Ah, speak of the devil!

2011-04-05 09:39

Imagine you were standing around with friends, talking about Archbishop Emeritus ­Desmond Tutu. Then, unexpectedly, the cleric walked into the room.

Would you be wrong to ­regard him genially and then ­exclaim “Ah, speak of the devil!”? It’s a sticky one.

Anyway, I ask this because that old geezer’s name came up in a heated ­debate during the week.

I ­ambled into the not-so-touristy part of Cape Town. Yes, that part where camera-flashing tourists are warned not to wander off into.

Perched under the imposing peace of a vine tree’s shade, we discussed the meaning of Tutu’s legacy, among other things.

The question was stark and troubling: through his leadership in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, did Tutu teach the previously oppressed compassion or did he rob them of their ­cathartic ­vengeance?

Or is it that by learning to ­transcend the appeal of vengeance, the previously oppressed were ­afforded an opportunity to become better than themselves and bigger than their former oppressors – even if some monsters like PW Botha ­remained unrepentant?

Our debate began to flirt with lofty ideals and connecting them to the ­current election ­debate.

Our country is, after all, locked in a fierce contest for local government’s leadership.

But my host with a clicking sound in his name questioned whether any ­election could realistically be expected ­to ­alter the status quo.

He asked us to ponder this: how ­substantial is the vote really going to be, specifically as a remedial ­intervention on behalf of those who recently took to the streets to protest against inadequate ­service ­delivery?

I’m talking about street-barricading and Molotov cocktail-chucking natives.

Those who keep faith in deferred dreams of “a better life for all”, working-class warriors.

Always avoiding the allure of loud banter, my host retained his modest radiance like that of poet Seitlhamo Motsapi’s blushing ­angel.

He wondered whether changing ward councillors and ­installing on-tap water in RDP houses would be enough.
It would appear more might be ­required.

Well, maybe there’s no way of knowing until the fat lady sings. But very soon, the upper classes must learn that the working class is in the majority.

So they deserve their democratic right to shape the country’s priorities, and have the numbers to insist.

The poor, too, are slowly discovering that it is a middle-class leadership, which also includes many privileged men in ­collars, who have fashioned the wedge that keeps deferring real socioeconomic ­justice.

So my host offered me sage ­advice, saying: “Tell the poor that the clergy and the middle class don’t hold exclusive, God-given rights to speak on behalf of the working class.”

Once that point is made, he ­insisted, people’s voices might just be free enough to convene proper Dashiki Dialogues as they speak for themselves.


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