Tag Archives: Rabble-Rouser for Peace

Working with a rabble-rouser

Working with a rabble-rouser

From Times Online
October 10, 2007

John Allen spent 13 years following in the wake of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as the author of his biography, he explains what motivated the rabble-rouser and what kept him going through the dark days of apartheid

by Joanna Sugden

He’s been called an “angry, evil and embittered little bishop” by Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe which must be a badge of honour.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who turned 76 on Sunday, can claim so many titles, Nobel Peace Laureate, anti-apartheid activist, chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, but in his authorised biography, he is the rabble-rouser for peace. As apt a description as Mugabe’s is offensive.

John Allen, biographer and former pressman for the diminutive Archbishop took the title from Mrs Albertina Sisulu, leader of the United Democratic Front. After rallies in 1980s South Africa, she would gently berate him, “You’re a rabble-rouser!”

But it wasn’t until Tutu really started clashing with the South African government over racial segregation, that Allen thought “this man is the subject of a biography”.

“He doesn’t like confrontation, but when he sees people being mistreated he thinks ‘I have to speak out’”.

Allen followed the Archbishop’s work in South Africa while he was a journalist covering religion, and then worked as his press officer for 13 years. “It was hard to keep up with him – he had a depth of commitment of ministry where you stay with your flock, you do your job, which is to nurture them and be their confessor.”

Tutu was, according to Allen, “called to be with his people” and took that ministry seriously. “He was a rabble-rouser, but more than being an activist he had a fundamental concern for people – the mother or grandmother who just wanted to get on with their lives – it was when people like that, so-called ordinary people, when they suffered at the hands of the government, that’s what incensed him.”

It was also led him to work tirelessly to fulfill the instruction in Micah to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly before God.

So how did he maintain the boundless enthusiasm for his work and for life in the dark days of apartheid?

“You can’t talk about Tutu without his prayer life,” says Allen, “It is integral to his faith, and his spirituality sustains him.” Everyday Allen worked with Tutu the Archbishop would rise at four o’clock in the morning spending the hours of dawn in prayer, exercising and in silence. Again in the middle of the day Tutu would, emulating Jesus, withdraw to be alone, as he would each evening.

“To get the ebullient Tutu, who connects with people, you have to give him the hours and hours of silence on which he depends,” says Allen, encapsulating the man as well as any of his grand titles.

Book extract

“Rabble-Rouser” Now In Six Languages

Rabble-Rouser for Peace” has now also been published in Chinese, German and Dutch.

This after a launch of the Swedish translation at “Bok & Bibliotek,” the huge annual Swedish book fair in Göteborg . The Swedish publishers of the book ordered a second printing during the book fair.

In 2007 “Rabble-Rouser” was described by the judges of South Africa’s Alan Paton Award for Non-fiction as: “The definitive study of the life of one of South Africa’s great heroes… A full, rich account of Tutu’s life…” The book was shortlisted for the 2007 award

The British/South African edition of the book was published in paperback late in 2007, and the U.S. edition in 2008.

The book has been published in Danish under the title, “Fredsrebellen,” in Dutch as “Rebel Voor de Vrede” and in Swedish as “RÄTTVISANS REBELL,” which can be translated as “Rebel for righteousness/ fairness/ right(s).”

It is also available in paperback in the North American and Commonwealth markets.

For more background to the book, see:

Tutu: Moses of Africa

Tutu: Moses of Africa
The East African, Nairobi

TWO DRAMATIC PICTURES capture the spirit of this book; one blurred shot taken in 1980 in the Eastern Rand, South Africa, shows Desmond Tutu struggling to stay upright as a man about to be lynched clings to his legs.

The second shot, taken nine years later in Gugulethu, Cape Town, shows him in his cassock outside a church, with four other men silhouetted against a rising cloud of tear gas.

The black and white prints tell of the drama, urgency and danger of life was under apartheid. They also say much about the perilous centrestage role that Desmond Tutu — who was later to become the Archbishop of Cape Town — played. Before many knew of Nelson Mandela, Tutu was the man who would deliver black people from oppression. He was the man to declare South Africa a Rainbow Nation before apartheid died.

The most dangerous episodes of his career as a freedom fighter were not captured on camera, like the shouting match he had with former president P.W. Botha before the president ordered church property bombed — or when police operatives nearly succeeded in causing him a fatal accident by shredding one of his car’s tires.

The cold discussion a group of white officers had in Johannesburg on how to plunge a sharpened bicycle spike into Tutu’s back would only come out later as a confession.

Rabble-Rouser for Peace is no ordinary story, as Tutu was no ordinary archbishop. Apartheid was an extraordinary creation, so much so that it now sounds like theatre of the absurd. John Allen, long time journalist under apartheid, brings us the heartwrenching narrative of what it was like back then.

