Cape Town - You don’t belong in this government, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has told Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel.
In front of a close group of friends and Struggle stalwarts in an intimate ceremony to honour the late Kader Asmal, an emotional Tutu pleaded with Manuel to tell his “boss” President Jacob Zuma that he would pray for him.
Tutu was speaking at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden at an unveiling of a bench and tree planting in memory of Asmal on Saturday.
Guests at the low-key event included the Asmal family, former ANC MP and minister Alec Erwin, Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille, anti-apartheid activists Amy Thornton, Moira Levy and Farieda Omar, and Guy Preston, who worked as Asmal’s adviser during his tenure as minister of both Water Affairs and Education, and Brendan McMahon, Irish ambassador to South Africa.
Tutu, sitting on a chair in the gardens, was reluctant to speak at first, according to a video of the event shown to the Cape Times on Tuesday.
He quietly paid tribute to Asmal but later grew animated and told the gathering what he had earlier whispered in Manuel’s ear.
“I said to Trevor, ‘You don’t belong in this government’.”
Speaking days before the ANC’s elective conference in Mangaung, in the wake of revelations of poor maths and literacy results in the Annual National Assessment and of the cost of Zuma’s Nkandla compound, Tutu said: “I’ve never been so close to tears. I can’t believe that this is true. That we are where we are. I mean, things are revealed and it’s as if someone said ‘And so what?’. We go on like nothing has happened. What the heck.”
Tutu said he often asked how it was possible that people could sit by as these things happened without taking action.
“What has happened to us? I mean, what has happened to us that we can just go on going on? Who in their right minds could have approved the expenditure of more than R200 million? And to do it in that area, where you have this nice place standing up and just around there the squalor and poverty. What is the matter with us?”
Tutu raised concerns about the state of education, the 30 percent matric pass rate, the failure to deliver textbooks to pupils in Limpopo and test results of just 13 percent for Grade 9 maths.
“Thirty percent. Thirty percent. And we sit here, and we are, ‘No it’s okay, 30 percent, those children have passed’. And then when we are assessed by the world we are surprised that we are right at the bottom. Thirteen percent. Our children can’t get even 13 percent in mathematics.”
Tutu, who retired from public life more than two years ago, turned to Manuel and pleaded with him to send a message to Zuma at the Mangaung conference, which begins on Sunday.
“Trevor, you tell your boss that this old man who said he was retired… there’s at least one thing that I can do which doesn’t need anybody’s permission.
“I am going to pray. You tell him that this old man is now going to pray like he prayed for the Nats.”
Tutu ended his impromptu plea by adding quietly: “Kader, Desmond Tutu promises that he is going to pray. Thank you for the gift that you gave to our country.”
Tutu, who was awarded the Unesco/Bilbao Human Rights Prize for his work as a champion of human rights this week, slumped back into the chair and could be seen cradling his head in his hands.
Earlier Manuel had addressed the gathering by reminding Asmal’s friends of their shared values which had brought them together in the fight against apartheid.
“If we don’t have those values, if we don’t fight for those values, we will flounder. The call on us is a call to those values we share so deeply.”