A review by David Russell, former bishop of Grahamstown, published in Gateway, the journal of St. George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, in December 2006. Click on the headline above to pull up the full page and click on the PDF to read the review.
National Public Radio
December 5, 2006 · Journalist John Allen wrote Rabble-Rouser for Peace, an authorized biography of South African theologian and activist Desmond Tutu. Allen discusses the book with Tony Cox.
Listen to the interview by going to the following page and pressing the “Listen” button:
The Book Review, by Timothy Twidle
John Allen’s truly magnificent book makes for riveting reading. I was invited to the launch of the book in Cape Town but was unable to attend.
However my review copy from Random House arrived on the self same afternoon, Thursday September 28. I opened the book and began reading right there and then, became utterly engrossed and turned the last page on Sunday afternoon!
‘Rabble-Rouser for Peace’ is a consummate work of scholarship that charts the rise and rise of Desmond Tutu through the hierarchy of the Anglican Church in South Africa. So abundant were his talents that, when coupled with an intellect of complete integrity and a spontaneous, extrovert personality, Tutu’s ascent within the body politic of the church was meteoric.
Above all, he emerges as a man of humility with a flair for public relations – if he had entered the world of corporatism, this kind outgoing person would have been director of marketing at 35 years of age, chief executive officer by the age of two score years, and Chairman of the Board in his early 40s.
It has been to the great good fortune of South Africa that the unique skills of Desmond Tutu have been directed solely towards the promotion and marketing of South Africa Inc., instead of to a multinational giant of the corporate world.
In his book, John Allen describes how Tutu deployed a diplomatic tour de force on the international stage, to bring about peaceful change in SA. Subsequent to being awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1984 and thereafter enthroned as Archbishop of Cape Town (1986), Tutu was able to network with world leaders, sporting a mix of panache and effervescent good humour.
In 1995 he was appointed by then President Nelson Mandela to lead the Truth and Reconciliation Commission – the final report of its findings was handed over in October 1998. It is the considered opinion of many people, both nationally and internationally, that only a man of Tutu’s moral stature could have made the TRC work in the manner that it did, as a catharsis of forgiveness and hope for the future. Today the commission’s work is recognised globally and used as a model of conflict resolution in many countries.
‘Rabble-Rouser for Peace’ is my book of the year and is required reading for anybody who works, dwells or is in any way involved in South Africa.
“Rabble-Rouser for Peace” lays bare “Tutu’s warts,” writes Kevin Ritchie, in a review published in The Star, Johannesburg on October 12, 2006, but Tutu does not emerge from this treatment diminished in any way.
The book “will make sure we never forget to appreciate Tutu’s contribution to this country…”
Click on the headline above to pull up this post, then on a PDF of the full review.
10 November 2006
Financial Mail – BOOK OF THE WEEK
Mighty fighter in a mitre
By Richard Steyn
Desmond Tutu may rightfully be described as the conscience of the nation.
It is not necessary to agree with all his arguments, approve of his occasional histrionics or share his unbounded optimism to recognise that no-one has stood up more consistently for his principles or tried harder to heal the wounds of racism than this turbulent Anglican prelate. Unlike the sainted Mandela, Tutu has never needed to answer to a political constituency. His lodestar has always been his Christian belief, especially its core tenets of repentance and forgiveness. And his courage and humanity since apartheid’s darkest days have been a marvellous advertisement for his faith.
Few people know Tutu as well as John Allen, a seasoned journalist who worked alongside him for almost 20 years. In this well-researched and admirably even-handed biography published to coincide with his subject’s 75th birthday, Allen traces Tutu’s career: from sickly childhood through student life and early career in the church; to his tempestuous struggle, as general secretary of the SA Council of Churches and Archbishop of Cape Town, against successive apartheid governments; and his subsequent chairmanship of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission.
The defining moment of Tutu’s career was undoubtedly being awarded the Nobel peace prize, which transformed him into a figure of international renown and afforded him some protection from those in government who wished dearly to shut him up. It enabled him to become, in Mandela’s words, apartheid’s “public enemy number one”.
