Farewell to Desmond Tutu, scourge of apartheid and symbol of human rights

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu, passed away this sunday At the age of 90, he earned the respect and love of millions of South Africans and around the world as a scourge of apartheid and a symbol of human rights.

When South Africans woke up on the morning of April 7, 2017 to protest against the dismissal from the respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan by then-President Jacob Zuma, Archbishop Tutu He left his retirement home in Hermanus to join the protests. At that time he was 86 years old and his health was fragile. But protest was in his blood. In his opinion, no government is legitimate if it does not represent all its people well.

He still had the sharpness of his speech when He said:

We will pray for the fall of a government that misrepresents us.

On the basis of the principles of ethical and moral integrity he had fought valiantly against the apartheid system and became an outspoken defender of human rights and defender of the oppressed.

But Archbishop Tutu He did not stop fighting for human rights once apartheid came to a formal end in 1994. He continued to criticize politicians who abused their power. It also joined various causes, such as HIV / AIDS, poverty, racism, homophobia and transphobia.

His fight for human rights was not limited to South Africa. Through its foundation for peace, which he launched in 2015, extended his vision of a peaceful world “in which everyone values ​​human dignity and our interconnectedness”.

Archbishop Tutu with the Dalai Lama at the Tibetan Children’s Village school in Dharamsala in 2015.
EFE-EPA/Sanjay Baid

He was also relentless in his support for the Dalai Lama, whom he considered his best friend. He condemned the South African government for denying the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader a visa to participate in the “Desmond Tutu International Peace Conference” in 2011.

Early years

Archbishop Tutu had humble origins. He was born on October 7, 1931, in Klerksdorp, in the North West province of South Africa, where his father, Zachariah, was the principal of a secondary school. His mother, Aletha Matlare, was a domestic worker.

One of the most influential figures in his early years was Father Trevor Huddleston, a staunch fighter against apartheid. Their friendship caused the young Tutu to be introduced into the Anglican Church.

After completing his education, he spent a short time teaching English and history at the Madibane High School in Soweto, and then at the Krugersdorp High School, west of Johannesburg, where his father was headmaster. There he met his future wife, Nomalizo Leah Shenxane.

Interesting is the fact that Tutu accepted a Catholic wedding ceremony, even though he was an Anglican. This ecumenical act at a very early stage in his life hints at his commitment to ecumenical work in later years.

He left teaching following the introduction of the “Bantu education” for blacks in 1953, a law that stated that education for the native African population was limited to producing unskilled labor force.

In 1955 he entered the church service as a subdeacon. He married that same year. In 1958 he enrolled in theology and, after completing his studies, was ordained a deacon of St. Mary’s Cathedral in Johannesburg in 1960, and became its first black dean in 1975.

In 1962 he moved to London to continue his theological training with funding from the World Council of Churches. He earned a master’s degree in theology and, after serving in various London parishes, returned to South Africa in 1966 To teach at Alice Federal Theological Seminary in the Eastern Cape.

One of the lesser known facts about his biography is that he had a special interest in the study of Islam. He would have liked to dedicate himself to it in his doctoral studies, but in the end it was not like that.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and his wife at the Cape Town Youth Health Festival in 2016.
EFE-EPA / Nic Bothma

The activities in which he was involved in the early 1970s laid the foundation for his political struggle against apartheid. Among them, teaching in Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland and later a London destination as Associate Director for Africa in the Theological Education Fund, and their exposure to the Black theology. He also visited many African countries in the early 1970s.

Finally, he returned to Johannesburg as dean and rector of St. Mary’s Anglican Parish in 1976.

Political activism

It was in St. Mary that Tutu first confronted then-apartheid Prime Minister John Vorster, to whom he wrote a letter in 1976 in which he denounced the deplorable state in which the black population had to live.

June 16 Soweto went up in flames, when black high school students protested against the forced use of Afrikaans as the language of instruction, and were gunned down by the apartheid police.

Bishop Tutu was caught up in the fighting. He made one of his most passionate and ardent speeches after death in prison from the leader of black consciousness, Steve Biko, in 1977.

Your role as Secretary General of the South African Council of Churches, and later as rector of the Church of St. Augustine in Orlando West, in Soweto, it led him to be an ardent critic of the most egregious aspects of apartheid. Among them, the forced expulsion of the black population from urban areas considered white.

An objective

With his growing political activism in the 1980s, Tutu became a target of the apartheid government and faced death threats.

In March 1980 his passport was withdrawn. After many protests and international interventions, two years later he was granted a “limited travel document” to travel abroad.

His work was recognized around the world and he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for being a unifying leader in the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.

He kept getting more awards. He was appointed Bishop of Johannesburg in 1984 and Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986. In the four years that followed, until the release of Nelson Mandela from 27 years in prison, the archbishop had to work hard. It involved campaigning for international pressure on apartheid through sanctions.

Archbishop Tutu received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from US President Obama in 2009.
EFE-EPA / Shawn Thew

Years of democracy

After 1994, he directed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Its main objective was to offer those who had committed human rights abuses – for or against apartheid – the opportunity to confess, offer a legal amnesty to those who deserved it and allow the perpetrators to make reparation to their victims.

Two great moments in his personal life took his theological vision beyond the confines of the Church. One of them was when his daughter Mpho declared that she was gay and the Church denied her same-sex marriage. Tutu proclaimed

If God, as they say, were homophobic, I would not worship that God.

The second was when he declared his preference for assisted death.

South Africa is fortunate to have had such a brave and courageous man as Desmond Tutu, who truly symbolized the idea of ​​the country as the “Rainbow nation” . South Africa will feel the loss of the moral leadership of this brave soldier of God for generations.

P. Pratap Kumar, Emeritus Professor, School of Religion, Philosophy and Classics, University of KwaZulu-Natal

This article was originally published on The Conversation. read the original.


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