Thursday, February 21, 2013

Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu is known for his work as the chairman of the Peace and Reconciliation Commission formed by President Nelson Mandela shortly after his election in South Africa that put an end to Apartheid. Throughout his involvement in the battle against Apartheid, Tutu was instrumental in convincing many of the need for pursuing non-violent opposition against the white regime that had repressed the black majority for so long. Tutu was born on October 7, 1931 in Klerksdorp in the Transvaal into a multiethnic household. To arrive at a better understanding of Tutu’s contribution to the causes of peace and social justice, it would be fitting to describe the nature of Apartheid. In the year 1652, the Dutch came to South Africa where they referred to themselves as Afrikaners. They were later displaced by the British in 1820. The Afrikaners ultimately rebelled against British rule; this opposition led to the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). The Afrikaners ultimately prevailed. The white minority population in power realized that their vulnerability lied in their small number. In 1923, the Native Urban Areas Act was passed. This act deemed urban areas in South Africa as “white” and forced all black African men in cities and towns to carry permits called “passes” at all times. Anyone found without a pass could be arrested immediately and expelled to a rural area. These harsh methods that the government employed proved to be inadequate over time as far as the white power structure was concerned. As a result, the principles of Apartheid were formulated in 1948. It was instituted by the National Party under the platform of the so-called “Black Peril.” Its aim was to insure continued white domination of the black majority and other segments of the population including “Coloreds,” Mixed Race peoples and Indians. The laws crafted under Apartheid held that blacks, coloreds and Indians were to be segregated in the cities where they lived. Blacks were required to live in designated townships and could not live in the suburbs or the major cities. They were allowed, however, to live in urban areas. A notable example of the extremely repressive environment imposed by the system of Apartheid is the Pass Laws Act of 1952. This law made it compulsory for all black South Africans over the age of 16 to carry a “passbook” at all times. This passbook was knows as a dompas; it served as an internal passport and contained extensive identification information. According to this statute, an employer could only be a white person. The law came to be hated throughout South Africa and inspired mass protests leading to the Sharpeville Massacre on March 21, 1960. On that day following massive demonstrations by the blacks in the township of Sharpeville, the South African police opened fire on the crowd killing sixty-nine protestors. The repressive character of Apartheid was enhanced by the so-called “Grand Apartheid.” This overarching social architecture was designed by Hendrik Verwoerd in the mid 1950s. This scheme began to be implemented in the late 1960s. According to this master plan, all blacks in South Africa were to be forcefully relocated to their tribal homelands and kept there. Ultimately, eighty percent of the South African population was forced to live on only thirteen percent of the land. The other part of this plan was that blacks would lose their South African citizenship as they were absorbed into their new tribal homelands. This was the social environment in which Tutu was raised. His reaction to the conditions of his countrymen was informed by his spiritual beliefs. He is an essential optimist and believes in the existence of a moral universe. He is an advocate of the principle of Transfiguration that holds that conditions can change radically and abruptly. In regards to his ideas concerning human nature, the following aptly describes his view - “The ideal society is one in which its members enjoy their freedom to be human freely, provided they do not thereby infringe the freedom of others unduly. We are made to have freedom of association, of expression, of movement, the freedom to choose who will rule over us and how. We are made for this. It is ineluctable. It cannot ultimately be eradicated, this yearning for freedom to be human. This is what tyrants and unjust rulers have come to contend with. They cannot in the end stop their victims from being human. “Their unjust regimes must ultimately fall because they seek to deny something that cannot be denied. No matter how long and how repressive their unjust and undemocratic rule turns out to be, the urge for freedom remains as a subversive element threatening the overthrow of rigid repression. The tyrant is on a road to nowhere even though he may survive for an unconscionably long time and even though he may turn his country into a huge prison riddled with informers, but the end cannot be in doubt. Freedom will break out. People are made for it just as plants tend toward the light and toward water.” The following statement that Tutu made, exemplifies, in my judgment, his worldview, “What is needed is to respect one another’s points of view and not to impute unworthy motives to one another or to seek to impugn the integrity of the other. Our maturity will be judged by how well we are able to agree to disagree and yet continue to love one another, to care for one another and cherish one another and seek the great good of the other.” He has an all inclusive view of humanity and the family of man. He feels that what is needed is to extend the concept of family to include all of humanity. According to Tutu, “The first law of our being is that we are set in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow beings.” He continues, “In Africa recognition of our interdependence is called