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Bishop Desmond Tutu
Bishop Desmond Tutu Bishop Desmond Tutu


In the 1980s Archbishop Desmond Tutu (born 1931) became South Africa's most prominent opponent of apartheid, that country's system of racial discrimination South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu is a small man with great courage Though any kind of violence shocks him, he has personally stood up to several tormentors in South Africa's blood-spattered townships, once going so far as to save the life of a suspected impimpi, or police informer, from a fiery death inside a gasoline-doused tire In addition, he has piloted the Anglican Church into political waters despite strong warnings about "clerical meddling in government" from more than one government officer; spoken up for the African National Congress (ANC) through its several bannings; and held on to his own belief in ultimate interracial harmony, even though events around him have pointed in other directions Tutu was born on October 7, 1931, in Klerksdorp, Transvaal, South Africa Klerksdorp, Krugersdorp, and Ventersdorp--these small Transvaal mining towns were home to Desmond Tutu when he was a child At the heart of each town was an upper stratum of white farmers, teachers, and mine managers, plus a white middle class of artisans and storekeepers And on the outskirts were the slums known as townships, where black families lived in corrugated iron shanties or three-room concrete houses without sewage or electricity No place offered a way to burst through apartheid's steel ceiling, so almost all these black families were poor Desmond Tutu's parents were no exception.

His father was a sporadically employed school principal, while his mother, a domestic servant with no formal education, was a more reliable wage-earner Like other teens, Desmond earned his own spending money by caddying at the whites-only golf course or selling peanuts at the train station Desmond Tutu was a high school student in Sophiatown when he met Father Trevor Huddleston, an English parish priest who became his greatest role model A profoundly intelligent man, Huddleston strode through life bringing out the best in his poverty-stricken parishioners and encouraging them to stand up for themselves against oppression He was rarely at rest, yet somehow he found time to visit Desmond Tutu every week when tuberculosis forced a twenty-month interruption to his years at Western High School Huddleston taught him to adopt the daily prayer routine from which he has never wavered and even brought him the schoolbooks he needed to graduate on schedule in 1950 Young Tutu then opted for the Bantu Teachers' Training College rather than the medical school, which he would have preferred but could not afford At the end of 1954, he graduated, expecting to spend the rest of his life guiding high school students through English and Xhosa literature Government policy decided otherwise For half a dozen years, the Nationalists had been building a new regime in South Africa.

Carefully tailored by the Minister of Native Affairs Hendrik Frensch Verwoerd, the new order featured such guidelines as the Group Areas Act forbidding people of different races to live side by side; a tightened pass law requiring every black South African over the age of 16 to carry a travel/work permit, and a limit of 72 hours that blacks could stay in cities to look for work Verwoerd got around to altering black education in 1955, when Tutu was only one year into his career The government plan, according to Verwoerd, would produce a black population suited for the manual labor needed by the nation's mines and factories So black teachers would now be permitted to teach only a scaled-back vocational syllabus, for which they would receive proportionately scaled-back salaries Attempts to defy this ban, he added, would carry a heavy fine With an eye on the ultraconservative voter who would later raise him to the prime minister's seat, Verwoerd rammed his point home by removing the responsibility for black education from the provincial education departments and assuming it himself Resignations from black teachers came quickly Tutu himself quit in 1958 rather than submit to the indignity of what he termed "education for serfdom" The same year, noted Judith Bentley in Archbishop Tutu of South Africa, he entered St Peter's Theological College in Rosettenville, Johannesburg, with a fatalistic sense of destiny he later described as "being grabbed by God by the scruff of the neck in order to spread His word, whether it is convenient or not" He was ordained in December of 1960, at the end of a bitter year during which a pass-law protest by black protest groups had left the blood of 69 dead and 180 wounded soaking into the earth of a Transvaal township named Sharpeville.

The tragedy brought on a wave of jailings, bannings, and brutal interrogations that left middle-of-the-road blacks quaking with fear and sorely in need of faith As the newly-minted curate at St Alban's Church, Benoni, Tutu did not disappoint his own parishioners He filled them with hope in a better future, preaching with the blood-and-thunder style that quickly became his trademark St Alban's gave way to a church of his own, but Tutu was there for a very short time Verwoerd had now brought apartheid to the church, which therefore needed black academics to train black clergy Tutu's teaching experience, his two degrees, and his conscientiousness made him an ideal candidate for this duty, though his lack of a master's degree had to be remedied To fill this gap, his former seminary principal wrote a special note to the dean of King's College at London University The Tutu family--he had married Leah Normalizo Shenxane in 1955--set out for England in September of 1962 While in Britain, the family traveled wherever they pleased, lived where it suited them, and entered each place without looking for the entrance marked "blacks" They were warmly welcomed, first by the all-white St Alban's Church in Golders Green, where Tutu was a curate, and later by the Anglican congregation of St Mary the Virgin in Bletchingley, Surrey, where he was sent after his 1965 graduation from King's College.

