Tutu: time to take it easy

By Drum Digital
20 October 2010

HE WAS the South African who coined the term “rainbow nation” and is so well respected around the world, even today, that his name pops up in American TV series and Hollywood movies – Friends and The Ugly Truth, for example – as someone who’s principled and generous.

Here at home, friend and foe alike admire his non-negotiable principles. Just as he fearlessly spoke out about injustice and humanrights violations during apartheid, so he never hesitates to criticise everything from crime and corruption to ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema’s big mouth.But on his 79th birthday, on7October this year, Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu retired from public life. “The time has now come to slow down and to sip rooibos tea with my beloved wife in the afternoons,” he said during his farewell address at St George’s Cathedral in Cape Town earlier this year.

“Instead of growing old gracefully at home with my family, I have spent far too much of my time in airports and hotels.”

But does this mean the voice of reason and reconciliation of this moral giant will be silent? Is this compass of justice forever lost to us? “Sometimes I will speak by mind, if I can’t help myself. But mostly I’ll keep quiet,”’ he said. “Don’t call me, I’ll call you!”

As was the case with former president Nelson Mandela after his so-called retirement, the world won’t be forgetting Tutu anytime soon. Those expressive hands will surely continue to emphasise some familiar piece of wisdom or reprimand.

He is the conscience of South Africa’s leaders. He’s condemned poor service delivery, meaningless name changes, lives lost because of “odd theories” about HIV/Aids and the injudicious application of affirmative action, among many other issues.

And he hasn’t spared other African leaders, either. He’s told Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe not to place the interests of a small group above those of millions of needy people, a reprimand that had Mugabe hissing, “That little bishop”.

Tutu is quite literally larger than life. He’s a symbol of hope and an advocate of forgiveness. His name, like Madiba’s, is one of the best known internationally. He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.

In times of violence and throughout the apartheid era, as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and as head of the Anglican Church, he’s always steadfastly believed in South Africa’s potential.

“If you think about where we come from it’s still unbelievable we have the kind of stability we do. That something as gruesome as the murder of Eugene Terre’Blanche hasn’t destabilised our society!” he said earlier this year. “I think we should give credit to all of us. But we cannot deny we believed we could be completely different.”

Read the full article in DRUM of 28 October 2010

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