I met the Archbichop Desmond Tutu at the Rotary International Birmingham Convention, where I was also a speaker, and I felt vey happy and honoured with thaat meeting and that coincidence. Hp
Charlayne Hunter-Gault first interviewed Desmond Tutu in Detroit in 1986, as he traveled the world to speak out against apartheid. “He did so without knowing what the consequences would be,” she recalls. “I am sure he was threatened, but not even the vicious apartheid regime dared to harm him.” That year, he became the first black Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa.
Since then, Hunter-Gault has interviewed “the Arch,” as she calls him, dozens of times, on dozens of subjects: among them, voting for the first time in 1994 – it was “like color to a blind person,” he said; overseeing South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which held public hearings to air grievances from all sides; and working to end the violent uprisings of the post-apartheid years.
During an interview at Tutu’s offices in Cape Town, his comments are accompanied by a boyish giggle – a habit “which often throws people totally off guard,” says Hunter-Gault – and flashes of anger at his nation’s political parties. He refused to vote in the recent election, hoping to send a message.
In U.S. President Barack Obama, he sees new hope for the world. He beams and grows teary-eyed while predicting that Obama will give the United States a new moral leadership.
Emmy-winning journalist Hunter-Gault was one of the first two African American students to attend the University of Georgia in 1961. She spent 20 years at PBS, becoming chief national correspondent for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. She moved to Johannesburg in 1998 and is now an NPR correspondent in Africa.
The Rotarian: The number and lethality of armed conflicts worldwide has dropped by half over the last 15 years. Is peace breaking out?
Desmond Tutu: I’ve always believed that it would, and it’s heartening to have that kind of statistic, but what the heck difference does it make to someone in DRC [Democratic Republic of the Congo]? What the heck difference does it make to a person in Darfur, in Burma, and in Zimbabwe? I don’t know; I mustn’t become cynical. It’s wonderful, yes. It means that the advocates of peace are making headway – and very important headway.
TR: Like in South Africa.
Tutu: Yes, when you think of the ’70s and the ’80s, when internally we were at war with ourselves, and we were exporting violence and conflict into our neighboring states, the so-called fronts. We were fighting in Namibia and Angola, and we had a regional war. We were bombing Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe. Phew!
TR: South Africa was racked with violence all around.
Tutu: Now peace has come to South Africa. That has had its spinoffs. There is peace in Mozambique. They had an awful civil war, which in part was fueled by South Africa. And the United States was supporting [Jonas] Savimbi against the Angolan government because it was a surrogate for the Soviet Union.
TR: The Cold War incited conflict in many places. How did the collapse of the Soviet Union affect South Africa?
Tutu: We imagined that when the Cold War ended, everything would be hunky-dory; it would be a wonderful world. It didn’t turn out that way, because suddenly we were disoriented. The Cold War gave people their bearings. We were defining ourselves in relation to our opponents: I’m anticommunist, or I’m pro-whatever – who are you? Now that you have a unipolar world, who are you? This worked itself out awfully in the former Yugoslavia. People could not handle diversity. When we don’t have landmarks, we retreat and can accept only what looks like us, speaks like us, thinks like us – you know, “those who are not like us are against us.” And with fundamentalism of all sorts, you don’t like convoluted, complicated answers. Reality is not straightforward, but people don’t like you telling them that.
TR: So peace has brought new challenges?
Tutu: Absolutely. It has. It isn’t something that is static. We are constantly having to find our bearings. It was wonderful here fighting against something, to rush straight forward, you see. We were united because we had this one enemy. Then the enemy disappears, and it gets very, very difficult.
TR: What role do you see for Rotary in clarifying how to live in peace?
Tutu: They’ve got a wonderful tradition and history of being there for the vulnerable. That’s important, because our world is having to learn a very simple lesson: that actually we’re all family. Until we understand that, we are going to get into trouble.
TR: Rotarians work in the developing world on sustainable projects. Can that be a way to generate a sense of family?
Tutu: Yeah, true. You remember what Martin Luther King Jr. said? “We must learn to live like brothers.” (Now you would say “and sisters.”) Because if we don’t, we’re going to die together; we’re going to perish together like fools. Now you think that these guys were being very utopian, but you’ve seen what happens when you try to be a bully. Do you know how many millions live on less than one dollar a day? And we think we will win the war against terror? We won’t. We won’t as long as we have conditions that make people desperate. And we can’t go on spending billions on arms, on instruments of death. That is what these people are trying to say: It’s the best form of self-interest to care for others. It is not altruism.
TR: Can development, then, be a tool for peace?
Tutu: If people live in poverty, there’s no way the world is not going to be unstable. I mean, I really am stupid: Tell me, with this present economic hoo-ha – yesterday there was money, today the money disappeared, and then a government can produce US$700 billion [as a federal bailout] – where did this money go, and where does this new money come from? [The U.S. government] was saying to their own people, there isn’t enough money to beef up schools in poor areas, there’s not enough money to give every American access to health care. But God is saying, there is enough for everybody’s needs, there is not enough for everybody’s greed.
