A voice for all

2011-07-27 00:00

HOORAY for Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. For more than 20 years we have been able to rely on him to say out loud the things that many of us have been thinking, but unwilling to say because they were too uncomfortable and/or unpopular.

For as long as I can remember, he has been the small man with the impish sense of humour, big glasses, big heart, and — some would say — even bigger mouth.

On the conflict between Israel and Palestinians, he said: “I’m not going to keep quiet about that.” He could say this about his attitude and role locally and internationally in relation to a broad range of matters religious, ­socio-economic and political.

John Allen, who has worked with Tutu for many years, has collected a selection of some of his most memorable and, it must be said, controversial off-the-cuff comments, answers to journalists’ questions, writings, sermons and speeches.

Pick almost any sensitive topic and Tutu has had something to say about it, usually something that made someone unhappy, as the truth has an uncanny way of getting up someone’s nose. Apartheid? The ­Middle East conflict? ­Religious tolerance? Gay rights? 9/11? Democracy? The culture of violence? Corruption and greed? The environment? Tutu has had something pithy, profound, and often pungent, to say about all of these, plus many other topics besides.

This book is a timely reminder of why Tutu is so loved and revered as an activist for human rights, justice and peace.

It is also an unwelcome reminder of his mortality. I shudder at the thought that he will not always be there to speak for us when the rest of us are too afraid to speak up ourselves.

Buy this book, read it, treasure it, give it to as many people as you can, but even more, be inspired to start living its truths. There’s not likely to be an oversupply of human-rights activists like Tutu any time soon.

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