were waiting for us. In here I heard the most fiery, popular speech I had ever heard.
Desmond Mpilo Tutu spoke. He was also the one who walked in front of the church and confronted the police.
What a courage, I thought. And for some speech gifts.
But it was not long before we all realized that it was his heart that was greatest. And it was a heart that beat for the people.
For Desmond Tutu, worship services, speeches and appeals were one and the same.
For Desmond Tutu, the church was meant to be for the weakest, the most vulnerable.
For Desmond Tutu, apartheid and the oppression of human rights were the work of the devil, at least in violation of God’s will.
Few years before, in 1984, he had won the Peace Prize. A peace prize he had been nominated for several times. A peace prize given to a man for his deeds, but also to show the white South Africa that the world followed Tutus and the black people’s struggle for equal rights.
He had come a long way before winning the Peace Prize. Born in 1931. Moved to
Johannesburg as a child where he quickly encountered the apartheid regime’s segregation of the population.
Educated as a teacher, but withdrew in protest against an education system that divided students and school curricula by race. Then trained as a priest in his late 20s.
After the liberation leader Albert Luthuli received the Peace Prize in 1961, the brutal repression of the black majority in South Africa continued. The liberation movement ANC under Nelson Mandela responded by turning to armed struggle, but Tutu adhered to Luthuli’s principles of non-violent resistance to racism.
He nevertheless chose not to distance himself from the ANC’s armed struggle and appealed to the international community to adopt economic, cultural and political sanctions against the apartheid regime.
He had to pay dearly for it: with travel restrictions and attempts to undermine the regime. But the value of a religious leader who spoke out against the white apartheid rulers was enormous in a country where the apartheid system had used the Bible to defend the oppression of blacks.
Tutu became the first black bishop in South Africa from 1976 a unifying symbol in the fight against apartheid. That role became even clearer, both nationally and internationally, when in 1978 he was persuaded to take up the post of Secretary General of the South African Church Council.
With the Peace Prize in 1984, he became known to the whole world as a man of peace and as a defender of the oppressed both at home and abroad. And when the Truth Commission was to be established in South Africa to address gross abuses under apartheid and promote reconciliation, there was little doubt as to who should lead that commission.
10 years after I first met him, cardboard box after cardboard box with nominations of Tutu was stacked up along the walls of my own house in Johannesburg.
Tutu did not get his status and reputation because he was a priest. Nor because of the roles he took on, the tasks he performed, or because of the Peace Prize.
He gained hero and icon status solely because of the man he was and
the values he stood for. He had humor and talents so it held. He had the courage
the size of other liberation heroes and well so be it.
He did not fight with weapons, but with his words and convictions. And he had heart, morals and commitment big enough to convince.
As clear as he was in his speech against oppression, he was also in the appeals that we must forgive and reconcile with our former enemies and the same oppressors. But of course after the repression was over, he would have hastened to add. And only if the oppressor repented.
He became a world-class leader in South Africa. And he became a leader of African
format in the world, – of the kind they made before. He was the Peace Prize winner like never before
Who spoke the power in the middle of South Africa when he thought ANC too
under Mandela undermined democracy within the party or did not secure medicine for HIV-infected people.
Who told the world that former, now deceased, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe had become a caricature of an African dictator.
Who told African leaders that homosexuals are our brothers and sisters like everyone else.
Who condemned Israel for the occupation of Palestinian land and asked if Israel had forgotten its history.
Who was concerned about the prisoners at Guantanamo and about human rights violations in Burma.
Who thought the current South African president should resign.
He was the winner of the Peace Prize who never stopped caring. South Africa has lost one of its greatest. And in addition the last leader of the “old format”.
With Mandela gone and now Tutu, many are wondering who think back with a great longing. Because they no longer make such leaders. The world has lost a clear voice.
The voice of a man who was most concerned with the people. Who meant church
and religion should be mostly about the weak and vulnerable. A voice that spoke as
whether services, speeches and political appeals were one and the same.
Goodbye Desmond Mpilo Tutu.