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Archbishop Tutu: He gave servant leadership to oppressed people

31 December 2021 03:22 am - 1     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


In international journalism, he is referred to merely as Archbishop Desmond Tutu, although the mentioning of his name warrants the prefix “The Most Reverend.” At a time when some clergymen are seen to be abusing their titles and positions and leading a life that contradicts the philosophy of the creed they are attached to, Archbishop Emeritus Tutu rose above titles to leave behind a legacy that will be a gold standard for the role of the clergy.
He was different because, to use the Christian theological terminology, he was a feet-washing servant leader, a description that most suited him although he has other titles such as Nobel Peace laureate and winner of numerous international awards in recognition of his unwavering determination to end the atrocious apartheid system in South Africa.

While the legendary Nelson Mandela and other African National Congress leaders were behind bars, it was Archbishop Emeritus Tutu who stood as the standard bearer of the native South Africans’ fight against apartheid, one of human history’s worst forms of oppression. It degraded and segregated people and permitted the minority white rulers to discriminate against the majority native South Africans referred to as the blacks, merely on the basis of their skin colour.  When apartheid lasted from 1948 to 1994, the white minority rulers decided for the blacks and the browns as to who could do what, who could go where, who could do what job, who could own what and who could and could not take part in government.

With the dismantling of the apartheid system, Archbishop Emeritus Tutu’s struggle did not end. He gave exemplary leadership to South Africa’s truth and reconciliation process which focused not on retributory justice but on restorative justice.  Instead of punishment for apartheid crimes, the process promoted forgiveness and national harmony, though the atrocity with which apartheid was implemented was preserved for posterity in the form of witness stories, with the sole intention of preventing any recurrence not only in South Africa but anywhere in the world.

As the people the world over unenthusiastically welcome the New Year tomorrow amidst a raging pandemic, the anti-apartheid icon will be bidding farewell in a simple ceremony in Cape Town in keeping with his wishes. He wanted no ostentatiousness or lavish spending and even asked that the coffin be the cheapest available. 
In a message upon hearing of the death of Archbishop Emeritus Tutu, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa described him as a man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid. “He was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world.”

The world needs more of Desmond Tutu, for whom religion also means speaking out against injustice in support of the vulnerable, the oppressed and the marginalized.  This was why he remained a powerful voice of the Palestinian freedom struggle. While many nations, including the countries which championed non-alignment and third world solidarity, have abandoned the Palestinian people and even give tacit support for Israeli occupation of Palestinian land, Archbishop Emeritus Tutu -- also the South Africa he built with the likes of Mandela -- had the moral courage to support the just cause of the Palestinian people. 

Today, apartheid may be a policy of the past in South Africa, but as the former US President Jimmy Carter rightly pointed out, it exists in Israel, with the US and its Western allies encouraging the horrible system by not criticizing Israel. In Israel and in the occupied territories, different rules exist – one for the Jews, one for Israeli Arabs and one for the Palestinians living under occupation. Just as during the apartheid era, it was the white minority government which decided for the native South Africans, the Israeli government decides where the Palestinians can live and where they cannot, where they can go and where they can’t, what jobs they can do and they can’t, how much water they can consume and who, where and when they can worship.

This is why Archbishop Emeritus Tutu, an outspoken critic of the Israeli practices in occupied Palestine and a supporter of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanction on Israel) movement said, “I wish I could keep quiet about the plight of the Palestinians. I can’t! The God who was there and showed that we should become free is the God described in the Scriptures as the same yesterday, today and forever.” The Palestinians have indeed lost a great moral supporter of their cause.  Archbishop Tutu saw no difference between his struggle against apartheid in South Africa and the Palestinians’ freedom struggle.  This was also the stand of Mandela who famously said that the South Africans knew too well that their freedom “is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians.”
“What’s being done to the Palestinians at checkpoints, for us, it’s the kind of thing we experienced in South Africa,” Archbishop Tutu told Washington Post during an interview.

After carrying out a UN-initiated probe on an Israeli massacre in a Palestinian village, Archbishop Emeritus Tutu said God of the Exodus “is notoriously biased in favour of the weak, of the oppressed, of the suffering, of the orphan, of the widow, of the alien.”
When former US President Donald Trump obnoxiously declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel in 2017, Archbishop Tutu responded: “God is weeping over President Donald Trump’s inflammatory and discriminatory recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is our responsibility to tell Mr. Trump that he is wrong.”

It is not only in Palestine we see apartheid. But as the Covid pandemic rages with a new fast spreading Omicron variant becoming a major concern, we also see a dangerous cancer spreading the world over as rightwing demagogues openly promote racism and practise discriminatory policies against minorities to achieve self-centred political interests. This particular apartheid was allowed to take root during the reign of Trump who encouraged rightwing white supremacy so that he could to stay in power at any cost. He did not condemn the excesses of rightwing rulers.

Wherever apartheid exists, the voice of Archbishop Emeritus Tutu should continue to be heard. The most appropriate tribute one can pay him is to carry forward his mission to bring about peace with justice and end oppression wherever it takes place in whatever form. This was the mission with which he touched the hearts of the people of all ideologies across the world.


  Comments - 1

  • Gayan Saturday, 01 January 2022 08:38 AM

    However he justified LTTE terrorism. That will tarnish his image.

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