Tutu goes too far

2011-10-15 07:41

Being a global icon with impeccable human rights and anti-apartheid struggle credentials comes with some burden of responsibility.

Not only do you have to guard against those who might try to hijack your iconic stature and public platforms to further selfish ends, but you also have to be vigilant against being wittingly or unwittingly used as a pawn in political games you may not be aware of.

This enormous responsibility seems to be increasingly eluding Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, one of the bastions of morality and social justice in the world.

Our Nobel laureate is gradually turning into a reckless populist, eager to use genuine socio-political and economic concerns to parrot “white fears”, cast aspersions on the legitimacy of a democratically elected government, campaign for opposition parties or push for regime change.

Delivering the Nelson Mandela lecture in November 2004, he lambasted former president Thabo Mbeki’s policies on BEE, Zimbabwe, HIV/Aids and accused the ANC under Mbeki of stifling internal debate.

Tutu said “unthinking, uncritical, kowtowing, party line-toeing is fatal to a vibrant democracy”, adding that “we are sitting on a powder keg”.

Understandably, Mbeki hit back, accusing Tutu of pushing “self-serving agendas”. Mbeki wrote: “The Archbishop has never been a member of the ANC, and would have very little knowledge of what happens even in an ANC branch.

“How he comes to the conclusion that there is lack of debate in the ANC is most puzzling. “Rational discussion about how the ANC decides its policies requires some familiarity with the internal procedures, rather than gratuitous insults about our members.”

Seven years after the spat with Mbeki, Tutu escalated his mantra last week by threatening to pray for the downfall of the ruling party because President Jacob Zuma’s government did not grant the Dalai Lama a visa in time for him to attend his 80th birthday.

It is an open secret that government showed a blatant lack of moral character, undermined the spirit of our Constitution and showed a willingness to bow to Chinese pressure, putting money before principles.

While government’s handling of the matter was clumsy and ridiculous, the manner in which Tutu raised his legitimate concerns was equally suspicious.

Wagging a finger, Tutu went on further to say: “The trouble I think is that the ANC reckons that the freedom that we enjoy is due to them. They reckon everyone else is just a sideline.

“Hey, Mr Zuma, you and your government don’t represent me. You represent your own interests. You are disgraceful.”
Opposition parties and their sympathisers, sensing a new-found ally, naturally went into a frenzy. They flooded airwaves and newspapers calling for Tutu not to be silenced “because he was speaking truth to power”.

By comparing a democratically elected government to the brutal and undemocratic regimes of tyrants like former Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Tutu not only cast aspersions on the ANC but also implied it had no moral standing to lead South Africa. This assertion had nothing to do with his demand for his friend’s visa.

Given that the human rights organisations and pressure groups that led efforts to force the government to issue a visa were unlikely to take over if God answered Tutu’s prayers, was the old man perhaps telling us something we did not know – that these forces were actually fronting for certain political parties, whose names he knew and whose pro-Dalai Lama policies he was sure of

Tutu’s utterances left more questions than answers. If he was angry with Zuma or his administration, why must he now pray for the downfall of the ANC as a whole?

Is he suggesting there is no difference between party and state in South Africa, or that Zuma is bigger than the ANC?

Why can’t he specifically pray for Zuma and his executive to be toppled by ANC branches or another faction within the party that would hopefully treat the Dalai Lama differently?

Why can’t he pray for Zuma’s downfall the same way he presumably did for Mbeki, who was removed from power at the Polokwane conference three years after their spat?

Does it mean he doubts the intelligence of ANC members to do the right thing, or he believes no other ANC leader is capable if reviewing the country’s stance on the Lama?

By targeting the party, Tutu implied there was an ANC resolution or national executive committee decision barring the Lama’s entry into the country.

Why can’t he pray for God to grow the size of his preferred opposition parties, give them the wisdom to formulate pro-Dalai Lama policies and then take over the Union Buildings?

Why can’t he pray for South African voters to have a change of heart about the ANC, for them to give up their attachments to the party that liberated them?

Or is it because he undermines the intelligence of South African voters to choose correct leaders? In so doing, Tutu would be exercising his rights without mischievously questioning the legitimacy of a democratic government.

The ANC may be flawed or riddled with corrupt elements, but the government is legitimate and enjoys the support of nearly two-thirds of the voters.

So there was no need for Tutu to incite a rebellion by insinuating it trampled on the rights of its citizens without providing evidence.

If Tutu wants to propel opposition parties to power, he must campaign for them like any other person rather than abuse his global stature or hide behind “speaking truth to power” to topple an elected government.

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