Besides exceptional bravery – and a liking for the occasional rum and coke – what distinguishes Tutu from his clerical peers are his inimitable speaking style and his irrepressible sense of humour. To hear “the Arch” preach – and screech – is an entertainment in itself. Lin Menge of the Rand Daily Mail best captured his style in this description of an address at an SACC public meeting: “One minute whites were being swept along, submerged in a black political tirade; the next minute, they were being set down, safe and sound, on the sunny banks of racial amity. And after each dunking, whitey came a little closer to seeing the… black bishop, not as the monster who threw him in, but as the nice uncle who pulled him out.”
Tutu made few, if any, compromises with racism, or with those who advocated violence for political ends. He showed as much courage in speaking out against apartheid from the pulpit or public platform as in calming the masses at political funerals or saving terrified victims from the “necklace”. In the post-apartheid era, he has often castigated the ANC leadership for its shortcomings. No-one else in the black establishment has had the temerity to describe Robert Mugabe as “bonkers” or to say that Jacob Zuma is unsuitable for the presidency of SA.
As Allen observes in his epilogue, unlike Gandhi, Martin Luther King jnr and others who struggled for fundamental change in unjust societies, Tutu has been fortunate to reap the fruits of his endeavours during his own lifetime. Yet how well he deserves to. A sage once described leadership as being the ability to take people from where they were to where they have not been before. By that measure – and on the evidence of this fine book – Tutu’s place in the pantheon of inspirational leaders is secure.
By Renuka Narayanan
New Delhi, November 20, 2006
Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorised Biography of Desmond Tutu
Author: John Allen
Publisher: Random House
Ask South Africans of Indian origin about race relations in the African country and some lament: “Alas, the gains made by Tutu and Mandela are being rolled back by the whites.”
The new biography of Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu is helpful up to a point. Written by the former religion correspondent of a major South African daily newspaper, the book is written with warmth and with as intimate an acquaintance with Tutu as circumstances have allowed.
John Allen tracked Tutu from his rise to prominence following the Soweto uprising of 1976 and served with Tutu for 13 years, first as his press secretary and then as communications director of South Africa’s poignantly named Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and at Emory University, USA.
Reading through his account of Tutu’s life-story is one long heartache especially for an Indian reader and especially in this year, which is the centenary of the year in which Mahatma Gandhi, then in South Africa, conceived the Satyagraha movement.
Allen tells a gripping tale in spare, tight prose. He wisely refrains from adding more descriptive masala of his own, since the events themselves are so dramatic and the quotes and conversations moving and terrifying in themselves.
The story tells the reader things not generally known before. The social and spiritual context into which Tutu was born, especially the legacy of two Xhosa prophets of the early 19th century who gave spiritual sustenance to a society already under the white Boers and then under siege by the British. One of them, Makhanda, blended Christian precepts with Xhosa tradition to provide a religious framework against British aggression.
Tutu’s own family changes churches from Methodist to Anglican and at age seven, Tutu serves at a church in Tshing. His mother becomes a powerful influence on his life. Wanting to become a doctor to fight against rampant tuberculosis in his country Tutu is eventually ordained as a minister, after which his life takes on his own character: a profound blend of war and peace. Peace as a man of god, whose ministry embraces even P W Botha, the Vlaakplaas commander who was identified by a government commission as “the man who took the State into the realms of criminality” for the abduction, torture and killing of people opposed to the government.
Allen describes Tutu’s dealings with rivals and naysayers within his own group of loyalists, including the nuances of his relationship with the Mandelas, other African leaders and the international community with unbiased clarity. Given the fraught conditions in South Africa, the reader closes this well-told account of a brave life with the fervent hope that Tutu’s courage will indeed help his nation “reconcile faith to justice”.
Former aide John Allen’s authorised biography offers an intimate view of Desmond Tutu, says John Carlin
Sunday November 12, 2006
Rabble-Rouser for Peace: The Authorised Biography of Desmond Tutu
by John Allen
Rider Books £18.99, pp496
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.
There’s no mystery about it. It’s all to do with his perfect pitch. 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 that you come away with the impression that he has a direct line to God.
And we’re not just talking about words here. He sobs when it is appropriate to sob. And he laughs – no Nobel Peace Prize winner, surely, has ever done so more often or with more gusto – when laughter is what the moment demands. Listening to the tape of a one-hour interview I did with him in 1994 after he had had a comically unlikely public spat with his good friend and President, Nelson Mandela, I counted the number of times he laughed: 47, from giggle to chortle to guffaw. And yet the interview was never frivolous. He spoke, among other things, about his concern that his country’s new rulers might succumb to corruption and about his hopes for peace in Northern Ireland, with wisdom, courage and clairvoyance.
