Thursday, May 6, 2010

Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu..................

Archbishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu

I recently had the opportunity to see and hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu who was visiting the American International College in Springfield, Massachusetts.

I had very fond memories of meeting him in London and I was delighted to see him again.

For me, it is difficult to think of Bishop Tutu without being reminded of Nelson Mandela. Their lives have been intertwined for many years. When Mandela was imprisoned for twenty-seven years Bishop Tutu never stopped his personal crusade to free Mandela and end apartheid in South Africa.

In London, during the 1980’s thousands of people marched against the Apartheid regime of South Africa and demanded the immediate release of Nelson Mandela who had been imprisoned since 1964. The African National Congress (ANC) and the Anti-Apartheid Movement organized the demonstrations. We would regularly gather in Trafalgar Square and camp out overnight on the steps of the South Africa Embassy.

In the late ‘80’s I had the opportunity to meet Bishop Tutu at a gathering in Hyde Park. My friend, Beverly, invited me to attend an ‘invitation only’ tea where we spent the afternoon with Bishop Tutu, his wife, and other visiting dignitaries. The first thing that one notices about him is the pleasant smile that seldom leaves his face. He made several jokes but when it was time to be serious his words were exact and to the point.

He had received the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1984, in recognition of "the courage and heroism shown by black South Africans in their use of peaceful methods in the struggle against apartheid.”

At that time the chairman of the Nobel Committee said, "Some time ago television enabled us to see this year's laureate in a suburb of Johannesburg. A massacre of the black population had just taken place - the camera showed ruined houses, mutilated human beings and crushed children's toys. Innocent people had been murdered. Women and children mortally wounded. But, after the police vehicles had driven away with their prisoners, Desmond Tutu stood and spoke to a frightened and bitter congregation: 'Do not hate', he said, 'let us choose the peaceful way to freedom'.”

And here we were in London in 1988, still demonstrating, demanding the release of Nelson Mandela who had been sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964 and sent to notorious Robben Island Prison, a former leper colony off the coast from Cape Town.

As I write about Archbishop Desmond Tutu I am finding it very difficult to condense the many acts of personal peace and reconciliation that have molded his lifestyle.

Bishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, now 78, was born in 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal. Where he first trained as a teacher but at 26 he became dissatisfied with the teaching profession and decided to become a priest. He later claimed he was not motivated by high ideals. "It just occurred to me that, if the Church would have me, the profession of priest could be a good way of serving my people."

In 1986 he was elected the first black archbishop of Cape Town, becoming the head of the Anglican Church in South Africa and leader of South Africa's 1.6 million Anglicans. While serving in this position he intensified his criticism of the apartheid system which he described as "evil and unchristian" and called for "a democratic and just society without racial divisions" where there are equal civil rights for all. He advocated the use of nonviolent resistance by black South Africans and encouraged the world community to apply economic sanctions against the regime. The apartheid government responded by cancelling his passport.

After many years of speaking out, Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison on Sunday 11 February 1990.

In 1994 a national election was held and the ANC won the country's first all-race elections. Over four days beginning on 26 April more than 22 million South Africans, or about 91% of registered voters, went to the polls. On 9 May the National Assembly unanimously elected Nelson Mandela president. He stressed the need for reconciliation and reaffirmed his determination to create a peaceful, nonracial society.

President Mandela signed a law creating the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate human rights violations committed from March 1960 to May 1994. The commission was chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu who stated "I hope that the work of the commission, by opening wounds to cleanse them, will thereby stop them from festering," The public hearings started in April 1996, and completed most of its fact-finding work by late July 1998 after hearing more than 20,000 testimonials and 4,000 requests for amnesty.

Bishop Tutu continues to speak out against conditions in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Burma, Zimbabwe regarding inhumane treatment in those and other countries.

In 2007 he is presented with the International Gandhi Peace Prize that is awarded by the Government of India, and is considered to be India's highest international honor.

One of the enduring memories of the struggle to end apartheid is Bishop Tutu's high-pitched yet melodious voice admonishing the regime and the world to end the discrimination. .

And here he is in 2010 in Massachusetts with the same melodious voice still mentioning the many crimes against humanity in the world. Just as we were wondering where is he going with this critique he pulls it all together and points out that there is still good in the world as he talks about the important humanitarian programs that the college takes part in.

He remains a humble man with an infectious laugh who seems unable to rest until the world is at peace. I believe that is why he continues to have so much energy and as Nelson Mandela has said, "Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humor, Desmond Tutu's voice will always be the voice of the voiceless."

I urge you to go to to read more about South Africa and Bishop Tutu’s historical role in his beloved country.

Once again, I feel so fortunate to have been in his presence. I will never forget it.


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