I find myself profoundly saddened by the departure of Archbishop Desmond Tutu and simultaneously in celebration of his rich legacy. Amid these mixed emotions, I mourn the loss of a brother, my loyal friend and my spiritual leader.
Arch is the last of an extraordinarily outstanding generation of leaders that Africa birthed and gifted to the world. I, as a Mozambican, can recall a time where the struggle against Apartheid was epitomized by the faces and voices of three giants: the exiled and revolutionary Oliver Tambo booming across radios and televisions on the world stage; the imprisoned yet omnipresent symbol of resistance that was Nelson Mandela; and Desmond Tutu, the leader from inside South Africa whose messages were too penetrating to be ignored and whose voice too powerful to be silenced.
From the pulpit, skilfully wielding his moral authority, Arch passionately condemned Apartheid and eloquently pressed for sanctions against the racist regime. In a style unique unto himself, he masterfully used his position as a cleric to mobilise South Africans, Africans, and the global community against the brutalities and immorality of the Apartheid government. Fighting for freedom from the trenches of South Africa required a courage that cannot be described. Day by day, minute by minute, every step he took he was shaping the course of history. Every sentence he spoke impacted the lives of millions, and both unified and empowered those in the noble struggle against Apartheid. How momentous a weight this must have been to shoulder. And yet he stood resolute and fearless, leading demonstrations cloaked in his flowing clerical robe with his cross as his shield – the embodiment of humankind’s moral conscience.
And his voice of reason reverberated throughout the transition to democracy. Amid the unspeakable horrors of Apartheid, there was a desperate need to initiate a process for accountability and healing. As the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established, it required someone steeped in faith, morality, impartiality, integrity and a boundless capacity for empathy to steer its momentous course. Madiba appointed Arch as its Chairman, and the decision to have Tutu steward such a crucial building block of South Africa’s democracy was one master stroke of the Mandela administration.
I recognise that the reconciliation process is unfinished and some young Africans have misgivings about the efficacy of the TRC. It is my hope that the youth of today, who have not experienced the brutalities of Apartheid in the flesh, will grow to understand the historic challenges Arch and those of his generation faced, and how they navigated them to the best of their abilities under the complex circumstances which they found themselves.
Many, like Arch, walked the tightrope, negotiating ways and means to save lives and avert war, recognising the pain and suffering of victims, and simultaneously trying to hold to account the guilty and bring about healing to countless millions. Arch was guided through the minefields of nation-building by his deep commitment to justice and respect for human rights and human dignity. Being aware I might be biased, I bow to the courage of how the TRC was led. Arch created a moral space to confront both the oppressors and the victims, and recognised that freedom had to be enjoyed alongside the respect for human rights. From the time of Apartheid until the end of his life, Arch’s leadership in the pursuit of justice has been unparalleled.
To the young generations of South Africa, Southern Africa, and Africa – it is in your hands now to cultivate your own outstanding leadership to meet the challenges of your time. You have your own historic mission at hand. Take inspiration from Arch’s life to carve out your own legacy.
Arch’s long list of charitable acts and social activism are too many to enumerate here, but I especially hold dear the instrumental role he played in the leadership of “The Elders”. At Madiba’s request, he accepted to Chair “The Elders” and led the organisation in our work to advance equality, justice and freedom globally. I have come to revere Arch’s leadership. Having experienced it at a public and private level, I am overwhelmed by the void this departure and closure of this chapter leaves in our society and in the world.
And on a most intimate note, history will record that Arch was the guiding light that brought Madiba and I together in our formal union. He encouraged us to respect and perform the rituals of marriage our society demands. I am forever and deeply grateful to him for his wise counsel and loving support.
To my very dear sister, Leah: I stand in tender solidarity with you and your family. Arch’s departure leaves a void which is impossible to fill in the public space, and this loss is even more acutely felt in the heart and in the home. I am and will be always here for you. I am holding your hand as you walk along the hauntingly beautiful journey of living with a giant, while also living without him.
Rest in Peace, Arch, my dear brother. My love and deep respect to you always, your sister Graça.