Archbishop Desmond Tutu of Cape Town, South Africa, who has just died at the age of 90, had a sharp tongue that took on the powerful of the world who gave comfort to the apartheid oppressors of Tutu’s black South Africans.
President Ronald Reagan of the United States and Mrs Margaret Thatcher of Britain were some of the leaders he berated most often. He told them that in the face of oppression, taking even what was, at best, a “neutral position”, was tantamount to being on the side of the oppressor.
But Tutu had an impish sense of humour that enabled him to also tell jokes about – himself. One went like this: “Archbishop Desmond Tutu died and went to the gates of Heaven to seek admission. Peter denied him entrance and sent him down – to the warmer place. But within about a week, Peter heard a loud banging at the gates of Heaven.
“Who’s that?” Peter demanded to know. The answer came: “It’s me the devil! You sent that Archbishop Desmond Tutu to me, remember? Well, he’s caused so much trouble in my domain that I have come here to seek ‘political asylum’!”
HAHAHAHAHAHA! laughed Bishop Tutu and his audience.
Bishop Tutu, who had, earlier in his life, not been much impressed by a Christian religion whose officials and leaders often acted in silent collaboration with the racist rulers in apartheid South Africa, was highly impressed by the actions of one white cleric called Trevor Huddlestone.
Tutu and his mother were walking along the streets of Johannesburg one day when they met Father Trevor Huddlestone. Huddlestone took off his hat and smiled in greeting to Tutu’s mother and Tutu.
In a South Africa where black women were looked upon by whites as “inferior” beings fit to work only as “domestics”, Huddlestone’s show of respect to his mother moved Tutu greatly.
So although his own father was a Methodist, it was into the Anglican Church that Tutu eventually enlisted. He rose to the highest Anglican position in South Africa – Archbishop of Cape Town.
Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, about 100 miles south-west of Johannesburg, in 1931. Later on in life, when Tutu was hospitalised with tuberculosis, he was pleasantly surprised to find that one of his most regular visitors was the the same Anglican priest who had taken off his hat for Tutu’s mother – Father Trevor Huddlestone!
(By the way, Huddlestone similarly impressed many other young blacks. One of these was the musician, “Bro” Hugh Masekela. Huddlestone, familiar with Masekela’s musical talent, took the trouble of talking about him in New York to the greatest jazz trumpeter of the time, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong.
Satchmo was so impressed that he gave Huddlestone a trumpet as a present to Masekela! Just imagine the effect that horn had on the development of Masekela as a musician.)
In appreciation of Trevor Huddlestone’s doings, Tutu actually named a son, Trevor, after Huddlestone. Huddlestone in fact achieved great fame by publishing a fierce book – Naught For Your Comfort – one of the first books to tell the world, in detail, about the lurid horrors that apartheid represented – daily – to South Africa’s blacks.
I was privileged to meet Bishop Tutu on one occasion. It was at a humanitarian event – a vigil held at Trafalgar Square, in London, in 1995, for the Ogoni writer and activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, and eight other Ogoni environmental activists.
They were all murdered by the Nigerian military dictator, General Sani Abacha for protesting against the ruination of Ogoni lands and waterways, by Shell Oil Company.
Bishop Tutu was also one of the South African leaders (the other was ex-President Thabo Mbeki) whom President Nelson Mandela sent– in a humanitarian gesture – to see Abacha to plead for the release from prison of the late winner of the June 12, 1993 presidential election in Nigeria, Chief Moshood Abiola. Abacha made promises to both men to release Abiola. But he never fulfilled them.
Eventually, President Mandela was so infuriated by Abacha’s lack of humanitarian concern that he gave me an interview, published in the London Observer newspaper, in which he described Abacha as a “cruel dictator, who had set up a kangaroo court to hang environmental activists!”
When Archbishop Tutu was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1984, the citation said that:
QUOTE: The Prize was awarded to Desmond Tutu for his role as a unifying leader figure in the non-violent campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa…. The Nobel Peace Prize had been awarded to a South African once before, in 1960, when it was awarded to the former president of the African National Congress, [Chief] Albert Luthuli. The 1984 award should be seen as a renewed recognition of the courage and heroism shown by black South Africans in their use of peaceful methods in the struggle against apartheid. UNQUOTE
The citation added that it was the Nobel Prize Committee’s wish that the Prize awarded to Desmond Tutu should be regarded not only as a gesture of support to him and to the South African Council of Churches, of which he was leader, but also to all individuals and groups in South Africa who, with their concern for “human dignity, fraternity and democracy,” incited the admiration of the world.
Bishop Tutu’s proudest moment occurred when on 11 February 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and stayed with Bishop Tutu’s family in Cape Town, before making his way to Johannesburg.
Some South African activists blamed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, set up (under the chairmanship of Bishop Tutu) after the African National Congress won the first all-race general election of May 1994) for not “doing enough” to punish some of the worst murderers of the apartheid regime. Some of apartheid’s warriors killed thousands of blacks during the struggle for freedom, and many black South Africans feel that mere “confessions” and “expressions of regret” should not have gained exculpation (more or less) for such brutes.
Among the most brutal apartheid crimes were those by secret security forces personnel, who wantonly killed blacks but then camouflaged their murders, to a gullible world press, as so-called “black-on-black violence”.
Also resented was the fact that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission remitted to an ordinary court, the trial of a notorious white doctor (nicknamed “Dr Death”) who had specialised in developing drugs that would kill “only blacks”.
The trial of “Dr Death” (Dr Wouter Basson) was a mockery of justice, inasmuch as he was allowed to exercise the rights of normal defence, including pleading innocence on the technical ground that he acted”under orders. He is still practising medicine in South Africa.
Such political aberrations no doubt occurred because Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission was intoxicated by the euphoric atmosphere under which blacks were tasting power in South Africa for the first time.
That feeling was difficult to resist, given the white-owned media’s constant preaching that “forgiveness” had to colour everything in the new “Rainbow Nation”.
Whatever one thinks, one must remember that Archbishop That feeling jelled with Desmond Tutu’s belief that one must never allow oneself to “behave as one’s enemy would!”
By Cameron Duodu