Biographer: ‘Rabble-rouser’ Tutu just can’t shut up

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa (Reuters) — He took on the apartheid government and was South Africa’s first black bishop. He lambastes presidents and likes to party with the stars. And at 75, Desmond Tutu still cannot keep quiet.

“Rabble-rouser for peace,” a new authorized biography of one of South Africa’s best-loved citizens, paints a picture of a man who revels in the limelight and adores the trappings of celebrity, but spends up to seven hours a day in silent prayer.

The book by Tutu’s former press secretary John Allen traces Tutu’s life from his humble upbringing in South African townships, into the priesthood and on to the heart of the struggle against white rule and its painful aftermath.

And Allen says that while the Nobel Peace Laureate had intended to keep a lower profile after retiring as Archbishop of Cape Town in 1996, Tutu was unlikely ever to stop speaking out against injustice.

“His express wish when he retired was to take a lower profile but he just couldn’t shut up,” Allen said with a laugh in a telephone interview with Reuters.

Tutu, who turned 75 this month, has criticized a “sycophantic” ruling ANC party under President Thabo Mbeki. He slammed the war in Iraq as an act of injustice and said Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe had “gone bonkers”.

“I can’t say what the future issues will be because he speaks off the cuff, from the gut,” said Allen. “But no, he will not be retreating.”

Anglican ‘shame’

Tutu turned his anger recently on conservative Anglicans, who want to uphold a ban on same-sex marriages and to block gays from entering the priesthood unless they remain celibate — a debate which threatens to split the church.

Allen quotes the cleric as telling former Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie he was “ashamed to be Anglican” when the church rejected proposals to reform in 1998, a position in marked contrast to most African clergy, who view homosexuality as immoral and un-African.

Allen also reveals that Tutu may have been considered in 1990 as a candidate to replace Runcie as leader of the world’s 77 million Anglicans, but that he did not qualify since, as a South African, he could not swear allegiance to the queen.

The book airs criticisms from some in the Anglican church that the young Tutu was a spendthrift and overly concerned about career advancement.

But while Allen concedes Tutu “loves spending time with Samuel L Jackson and being with celebrities in LA,” he notes he also spends as much as seven hours a day in silent prayer and meditation, a side of his life he tends to keep hidden.

“Tutu the extrovert is the other side of the coin to his silence, prayer and fasting. He can’t do one without the other,” Allen said.

When asked what he thought of Allen’s book, which was released this month, the man known for his infectious laugh replied with characteristic humor.

“It is weird to read one’s biography,” he told the Church Times. “It is rather like when I went to Madame Tussaud’s and saw a man walking up to me with a waxwork effigy of Desmond Tutu under his arm.”

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