dpa German Press Agency
By Benita van Eyssen
Published: Wednesday October 4, 2006
Johannesburg- Whether what he has to say suits them or not, South Africans have always been able to count on Nobel laureate and prominent religious leader Desmond Tutu for moral guidance. Even years after the fall of apartheid against which he stood side by side with the likes of Nelson Mandela – and as he prepares to celebrate his 75th birthday – Tutu remains one of the most influential figures in the southern African nation.
At the height of apartheid, Tutu publicly rejected the system, giving a voice and comfort to millions of oppressed South Africans.
When apartheid fell, he headed the country’s truth commission, steering victims and perpetrators of black oppression along the path to forgiveness and reconciliation.
It therefore came as no surprise when the man in the purple robe, entered the fray when it became apparent that a battle for political leadership emerged in the run-up to elections in 2009 that will see President Thabo Mbeki step down.
In his trademark bold and frank style, Tutu declared that he did not believe the corruption-tainted former deputy president Jacob Zuma should continue his bid for the presidency.
He cited the sexual exploits of the 64-year-old veteran politician who was acquitted of rape earlier this year after admitting that he had consensual, unprotected sex with an AIDS-infected woman half his age.
In a country where veterans of the apartheid era struggle rarely criticise each other, Tutu’s view raised eyebrows. It also attracted an attack by Zuma’s office and his followers within the ruling party youth league to which the clergyman declined to respond.
As Zuma proceeded to position himself as a proud Zulu, Tutu warned of the consequences of ethnic division in the diverse nation, citing undercurrents of ill feelings between Xhosa and Zulu politicians that have been a strong feature in South Africa for some time.
“We must beware the dangers of ethnic strife. See what it has done in Rwanda, Burundi, Bosnia, Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo,” the cleric who described the post-apartheid country as a “rainbow nation” with the advent of democracy in 1994, warned in a recent lecture in Cape Town.
With an apparent escalation of violent crime, Tutu has also asked “What has come over us?” while listing the common crimes of murder – nearly 19,000 cases a year, infant rape, and car hijackings in which victims are often gratuitously slaughtered.
“What has happened to us? It seems as if we have perverted our freedom, our rights into license, into being irresponsible. Rights go hand in hand with responsibility, with dignity, with respect for oneself and the other,” he said.
In an authorized biography, aptly titled Rabble-Rouser for Peace, author and former spokesman for Tutu, John Allen details some of the negative attitudes within the Anglican Church and the wider church community towards Tutu as an outspoken apartheid-era activist and Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.
Reacting to calls for the church to discipline Tutu for his stance in opposing apartheid, Allen quotes a Johannesburg bishop as saying: “He is a man of deep prayer and living faith, and spends more time on his knees than most of those who call for action to be taken by the Church against him.”
Tutu was born in the town of Klerksdorp outside Johannesburg on October 7, 1931. He began his career as a teacher but later underwent theological training and was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1960.
About 15 years later he became the first black Anglican dean of Johannesburg. He also held positions as the Bishop of Lesotho, the tiny mountain kingdom that is landlocked with South Africa, the secretary general of the South African Council of Churches before becoming the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town.
In 1984 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to the fight against apartheid. Tutu has remained active despite his retirement in the 1990s.
It was announced recently that King’s College in London plans to establish a digital archive of former student Tutu’s life and work in the hope that it will inspire people around the world.
© 2006 dpa German Press Agency