TR: What can people who work in development do to sustain themselves and their objectives in this kind of environment?
Tutu: Very few poor people want handouts. They want a hand up. We are seeing more and more people who are saying, “We are not bringing charity. We are in a partnership. We are family. We are trying to work with you, so that you can be part of the solution to pull yourselves out of poverty.” We speak about humanitarian work – actually, that’s a nice word, humanitarian. You are looking to help people recover their humanity, their dignity, the worth that is intrinsic to every human being. You are really working with God, who is saying, I gave you a world that’s not perfect, and quite deliberately, because I wanted you to be partners with me in perfecting it.
TR: Rotary also has a long tradition of peace-building. Rotary Centers at eight leading universities train Rotary World Peace Fellows in the tools of conflict resolution and peace-building. How important is that kind of approach?
Tutu: Anything we can do to help people become agents of conflict resolution is important. Let’s prevent conflict before it happens, train people to be sensitive to the signs and the symptoms of conflict. Also, we want to train people who can deal with the aftermath of conflict. Most conflict ends sometime, and then you have to deal with the awful consequences of it.
TR: The UN states that nations have a “responsibility to protect” citizens of other nations at risk for ethnic cleansing and other crises causing large-scale loss of life. Why are nations so reluctant to intervene in other nations’ affairs in the midst of genocide and the cholera epidemic and the terrible inflation and the brutality that’s going on in places like Zimbabwe?
Tutu: Many in the developing countries are very wary of neocolonialism. They are oversensitive, sometimes, that when these people come, seemingly caring about our plight, they want to put us under obligation. Maybe some leaders are not so secure in their positions and worry that if you allow a foot in their country, especially from the West, where is it going to stop?
TR: And in Darfur?
Tutu: African countries form the bulk of UNAMID [UN-African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur]. There, part of the problem has been that countries that were supporting a more effective role for the UN have not put their money where their mouths are. They’ve not provided the United Nations with the resources to protect the most vulnerable. On the whole, African countries have done quite well in many ways. You might call into question their wanting to stop the ICC [International Criminal Court] from issuing a warrant for President [Omar al-Bashir of Sudan]. They have said, “No, it will only be a spanner [wrench] in the works for the whole peace process.” I don’t agree with them, but they’ve not done too badly. They’ve done badly vis-à-vis Zimbabwe. The people who suffer most, of course, are the most vulnerable, and it’s hell.
TR: What needs to happen in Zimbabwe?
Tutu: I have said, look, we have to invoke the rubric of “responsibility to protect.” If a government is unwilling or unable to protect its citizenry, then the international community must step in. And I have said, yes, maybe the African countries must have the UN come in. South Africa has disappointed many of us in some of the resolutions that we have supported or not supported in the [UN] Security Council. To think, we used to occupy the so-called moral high ground. And now you feel a little sad for a beautiful country with beautiful people.
TR: What happened? Were expectations too high because of Nelson Mandela and the whole idea of the rainbow nation, and your own role?
Tutu: Yes, I would say yes. And we also forgot that original sin actually is colorblind. [laughs] In the struggle, we quite rightly could boast that we were special. I mean, we had remarkable human beings who were totally selfless. People were prepared to be killed. And we imagined then that all of that idealism would be carried over to the post-apartheid era. At least it shows that we are human. We probably didn’t realize what power can do. Absolute power corrupts. We grew it in arrogance – and the kind of arrogance that the Nats [National Party] had.
TR: In those situations, you often have lingering hatred and anger. You are Mr. Reconciliation in South Africa, and now as chair of the Elders, you are trying to reconcile issues all over the world. How do you get to that point of forgiveness?
Tutu: By constantly reminding people of their own goodness – that we are all fundamentally good. Recently, we did a thing with the BBC called Facing the Truth, in Northern Ireland, and it’s quite amazing. You see the magnanimity of human beings faced with someone who committed some of the most gruesome things. And the people sit there together, and they are talking away. In one instance, a police officer had both hands blown off in an IRA [Irish Republican Army] attack on a police vehicle. The IRA man who was involved began speaking about his upbringing and all of the deprivations that he experienced as a Roman Catholic in Northern Ireland. And this guy, with his hands shot off, says, “You know, if I had had your upbringing, I think I would have done what you did.” It’s incredible.
TR: So the key to reconciliation is to bring people together?
Tutu: People often just want to be able to tell their story. We are not made for hatred. We learn how to hate. You’ve seen it with children of different races who are brought up together. They don’t know anything about race and discrimination until we adults infect them.
TR: You talk all the time about Ubuntu, a Zulu word. You’ve explained, “We believe that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, in yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself.” That’s what you’re talking about now, isn’t it? Is Ubuntu an appropriate philosophy for the modern world?
Tutu: It is probably the best gift we can give to the world. It’s reminding us that we are meant for togetherness. I come into this world, and I’m a helpless lump. I don’t come fully formed. I have to learn how to speak as a human being. I have to learn how to think as a human being. I have to learn how to be human through other people.
TR: But how do you get people to embrace that idea?