Tutu's Bletchingley parishioners treated him at first with great respect, listening courteously to his sermons about interracial harmony and absorbing his warnings about the South African bulldozers which often demolished a flimsy township house in minutes But by the time he left in 1967, courtesy had become friendship on equal terms--an achievement that would have been rare at home Tutu found great changes when he returned to South Africa to fulfill his promise of training black clergy An economic boom and the 1966 murder of Verwoerd in the House of Assembly had increased support for the Nationalists Verwoerd's place was instantly filled by the former Minister of Justice, Balthazar Johannes Vorster, who had stepped up the forced relocation policy that segregated blacks in South Africa In line with Vorster's decree, the seminary had been moved to Alice, a Western Cape town also housing the newly-tribalized Fort Hare University Though Alice was far from his big-city roots, Tutu found a tranquil pleasure in teaching Greek and theology, sitting on education committees, and broadening his students' horizons with a taste of the black theology that was a recent offshoot of the American black consciousness movement He also took his turn preaching at the campus next door, where he did not hesitate to compare the lives of black South Africans to oppressed people in other parts of the world His words fell on fertile ground, for black consciousness had come to Fort Hare University with an impact that gave the students the courage to demand an end to inferior education Tutu's personal philosophy supported interracial dialogue rather than the students' staunch black separatism, but he loyally supported them as the campus exploded into strikes, arguments between demonstrators and the white rector, and finally sit-ins involving 500 of the university's 550 member student body.

Then he was forced to stand helplessly by as whistling police whips and snarling dogs drove black students out of the Fort Hare campus Vorster had sterilized Fort Hare Still, black consciousness spread, its message borne by the all-black South African Students' Organization, and its leader a charismatic former medical student named Steven Biko In 1972, after two years of teaching in Lesotho, an enclave lying within South Africa, Tutu was offered an associate directorship with the Britain-based Theological Education Fund (TEF), a twelve-year-old organization that had been formed to loosen the tie between Third World churches and their missionary founders by funding theological training for their clergy The TEF needed an experienced negotiator who could assess church conditions in different parts of Africa, and they found the highly educated and poised Reverend Tutu ideal for the post He enjoyed the work, expecting to complete the full five years specified in his contract But in early 1975 the elderly bishop of Johannesburg resigned, and Tutu was asked to replace his successor, a white dean As the dean of Johannesburg from 1975 to 1976, Tutu strove to integrate the area's congregation From the reticent brownstone exterior of St Mary's Cathedral, Johannesburg seemed impossibly far from the township Anglicans Tutu now tried to attract, but he succeeded in drawing the black population of Soweto closer by living there himself rather than in the official deanery in wealthy white Johannesburg Ignoring any white parishioners who preferred to leave his resolutely multiracial congregation, he involved the remaining members in his integrated choir and other groups.

He also found time to renew his ties with Biko's black consciousness group While Tutu was in Britain, Biko had been jailed, but his philosophy of "Black man, you're on your own!" had not been silenced, despite the bullyings of the security police Instead, it was bubbling with a rage that was beginning to alarm the nonviolent Tutu when he walked through the streets of Soweto By 1976 the fuse of black fury became dangerously short It began to burn down early in the year, after black education was hastily revised to provide a larger labor pool for a burgeoning economy Soweto students were unmoved by the absence of extra classrooms and the presence of unqualified new teachers, but they exploded into uncontrollable frenzy when they learned that English, their former medium of instruction, would now share honors with South Africa's other official language, the hated Afrikaans Rumblings against the "language of oppression," burst into outraged school boycotts by April In early May, Tutu wrote to the prime minister to warn him that great trouble was on the way, but his letter was dismissed as propaganda On June 16, 1976, the "language of oppression" met the language of fury via 15,000 Soweto schoolchildren The township exploded into swirling clouds of teargas, stones, bullets, and fire that killed more than 600 Sowetans and left burnt-out hulks where the schools had been.