Ubuntu in Nguni languages. It is the essence of being human. It speaks to the fact that my humanity is caught up and inextricably bound up in yours.” Originally, Tutu wanted to practice medicine, but he contracted tuberculosis and endured an excruciating twenty month recovery. On account of this untimely onset of health issues, he modified his plans and in 1955 he got married and started teaching. In 1960, Tutu went into the ministry in the Anglican Church and was ordained as a Deacon. During this informative period in his life, he was deeply moved and inspired by the courageous work of Father Trevor Huddleston, who became one of the first leaders of the resistance against Apartheid in South Africa. Throughout the momentous years that ultimately led to the long-sought dismantling of Apartheid, Tutu had been sent to London and the Kingdom of Lesotho where he was Bishop. In 1976, he was Dean of the Anglican Church in Johannesburg and was deeply concerned about race relations. He sent an open letter to Prime Minister, John Vorster. This letter was a passionate plea to the government to reconsider its policies. As anticipated, his heart-felt message was ignored. Five weeks after this letter was sent, the Soweto Riots ensued with disastrous results. Soweto was a southwestern township outside Johannesburg - a black-only residential area with a population of three quarters of a million. The residents lived in squalid and oppressive conditions. The Afrikaner government had decreed that black students in Soweto would be instructed in Afrikaans as well as in English. Afrikaans was regarded as the language of the oppressor. Riots began on June 16, 1976; it was the anniversary of the black resistance movement begun in 1952 with the help of black leaders like Nelson Mandela. Thousands of people, mostly children and young adults, took to the streets. The government reacted violently and in the end dozens if not hundreds of children were killed or injured. Tutu rushed to Soweto as soon as he heard. He pleaded with the government to pull back, but he did not have the political clout that he enjoys today. His entreaties were ignored. Although Tutu was not involved in the African National Congress (ANC) - founded in 1912 - and the resistance movement that began in the 1950s under the guidance of Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, he collaborated with them during the resistance of the 1970s and 1980s. On December 10, 1984, Tutu received the Nobel Peace Prize for his nonviolent efforts towards social and political reform in South Africa and in the following year, he was chosen as Anglican Bishop of Johannesburg. In this period of time, the South African Government was coming under increasing economic pressure from the world community in regards to Apartheid. As a result, the government became more intransigent in its position and intensified its repressive tactics. The level of violence escalated and on a number of occasions Tutu risked his personal safety to intervene. In one particular instance, he personally rescued a man, who was suspected of being a police informant, from being “necklaced” - burned alive from a gasoline-filled tire placed around the victim’s neck. The presiding South African Prime Minister, P.W. Botha, came to understand that change was inevitable and began to relax the pass laws. Along with these changes, Nelson Mandela was released from solitary confinement. Blacks, however, continued to be segregated into tribal homelands. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, as exemplified by the fall of the Berlin Wall, was a compelling indicator that long-held assumptions regarding race and power were no longer tenable. Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison in February, 1990 after spending twenty-seven years in prison. Following his release, Mandela began having discussions with President F.W. de Klerk who had replaced P.W. Botha. In spite of these discussions, the South African government was quietly inciting violence. In addition, The ANC was also involved in an internal struggle with Zulu leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi. These were very difficult times, and Tutu was very outspoken against this violence and feared the worst. In the spring of 1994, despite the turmoil and violent unrest, an agreement was reached to hold elections in April of that year in which all South Africans would participate. The opponents in that election were Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk. The outcome, of course, was a foregone conclusion. Tutu’s work, however, was not over. On account of the years of horrific violence and suffering of the majority black population at the hands of the Afrikaners, there was a considerable residue of hatred felt by the many victims of Apartheid. Fearing that this might lead to violent upheaval and bloody reprisals, President Mandela asked Tutu to be the chairperson of the newly created Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He was suddenly faced with an awesome responsibility. It was the mission of this commission to expose the truth and yet find the wherewithal to let the past go. It was decided to limit the scope of the investigation to the years between 1960 and 1994. The commission not only looked into the transgressions perpetrated by the white regime but also the violence initiated by the resistance. Tutu insisted that all findings be made public and on October 29, 1998 he presented the five volume report to President Mandela. Desmond Tutu made a remarkable contribution not only to his country but to a world grown weary of war and violence. He persisted in pursuing his vision of peace and reconciliation in spite of events that seemed to suggest otherwise. He retained his optimistic vision, and that vision ultimately prevailed.

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