Saluting Desmond Tutu, an advocate of light during some of SA’s darkest times

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Oct 7, 2021


Happy birthday, Arch, there is no other person who challenges every wrongdoing quite like you did, writes Thembile Ndabeni.

History is not a bunch of lousy stories drafted by people drinking a cup of tea or a glass of beer.

But rather, it is something that unconsciously happens, beyond anybody’s control. No one knows the end. Though history cannot be changed, it contributes in changing itself. It has a stage and actors.

But the difference between actors in a movie and those of history is the role of the star in a movie is guaranteed: he or she won’t die. In history “the star” dies or becomes an ordinary person.

In the making of history, heroes do become villains. During the dark days of apartheid no one ever knew that Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu would be alive today.

But thank God he is still alive and will turn 90 years old today.

Tutu started to rise to prominence during apartheid, when the white regime butchered African schoolchildren marching peacefully against the use of Afrikaans as a medium of instruction.

The massacre on March 21, 1960, not only shocked the world, but also opened its eyes to the way the people of colour were treated by the racist white-supremacist regime.

That is what led to the declaration of apartheid as a “crime against humanity”. But the heartless human butchers from Pretoria were not ashamed and showed no remorse for their action.

It took the likes of Bishop Tutu, Winnie Mandela and Dr Nthato Motlana to stand in defence of the unarmed African children slaughtered by the long knives of the Pretoria criminals.

Tutu also saved now IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s life in the funeral service of PAC leader Robert Sobukwe. Instead of being remorseful, the apartheid regime escalated its repression and oppression.

That was the era of PW Botha,

Krokodil”, the most vile apartheid leader with hands dripping with the blood of African people. The era combined both repression and propaganda. As the Struggle escalated, so did repression and black-on-black violence.

Archbishop Tutu could not stay away from the fire that affected people.

One of the pillars in fighting against PW Botha’s heavy-handed apartheid regime was international solidarity. The Arch played a significant role in that sphere of the Struggle, calling for sanctions against the apartheid regime.

Despite an ideological feud resulting in the Black Consciousness Movement’s Azapo’s opposition to other people, the Arch and Reverend Allan Boesak were not deterred from inviting Senator Robert Kennedy on a “fact-finding” tour.

That was a continuation and consolidation of the Struggle – international solidarity.

The same Arch was not scared of a mob in 1985. He rescued a man from the clutches of the mob and spoke sharply against it. That was when people accused of being impimpis (traitors) were necklaced.

He tried to reconcile the two feuding ideologies, Black Consciousness and Chartists after the formation of their fronts, the National Forum (NF) and the United Democratic Front (UDF), respectively.

He, together with the likes of Reverend Frank Chikane, were at the forefront in the last step of the first pillar of our liberation Struggle, the mass mobilisation in 1989, the action that preceded the 1990 talks/negotiations.

Though a Christian, he challenged Israeli attacks on Palestine. He did not hide his discontent when the South African government denied the Dalai Lama a visa for the Nobel Summit.

He will remain a human being of integrity and no one can take that away. Happy birthday, Arch, there is no person who challenges every wrongdoing without bias like you did.

You are the most independent, outspoken human being born of flesh and blood. Enjoy your birthday, tata, and many more to come, God bless you!

* Ndabeni is a former history tutor at the University of the Western Cape and former educator at Bulumko Senior Secondary.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.