Cape Town - Many gave their lives, others were harassed and persecuted during the Struggle, but what was happening in South Africa today did not reflect the price paid for freedom, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu said on Monday night.
Tutu was keynote speaker at the launch of activist and priest Michael Lapsley’s book Redeeming the Past at the District Six Museum’s Homecoming Centre where he said the price for the freedom people enjoyed today was high, but it was questionable whether this was appreciated and treasured.
“If we [do], how can we allow such things to besmirch our freedom?” Tutu asked, saying it was shocking that children were still being taught under trees, textbooks in Limpopo were found dumped without anyone being held accountable, and thousands of families went to bed hungry every night.
“Is this the kind of freedom people were tortured and people were maimed for?”
Tutu said there had been a time when people were respected and listened to, but this had changed.
Eighteen years into democracy, Tutu told the meeting, thousands of people lived in squalor while public servants travelled in expensive cars and were paid handsomely just for attending meetings.
“Why the heck? Why the heck did we have this Struggle? What the heck was it for?” Tutu asked.
“Eighteen years I’ve been begging. Let us oldies go to our grave smiling. Do we remember the cost of freedom? Do we really?”
Tutu said the shooting at Marikana reminded him of events under apartheid.
“In 2012? In a democracy? In a new South Africa?
“Have we forgotten so soon? he asked.
Tutu saluted Lapsley for his contribution to freedom and said he had shown how forgiveness and reconciliation trumped retribution.
Using Lapsley as an example, Tutu said SA could evolve into a country which people had made huge sacrifices for.
“We have wonderful people. Please, please, please do not let this price that had been paid be in vain,” Tutu said.
Before he spoke, Lapsley’s account of a letter bomb attack on him in Zimbabwe in 1990 was read to the audience.
He lost both hands, sight in one eye and was seriously injured in the attack which ripped apart his flat.
Lapsley said the book reflected his life journey as well as voices of people who spoke about their pain under apartheid.
Before Marikana there had been signs that SA was a deeply divided country, Lapsley said, citing the re-emergence of necklacing as an example.
“We need to urgently have a national conversation about our woundedness.
“To do so we need a new language – not one of the head, but one of the heart.”
He contended that a nation that had the world’s greatest income inequality could never be at peace with itself and that unfettered corruption and greed had to stop.
Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille praised Lapsley for having used his faith to oppose apartheid.
His book presented a blueprint for healing, she said.
“We need more of our surviving stalwarts in the Struggle for democracy to share their story,” she said.