CHERYL CAROLUS: Tribute to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Mpilo Tutu
SA should pick up the baton of Tutu’s consistency in fighting discrimination and suppression of the downtrodden, says former UDF leader
Mam’ Leah, Trevor, Thandi, Nontombi, Mpho and the family and friends of our beloved Arch, my sincere condolences.
The world joins you in celebrating a life so well lived. We join you in grieving the loss of this giant who remained steadfast in his courage, his compassion, and his wisdom.
We give thanks for having had 90 years of our Father almost against all odds. Father Desmond survived polio as a child, tuberculosis as a teenager and a few bouts of prostate cancer as an adult.
We know he was not well over the last while and that he himself was ready to go, and that he left in peace surrounded by those whom he loved and who loved him.
We give thanks to Father’s family, friends and colleagues who gave meaning to his life and who gave him strength. We give special thanks to his pillar of strength, his soul mate, the love of his life, Mam’ Leah.
Mama, thank you for your steadfast love, for the joy and laughter you gave to Father. Thank you for your own work to make our country and the world a better place, thank you for your guidance to Father in the many difficult choices he had to make throughout his life. Your marriage and your love for one another [were] such an inspiration throughout the years!
I also want to thank the children for the joy they brought into his life. He just loved you all to bits. For whatever it’s worth, right into my current ripe old age Father continued to lecture me, berate me as a father does a wayward child.
But I, like all his children, benefited enormously from his limitless love, his impish humour, his support and forbearance of our waywardness.
Some of my fondest memories of Father are our stand-up fights. There is one he often reminded me of because he actually managed to make me laugh so hard and admit that THAT one I couldn’t ace.
At a service in the Cathedral Father called on all citizens of Cape Town to join him in a march in defiance of the state of emergency after a night when police had killed a number of protesters in townships of the Cape Flats.
One of the congregants at that service was Gordon Oliver, the then mayor of Cape Town, elected by only whites. Gordon was so moved, he stood up and said to Father that he would join him in the march. Many [of those] present didn’t believe that he would see it through.
Myself and a few others in leadership at the time, stormed up to Bishopscourt, rang the doorbell and demanded to see Father, who was in silent retreat.
He actually broke his silence to attend to us. We demanded to know who gave him the mandate to make such a serious decision. As I said to him, years later, he, like the best kind of Cape Flats auntie, put his hands on his hips, in what I called his pink dress, stuck out his chin, eyes spitting fire, and replied forcefully, “I have a mandate from God!”
That march was a watershed moment. The open letter calling for the march was signed by the Arch, Gordon Oliver and myself. That march gave a big push for the defiance campaign led by the Mass Democratic Movement which, I believe, contributed hugely to getting those in power to finally realise freedom was unstoppable and that they had to get to the negotiation table and that they had to release Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners.
Most importantly, [it was] that moment of People’s Power that changed the course of history, when our people defied apartheid laws again on beaches, public facilities and bans on marches and gatherings.
The Arch had led us out of our fear, regardless of the personal costs. Many lost their lives in the Defiance Campaign, but that did not stop our people.
In his inimitable style he also helped us to have the courage to reach out to people like Gordon Oliver, and gave to good people like Oliver the clarity and the courage to act in unison with the nation.
Even as the negotiations proceeded, the National Party government and their black surrogates were killing our people — we remember for example Boipatong, the Trojan horse killings on Thornton Road here in Cape Town and Bhisho.
Throughout these difficult moments, the Arch kept to his beliefs about behaviours in our communities, such as the so-called necklace (the term used to describe placing a tyre around a victim’s neck, dousing it with flammable liquid and then setting it alight). He continued to bravely call out what he believed was contrary to his beliefs, often at risk to himself.
In his opposition to the National Party government, there were many attempts to assassinate him, but mercifully they did not succeed [ith him] as they did with many [others].
How do we emulate this life lived with passion, courage, faith, and deep insight — the words used by John Allen (who wrote the beautiful biography of the Arch, A Rabble Rouser for Peace). The world today is a tough place.
The fault lines are being exacerbated by the horror of the Covid-19 pandemic. Poverty and inequality are growing. Bigotry of all kinds seems to be on the ascendancy again.
Let us invoke the simplicity that the Arch lived his life by. Let us dispense of the dishonesty that characterises leadership in society today.
The coalitions that emerged after our recent local government elections were so shamelessly transactional. The leaders entrusted with that precious thing that many had laid their lives down for, the vote, was horse traded for naked power.
We will miss The Arch over the next years. Our leaders will need to be reminded of the mandates they were given, of the essence of our constitution and the solemn promises of freedom we made to our people.
The Arch never flinched from calling out leaders — he invoked the ire of apartheid leaders and he also invoked the ire of our newly elected leaders across all political parties, when he alerted us to the dangers of the gravy train when those we had elected to lead us in our first democratically elected parliament were discussing their salaries and perks.
And look at the mess of entitlement and corruption we are sitting with now.
The Arch took on governments, corporations, the church and society at large about what it means when we assert that we all are created equal before God and that we are all created in the image of God.
He asserted with simplicity that discrimination was an affront to his beliefs as a Christian.
He took on battles that others chose to ignore for expediency’s sake. He took on the rights of people living with HIV and dying of Aids, the rights of people not to be punished for their sexual orientation, the rights of women to play leadership roles in the church, the struggle of the peoples of Palestine, Tibet and Myanmar, the protection of whistle-blowers, and the shameful and immoral conduct of some of our leaders.
He remained consistent in his principles, in his faith as a Christian. And a fairly conservative one at that!
His faith was deep, incredibly insightful, always thoughtful and kind. It saw him join hands with other faith leaders and communities to march in defiance of injustice when the voices of leaders were silenced through imprisonment, banning orders and detention without trial.
He stood firm on matters such as sanctions against the apartheid regime. He differed publicly even with good people like Aunt Helen Suzman, (who always berated me when I called her “Auntie”). The Arch believed that sanctions were the last nonviolent means to oppose apartheid meaningfully.
While he never embraced the armed struggle, he refused to denounce those in the liberation movement who took up arms. He asserted the moral justification for a just war.
At the dawn of democracy Father stepped back. He announced he had merely filled a void caused by brutal repression.
May those entrusted with our vote please remind themselves of the responsibilities their office brings and that their primary responsibility is to protect and promote the rights of the most vulnerable, not only the rights of those in the leafy suburbs or the boardrooms.
Let us honour our beloved Father by emulating him. Let us pick up his baton. Let us not underestimate how much each small action contributes. Let us not underestimate the power of kindness and empathy.
Let us not forget how acting in unison can bring down the powerful who refuse to hear our pleas, and those who ignore the plight of the downtrodden.
Freedom is not a spectator sport, it requires us to be hands-on. Maybe we have outsourced too many aspects of our democracy to politicians and rent-seekers.
Let us get back to work and make this country work. Let us stand up and fight for that which is good and which is right.
Let us stop the expediency. Let us fight for justice and peace in our communities. Let us stand together for justice for all in this world.
Let us say Lala Ngoxolo Tata. We will pick up your baton.
• Carolus is a former United Democratic Front and ANC leader. This is a copy of a speech she delivered during the memorial service for Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu at City Hall in Cape Town on Wednesday.
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