ARCHBISHOP Desmond Tutu, lovingly known as “The Arch” had always been able to pull at the heartstrings of the world.
But, it was during his time as chairperson of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that the world got to see The Arch break down in tears while hearing the atrocities of apartheid.
It was a moment that no South African interested in the hearings would forget as this small statured, giant of a man put his head on his desk and sobbed.
His actions triggered tears throughout the room with journalists also wiping away tears as they jotted down notes.
It was reported that outside the room when the commission adjourned in East London’s city hall, Tutu told journalists, “I thought I was tough.”
“I thought I was going to survive, today ... I keep on thinking whether I am the right person for the truth commission,” he reportedly told the media.
During that morning session Tutu had heard the relatives of the Craddock Four recounting the events surrounding the abduction and murder of four leading Black civil rights activists in the Eastern Cape in 1985.
He was then charged with emotion by the harrowing testimony of Singqokwana Malgas, an elderly former ANC guerrilla crippled by police torture.
Malgas was a wheelchair-bound victim of 30 years’ of imprisonment, harassment and torture.
At that time, Tutu said the testimony was powerful on both days but perhaps that day “it all came too much at the same time and it was very intense”.
In his foreword to the TRC report, Tutu said the commission was driven by a dual responsibility.
He said it had to provide the space within which victims could share the story of their trauma with the nation, and it had to recognise the importance of the due process of law that ensures the rights of alleged perpetrators.
“It has been a gruelling job of work that has taken a physical, mental and psychological toll. We have borne a heavy burden as we have taken on to ourselves the anguish, the awfulness, and the sheer evil of it all,” Tutu wrote in his foreword to the commission’s report.
Former TRC commissioner Dumisa Ntsebeza recounted how when he would visit Tutu in his sixth-floor office in the same building they held the hearings, The Arch would first call him to pray before they started a conversation.
"Whenever I visited him ... he would first say “Let us pray my child’,” Ntsebeza said.
He said that Tutu always impressed him as a person who was highly spirited.
Speaking of their time at the TRC, Ntsebeza said the commission was a promotion of national unity and that during its 18-month period of investigation, he always thought it was a “miracle” that they were able to achieve as much as they did.