I did this cover a while ago for TODAY magazine on Desmond Tutu. His views on homosexuality elicited quite a response! What do you think? Comments (here on my blog!) are welcome!!
DOMINO OF JUSTICE!
by Nicolette Ferreira
In February 2009, 1400 of the world’s top brains gathered at the World Economic Forum in Davos Switzerland. It was not a scientist; a high flying businessman or a wealthy entrepreneur that they invited to present the final address, rather, it was cleric and Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu who challenged all these CEOs: “Business asks ‘Is it profitable?’ God asks ‘Is it right?’” Today asked journalist Nicolette Ferreira to find out a little more about this icon of our nation.
Tutu’s vision for the family
My old Advanced Learner’s Dictionary of (not so) Current English, defines ‘family’ as “parents and children”. Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s understanding of what ‘family’ comprises, however, is not so confined. The “Arch”, as Tutu has been lovingly dubbed, believes in one human family – God’s family.
In 1976, Prime Minister, John Vorster, accused Tutu of working for the African National Congress. The Arch boldly claimed in response: I do not work for the ANC. I work for God. That South Africa was indeed not one blissful ‘fandamily’, was further felt by the establishment (by the Establishment!) of the infamous Tricameral Parliament in 1984. Tutu scorned the first election under this unjust system, calling it a “non-event”, as black people were not allowed to vote and neither were they represented in government. This was not Tutu’s idea of family. Rather, Tutu revels in the idea of an all-inclusive rainbow nation.
Backing up this more extensive idea of the human family is a more intimate understanding of this concept: Tutu believes that children learn about power and justice, peace and compassion within the household – the nesting place of a just society. It is thus the family that will realise what Tutu once said to Madiba: “Never again, nooit weer, ngekhe futi, ga reno tlola!”
Keeping watch over their own nesting place with Tutu, is Leah Shanxane. They were both studying to become teachers when they met and by 1955 the deal was sealed! They have four children, Trevor, Mpho, Naomi and Theresa. Indeed they were never the ever-happy bouncy Brady bunch – in conversation with Tutu’s daughter, the Reverend Mpho, she told me that the Tutu children could pick a fight out of thin air and brew up a thunderstorm of passion: “She was in my room!” “It’s his turn to put away the dishes” “Don’t breathe on my sweater” (this one made me chuckle!) “It’s my turn to pick the t.v. show!” She also remembers that her father travelled often and that he would then send them each postcards:
I remember a batch of them that spoke of the importance of family ties. [He said that] [w]hen we fight we are like separate twigs, any small force can snap us. When we are united we are like a bundle of wood; strong enough to face any challenge.
Tutu and Leah are also oupa and ouma to several grandchildren.
Tutu on Homosexuality
Oupa Tutu believes in a warm, welcoming God. Despite biblical imperatives such as Leviticus 1: 22 which states to men that “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman”, Tutu has consistently fought for the rights of homosexuals. According to him, homophobia is a no lesser abomination than apartheid. He believes that homosexuality, just as a person’s skin colour, is not a matter of choice. Therefore, he describes the abhorrence of gays and lesbians as a transgression against humanity – as a disavowal of who a person really is: “We struggled against apartheid because we were being blamed and made to suffer for something we could do nothing about. It is the same with homosexuality.”
The Arch believes that the Church has lost its way and that God is lamenting at seeing the misplaced priorities of the members of his Body. According ‘to Tutu’, the Church is obsessed with people’s private lives, rather than greater issues of war, disease and oppression: in other words, the church is not obeying the divine properties of Christ. As a patron of Changing Attitude, an organisation which works for the inclusion of homosexuals in the Church (see http://www.changingattitude.org.uk/home/home.asp), Tutu implores the case for an all-embracing Church.
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
Tutu’s peaceful struggle against all forms of marginalisation, awarded him one of the noblest prizes of all. The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded annually to the person who worked the hardest at fostering unity between nations, abolishing physical acts of violence and promoting peace congresses. In 1984, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to this domino (or dominee!) of justice. The awarding committee made it clear that through their granting of this prestigious prize to Tutu, they wished to direct attention to the non-violent ‘fight’ for liberation to which he belongs – a fight which was especially characterised by the global light he shed on a government of injustice.