It is the courage of Tutu that forms the central theme of the book. He was born 17 years before the 1948 election of the Boer ultra-nationalist party that was to impose apartheid. His family was forcibly relocated and their land given to white farmers.

Tutu lived his life through sheer willpower. But it was his manner of fighting that confronted apartheid with a weapon the powers-that-be had no answer to. The parade of apartheid rulers who rose up to confront Tutu met iron determination — Verwoerd, Vorster, Botha, were beaten one at a time.

Tutu gave good for evil; he stopped black youth attacking the white police officers who wanted him dead. He was preaching peace at the funeral of Steve Biko in 1976 while kilometres way, his wife Leah was getting whipped with the rawhide whip, the Sjambok. In the end, the South Africa that emerged in 1994 was shaped by Tutu.

WITHIN THE PAGES OF this book, we re-live once more the adrenaline-charged years of hatred, fear and murder.

It is the world of the 1980s, of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Mikhail Gorbachev at the height of the cold-war. The first two were the leaders of the “free world,” for whom freedom was not necessarily deserved by black people. For Reagan and Thatcher, Tutu was a spoiler, a man preparing the way for a communist takeover of South Africa. His calls for sanctions against South Africa went against lucrative economic interests.

Thatcher therefore said sanctions would “only hurt the poor black people.” Tutu’s caustic remark was that sanctions could not hurt worse than apartheid.

A rather witless Reagan took the apartheid view that white rule was majority rule since blacks were from different, small ethnic groups.

“He has really been saying that blacks are expendable,” Tutu lashed out at Reagan. “I said he was a crypto-racist. I think I should say now he is a racist pure and simple.”

In fighting Tutu, Reagan and Thatcher were to join Botha and Vorster. In 1980s USA, Tutu was a star. His preaching tours drew thousands of people. As a speaker, his power to move crowds was exceptional.

Attacking the view that black people were small tribes and the creation of the department of plural relations to replace the Bantu affairs department, Tutu’s damaging mockery drew laughter from a New Orleans church, where the audience included vice president George Bush.

“Presumably now we (blacks) were plurals, one of whom would be that very odd thing, a singular plural,” Tutu said. “….and perhaps one coming from the countryside would be a rural plural.”

Through the 1970s and 1980s, it was Tutu, not Mandela, who was the better known anti-apartheid fighter. Of whether he might have become president of South Africa, Tutu said he had been “interim political leader,” that he was a pastor, not a politician, “with no intention of entering party politics.”

It is a magnificently written book, frequently punctuated with stirring narratives of gallantry; Tutu losing his temper while facing President Botha, wagging a finger in his face.

In a way, Tutu was South Africa’s first black president at large. From this book, an image emerges of him as of the biblical Moses — the warrior priest calling down damnation.

Pick of the paperbacks- Extract from Telegraph, UK column

Pick of the paperbacks

John Allen was close to Desmond Tutu, his right-hand man indeed, for quite a number of years and is therefore a good person for this official biography. His title sums up the Archbishop’s ability (rare in South Africa) to excite huge crowds to love peace rather than violence.

The warts are there in the picture too, with Tutu’s occasional moments of despair and, saddest of all, his failure to convince some of his fellow-clerics that it was right to mix politics and religion. NB

Biography of Desmond Tutu is rewarding read

Mountain Echo,  News from the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont
By John Morris

In November of 2006, my wife, Susan, and I had the opportunity to be in South Africa for two weeks. We visited our daughter, who has been studying there for three years, and we toured some towns and cities, met a lot of her friends, and saw some beautiful countryside and ocean shore. One of the last things I did before we returned home was purchase a copy of the new Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Desmond Tutu, by John Allen. With South Africa’s history and culture and geography so fresh in my mind, I thought there would be no better time to read this book.

The experience of reading Allen’s book (I read the first half during the 15 hour flight home!) was quite rewarding. Archbishop Tutu has long been a hero of mine, but I was pleased to find that Allen has not written a hagiography. This is a real biography of someone who is often lovable, sometimes annoying and always very complex. Even though John Allen was Tutu’s press secretary for many years, he is not a “spin doctor.” He presents Tutu warts and all.

Let’s document a few of the “warts” first, and then turn to the celebration of a remarkable Christian.

In his work as a church leader and his efforts in the anti-apartheid movement, Archbishop Tutu seems all too often to have been a “Lone Ranger.” Maybe all prophets, ancient or modern, have this tendency to hear the Word of God and then leap into action. Sometimes that is effective, but other times it means the benefits of collaboration and strategic planning are lost. Allen does a good job of describing how this dynamic affected Tutu’s work.

