On a field near a black township in Cape Town, a tiny man in a purple gown fights his way through a cloud of teargas fired by malicious members of the South African ‘riot’ police.
But if they think they would bring the cleric, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, to his knees, they are sadly mistaken.
For, like a modern day Christ crucifixion figure on a township Golgotha, Tutu struggles and stumbles, but stays on his feet.
This is the memory I have of Tutu, the man who refused to be halted by evil, who insisted – always – on speaking out against attempts by the apartheid state to crush those who saw it as their duty to speak out against policies of detention and torture.
He was more of a freedom fighter than hundreds of others who preferred to see what they could get out of a new South Africa after the defeat of apartheid.
Let us not forget, that it was less than 40 years ago, that white people in South Africa saw Tutu as ‘Archbishop Satan….
Many of the same people who, upon his death today, were looking to the skies and telling everyone what a great man he was, hated everything about him during our fight for freedom.
So, who was Tutu, really?
On a trip to the United States, towards the end of January 1986, he raised consternation and deep anger in South Africa when he called on Americans to support sanctions against South Africa.
The Los Angeles Times quoted a reader of the Johannesburg Star, Pippa Davidson, as saying: ‘They should not let him back into the country.’
Yes, let’s name names….
In the same newspaper, another reader, Sid Ricklof, said: ‘Give me a gun, and I’ll shoot him myself.’
The Los Angeles Times reported calls in South Africa for Tutu to be prosecuted under laws that made it a crime to support the ANC in any way.
With most of the Anglican Churches at the time still being run by white South Africans it was thought that Tutu would tread a fine line.
But he didn’t.
He was a fighter.
He didn’t care that every time he denounced apartheid in the US, members of his own church raised their voices against him….
‘Political priests should be expelled from the church, unfrocked, but Tutu is raising money to defend them and carry on the revolution,’ the treasurer of an Anglican parish in Johannesburg’s well-to-do northern suburbs said.
‘The diocese won’t get another cent out of me; I will be resigning as well. For every dollar Tutu collects in America for the radicals, he will lose ten here for the church,’ the same official roared.
But black South Africans thought differently.
‘What he has said is what most black people believe,” a resident of Soweto told the Star.
Interestingly, the Progressive Federal Party, forerunners of the DA, were as vehemently opposed to sanctions as the National Party was.
In fact, PFP leader Colin Eglin immediately rejected a call by Tutu that the party withdraw from Parliament.
Tutu’s argument for withdrawal was the epitome of common sense.
If they were to quit parliament, he said, the PFP would ‘make it clear that we do not have what the world seems to think we have – a parliamentary democracy.’
He was on the money.
But Eglin’s reply was mealymouthed: ‘At this stage of our country’s history, we must use the base which we have in Parliament to fight the Nationalists and to oppose and expose the policies and the excesses of Botha’s Government.’
It was utter bullshit.
But it was an argument that the party’s MPs and supporters bought – and swallowed.
Tutu made no secret of his ANC sympathies, which horrified many members of the PFP. One of them was the party’s Southern Transvaal leader, Douglas Gibson, today a hard-line member of the DA, and a staunchly anti-ANC activist.
‘I am as opposed to them as a Nationalist would be opposed to them; and I don’t regard them as freedom fighters,’ Gibson said.
‘Some people say that the ANC was forced into the violence option. Well, I am sorry I don’t agree with that. They have adopted the violence option for the last 15 or 20 years.
‘It has been no more successful than any other strategy that was adopted and I think what it is doing is to force the white people into the laager and they are likely to put the cause of change in South Africa back by another 20 years by carrying on blowing everybody up.”
The party was also strongly opposed to sanctions.
PFP MPs such as Van Zyl Slabbert, Colin Eglin, Helen Suzman, Harry Schwarz, Alex Boraine and Horace van Rensburg were prepared to travel abroad to campaign against the international economic isolation of South Africa.
In fact, some of their anti-sanctions trips were sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
It was in keeping with the PFP stance of wanting to promote continued capitalist development within South Africa.
But Tutu soldiered on.
When he won the Nobel Peace Prize, in 1984, he told the gathering in Oslo: ‘There is no peace in Southern Africa. There is no peace because there is no justice. There can be no real peace and security until there be first justice enjoyed by all the inhabitants of that beautiful land.
‘The Bible knows nothing about peace without justice, for that would be crying “peace, peace, where there is no peace”.
‘God’s Shalom, peace, involves inevitably righteousness, justice, wholeness, fullness of life, participation in decision-making, goodness, laughter, joy, compassion, sharing and reconciliation.’
Tutu was severely criticised after the end of apartheid for penning the ‘Rainbow Nation’ slogan.
I think he sincerely believed that when he agreed to chair the TRC proceedings that this is where South Africa was headed.
But he was cheated – by black politicians and businesspeople who were persuaded to enter the drive for power and money, and by white South Africans who refused to give up even minimal amounts of the privileges they had always held.
To his credit, he continued criticising what was wrong with this country – like he did under a different government three decades – and more – earlier.
Hamba Kahle, Arch.
Philomène Luyindula Lasoen