To this ‘atrocity’ – the awarding of an internationally acclaimed prize to a black man – both Minister P.W. Botha (die groot krokkedil) and his Foreign Minister at the time, Pik Botha, reacted with a “no comment” – a response pregnant with meaning. Added to the negative responses from the apartheid government, was television footage that featured the Bishop delivering an impassioned speech, with no context at all, featuring only the word, “violence” (see Tutu’s authorised autobiography, Rabble-Rouser for Peace). Such responses, however, could not pinch Tutu’s prize and opportunity. He made full use of his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech to bring the veracity of segregation home to the audience. One of the most attention-grabbing images he used in his speech was one of black mothers reduced to sitting on soaking mattresses, with their household effects strewn round their feet. He also described South Africa as microcosm of the world: it is an example of how, with injustice, there can be no peace.
Tutu on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission
Ten years after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, the Arch still had the domino effect! In 1995, post-apartheid South Africa gave birth to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and Tutu was chosen as Chairperson of this challenging endeavour. The TRC was established to investigate the violations that took place in apartheid South Africa between 1960 and 1994. Broadly speaking, the Commission held court-like gatherings where those who suffered at the hands of the oppressor could tell their stories. It also gave the opportunity for the oppressor to confess their guilt and consequently receive amnesty.
Roshila Nair’s “an unforgiving poem”, highlights the complexities of the TRC: “[t]oday I watched an old woman/ recoil from the contrite hands of/ patriot men who murdered her son/ many years ago…” Thus, although the TRC gave the opportunity for people to voice their stories, many people felt that mere words were no sufficient remedy for their affliction and loss. As Chairperson of the TRC, Archbishop Desmond Tutu warned against such ‘unforgiveness’. According to him, remaining in a state of hatred, locks you in a state of victimhood, chaining you to the perpetrator. In his speech at the handing over of the TRC report to Nelson Mandela, an immense document of 3500 pages, he made use of a striking biblical image, prompting South Africans to let the waters of healing flow from Pretoria as they flowed from the altar in Ezekiel’s vision to cleanse the land.
Tutu’s wisdom on the big ‘C’
The man with the purple cassock, as we have come to know him, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1996. This malignancy, however, never had a chance – Tutu planned on giving it a ‘tough tackling’ from the start. And trust the Arch to call cancer a “big boogie” in an article for the American Cancer Society:
Almost everybody begins to think they should begin composing their obituary. But it’s not true. Cancer is a good thing because it reminds us of our mortality… I experience things with a new intensity: my wife’s love, my grandchild’s smile, a sunset. We must remember that we are not forever.
Early detection of the disease is of vital importance, warns Tutu. He urges men at the age of 40 to have a regular prostate exam. Tutu describes the examination ‘back there’ as no more uncomfortable than going to the dentist for an examination!! I am not so sure about that, Mr Tutu!
Tutu – a political priest?
Although Tutu had various political squabbles in the past, amongst others being arrested and charged under the Riotous Assemblies Act under the apartheid National Party, he emphasises in his book, The Rainbow People of God, that he is not a politician:
I am a church person who believes that religion does not just deal with a certain compartment of life. Religion has relevance for the whole of life and we have to say whether a particular policy is consistent with the policy of Jesus Christ or not, and if you want to say that is political, then I will be a politician in those terms. But it won’t be as one who is involved in party politics.
Tutu’s reluctance to be viewed as a political priest does not mean, however, that he does not have strong opinions about our country’s political leaders. In contrast to the Arch’s warm, welcoming humour, stands the notorious rallying cry of ANC leader, Jacob Zuma, “Umshini Wami – Bring me my machine gun”. Desmond Tutu states that he would be ashamed to have Jacob Zuma, the man tainted with so many allegations of corruption, as president of God’s beloved rainbow nation. Tutu feels the fact that allegations against Zuma were not cleared by a court leaves a cloud (a cumulonimbus one!) over South Africa’s governance
Over our bent world Tutu sits brooding. And when injustice endangers our common humanity, he stands up, fights the fight of a righteous man and causes a chain reaction. Tutu – our domino of justice!
Sources not cited in text:
Hadland, A. Desmond Tutu. Cape Town: Maskew Miller Longman, 2001.