Allen has deep affection for Leah, the Archbishop’s wife, who made many of her own significant contributions to the South African struggle for freedom but of necessity had to live in the shadow of her famous husband. Allen does not back away from describing the pain that Leah occasionally experienced as she had to deal with her husband’s often unilateral decisions about his career. Fortunately, Allen has included some wonderful photos that trace Tutu’s life. In one of them, the joyful expressions on the faces of Desmond and Leah in retirement in their garden suggest that they found ways to cope with the tensions in their marriage.

Other aspects of Tutu’s life that Allen presents with great honesty are the fact that he sometimes lived beyond his means and got into some financial hard times as a result and the fact that the limelight of international fame and travel sometimes seems to have lured him away from important work that needed attention back home.

Having said all of this, though, I want to emphasize that the book is a joy to read. It is long—444 pages, including glossary, notes, and an extensive bibliography—but the length seems necessary to record adequately the incredible work that this man has done. Tutu is clearly a “one of a kind” person. Anglican Church leaders in South Africa recognized this very early on and made sure that Tutu got some advanced theological education in England. It was clear to them that he was going to be the fi rst black African to rise to top levels of church leadership.

Two of the most heartwarming anecdotes that Allen records are from Tutu’s sojourn in England: first, when Tutu was treated with unexpected—for him—respect by a bank teller and, later, when he and Leah enjoyed stopping to ask London bobbies for directions—even when they knew where they were going—because they were so delighted with the dignity with which they were treated by these policemen.

Tutu rose quickly in the hierarchy. The reader becomes almost dizzy in following this rise, but Tutu’s manifold skills, profound spirituality, infectious sense of humor, and steadfast commitment to the anti-apartheid struggle are eloquently celebrated in Allen’s writing. Also, Allen gives us some real insight into the personal anguish that Tutu often experienced because he was in the midst of so much outrageous suffering in the lives of his people as they were oppressed by the incredibly evil actions of the powers that be. But mixed with the tears (Tutu often broke down and wept as he listened to testimony given to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission), there is always the archbishop’s laughter. We can almost hear it echoing from the pages of the book.

To get an example of the exuberant joy at the heart of Tutu’s spirituality and behind his laughter, one can download an interview done at Trinity Church, Wall Street on October 23, 2006. In this interview, John Hockenberry talks to both John Allen and Archbishop Tutu about the book and about Tutu’s life. It is amazing how often Tutu breaks into spontaneous laughter, such as when recounting the ineptness of the police in trying to disrupt a protest march that Tutu led.

I came away from this biography with a new sense of admiration for this heroic Christian and a profound appreciation for the way that Tutu’s deep spirituality, his constant sense of God’s presence, his devotion to Scripture, and his strong faith community provided him with the support necessary for him to achieve so much against overwhelming odds. Can this story be inspiration for all of us in whatever ministries we have? I hope so.

John Morris is rector of St. Martin’s, Fairlee, and the author of First Comes Love?: The Ever-Changing Face of Marriage, published in January by The Pilgrim Press.

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

A Different Kind of Christianity

FaithInSociety blog, November 2006

Despite a daft headline (presumably it was meant as ironic), there’s an interesting review by John Carlin of the new Archbishop Desmond Tutu biography, published in The Observer. The key point is, Tutu communicates an interest in others and a vibrancy for life not centred on himself, a ‘religious in-group’ or the church as institution. Rather, he invites us to experience the possibility of the Gospel as a generous, capacious, inviting and domination-free adventure which treats others with dignity and respect. This, not defensive whingeing about “loss of profile” at Christmas (Archbishop Sentamu, sadly) is what the churches badly need to re-focus on. Integrity rather than self-assertion is what they have to demonstrate, in deeds as well as words. Carlin writes:

“I have talked to a number of friends who have spent time, as I have, with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and they feel the same way. There’s no one we know who rattles our non-belief as he does… Whether you are in private with him or part of a large crowd, whether the occasion is joyous or tragic, whether the issue is complex or straightforward, Tutu strikes the right chord. He is so unfailingly lucid, penetrating and inspired… John Allen’s wonderfully humanising biography offers plenty of cheerful anecdote and serious insight. None more so, perhaps, than in Tutu’s silent response to the news that he had been awarded the 1984 Nobel Peace Prize. Overjoyed as he was, he paused for a moment to read to himself Psalm 139. Two lines from it read: ‘There is not a word on my tongue/But you Lord know it altogether.’ Just so.”

“Readable biography… No plaster saint”

New Internationalist, January 2007

Rabble-Rouser for Peace/ What Happens After Mugabe/ The Book of Not

Most people would agree that, Nelson Mandela apart, the pre-eminent figure embodying South Africa’s long struggle for freedom and democracy has been Archbishop Desmond Tutu. In the darkest times, Tutu was always there, speaking at countless demonstrations and rallies and bearing witness to the evil perpetrated by apartheid. When liberty was won, his leadership of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set the country on the path to justice when it could so easily have taken the alternative route to bloody retribution.

