We remember Desmond Tutu, trouble maker Numero Uno
Archbishop Desmond Tutu has died at the age of 90 years. It was a privilege to know the Arch, as he was called, among most of us. He was famous for his self-depreciating narratives. Like when he died and went to heaven, which is where he expected to be, but St. Peter said: “Oh no no. You must go to the other place, the warmer place.”
Two weeks later, there was great commotion at the gates of heaven. What’s the matter? “You sent Archbishop Tutu to us and he has been making so much trouble. I seek political asylum, please!”
There were a few of us Nigerians in the house. It was then he told us the story. It was his first trip to Nigeria and the planes were being flown by Nigerian pilots! Would they make it? Until they landed the planes like feathers! The prejudice of whites against black people had clung on to him without consciously ridding himself of such prejudice.
There was the time Jacob Zuma was seeking the highest office in the land. There were people who will live to regret it but at the time the only person who had the courage to call on J.G.Zuma to withdraw from the contest was the Arch. It was an occasion for telling truth to power. “You have been accused of raping the daughter of your colleague, comrade and friend. Yes, you were acquitted. You should still not contest the position. You have seven hundred and something accusations of bribery, corruption, money laundering and other accusations.”
But it was not only an occasion for telling truth to power but also one for telling power the truth. And that truth is that power is transitory, empty, nothing, here today, gone tomorrow. “So, Malema says he will die for you today? Watch what his mouth will be saying tomorrow. The Socialists are calling you their man today, please wait until tomorrow and listen to them tell you, you were never their man. When you lose power where would you go?”
Zuma didn’t listen to Tutu. He won the presidency of the country because the ANC made him president of the party. It was the end of the party. And who would foretell the end of ANC?
In shirtsleeve and open handed, he confessed that he could not vote for the ANC ever again. He must have encouraged thousands to reject outright the ANC. Whatever condition the ANC finds itself today must be the responsibility of Zuma and his nine years of rule. Unfortunately, we are never going to learn his contribution to state capture. It is an ongoing story. Perhaps sometime in the future, Zuma may offer full confession for full amnesty. Who knows? Or his accomplices, the Guptas might offer confession. Otherwise we shall never know whole story.
The story of Desmond Tutu is the story of all young boys of South Africa. They want education in order to be a doctor or a lawyer. Unfortunately their parents did not have the means. They did not have the spare funds to pay for such education. In the case of Desmond, his father was a teacher and the mother a domestic worker. The family moved once to where the mother could work at a school, perhaps a more secure work place.
What family limitations hinted at government policy put a stop. Bantu education said no black child would be educated beyond his or her means. And the government was the sole determinant of that means. Desmond entered a missionary school which gave him a religious education leading to work in the church. It was a brilliant opening for a young man with leadership potential. And he rose in the leadership cadre. The great achievement was when Tutu became the secretary-general of the World Council of Churches. The rest, as they say, is history.
What were the Arch’s philosophy? Very simple: non-violence. It was a difficult philosophy to live by given the practice of the enemy and the response of the ally, the ANC.
On one occasion, a crowd of township youth were bent on burning alive a man accused of being an impimpi, a spy. Tutu insisted his life be spared. He took off the tyre full of petrol which had been thrown round the man’s neck.
The personal risk of Desmond Tutu can only be imagined.
He made a point of insisting that he was not a politician. He campaigned for the release of Nelson Mandela so that negotiations could begin towards the end of that notorious apartheid system.
The South African government is the only government to set up a government bold enough on racism under the philosophy of apartheid, graciously translated as ‘separate development’. In a landmark legal decision ‘separate’ cannot be equal. Hendrix Verwoerd, first education minister and later prime minister, was the architect of the apartheid philosophy.
How did he die, because few of such as this man who created agony for other human beings no dey die well. “In April 1960, a deranged white farmer shot Verwoerd in an assassination attempt that failed. Six years later, Verwoerd was stabbed to death in the parliamentary chamber by a Temporary parliamentary messenger Demetrio Tsefendas, a Mozambique immigrant of mixed descent.”
Sometimes Desmond Tutu made the whole exercise look like some huge play before an audience of committed onlookers. His role in it, he said, was prescribed in it for him by his large nose and his short unusual name!!!
But it was a painful role that he carried. Nelson Mandela chose him to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. On the first day as the first person described how he was tortured by the apartheid agents, Desmond Tutu could not bear it. He broke down into tears.
It never happened again. He must have strengthened himself for the work he had taken on to do. But if we thought his work was done, his work was not done. Power and Truth don’t go together unless a man or woman of vision puts them together. And that was what Desmond Tutu was busy doing with the rest of his life, which was so long at 90 years and yet for us was so short. But ultimately God does not die. Tutu lives on.