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Carping point: What we lost in The Arch, a man who taught us to dream

Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu and Bono during his book launch at St Georges Cathedral. Photo by Michael Walker

Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu and Bono during his book launch at St Georges Cathedral. Photo by Michael Walker

Published Dec 31, 2021

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Johannesburg - A little bit of all of us died this week. We might not have realised it, if only because the crystal-clear voice of a man who was physically small but a moral giant had been stilled in recent years.

Desmond Mpilo Tutu is known to most South Africans under the age of 40 at best as the face of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, another entry in the pages of fading history book, that is feverishly being rewritten by the desperate and the opportunists.

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He was so much more. He deserves so much more.

He spoke truth when it literally was dangerous to do so. He was vilified at the time for embarrassing South Africa internationally; there are those now who vilify him now for the way he tried to conduct the TRC and embarrass icons.

If there was any embarrassment to anyone; those who felt it, deserved it because they had brought it on themselves. The “Arch” lived his faith and convictions in a time when there was no social media to record it.

Unlike so many other leaders before, during and after, he was resolute – and he was brave. He gave succour to the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalised and scourged the backs of the many pharaohs and Pharisees who had their consciences warped by privilege, both inherited and won from the trough of the gravy train.

Most of all he was humble.

We have forgotten much of this in the last 27 years. We have forgotten how to be kind; we have forgotten how to be honest. Perhaps the biggest crime is that we have forgotten how to dream. Some of us have even dare to try to pervert his hope of a Rainbow Nation, as “rainbowism”, a pejorative that re-imagines him as a 21st century Uncle Tom hellbent on squandering the legacy he and Nelson Mandela and other leaders of their ilk sacrificed so much for to bequeath us.

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Much has been said, and even more written, this week. Thankfully almost all has been overwhelmingly kind and true as they ought to be. Some have even dared utter the hope that his death will somehow re-invigorate the nation building project, fulfilling the promise of the better life that Mandela et al promised, the new Jerusalem Tutu so dearly wanted to see created.

There’s no chance, because it is predicated on people putting their prejudices and their victimhood (real and imagined) aside. It’s doomed because it requires us to be honest, rather than wallowing in entitlement; both inherited and re-imagined that rests heavily on the shoulders of those who came after – many born frees, who knew neither the lash of the sjambok on their backs nor the boot of the oppressor upon their throats as Desmond Tutu did.

We have lost our conscience and our compass. If we are serious about commemorating the Arch, we should live our lives in a way that would be beyond his reproach. The first step is realising, profoundly and personally, what we lost this week.

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