Desmond Mpilo Tutu was a unique character. His sense of humor and contagious laughter have helped resolve many critical situations in South African political and church life. He was able to break out of almost any dead end. He has shared with us the laughter and the grace of God on numerous occasions. He was a man of God with surprising sides.
He was humble. I remember watching his emotions when, as chairman of the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (“TRC”), he listened intently, for hours, weeks, months, to the cries and the pains of thousands of black apartheid victims. At that time he became the pastor of the nation. Nelson Mandela had appointed him to this daunting task in 1994. In the opening session, Tutu spoke with unusual brevity, which Mandela jokingly commented: “For once the Archbishop has failed. not uttered a lot of words, thank goodness. “
Desmond played a key role in shaping the concept of Ubuntu: a person is a person thanks to other people, which implies mutual responsibility and compassion. This concept became the mainstay of the TRC and was enshrined in the South African Constitution.
Tutu has repeatedly emphasized the central role of forgiveness in the TRC. No future without forgiveness. “You can only be human in a human society. If you live with hatred in your heart, you are dehumanizing not only yourself, but your community as well ”. But his vision (like Mandela’s) was not shared by everyone. Some felt that this was too much to ask, especially for people who have suffered and been abused, or that we just have to learn to live together and respect each other.
In the 1970s, Desmond and I were colleagues at the COE. He worked for the London-based Theological Education Fund (TEF), while I worked for the controversial Anti-Racism Program (PCR) in Geneva, which supported the anti-racism liberation movement. apartheid. We weren’t always in sync. At this time, Desmond had to be careful not to be too direct against the Pretoria regime so as not to burn his bridges in his country. But his attitude changed dramatically after his return to South Africa, when he was appointed dean of Johannesburg in 1975 and, a year later, Anglican bishop of Lesotho, then secretary general of the South African Council of Churches (SACC). , and finally the first black archbishop of Cape Town (1987).
In the 1980s, when the struggle against apartheid reached its peak, Desmond did not hesitate to predict black domination: “We need Nelson Mandela,” he said in April 1980, “ because he will almost certainly be the first black prime minister ”. His great courage and moral authority were recognized by the international community when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984.
Along with many other church leaders in South Africa, Desmond was at the forefront of the struggle, providing leadership at the local and national levels. Churches have become meeting places and information centers. Desmond wasn’t afraid to tell those in power the truth: straightforward and with humor. He was irrepressible.
In the late 1980s, President Botha declared a state of emergency across the country, giving the police significantly increased powers. Black leaders were in hiding or were in prison. The only gatherings allowed were those held in churches. At the time, Tutu, as Bishop of Johannesburg, preached a militant sermon in the cathedral, asking with outstretched arms, “Why are we allowing this country to be destroyed?” “
When liberation finally came and a democratically elected parliament began its work, he exclaimed: “I love this dream. You sit on the balcony, you look down and you count all the terrorists. They’re all setting there passing laws. It’s incredible ! Relentlessly, he continued to speak out against injustice, corruption and the abuse of power. When MPs were criticized for accepting big salaries, Tutu commented: “The government stopped the big money train long enough for the politicians in place to get on it. This statement and many others earned him much criticism from the new government.
I will remember Desmond Tutu most of all as a friend and colleague who has reminded us time and time again that instead of racism, disunity, enmity and alienation, “God intended us. to communion, to koinonia, to unity, without destroying our specificity, our cultural identity ”.