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The ANC’s treatment of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu shows just how arrogant its leadership has become, says Max du Preez.
Johannesburg - The national and international mourning and reflection following Nelson Mandela’s death were more profound than I had expected, and the deeply moving funeral service in Qunu cancelled out all mistakes and slip-ups of the week before.
I managed to overcome my irritation at the attempts of the ANC leadership to turn the memorial service and funeral into ANC rather than national and international events. But the treatment given to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu was unforgivable and another demonstration of the unbelievable arrogance of the present ANC leaders.
Now that Mandela has been buried, analysts and historians will start dissecting his role in our liberation more earnestly – and the role of the ANC, the armed struggle, the international anti-apartheid movement and that of the last apartheid president, FW de Klerk.
When we consider this history, the strong vision and the brave, persuasive leadership of Mandela will no doubt get their place. De Klerk will hopefully get recognition for grasping the zeitgeist when he took over as president and for selling negotiation politics to his constituency and security forces.
But I hope the role of the internal resistance against apartheid and white minority rule during the 1980s, that of the United Democratic Front (UDF), will eventually get more recognition.
From the front seat journalism afforded me from the mid-1970s right through to the present, my view is that without the UDF’s campaigns and pressure and without its strong moral leadership, the apartheid government could well have thought they had everything under control and could sort out the country’s problems at a later time.
This would have meant much deeper damage to our society, many more deaths and much more polarisation.
The UDF was a mass movement in the true sense of the word that brought a unity between activists of all ethnic groupings never seen before or since. State harassment, incarceration and even torture did not deter them.
The UDF did not have just one leader, it had many. Among the most prominent were Allan Boesak, Popo Molefe, Moulana Farid Esack, Jay Naidoo, Victoria Mxenge, Terror Lekota, Trevor Manuel, Frank Chikane and Albertina Sisulu. But the UDF wouldn’t have been the same without Tutu. He is a paragon of integrity and moral courage.
However hard they tried, white South Africans and the apartheid establishment could not ignore his voice, which was heard loud and clear, resulting in the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. His vocal support for sanctions and boycotts had a major impact and for a few years made him enemy number one in the eyes of most white South Africans.
If you’re too young to remember, please google two events in his life to give you an idea of what kind of a man Tutu was and what impact he had: July 10, 1985, when he risked his own life to save a man suspected of being an apartheid collaborator from being necklaced by an angry crowd in Duduza township; and September 13, 1989, when he led the People’s Power march which helped unlock the events that followed.
On February 11, 1990, the day he was released, Mandela chose to spend the night at Tutu’s house in Cape Town. The two were kindred spirits.
When South Africa had its Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) from 1996 onwards, there was no doubt in anybody’s mind that the only candidate to head this process was Tutu.
And it was in large part due to his moral standing, unimpeachable integrity, compassion and engaging personality that the TRC was a success.
It would have been so easy for Tutu to bask in the admiration of the nation and become just another sycophant of the ANC after 1994. But he felt compelled to speak up against the excesses and failures of the new government.
When he stood up to the government of PW Botha, he was harassed and insulted. When he stood up to the ANC government, he was insulted and ostracised.
Tutu should have been a main speaker at the Mandela memorial, not just an afterthought when most people had left the stadium. He should have been a guest of honour and speaker at the funeral days later, but his presence wasn’t even acknowledged – unlike Oprah Winfrey, Richard Branson, Jesse Jackson and actor Idris Elba.
When it was reported that he might not attend the funeral because he felt unwelcome, petty ANC apparatchiks made all kinds of snide remarks, even saying no one was invited, while we know the list of people allowed in was tightly controlled. They treated him as just another citizen rather than a giant from our past.
This was pure arrogance and pettiness. What a shame on such a great day.
* Max du Preez is an author and columnist.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers