Obituary: The conscience of South Africa: Anti-apartheid fighter Desmond Tutu is dead

Desmond Tutu (2017)

South Africa’s Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Desmond Tutu has died at the age of 90.

(Photo: dpa)

Cape Town Everyone in South Africa knew that the little man with the infectious laugh had a lot of temperament. But it was remarkable that Desmond Tutu could be so outraged again after everything he had lived through under apartheid.

It was precisely because of his temperament that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate was so angry ten years ago that the African National Congress (ANC), which he had supported for years, had the audacity to deny the Dalai Lama entry to South Africa on Tutu’s 80th birthday. “We will pray for the replacement of this government, just as we once prayed for the end of the apartheid government,” Tutu fumed at the time. “Because this government is worse than the apartheid regime, if only because one could expect such things from it.”

It was the last time that Tutu spoke out loudly politically after the self-imposed retirement.

Over and over again in his last years he told how “horrified” he was about the “moral decline” of the former resistance movement and the current government of the country. “The ANC seems to believe that he alone brought freedom to South Africa. And all the others were just extras in the liberation struggle. What an absurd fallacy. “

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Tutu’s settlement with Nelson Mandela’s heirs and their lust for power, arrogance and selfishness was merciless to the end. All the more surprising that the current President Cyril Ramaphosa officially announced Tutu’s death on Sunday.

Nobel Peace Prize for his fight against apartheid

After Mandela, the first black president of South Africa who died in 2013, withdrew into private life at the beginning of the millennium, Tutu had become the conscience of the “rainbow nation”, as he once described the “new South Africa” himself.

Because one of his strengths was always to see the positive side of all reminders. When Tutu found out 25 years ago that he was suffering from prostate cancer, he was not upset – at least outwardly. “It could have been a lot worse,” he joked at the time. “I could have lost my memory.”

Anti-apartheid fighter Desmond Tutu has died

Born in the ultra-conservative mining town of Klerksdorp, southwest of Johannesburg, Tutu initially worked as a teacher. He became a priest in 1961 and rose rapidly in the church hierarchy.

Tutu became known worldwide in the early 1980s when he was appointed the first black bishop of Johannesburg. In 1986 he was elected Archbishop of Cape Town – at a time when the apartheid system was drawing to a close. In 1984 he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his services in the liberation struggle.

Back then, Tutu, who admits that he was very fond of the attention paid to him, played the part of politician rather reluctantly. But when the apartheid regime imposed a state of emergency on the country in 1985 and banned almost the entire opposition, he saw himself as a representative for all those who had no voice at the time.

“To forgive but not to forget”

After the end of apartheid in 1994, the cleric worked hard for peace and reconciliation. At Mandela’s request, in 1996 he took over the chairmanship of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which dealt with the crimes of the apartheid era on all sides. His motto: “Forgive, but don’t forget.”

Unlike many of his fellow campaigners at the time, he never shied away from criticizing the old allies in the anti-apartheid movement and the ANC openly and harshly, even in “liberated” South Africa, especially when they betrayed their ideals for a check from China or Iran.

The fact that Tutu took over the baton from Mandela and became the patron saint of the young democracy in the Cape therefore comes as no surprise. He never left any doubt that his Christian self-image and the desire for reconciliation between black and white go beyond all party loyalties.

When Tutu was once asked whether he might be politically active to the end and express his opinion, he replied thoughtfully: “We always say that people have free will. But that’s not entirely true. It’s more like Martin Luther once said: Here I stand and I can’t help it. “

The former Archbishop of Cape Town died on Sunday shortly after his 90th birthday.

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