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Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Monday, 21 January 2013

We want leaders who are inspiring, we want leaders who will remind us that we want a South Africa that is compassionate and gentle, a South Africa for all of its people.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu is truly one of South Africa’s most remarkable individuals. He will be remembered in history as one of the great leaders that shaped the nation and inspired the world. His legacy will be one of peace, reconciliation and forgiveness. He is one of South Africa’s wise elders and his wisdom has been a source of strength and guidance to South Africans, to leaders across Africa and to humanity.

One of Archbishop Tutu’s most remarkable contributions to South Africa was his leadership of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). The TRC was established after South Africa’s first democratic elections in 1994 to help the nation deal with the human rights abuses committed by both sides under apartheid. The TRC gave both victims and perpetrators of the struggle an opportunity to tell their stories, mourn their losses and seek forgiveness.

It is often said that having had two of history’s greatest visionaries - Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu - living at the same time and serving the same country, is what secured the South African miracle. A gift that is unlikely to be granted to South Africa or the world again.

Photo: Pep Bonet

Photo: Pep Bonet

Archbishop Tutu stands apart from many African leaders thanks to his outspokenness; his support of the downtrodden and the unfashionable; and his willingness to contest political decisions and confront leaders. He has refused to tow the party-line when African leaders have turned a blind eye to atrocities taking place beyond their borders.

The Archbishop is passionate about Zimbabwe – a country that was once the showpiece of Africa, a model of excellence and development, a food exporter with a well-educated population. The country has descended into catastrophe with crumbling infrastructure and human suffering due to misjudgment and greed, Archbishop Tutu feels that we have let down the people of Zimbabwe. African leaders had an opportunity to change the course of history, however they continued with their ‘quiet diplomacy’ which brought no results. Instead the situation escalated to the point where thousands have been forced to flee violence, outbreak of disease and poverty.

Zimbabwe is just one of many issues where Archbishop Tutu has been boldly outspoken. On AIDS in South Africa, he speaks of the tragedy that so many people have died unnecessarily due to misguided government policies and treatment not being available to the poor. However, the worst of human tragedies can often bring out the best of the human spirit – and so we have seen with HIV/AIDS in South Africa. The number of people committed to fighting the disease and raising awareness, through education, through sport, through providing healthcare and caring for orphans is heartwarming. It is a struggle beyond racial boundaries and it concerns all South Africans.

Equally so, he criticises the justice system. Despite South Africa’s flagship Constitution, dysfunctional institutions and corrupt law enforcers often result in criminals suffering no real consequences for their actions and innocent people becoming victims. Archbishop Tutu sees poverty as South Africa’s greatest enemy, as it robs individuals of their rights, their capacity to dream and their dignity. It requires urgent drastic measures.

Archbishop Tutu is the social conscience of South Africa. He laments at the short memory of mankind, as the circle of violence across the globe repeats itself. He remembers the passion with which South Africans fought against apartheid, calling for freedom and equality. But less than two decades later, South Africa is the scene of xenophobic attacks and violence across the country. Similarly, the violence in the West Bank and Gaza continues despite decades of loss and human rights abuses.

In the face of hardship, Archbishop Tutu continues to be a beacon of light in South Africa. His is an ever-present voice to which the whole world listens, a voice which world leaders cannot afford to ignore. His life has been one of servitude. He represents the thousands, the millions, who remain silenced - drowned by poverty and politics – his life has been a gift to the nation, for which the people of South Africa are truly thankful.

Who is your most remarkable South African?

Nelson Mandela and those extraordinary millions who are the anonymous ones, who were willing to accept some of us as their leaders. I think that in many ways, even Nelson Mandela, would say - what is a leader without these incredible people who agree to become followers?

What is your South African message to the world?

We belong together – we are the world, and we are family.

Archbishop Tutu shares one of his most striking memories from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission:

I think one of the most touching memories from the TRC was when Becky Savage told us her story. She was a white woman who was at a Christmas party in King William’s Town at a golf course with a number of her friends when one of the liberation movements attacked the venue with hand grenades and a number of people were killed.

Becky Savage was badly wounded, she spent considerable time in intensive care, and she says when she came out, she was still so badly wounded she could not bath herself, she could not clothe herself, she could not feed herself, and all of these things she had her children do for her. She still had a fair amount of shrapnel in her body, and she says when she is going through the security check point at an airport, all of the sirens go off.

She was quite amazing in that she said (having described all of this) of this experience that "it has enriched my life". When you think of what she has been through it was quite shattering. She then went on to say she would like to meet the person that was responsible – the perpetrator – in a spirit of forgiveness. She would like to forgive him. She refused to be embittered and angry. Then she went on to add that she hoped he would forgive her, which was mind blowing.

It was stories like these that made you realise that if we had not had people like that, our country would have been overwhelmed by an awful blood bath. Individuals with the capacity for goodness, the capacity to forgive.

Copies of the book "Remarkable South Africans" by Line Hadsbjerg are available via SA - the Good News.

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