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Date: 2024-05-21 Page is: DBtxt003.php txt00021436

Remembering Desmond Tutu’s Hope ... The archbishop was a consistent voice for nonviolent social change, campaigning against apartheid, advocating for gay rights, and speaking out against the Iraq War.

Desmond Tutu leads a procession of people. ... Photograph by Eric Miller / Panos Pictures / Redux

Original article:
For me, the 'transitioning' of Archbishop Desmond Tutu has stimulated a lot of old memories, hopes and disappointments. He is someone who has been on the right side of many important issues for all of his life.
I learned something about South Africa as a schoolboy in England in the 1950s. When I went up to Cambridge in 1958, one of my college contemporaries was the son of the Bishop Ambrose Reeves, the Bishop of Johannesburg in South Africa. We played sports together. I think it was the Christmas holiday in his third year that he went back to South Africa and died in a shark incident while swimming. I learned something about his father who was very outspoken about the evils of apartheid. This talk was unacceptable in the South Africa of the time and Bishop Reeves was deported ... forced out of the country in 1960. In 1985, 25 years later, Desmond Tutu became the Bishop of Johannesburg, and subsequently in 1987, he became the Archbishop of Cape Town.
During the course of my working career I did a lot of work in Africa, including several of the countries in Southern Africa: Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Malawi. I visited South Africa many times, but never did work assignments in South Africa. The system of apartheid that was a foundational aspect of South Africa for many decades was nasty and deeply embedded in the way South Africa functioned. Generally, the English speaking white South Africans were more willing to see change than the Afrikaans speaking whites, but mostly they moved rather slowly to make change. Those that did make waves like Bishop Reeves were silenced. Blacks that made waves were locked up in prison, as was Nelson Mandella.
By the time I worked in the various countries in Southern Africa, they were no longer under white rule. In the case of Namibia, I worked on the country's first development plan after Independence starting just two days after Independence. Prior to this, Namibia had been governed through South Africa with apartheid rules. There was around 15 years of armed conflict in order to fet to Independence. Most everything changed with Independence. Our small UN team had a big responsibility. If we could make a success of a post-apartheid Namibia, maybe there could be a successful post-apartheid South Africa. If Namibia failed and spiralled downwards into mayhem, then the possibilities for South Africa would be much reduced. Fortunately, there was a lot of international support for Namibia, and when the development plan was presented at a major funding conference at the UN in New York, a record amount of financial support was pledged by the interneational community.
While the pledges were impressive, nothing else happened for quite a long time. Three months later I was contacted again by the UN to work with the Namibian Government to help convert the pledges of support into actual tangible financial and material support. It turned out that new Government needed to follow all sorts of procedures to turn pledge into actual usable support starting with a formal request by Namibia for the pledge to be honored. 24 hours after returning to Namibia, I had drafted formal letters to every country that had made pledges asking them to make good on their pledges. Getting my boss in the Namibian Government ... the Secretary General of the Planning Commission ... to sign these letters was a challenge, but after a very long conversation ... in which I proposed that if it turned out to be a bad move, he should immediately fire me ... he signed them all, and that same evening they were hand delivered by messenger to all the Embassies in Windhoek. That was a Thursday evening. Friday, and then through the weekend and for the next several weeks, our office was swamped by representatives from all the potential donors. The first problem had been solved successfully. More on this another time.
Around this time Nelson Mandela was released from prison in South Africa and the anti-apartheid movement around the world was united in pressuring South Africa to end its apartheid regime. Desmond Tutu was in the middle of all of this articulating the moral imperative for change.

Peter Burgess
Remembering Desmond Tutu’s Hope ... The archbishop was a consistent voice for nonviolent social change, campaigning against apartheid, advocating for gay rights, and speaking out against the Iraq War.

