Why “Rabble-Rouser for Peace”?

The origins of this book lie in my experiences as the religion correspondent of The Star, Johannesburg, in the period immediately following the Soweto uprising of June 1976. With the liberation movements in exile, and parliamentary representation limited to whites, the churches provided arguably the most representative platforms for public debate on the politics of the day and the future of the country.

At the 1976 national conference of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), at the provincial synod of the Anglican Church later that year, and at ensuing SACC national conferences, Desmond Tutu emerged as the most powerfully eloquent, impassioned and compassionate voice for justice and reconciliation of his time.

I subsequently went to work for a journalists’ union, then joined Tutu’s staff after he became archbishop of Cape Town in 1986. As part of a team based at Bishopscourt, his official residence and office in Cape Town, I witnessed many of the events described in the book during the final struggle against apartheid and the transition to democracy in the early 1990s. In 1995, I joined Tutu in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and in 1998 accompanied him to Atlanta, Georgia, to run his office while he served as a visiting professor. I left his employ in 2000.

When I said shortly before leaving his staff that I wanted to write a biography, he asked whether it would not perhaps be too much of a “hagiography”. I suggested that would be up to the reader to decide, but made it clear I wanted to write an authorised biography in the proper sense of the term: that he would give me interviews and authorise access to his personal papers, including personal files not disclosed by archives to the public, but that he would have no say over the content. He agreed to this.

And why the title? It is based on a standing joke which Mrs Albertina Sisulu, leader of the United Democratic Front (and wife of Nelson Mandela’s political mentor, Walter Sisulu), had with Tutu in the 1980s. After rallies and meetings, she would regularly tell him, “You’re a rabble-rouser!” And she was right.