The next month, Tutu was consecrated as bishop of Lesotho, and he did not return to South Africa until 1977, when he was asked to speak at a funeral that shocked the world The victim was black pride leader Steve Biko, who had died in custody Biko was borne to his grave by 15,000 mourners His coffin's elaborate carvings and velvet pall could not hide the fact that his killers--the police--had smashed in the back of his head Nor could Tutu's most fervent prayers stop the murder of two black policemen, representatives of the hated apartheid regime Biko's death was a turning point for Tutu The government had long ago made it clear that Church "meddling" in politics would not be tolerated, but Tutu had now come to the conclusion that there was no alternative if apartheid was to be conquered without bloodshed In 1978 he put his conviction into practice by accepting a position as general secretary of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), a ten-year-old organization with a decidedly political bent "Troublemaking" activities, in full swing when Tutu arrived, included backing of the newly assertive trade unions, protesting the forced removals of the three million dispossessed people who had lost their homes since 1960, and supporting the families of detainees Generous SACC grants to antiapartheid organizations like the South West African People's Organization and the Zambia-based ANC were likewise unpopular with the government.

A SACC affiliation with the World Council of Churches gave Tutu international media exposure Making the most of this opportunity, he used television talk shows to push for sanctions In 1979 he told a Danish television host that Denmark should not buy South African coal The South African government retaliated swiftly by revoking his passport; overseas engagements had to be hastily cancelled This same scenario was repeated more than once, boomeranging in South Africa's face in 1982, when Tutu was unable to fly to New York to accept an honorary doctorate in theology from Columbia University The government faced worldwide embarrassment when Columbia University president Michael Sovern broke a precedent for only the third time in his university's 244-year history, presenting Tutu's degree personally in Johannesburg The government found Tutu's work with the SACC even more irritating than his outspoken views on sanctions In 1981 Prime Minister P W Botha, Vorster's successor, charged him with financial irregularities, to which he added a charge of inciting political unrest.

He then appointed the Eloff Commission to probe the SACC Proceedings began in November Tutu kept calm, accepting without protest the state's triumphant revelation that the SACC's previous director had misappropriated some R250,000 (R stands for the "rand," which is South Africa's monetary unit) in funds, R14,000 of which he had given Tutu towards the purchase of a house (Tutu, who had thought this figure came from overseas donors, returned the money immediately) As expected, the state condemned SACC support of the ANC and other antiapartheid organizations and recommended a new law barring pleas for disinvestment in South Africa, but was otherwise unable to skewer the organization By 1984 Tutu was in the headlines again, this time as South Africa's second black Nobel Peace laureate His predecessor, 1961 winner Albert Luthuli, had been restricted to his remote Zululand village immediately on his return from Norway Tutu was luckier Television had become a South African staple, revealing the plight of black South Africa for all the world to see So instead of fading into obscurity as Luthuli had, he became a head-turner, creating increasing respect for the idea of economic sanctions against South Africa.

Tutu's feat was not greeted with universal joy There was silence from the South African government and sharp criticism in the Johannesburg Sunday Times from novelist Alan Paton, whose post-Holocaust novel Cry the Beloved Country had riveted attention on apartheid "I do not understand how you can put a man out of work for a high moral principle," wrote Paton, attacking Tutu's support of sanctions "It would go against my principles to put a man--and especially a black man--out of a job" More violent opposition in the form of a bomb scare met the new laureate on the night of the ceremony itself, when the banquet hall had to be evacuated for 90 minutes But bomb scares no longer unnerved Tutu "It .

tells you how desperate our enemies are," he remarked in an interview for Drum magazine In 1985 Tutu was elected bishop of Johannesburg His 300,000-strong diocese was not a peaceful one, for the townships were reaching the crescendo of another great antiapartheid uprising The trigger this time was the new South African constitution, which featured a parliamentary structure allowing for representation by the Indian and "colored" (mulatto, or mixed race) population groups, but no representation at all by blacks Black reaction was immediate and predictable Factories and mines were silenced by strikes, to which 200,000 students added their own protests Even Tutu commented bitterly that his several honorary doctorates gave him less power over his own future than any uneducated voter would have under the new constitution It had become an intolerable situation.

