Politics / 29 August 2012, 07:42am / Daneel Knoetze
Desmond Tutu has shunned former British prime minister Tony Blair by refusing to share a platform with him at a leadership summit in Joburg on Thursday.
The archbishop emeritus’s office wrote to the event organisers on Tuesday saying: “Ultimately, the archbishop is of the view that Mr Blair’s decision to support the United States’ military invasion of Iraq, on the basis of unproven allegations of the existence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, was morally indefensible.
“The Discovery Invest Leadership Summit has leadership as its theme. Morality and leadership are indivisible. In this context, it would be inappropriate and untenable for the archbishop to share a platform with Mr Blair.” It said the archbishop “greatly regrets inconveniencing and disappointing the organisers and participants of the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit”.
Discovery Invest said late on Tuesday that they were in the process of securing a suitable alternative for Tutu.
“The Discovery Invest Leadership Summit is a platform for local and international thought leaders to express diverse views and stimulate discourse. Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s contribution would have been invaluable and it is deeply regrettable that [he] will no longer participate in the Discovery Invest Leadership Summit. He is an esteemed global icon and his absence at the Summit is unfortunate,” read a statement from the organisers.
Tutu’s office said that he had spent “considerable time over the past few days wrestling with his conscience and taking counsel from trusted advisers”.
One of these advisers was Struggle compatriot and long-time friend Professor Farid Esack, head of the Department of Religion Studies at the University of Johannesburg.
“I am aware that the archbishop has been grappling with this issue for around two weeks. He approached me personally and asked what my take on the matter was.
“He also asked me to source opinions from larger groupings with which I am associated,” he said.
Esack, representing the views of Cosatu, SA Municipal Workers Union, Coalition for a Free Palestine (SA), and the pro-Palestinian lobby group Boycott, Divest, Sanction (BDS) SA, subsequently wrote a personal letter to the archbishop, in which he discouraged Tutu from “sharing a platform” with Blair.
“I did so because Blair has actively and repeatedly defended the (illegal) invasion of Iraq. To this day he remains unrepentant about it,” said Esack.
“I do want to add that the archbishop does not take these decisions lightly. I have known him for 25-odd years and throughout that time he has been a prophetic voice for me. No one should be under the impression that he is shooting from the hip, or that he is suddenly buckling under the pressure of a few organisations.”
Muhammed Desai, the co-ordinator of BDS SA, said he welcomed the “principled” position Tutu had taken.
“It falls perfectly in line with a range of other stances that he has taken in the past, from supporting a boycott of Israel, to his commitment for environmental justice. This proves that the Arch remains a beacon of integrity in the country,” he said.
Blair has come under fire this year for his continual defence of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. In May a protester verbally abused Blair while he was giving evidence at the Leveson inquiry in Britain.
A local NGO, the Society for the Protection of Our Constitution, has launched an application to the National Prosecuting Authority to issue a warrant for Blair’s arrest and the Al Jama-Ah political party has threatened to orchestrate a citizen’s arrest of the former prime minister.
The party has been granted permission by the City of Johannesburg to hold a demonstration at the Sandton Convention Centre on Thursday.
“The permit has been given for the same time slot that Blair will deliver a leadership lecture… It is hoped that one or more demonstrators will be able to make a citizen’s arrest on the day, put Tony Blair in jail and extradite him to the Hague for trial,” read a statement by Ganief Hendricks, the party’s leader.
A website (www.arrest-blair.org) has been pooling donations as a financial reward for the person who manages to arrest Blair.
The office of Tony Blair responded: “Obviously Tony Blair is sorry that the archbishop has decided to pull out now from an event that has been fixed for months and where he and the archbishop were never actually sharing a platform. As far as Iraq is concerned, they have always disagreed about removing Saddam by force – such disagreement is part of a healthy democracy.
“As for the morality of that decision, we have recently had both the memorial of the Halabja massacre where thousands of people were murdered in one day by Saddam’s use of chemical weapons and that of the Iran-Iraq war where casualties numbered up to a million including many killed by chemical weapons.
“So these decisions are never easy, morally or politically.”