By Charlayne Hunter-Gault

December 27, 2021

There are times in my life—in many lives—when multiple identities come into play. I was born in Due West, South Carolina, during Jim Crow, and was what was known in some quarters as a P.K., a preacher’s kid. Both my grandfather and my father were ministers in the A.M.E. church. My father was an Army chaplain, and so we moved around a lot. At an Army school in Alaska, I was the one Black kid in class, and when we moved to Atlanta things weren’t a whole lot better. When it came time to go to college, my friend Hamilton Holmes and I arrived at the University of Georgia as the first Black students to attend, and we were met with all kinds of ugly rejection. And so when I first met Archbishop Desmond Tutu—“the Arch,” as he was widely and affectionately known in South Africa and beyond—all those identities came into play. And apartheid, the focus of his worldwide campaign, was something I knew a little about.

This was 1986. After having worked as a reporter at The New Yorker and the Times, I was now a correspondent for “PBS NewsHour,” and the previous year I had done a five-part series called “Apartheid People.” These were violent times, the thick of the uprisings and political battles in South Africa against the entrenched system of racist hierarchy. Archbishop Tutu, who died Sunday at the age of ninety, had come to the United States to encourage American opposition to apartheid, which was still in its full oppressive flower. Nelson Mandela and other leaders of the anti-apartheid movement were locked up. The Reagan Administration refused to apply direct pressure on the South African government to reform its system. Although Tutu met with Reagan at the White House, Tutu concluded that Reagan was an “unmitigated disaster for us Blacks” and called the American President “a racist pure and simple.”

Tutu, who was an Anglican bishop and won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1984, was born to a poor family in the city of Klerksdorp. Like the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Desmond Tutu could not abide violence, which made him an outlier for some in the anti-apartheid campaign. Though there were more radical voices, certainly, in the movement, his bravery as a cleric was consistent: he became a powerful advocate of gay rights, and spoke out against the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

When I had the chance to spend some time with Tutu before interviewing him, I was struck by how warm and charming he was. He wore a nearly constant smile and loved to laugh, often letting loose a high-pitched chuckle. But, when our interview began, his seriousness took over as he fielded questions from me and from viewers who phoned in. One viewer was particularly curious to know about the differences and similarities between the civil-rights movement in the United States and the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Tutu told the caller that the difference was that, although both movements aimed to achieve social justice, Black men and women in the U.S. at least had a Constitution that theoretically guaranteed fundamental rights. “In South Africa, the Constitution is against us,” he said.

In 1997, I moved to Johannesburg to be the South Africa correspondent for National Public Radio. Apartheid, of course, had been defeated, Nelson Mandela had ascended to the Presidency, and Tutu was now the chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As I said in one of my reports at the time: “Archbishop Tutu has shown himself to be a man of many faces. . . . hopeful faces that opened the Commission, promising forgiveness and reconciliation, the emotional face that broke down at one of the earlier hearings after listening to the testimony of a crippled old man who had been tortured by apartheid agents. And . . . the face of Tutu that chided and cajoled reluctant, if not resistant, whites to come forward and testify about their apartheid past,” arguing that it was important for people to tell their stories because it is part of the healing process. I went on to say, “There was also the face of Tutu who praised other top apartheid-era officials for appearing, and the face that begged Blacks to apologize when their zeal for liberation crossed over into abuse.”

While Tutu was chairing these gruelling public sessions, he was ailing with prostate cancer. And, once again, his unique brand of godly humor proved to be good medicine.
“The best kind of healer is a wounded healer,” Desmond Tutu once said. ...
And now the wounded healer has “transitioned”—a word I came to know and appreciate during my seventeen years of living in Johannesburg. South Africans prefer “transitioning” to “death,” believing that the end of life on earth is not the end. Many visit the graves of family and friends because they have faith that the spirit of those who have passed on will help them solve whatever problems they are facing. And so as we face challenging times in both countries—not least the struggle in the United States over the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and persistent structural racism—I remain, in all my multiple identities, inspired by the spirit and words of Desmond Tutu, who left us saying, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness.”

Charlayne Hunter-Gault is the author of “In My Place,” “New News Out of Africa,” “To the Mountaintop,” and “Corrective Rape.”


Jamaica Kincaid and Charlayne Hunter-Gault on Hope in the Black Community

Jamaica Kincaid and Charlayne Hunter-Gault on Hope in the Black Community

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