Taking his usual multiracial approach, Tutu invited US senator Edward Kennedy, a staunch antiapartheid supporter, to tour South Africa as an impartial witness But the visit was not a success, for Tutu had failed to consider the vehement black separatism of Steve Biko's supporters, now known as the Azanian People's Organization (AZAPO) Kennedy arrived in January of 1985, spent a night in Tutu's Soweto home, and toured the townships, which he pronounced "appalling" However, he was able to achieve little else Wherever Kennedy went, his footsteps were dogged by AZAPO supporters, whose shrieks of "white imperialism" and "trying to build support for his own presidential bid" drowned every word he said In the end, even a long-awaited antiapartheid speech in Soweto Cathedral was prudently cancelled AZAPO members were triumphant; Tutu was heartbroken At a time when black South African unity was vital, he had found more antiapartheid support overseas than at home In 1986 Tutu was elected archbishop of Cape Town, a position which also made him the titular head of the Anglican Church in South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland, and Lesotho As befitted the leader of almost 2 million Anglicans, he was enthroned in September of that year at a ceremony attended by more than 1,300 guests, among them Coretta Scott King, the widow of American civil rights martyr Martin Luther King, Jr.

Now South Africa's highest-ranking Anglican cleric, Tutu participated boldly in the defiance campaign that marked the 1989 elections Resigned to the mounting death toll, he led a march to a whites-only beach, joining supporters who were chased off with whips He was teargassed along with other demonstrators while on his way to a church in Cape Town's Guguletu township and was briefly arrested for protesting the capture of fellow clergymen The new state president of the Republic of South Africa, F W de Klerk, came to power in 1989 on the strength of his pledge to speed reforms and abolish apartheid Sophisticated, well-traveled, and a keen observer, Tutu was not dazzled by these campaign promises "Nine years ago, Pik Botha [then foreign minister] said .

that we are moving away from discrimination based on race," he told Maclean's magazine in 1989, "and here we are still moving away from it under a constitution that excludes 73 percent of the population" Unmoved by violence from both black and white right-wingers, F W de Klerk worked hand-in-hand with black politicians to dismantle apartheid as swiftly as possible At the end of 1993 came the announcement for which Tutu had worked and waited for so many years: democratic elections listing leaders from every color of South Africa's racial palette had been slated for April 27, 1994 Nelson Mandela won the election to become first black president of South Africa, ending three centuries of white rule Mandela pledged to work toward a reconciliation that would heal the scars of the former system of apartheid In his inaugural address, Mandela said, "We saw our country tear itself apart in terrible conflict.

The time for the healing of wounds has come Never, never again will this beautiful land experience the oppression of one by another" To lead the "healing of wounds," Mandela established a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate crimes committed under apartheid The commission scrutinized the political activities between 1960 and the date Mandela took office Mandela appointed Tutu chairman of the commission Tutu presided over the commission's hearings that began in 1996.

By the time the commission issued its final report in 1998, it had heard the testimony of 21,000 victims of apartheid About the commission's findings, Tutu said on many occasions that he was "appalled at the evil we have uncovered" Nevertheless, Tutu said, "People need the opportunity to tell their story In telling the story, there is a healing that happens Without forgiveness there is no future" Except for ongoing amnesty investigations, the commission ended its work on July 31, 1998 Speaking a decade after the commission began its work, Tutu explained the underlying logic of the commission's mandate for "restorative justice" in his Longford Lecture in 2004: "In the South African experience it was decided that we would have justice yes, but not retributive justice No, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process was an example of restorative justice In our case it was based on an African concept very difficult to render into English as there is no precise equivalent I refer to Ubuntu/botho.

the essence of being human We say a person is a person through other persons We are made for togetherness, to live in a delicate network of interdependence I would not know how to walk, talk, think, behave as a human person except by learning it all from other human beings For ubuntu .

the greatest good is communal harmony [T]he purpose of the penal process is to heal the breach, to restore good relationships and to redress the balance Thus it is that we set out to work for reconciliation between the victim and the perpetrator" Although full reconciliation in South Africa was predicted to need at least a generation to come to pass, Tutu gave examples of how such reconciliation has already occurred in South Africa and gave hope that it could occur elsewhere in the world In 1996 Tutu announced his retirement from his position as Archbishop of Cape Town.

He remained active, however, taking visiting professorships at universities and lecturing throughout the world With his wife, Tutu established the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in 1998 The Centre's mission was to foster peace and understanding throughout the world By 2004, the Centre had established a leadership academy to train people in Tutu's philosophies of peace Although still a fledgling organization, the Centre promises to continue fostering Tutu's legacy of moral leadership as he more fully embraces his retirement .

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