After more than five decades of marriage and four children, Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu and his wife, Leah, are as affectionate with each other as playful newlyweds.
One of SA’s most beloved couples, the Tutus celebrated their 57th wedding anniversary this month. And on Tuesday the pair marked the milestone publicly at the launch of the Ubuntu in the Home project, held at the City of Cape Town’s Civic Centre.
This a joint project launched by the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation and the SA Faith and Family Institute, and is aimed at teaching faith leaders how to deal with cases of domestic violence.
Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille presented the Tutus with a celebratory cake, which they fed to one another – just like newlyweds at their wedding reception.
Daughter Mpho Tutu said her parents’ marriage was a “partnership in the truest sense of the word”.
At the end of the event, the couple had the audience in stitches with their anecdotes.
Leah said she was “very tired” of hearing a specific question.
“People ask me: ‘Mrs Tutu, how does it feel to be married to such a famous man?’ What you should be asking is, ‘How did you make this man famous?’ “
Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and a stalwart of the anti-apartheid struggle, then took to the podium to ask whether the audience had noted that he was carrying his wife’s handbag as they entered the banqueting hall.
In true Tutu style, he used his trademark humour to illustrate the power dynamics of many relationships.
“Outside heaven, there is a big billboard. It says: ‘Stand here, all men who have been dominated by your wives.’ And there was a long queue.”
There was another billboard, men who had not been dominated by their wives to take their places in that line.
“There was just one little man in this queue. And St Peter asked him: ‘What are you doing standing here?’ He said, ‘I don’t know, my wife said I must come stand here’.”
Tutu praised his wife, saying she had been his pillar of support.
He told how the apartheid police would park their cars in front of their family home in Soweto.
“They would stand right in front of our bedroom and then about 2 o’clock in the morning, start flashing their lights.”
Tutu recalled how, while he was bishop of Johannesburg, Leah suffered because of their marriage.
“She was handcuffed to two men for an alleged traffic offence and paraded in the streets of Johannesburg, to show ‘what the wife of a bishop has done’.”
Tutu thanked Leah for her “incredible support” and paid “warm tribute to the mother of my children”.
One of the apartheid government ministers had said that Tutu talked too much.
Tutu turned to Leah for guidance, and her advice was simple.
“I asked her, quite seriously, ‘Do you think I must shut up?’
“And she said, ‘I’d much rather you were happy on Robben Island, than be outside because you were quiet’.”