South Africa: Desmond Tutu, this tireless truth hunter



« SLet us be makers of peace, and if we want peace, let us work for justice. Let’s turn our swords into plowshares. In 1984, Desmond Tutu pronounced these words in front of the Academy which had just awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize. Thirty-one years later, the former South African archbishop had retired from public life, but his unarmed struggle for justice and peace continued. His death shakes up an entire country: « The death of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu is a new chapter of mourning in our nation’s farewell to a generation of exceptional South Africans who bequeathed us a liberated South Africa », such were the words of President Cyril Ramaphosa to announce the disappearance at 90 years of the ecclesiastical.

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No he won’t be a teacher

Battles, the former archbishop led, from the 1970s until today, against apartheid, corruption, homophobia, or against the spread of AIDS. Like his former wrestling companion Nelson Mandela, he had acquired an international aura, becoming, like Gandhi and Martin Luther King before him, the symbol of a peaceful determination for equality and justice. Ironically, it is in the north of the country, in the town of Klerksdorp, in the middle of the Transvaal, that Desmond Mpilo Tutu was born in 1931. Thirty years earlier, the region was the scene of the Second Boer War between the settlers of the United Kingdom and those of the Netherlands … But initially, nothing predestined Desmond Tutu to become a spokesperson. Son of teachers, his destiny was marked out. But he preferred the clerical path.

Trevor Huddleston, son mentor

After studying theology, he was ordained a priest in Johannesburg at the age of 30, like his mentor Trevor Huddleston, a white bishop, whose character had marked him as a child. “One day, we were walking in the street with my mother, and we passed him, says Desmond Tutu in 1984. In front of my mother, he took off his hat. I couldn’t believe my eyes: a white man who greeted a working class black woman! At the time, apartheid imposed the domination of the white minority, which descended from the Afrikaner settlers, over the vast majority of colored men, blacks and mestizos, reclusive in the ghettos and the Bantustans. Desmond Tutu then chose to leave for England, where he studied at King’s College, before practicing in several churches in London and in Surrey. In 1972 he was appointed deputy director of the World Council of Churches (WCC) education fund. Upon his return to South Africa in 1975, he became the first black to hold the post of dean of the diocese of Johannesburg.

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A continuous fight for justice

After having won this first, personal battle against his fate as a black proletarian in a racist state, Desmond Tutu launches into collective combat, alongside the youth of the Soweto ghetto. For him, religion and political resistance are one and the same cause to defend, the principle of black theology, black theology, which he develops in his sermons. « Nothing will prevent us from becoming free, because we have God with us », insists the one who, in 1977, officiates at the funeral of the leader Steve Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement and martyr of the anti-apartheid struggle. Tutu calls for an economic boycott of South Africa, even if it primarily penalizes blacks. At his call, 30,000 people marched peacefully in the streets of Cape Town. This will not prevent the bishop from criticizing the methods of the African National Congress (ANC), which he considers too violent. Rewarded by the Nobel Peace Prize, his peaceful actions took on greater importance when in 1986 Desmond Tutu became the first black archbishop of Cape Town.

The voice of those who don’t have one

When, nearly ten years later, apartheid fell in South Africa, it was of course the country’s most influential religious leader that it fell to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. But for Bishop Tutu, the fight does not end there. From now on, he must defend the « rainbow nation » that he has just baptized, that of South Africans who want to mutually rebuild themselves. For President Nelson Mandela, it was obvious: “Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid, the voice of Desmond Tutu will always be that of those who do not have one. Even after his retirement in 2010, the latter will never stop criticizing the results of the governments that will follow, in terms of the fight against poverty or national unity.

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A final tribute to Mandela

In 2013, he admitted that he could no longer vote for the party in power: « The ANC was very good at guiding us in the struggle for freedom, » he said. But I don’t think a combat unit can easily become a political party. « Despite everything, he had made a point of addressing a last homage to Nelson Mandela in 2013, thanking God » for having offered us Madiba, for having made us understand what we could become « . Until his death, Desmond Tutu continued to be the voice of the voiceless, of those he considered oppressed, alongside the Dalai Lama, the Palestinians in Gaza or even defending the condition of African homosexuals. But plagued by increasingly frequent health problems, the eternal smile that graced the old leader’s face eventually faded. Its light is intact in the hearts of South Africans and citizens around the world.

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