By Arun Kumar Shrivastav
Anti-apartheid icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed away on December 26 at 90. “He was ready. He went to meet his God, ready and willing,” said his 61-year-old daughter Naomi Nontombi in a tribute to her father.
As a bishop of Johannesburg (1985-86) and Archbishop of Cape Town (1986-96), Tutu is expected to be deeply religious that he was truly. He would pray every morning for an hour and many times throughout the day during intervals between meetings and important works. People remember him praying even when he would drive.
He would religiously read the Bible every day and advise others to do the same. Archbishop Tutu would tell people that the Bible is a library of books; it needs to be read every day to understand the many layers of meaning it contains.
Yet, Tutu was not a fanatic hardliner. He proclaimed, “God is not a Christian. God accepts as pleasing those who live by the best lights available to them that they can discern. All truth, all sense of beauty, all awareness of goodness has one source, God, who is not confined to one place, time or people.”
In essence, Tutu embodied the spirit of Africa that believed in the timeless values of love and liberalism. But that didn’t prevent him from raising his voice against apartheid. And, when Arch spoke, his words pierced the hearts and ignited the souls of millions of people who lived in abject poverty and were oppressed by a white minority.
“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land,” is one of the most popular of Tutu’s quotes.
In these four lines, Tutu poignantly packs the dishonesty and breach of trust of the 9 per cent white population that ruled 78 per cent black majority and 90 per cent coloured population.
The white usurped control over 70 per cent of the land and their government used discrimination against the coloured people as a state policy. The black population had no access to education that led to skills or jobs. They were discriminated against and humiliated at every level.
Despite his deep faith in Church, Tutu took up the cause of the people and spoke against the white rule and its policy of discrimination, known as apartheid.
The battle against apartheid in South Africa was fought with courage and conviction that was typically African – and a giant one at that. It gave the world icons such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. Behind them rallied millions of young men and women who turned the war against apartheid into a new culture — what with songs, drums, dances, and violence that spread like a wildfire all across the world. Many accused Tutu of being a communist! That only reminds us today how the world was sharply divided along those lines.
In such a chaotic political mess when Nelson Mandela was in jail and his wife Winnie Mandela was leading a war against the white rule in all directions with her trademark ferocity, Desmond Tutu’s voice was that of sanity and balance. Decades later, people recognized the true contribution of Tutu as the “moral compass” of a political fight that could have turned into an endless saga of bloodshed and genocide had it not benefited from the presence of Tutu. In recognition of his contribution to South Africa’s struggle, Tutu was awarded the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize. In the government headed by Nelson Mandela, he served as the chair of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (1994-96).
But for Mahatma Gandhi, South Africa had not known non-violence as a weapon of protest that Tutu was using against the white rule. Tutu’s deep roots in theology had him convinced that the white needs to be reformed and not revenged. “Be nice to whites, they need you to rediscover their humanity,” Tutu said. He was the conscience keeper of a nation when its soul was wounded and bleeding.
Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama shared a special bond of friendship. As a political leader, Tutu was clear that he wanted a fair deal for his people but he would not instigate them to choose the path of violence. He knew violence is a double-edged sword and can hurt both ways.
“God is not upset that Gandhi was not a Christian, because God is not a Christian! All of God’s children and their different faiths help us to realize the immensity of God,” the greatness of Tutu is not lost on anyone. He will not drive his people into violence and anarchy. Instead, he will give them the moral courage to endure and fight on with peaceful means till the victory is achieved.
The City Hall in Cape Town where his body in the casket was kept for people to pay their last respect was lit up in purple, the colour Tutu preferred for his gowns. An interfaith service on Thursday saw African Singer Zolani Mahola emotionally performing “Paradise Road” of 1980 that virtually worked as the anti-apartheid anthem.
“Freedom is not a spectator sport it needs to be hands-on… Tata, we will pick up your baton,” Chery Carlous, a member of the ruling ANC, said at the event.
For all those who care for democracy and independence, here is a final message from him: The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. (IPA Service)