Book Review – City Press, Johannesburg

Book review: Rabble-rouser for peace
28/09/2007  – City Press, Johannesburg

John Allen’s authorised biography of Desmond Tutu, entitled Rabble-Rouser For Peace, is a 400-page book that paints a picture of how this man of the cloth’s patience, open-mindedness, assertiveness and diligent efforts helped lead to the peaceful downfall of the former apartheid system.

The book starts by showing how the former Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town’s intelligence and photographic memory helped him to secure tertiary qualifications that allowed him to get a mere three hours sleep each night. But his studies were nearly derailed as some of the church leaders suspected Tutu was a money-monger who couldn’t control his spending.

After ascending to an influential position in his church, Tutu was harshly criticised by some of his colleagues and by apartheid leaders for calling on foreign countries to impose sanctions against South Africa. Tutu rubbed salt in the wounds of his relationship with his colleagues when he warned apartheid leaders that, if they failed to stop carrying out their discrimination, black people would revolt against the system.

Tutu’s peaceful means of fighting against apartheid also led to some of the country’s youth and ANC leadership questioning his motives as someone who was either on the side of the apartheid government or wanted to claim the struggle as belonging to him.

He sacrificed his family time to travel around the world, as well as to various townships and churches to condemn apartheid and tirelessly called for first world countries, such as Britain and America, to impose sanctions against the country.

Allen also shows how Tutu’s love for his children caused his family to be torn apart when his children had to be scattered across several foreign countries to sidestep Bantu education. With the same strength, Tutu condemned atrocities carried out by the apartheid forces, while he also advised freedom fighters to tackle the system peacefully.

After several run-ins with the former British Prime Minister, Margaret “Iron Lady” Thatcher, she finally succumbed to his demands and called for former South African president FW De Klerk to release Nelson Mandela from prison and work towards abolishing apartheid.

Though well-researched, the author needs to improve the book by naming some of the ministers who abused the arm of the law by giving orders to apartheid forces to carry out atrocities against black people. In his revision, the writer should also try to adapt his writing voice so that it can be emotional and punchy, like Tutu’s.

Other shortcomings are that you’ll find a paragraph being congested with too many ideas. This does not only make it difficult for the writer to develop one idea coherently in a single paragraph and chapter, but also makes it hard for the reader to digest and follow what he is trying to say about Tutu’s life without getting lost.

Mpho Sibanyoni