John Allen’s authorised biography charts the inside story of Tutu’s dazzlingly effective part in the struggle against apartheid and the sensitive, judicious role he played afterwards as head of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. One message that comes across powerfully reading Allen, a journalist who was Tutu’s right-hand man from 1987 to 2000, is the political nous which Tutu deployed.
During the fraught Eighties in South Africa, defined by constant street battles between the security forces and the black township youth, Tutu delivered one mightily influential speech after another. A tremendous orator, he inflamed his audiences’ outrage at the injustice they were forced to endure while contriving to steer their passions towards peaceful action. He knew how to seize on people’s anger, drain the violence out of it and channel it into energetic hope. He rabble-roused, as this biography’s title so perfectly conveys it, for peace.
Tutu did this most memorably at the moment when South Africa came closest to all-out racial war. It was in Easter 1993 just after the assassination of the most popular individual in the African National Council after Mandela, the guerrilla commander Chris Hani. At his funeral, Mandela and the rest of the ANC leadership ‘sat enthralled’, Allen reminds us, as Tutu spurred a crowd of 120,000 to repeat after him the chants, over and over: ‘We will be free!’, ‘All of us!’, ‘Black and white together!’ He wrapped up his speech, transforming tragedy into triumph, with a thunderous finale: ‘We are the rainbow people of God! We are unstoppable! Nobody can stop us on our march to victory! No one, no guns, nothing! Nothing will stop us, for we are moving to freedom! We are moving to freedom and nobody can stop us! For God is on our side!’
Where Allen’s biography has an edge over previous and, most probably, future efforts to capture Tutu’s life is that he tells us, with the intimacy only a trusted friend could glean, what was going on inside Tutu’s head: his misgivings, his fears, his disappointments, his ambitions as he wrestled the apartheid beast.
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.’
Yousef Abu Gharbieh
Few religious leaders have caused as much political change as Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
South African journalist John Allen presented his latest book “Rabble Rouser for Peace: The Authorized Biography of Desmond Tutu” to a packed auditorium of students and faculty at the Divinity School Thursday night.
Allen outlined Tutu’s life story to the audience, from his obscure roots to his position as a religious icon and anti-Apartheid leader in South Africa.
Tutu’s unique oratorical style and talent for mobilizing crowds helped him earn a Nobel Peace Prize in 1984, and gave him a leading role in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-Apartheid South Africa.
Allen said that as a young man Tutu wanted to help others as a doctor-not a priest.
Tutu, however, became a teacher because his family was too poor to send him to medical school. Soon after, he was forced out of teaching when the Apartheid government systematically nationalized the church schools in which blacks were educated.
In place of the church schools, the government created a system of segregated schools “designed to educate blacks for a life of servitude,” Allen said.
The nationalization of the schools was part of a larger program to strengthen Apartheid, which included the forcible resettlement of many black South Africans and the destruction of their neighborhoods.
At this point of tumultuous change, Tutu turned to the Anglican priesthood.
Tutu’s intelligence and zeal earned him a recommendation to King’s College in London, England for further theological training. He returned prepared for a life of work within the Church.
“[He was] politically aware, but not politically active,” Allen said.
Allen added that Tutu became an activist after witnessing peaceful student demonstrators mauled by police dogs in 1968.
“The terrified group of students was surrounded by the police and dogs, and suddenly Tutu broke through, to be with the students,” Allen said, adding that Tutu believed he was obligated to be an activist from that moment on.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, Tutu became one of the principal leaders in the anti-Apartheid movement. Because of his position as a clergyman, Tutu was able to openly criticize the South African government in a way few others could.
“He was exceptional because he was willing to speak out no matter what the consequences,” Allen said. “He had a way with words, and wasn’t willing to compromise his language when speaking to whites-he could get under their skin.”
The symbolic importance of Tutu’s legacy goes beyond his role as a political activist.
“He is an example that shows how the gospel of Jesus Christ should react under oppression… he became an example for other ministers to use non-violence against brutal, oppressive systems,” said Ellis Carson, a first-year Divinity student.