At a time like this, it is natural to want to relate some memorable events in the life of a person that we have come to know, respect and appreciate, first and foremost for the man he was. In this case, he was a warm, sympathetic, easy-going and rather lively man!
Next are the memories that flow from the important things he did that were important by their very nature or by the impact they had on you as someone with shared life and work experiences.
The third series of memories is definitely linked to the “political” role played by man, especially with regard to the future development of the country and the nation.
In the case of Desmond Tutu, I would like to focus on the third set of memories, namely his role as a Church leader, engaged in solving the fundamental issues that shaped the South Africa that most people longed for. : an independent, democratic, non-racist and non-sexist nation and country.
I remember him, when he was the most passionate, leading protest marches and demonstrations against apartheid in general, or against a particularly unpleasant new direction taken by the government.
But I also remember the ardor with which he spoke when he asked the various leaders of the liberation struggle to reconcile their differences for the greater good of the nation! One example is the summoning of all black leaders to Bishop’s Court to engage with Church leaders in a common attitude summed up by the aspiration mentioned above!
I especially remember the role of Desmond Tutu in saving lives at the funeral of Chris Hani (1). I think never before has the country been so close to a spark that could have sparked a civil war.
Tutu simply pointed out the futility of life-taking violence and called for prayer and dignified mourning to foster peace and calm reflection instead of inflaming an already volatile situation. He simply repeated his calls for peace and quiet as the best way to bear witness to Chris Hani.
But I also remember Desmond Tutu as a Church leader deeply involved in the ecumenical movement, who worked with perseverance to bring the Churches together in order to deploy more effective efforts to reduce the political, economic and above all social gaps that threatened to further divide our people.
As I share these thoughts and memories, I am fully aware of the human pain Desmond’s death has brought to his widow Leah, family and friends, and to his Anglican siblings. I therefore express my sincere condolences and sympathy to them.
May he rest in peace.