Desmond Tutu’s journey from destitute township to world moral leader is well told in John Allen’s readable biography, Rabble-Rouser for Peace. The picture that emerges is of a man driven by his passion and his belief in humanity; an indomitable spirit who never lost hope that truth would prevail. But this is no plaster saint and we glimpse the private life of the man and, crucially, the sparkling zest of someone who sees humour and enjoyment as powerful ripostes to oppression and injustice. The story of Desmond Tutu’s life has also been the story of his country’s turbulent journey towards the fulfilment of a dream. May he remain a potent reminder that justice and peace have to be fought for every step of the way.

If South Africa stands as a qualified success story, then Zimbabwe is the flip-side of the coin. Its birth as a democratic country in 1980 was accompanied by a blaze of worldwide goodwill and a widespread belief that Zimbabwe could be a beacon of good governance. The reality has turned out to be a grim nightmare. Twenty-six years of increasingly authoritarian rule by Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party have seen famine and destitution, Government indifference while HIV spreads unchecked, race used as an ugly political tool, and parliament, the judiciary and the press reduced to obedient claques. The octogenarian Mugabe clings to power, railing against ‘outside forces’ as his country decays and his people despair. There is not one area of Zimbabwe’s infrastructure that has not been looted and left to rot.

With passion and anger Geoff Hill lays bare the full sad story in his book What Happens After Mugabe? But his main focus is not on what might have been but on what is to come. Mugabe cannot live forever and, when he is gone, the people of Zimbabwe will have to build again from the rubble he leaves. Hill does not play down the Herculean nature of the tasks ahead but neither does he submit to hopelessness. As he points out, other African nations have rebuilt successfully after calamities, most notably South Africa after apartheid and Rwanda after genocide, and both can offer excellent models for a Zimbabwean renaissance.

Zimbabwe’s artists and writers have suffered their share of grief at the hands of the Mugabe clique. Those who greeted independence with optimism have seen their dreams trampled. One of the early stars of Zimbabwean literature was Tsitsi Dangarembga whose début novel, Nervous Conditions, published in 1988, charted the aspirations and fears of a generation of young Zimbabweans personified in Tambu as she embarked on her education at The Young Ladies College of the Sacred Heart and her more worldly-wise cousin, Nyasha, brought up in England and alienated from her homeland.

Eighteen years on and Dangarembga has written a sequel, The Book of Not, which picks up the threads of Tambu’s life. In a narrative that overlaps the original novel, the author uses the gradual coming to adult awareness of Tambu and the chaotic, enveloping nature of her family life as emblematic of the emergence of the country from colonialism and its traumatic transition to nationhood. The prismatic nature of Dangarembga’s prose and her huge cast of characters is initially bewildering, but becomes an immersing read as the tangled tales interweave personal narratives and political forces. The positioning of Tambu as an ‘everywoman’ allows the author great scope to explore the fissures and fault lines of Zimbabwean society, both under colonial rule and under Mugabe’s baleful regime. There is hope, but an ambiguous hope at best, in The Book of Not. At the end of the book, as she comes of age, Tambu wonders what the future holds for her as a ‘new Zimbabwean’. Tsitsi Dangarembga is, we are told, at work on the third book in the ‘Tambu’ trilogy. It is to be hoped that what she charts is the brighter future that both her protagonist and the people of Zimbabwe so long for and so deserve.

Bookwatch – The Hindu

Bookwatch – The Hindu


TUTU continued to crave more time for meditation and prayer. But this longing conflicted with many other impulses… the attractions of the money to be earned on the speaking circuit; …his enjoyment of the limelight…” Would a comment like this have made it into a biography of South African leader and Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu had the biographer been an Indian?

Unlikely. For, Indians tend to eulogise and turn biographies of even living persons into obituaries; whitewashing the warts that make up any human being. But, John Allen — while obviously being in awe of the man he is chronicling — is candid enough to portray him as he is: a mortal with his fair share of weaknesses.

In Rabble-Rouser for Peace, Allen brings to the book inside information gathered during his long association with Tutu; first as his press secretary and then as Communications Director of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Add to this the fact that Allen was for long the religion correspondent for a major South African daily and was, therefore, familiar with the church politics including “intrigue behind his [Tutu’s] rise through the hierarchy of the Church”.

Tracing the life of Tutu from South Africa’s poverty-stricken black township on to the world’s centre stage, the biography also doubles up as an account of the struggle against apartheid as the bishop’s life was co-terminus with the movement. And, unlike the two other great 20th Century catalysts for social change — Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. — Tutu and Nelson Mandela not only got a chance to usher in a new era, but also live long enough to see it evolve; faults et al.