South Africans mourn the death of Desmond Tutu

Barney Pityana was only a young student full of hope and demands in 1967. It was the year he met Desmond Tutu, then professor of theology and chaplain at the University of Fort-Hare where Barney studied, one of the only quality universities for blacks at the time. It was the beginning of a long friendship that will last more than 50 years, until the death of Desmond Tutu. “He became a mentor, a father figure, someone I greatly admired. I am very proud today to be able to say that he was my friend. At the time, Barney Pityana co-founded the student branch of the Black Consciousness Movement, with Steve Biko and Harry Ranwedzi Nenwekhulu. “Like some young people today (who blame Desmond Tutu for having forgiven too much), we too sometimes found that Desmond Tutu was too nice. We were very angry with the system. But in the end, his thought survived us all. He was always extremely consistent in his desire to show the humanity in everyone, already at the time. « 

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A voice in the dark

During apartheid, when Nelson Mandela was in prison like many leaders of the struggle against the regime, Desmond Tutu was one of the few who still could speak out. « He was a huge inspiration, » said Gcina Malindi, Supreme Court judge, at the time a young activist on trial for treason. “He was that voice that we no longer had in South Africa after the liberation movements, the ANC, Black Counsciousness and others were banned. During this trial, the Delmas trial, Desmond Tutu has continued to provide support and to campaign internationally to protest against these arrests.

Desmond Tutu risks his life to defend the liberation of the country, but does not hesitate to take positions little appreciated by activists. “He has always remained steadfast, he has never ceased to fight for justice. After the liberation he remained this person who speaks sincerely and with truth about the problems of our society. Whether Mandela was wrong, a president, or anyone very respected, he was never afraid to speak up when he thought something was wrong. « 

Barney Pityana remembers a day when a mob wanted to lynch people suspected of being police informants. “He never hesitated to throw himself between the belligerents to save a human life. And in general, people respected him. « 

« Like Mandela, he was a light in our lives », regrets Raks Seakhoa, poet and activist, who passed as Gcina Malindi by Robben Island. “There’s this feeling that all the good guys are going. He was one of the last, and also the last living Nobel Peace Prize winner in the country. « 

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Humor and kindness

Anyone who has crossed paths with him, even briefly, could not miss an iconic trait of « The Arch », as it is nicknamed in South Africa: a sparkling and terribly contagious humor. “Once, I was at a dinner with (Nobel Prize for Literature) Nadine Gordimer,” recalls Raks Seakhoa. I was at Desmond Tutu and his wife’s table. When the music started he got up in his cassock and started dancing, it was such a happy moment! That’s what I liked a lot about him like a lot: he was a very serious leader, but also an everyday man, and very funny. « 

« He became world famous, but always remained close to people », adds Barney Pityana « But behind this casual attitude, his laughter, his humor, there was also a great thinker, able to bring people together in his space of understanding concerning very serious problems. « 

It was the example of Desmond Tutu who pushed Barney Pityana to branch off from law into theology, and to become a pastor himself. In recent years, they continued to meet to pray together. “This morning, I couldn’t cry. We felt deep sadness, but we thanked God for freeing him from his suffering because he had terrible cancer. « And Raks Seakhoa summed up: » we expected his death, but we were not ready « .

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