Desmond Tutu, the guardian of conscience – The Hindu
He wanted the truth to be respected, for reconciliation to be attempted and for justice to be inaugurated.
Five big names have dominated the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, each from a distinct part of this diverse country – Albert John Luthuli, the first of the Zulu leaders of the African National Congress (ANC) from Natal, Oliver Tambo of the Pondo people of the western flank of the country, Nelson Mandela of the Xhosa people of the Eastern Cape, Walter Sisulu of mixed black and white African heritage, and Desmond Tutu of mixed Xhosa and Motswana origin. Among them, Tutu, who died on December 26, 2021, was the youngest. It is not a question of diminishing the magnetic contribution of three other phenomenal figures: Joe Slovo (1926-1995), the white communist leader; Chris Hani, born in 1942 and assassinated in 1993; and Steve Biko, born in 1946 and brutally murdered in prison in 1977.
Comparisons are odious, but they can provide a better understanding of people and their roles. And so, one could say that Luthuli – moderate, liberal and totally opposed to violence – was like Gopal Krishna Gokhale of South Africa. Tambo, who worked much of his political life outside of South Africa in exile with London as his base, can be seen as his Dadabhai Naoroji. Mandela, the politico-legal brain with international fame for being free from all resentment despite 27 years in prison, his Gandhi-cum-Nehru. Sisulu, the ANC party grouper and wise and ethical statesman, was clearly the Patel-cum-Rajagopalachari of South Africa. One might suggest that Slovo’s role as mediator would have won the admiration of “Dinabandhu” CF Andrews, the Anglican cleric and friend of Tagore who negotiated the 1914 Smuts-Gandhi Agreement in South Africa; that socialism, military strategy and personal courage of Hani powerfully invoke Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose; while Biko, daring and daring, most vividly recalls our immortal Shaheed Bhagat Singh.
Where does this comparison chart place Desmond Tutu? There is no Indian equivalent for him. Father Jérôme D’Souza, Jesuit priest from Mangalore, who was a member of the Constituent Assembly of India and played a key role in the protection of minorities in India and for the right to practice and propagate one’s faith as fundamental , comes closest. But D’Souza remains, compared to Tutu, a “near distant”.
The point is, Tutu was second to none. It was unparalleled in South Africa, India or elsewhere, anywhere, defying categorization. Was he a politician in uniform or a cleric in politics? Has he advised politicians on theological level from his pulpit or has he addressed his congregations – he was Bishop of Johannesburg from 1985 to 1986 and Archbishop of Cape Town from 1986 to 1996 – in political language? These questions are unanswered. But what is known and celebrated is that in the transition from apartheid to democracy, Tutu spoke as an African Christian who wanted the truth to be respected, reconciliation to be attempted and justice to be established. in his native land without grudge mutilating change and with remorse – real and spontaneous remorse – acting as a catalyst for change.
This purpose and practice made Tutu a natural ally of the men of the Tambo-Mandela-Sisulu mold. It also made him, both co-extensively, a man deemed too moderate by the far left and too radical by the far right. And quite too ambivalent for politicians and theologians, who both love their chocolates deadly black.
Too radical for conservative supporters of apartheid, too moderate for black radicals and rightly hated by Marxists around the world for his anti-communism, Tutu has nevertheless remained incredibly and consistently popular among the vast majority of the South African population. . How and why?
For the simple reason that simple honesty is immediately recognized and immediately respected. A large and growing number around the world saw in this man of God who spoke clearly, who was also a man of resounding laughter and also of emotional breakdown, a man of undisputed seriousness and manifest integrity. They saw him as a man who showed bondage to be both external – political, social, economic – and within oneself in terms of racial prejudice, ethnic hatred and personal animosities.
Was it a political or a religious position? The vast majority in South Africa, the rest of the African continent and the world at large who heard him did not care about this issue. He saw in Tutu only an African, deeply linked to Mother Africa, refusing to consider his heritage through Western standards but ready to see and correct his own limitations and mistakes. He saw in Tutu a Christian deeply attached to the New Testament not as a gift from the West to the rest of the world, but as a gift of humanity’s best instincts for itself. A bit like he considers the Dalai Lama as a true Buddhist deeply committed in the Tibetan Mahayana but also in the quest of humanity for redemption through dialogue, atonement and this old-fashioned taboo word in “rational” discourse – forgiveness.
No human could be more different, more similar than Tutu and the Dalai Lama, four years younger. Laughter held back the tears of these two Nobel Prize winners. “You are a Christian,” the Tibetan told the South African in a recorded conversation, “and you will go to Heaven. I am a Buddhist and I will go to another place… ”. “You are a Buddhist,” Tutu replies, “and you will reincarnate”. They both burst out laughing. And then, becoming very serious, the Dalai Lama said to a dark Tutu: “When I die, I will remember you …”
The need for human conscience
There has always been a need and a space in every society, in South Africa and India, homes of the two peacemakers, for what is called human consciousness. Tutu raised his voice for the Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, fiercely opposed the Burmese crackdown on the Rohingya, spoke out for gay rights and against the death penalty, for legalizing it. medical assistance in dying and against orthodox views on birth control. Joining his voice to that of environmentalists, he called for an apartheid-type boycott of companies that “finance climate change injustice”.
Countries need leaders in government, leaders in opposition. But they also need social philosophers, guardians of conscience who do not seek popularity and are not afraid of unpopularity. Tutu was just that for South Africa – a medic for her conflicted soul.
Ten years ago, when Tutu announced his retirement from public life, he said he wanted to spend time with his family “thinking and praying”. If, while he was dying, he had received news that a statue of Jesus Christ had been vandalized in the Indian town of Ambala and Christmas celebrations had been disrupted elsewhere in our country, he would have thought of Gandhi and also allegedly remembered the man who said he would remember Tutu when he died – the 14th Dalai Lama. Human conscience laughs with increasingly lonely laughter.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi was High Commissioner in South Africa (1996-1997)