Tutu: Sometimes, it’s amazing. People’s eyes light up when you mention it, because somewhere deep down, we are aware of it – we are aware of our being connected. When a disaster happens miles away from your country, you have a connection. Look at what happened after 9/11. The world poured out a deep, real sympathy for the United States (which, unfortunately, they squandered, but let’s forget about that). Everywhere, people felt deeply for the United States.
TR: How do you keep that connection going?
Tutu: By remembering that if you think you’re going to prosper on your own, you are done for. This economic downturn may begin to make us realize that we can’t go on consuming so madly, so rapaciously, in one section of the world when another section doesn’t even have clean water to drink. We can’t go on in this kind of way, where we’re reckless in our consumption of resources. There are many wonderful things about the United States, but one of the things I’m so sad about is the helpings they give in restaurants. And notice how many plates go back still full, and the food is going to be dumped.
TR: It’s a consciousness that you’re talking about. People don’t have the consciousness.
Tutu: Yes, there’s the lovely little saying “We must live simply so that others may simply live.”
TR: What inspires you? What makes you tick?
Tutu: People. People pray for me. People uphold me. I can be very exhausted, but when I address a group, I get energized because people are wonderful.
TR: Have you ever held a grudge against anybody?
Tutu: I might have. [laughs] I feel so sorry for myself, but you get over it. You know, God has been very good. I started in a garage with my three children, and now I’m in Bishop’s court. You know, my wife’s mother was a domestic worker, and her family lived in a backyard room in one of the township ghettos. Most of us were like that.
TR: And you had polio when you were young.
Tutu: I was a baby, and I don’t remember. I just know that I ended up with a right hand that’s smaller than my left. I’m left-handed. Look, look at the size. You can see, I can’t control these fingers.
TR: The United States now has a president whose father was African. What do you think about the election of Barack Obama?
Tutu: It’s fantastic. You know, I was in a game reserve, and they were beaming into Chicago, where they were having a celebration, and Leah, my wife, was watching this on TV, and tears were rolling down her eyes. She said, “I’m so happy, but I don’t know why I’m crying.” [laughs] It gave us a new spring in our walk. What is so fantastic is that he has energized not just people of color. It’s right across the board, and not just in America. Look at how many people welcomed him in Berlin.
TR: Any lesson in his victory?
Tutu: Lesson? Well, anyone can make it. [laughs] But the important thing is that it says a new era has dawned. We are going to see an America that leads almost because it has a moral leadership. It’s going to be an America that is collaborative, consultative. It’s not an America that throws its weight around. People want America to lead. And, of course, you know just how much that country has meant to us.
TR: In South Africa.
Tutu: Yes. I was maybe eight or so, and I picked up a copy of Ebony, and it was talking about Jackie Robinson breaking into Major League Baseball; he was going to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Now, I didn’t know baseball from ping pong, but the thing that was so important for a black kid in that time, was here is a black guy who has made it. And I grew inches. And then all of the things that were happening there. I mean, you listened to the Ink Spots, Nat “King” Cole, all of them. Lena Horne was my pinup. You gave us so much hope. That was why I was so surprised when I first went to the United States to discover that black Americans were so bitter. I said, “But how could you be?” Until I discovered that it was because the [U.S.] Constitution says one thing, and the reality on the ground is different. You are a crazy country, because racism is still rife. You can drag a black guy behind a truck to his death, but you are also incredible. I mean, you look, and the sky is still in place, and a black guy, a young guy, is going into the White House.
TR: The Obama campaign started the Joshua Generation Project to attract younger Christians. The name, of course, is based on the biblical story of how the Joshua generation led the Israelites to the promised land. What does this name mean to you, especially since Obama has talked about the Moses generation getting us up to a point, and now the Joshua generation is next?
Tutu: Do you remember the thing they said? Rosa [Parks] sat so that Martin [Luther King Jr.] could walk. Martin walked so that Obama could stand, and Obama stood so that our children could fly. Isn’t that lovely?
TR: Oh, you’re going to bring me to tears.
Tutu: Isn’t that lovely?
Tutu: And look what is happening in Kenya. I mean, that they own him [Obama]. They think, “This is our child.” He’s going to have wonderful clout because he’s going to tell Africans what Bush couldn’t. When he says, look here guys, get your act in order, they will see that he’s speaking like a Westerner, but also they will realize, this is one of us.
TR: Obama has read widely on Abraham Lincoln, including Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals [the story of Lincoln’s cabinet, which included his political opponents]. There’s reconciliation in Obama’s whole approach.
Tutu: He’s left [Robert] Gates in the Pentagon [as U.S. secretary of defense] and has selected people who would not necessarily agree with him as some of his most important economic advisers.
TR: Should people in places like South Africa be paying attention to this?
Tutu: Just look at how he’s reached out to Hillary [Clinton]. I mean, we’ve got to learn. Yes, in a campaign, you get to use boisterous language, but now you think, we’ve got one country, and we are going to have to pull together.
TR: Are there lessons for the world in this?
Tutu: We are meant for togetherness.
Source: The Rotarian